The Poisoner’s Handbook

In 1922, 101 New Yorkers hanged themselves, 444 died in car accidents, 20 were crushed in elevators, there were 237 fatal shootings and 34 stabbings and that year 997 New Yorkers died of poisoning. In this film PBS takes us back through these grim statistics, explaining how in the early 20th century, the average American medicine cabinet would have been filled with poison, all easily purchased over the counter like any regular pain medication we see today, such as paracetamol. An example of such poisons found in everyday products were radioactive elements like radium, thallium and strong pain killers containing morphine.

As industrial innovation increased, scientific knowledge seemed to lag behind. The ability to detect and stop crimes from being committed using the materials mentioned above didn’t really catch up until New York’s first scientifically trained medical examiner, Charles Norris, and his chief toxicologist, Alexander Gettler came along. They paved the way for setting standards with regards to the use of such deadly materials.

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  1. You cant really fault the American Experience for lack of detail… Hours of Typhoid Mary, followed by an exhaustive look at The Doner Party and now this. Macabre but informative. Charles Lindberg and his misfortune next I suppose. History is often so cheery.