Friday, January 11, 2008

Insulin Murders: The Rest of the Story

Awhile back, I touched on the subject of a book called Insulin Murders in a couple of posts. I first ordered this book through interlibrary loan at my library, hoping it would give me some ideas the bad guys in my novel could use. Later, you may recall, I left the book on an airplane when I went to the ACFW conference back in September. Well, turns out there's a lot more to the story I need to catch you up on.

After I posted about leaving the book on the plane, I received an email from one of the authors, Vincent Marks, who had discovered my little post and read it all the way from England! I'm such a blogging newbie, I was amazed at the reach of this little effort of mine. Dr. Marks was very gracious, thanked me for the publicity, and offered to replace the book for me. Naturally, I took him up on it.

It took me awhile to get back to reading the book, but I've been engrossed in it this past week. First of all, if you like reading about true crime and forensics, this book is for you. The book is arranged in chronological order, from the first known case of a killing in which insulin was involved as a weapon (though it didn't directly cause the death) to the present. Dr. Marks is an expert in the field and appears as a witness in a number of such cases.

Perhaps most interesting is the account of the Claus von Bulow trials. Unless you are pathetically young, you probably remember this trial, so sensational for a number of reasons--wealthy, celebrity couple; the wife, Sunny, left in a coma and suspicion falling on the husband; his celebrity actress mistress. (In fact, a feature film called Reversal of Fortune was made, based on this story.) I remember that everyone was certain von Bulow administered insulin to his wife and caused her coma, and in fact, he was convicted at first. However, Dr. Marks was called to testify as an expert witness at the retrial, and after reading the medical reports on Sunny von Bulow, he came to very different conclusions from experts at the first trial. Dr. Marks describes the problems with blood tests and conclusions drawn by other experts that led him to question von Bulow's guilt--or in fact, the idea that Sunny had been poisoned at all. The retrial ended in von Bulow's acquittal.

The book is chock full of bizarre cases, from the men and women who killed multiple spouses for inheritances and life insurance policies, to the nurse who administered lethal doses to babies under her care for no apparent reason. And then there are the puzzlers--the woman thought to have committed suicide by insulin, but if so, how did she manage to give herself an injection in the buttocks? And where were the vials and syringes? Then there's the case of Maria Whiston, convicted of killing her lover with insulin--probably wrongly based on the evidence, according to Dr. Marks.

I was intrigued by the progression through the years of the methods to detect insulin in the body and to identify whether it came from a pharmaceutical source or the body itself. The authors describe one case in which a man (William Archerd) was convicted of murdering with insulin--probably correctly. However, they say that the type of tests used at that time on the corpse probably weren't accurate and wouldn't stand up in court today, so do we know for sure?

Whether you just like a good mystery or you're a novelist wanting ideas about murderers and their methods, this is a fascinating read.