We live in an era of historical fetishization—dudes wearing boots that look like they were stolen off a Depression-era coal miner, bars covered in reclaimed wood and Edison bulbs. Is poison the latest old-time fad?
That’s what the Washington Post wants to know, rattling off several recent examples. So reporter Michael Miller called up John Emsley, author of The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, to get a little background on this deadly ancient art. It’s been used to off popes and emperors, but the nineteenth century was a big time for poisoning husbands:
The chemist calls the 19th century “the golden age of arsenic poisoning” because it was cheap and prevalent across Europe and the U.S. That’s when poison became associated with female killers. “It was so difficult in those days for a woman to obtain a divorce,” Emsley says. “But you could obtain arsenic fairly easily. It was sold quite openly to put on fly paper to kill flies or as a weed killer. … In the 19th century, most poisonings were women trying to dispose of their husbands.”
Unfortunately for all you murderous retro fiends, however, Emsley says poison probably isn’t on the upswing, so much as technology has improved by leaps and bounds:
“Forensic chemistry is now so sophisticated that it’s possible to detect poisons at levels that previous generations would not have thought possible,” he tells The Washington Post. “If someone dies under anything like suspicious circumstances then forensic chemistry will soon realize and find exactly what it is from analyzing parts of the body or fluids. … So more people are being detected who in previous generations might have got away with it.”
So much for your perfect crime.
Photo via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.
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