The Near-Perfect Murder Weapon

Arsenic was, at one time, a very popular way to murder someone. It was the most common poison to factor in 19th century British murder trials, but it is also a particularly difficult cause of death to determine. In fact, most deaths by arsenic were attributed to natural causes, so for every murder trial involving arsenic, there were probably multiple cases in which the perpetrator got away with the crime.

Some poisons such as cyanide and strychnine work according to a strict timetable and dispatch their victims in a predictable manner. Arsenic, by contrast, is mysterious and shilly-shallying, behaving more like an infectious disease, so that the nature and length of the victim’s suffering depends partly on their genetic make-up and general state of health. Death from acute arsenic poisoning can take anything from two hours to four days, although victims have been known to linger for a fortnight. For most, though, the misery lasts at least 24 hours.

To confuse matters further, human beings are capable of building up a certain tolerance to arsenic if they go about it carefully enough. In 1851, a community of peasants living on the Austria-Hungarian border were found to be taking arsenic in what would normally be lethal doses. They believed that the poison was good for their health and took it as a tonic, starting with a tiny sub-toxic dose and gradually increasing it.

Defense lawyers quickly seized on this to try to sow doubt in juries’ minds. Was this case really murder? Perhaps the arsenic in the dead person’s food or body had been self-administered for health reasons, only this time the victim had gone too far?

And there were other factors that made arsenic the go-to poison for those who wanted to hasten the death of someone they knew. Read about them in an excerpt from the book The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science at HuffPo Books


Key Terms…
  • Murder Weapon ↔ A arma do assassinato
  • poison ↔ veneno
  • factor in ↔ levar em consideração
  • murder trial ↔ julgamento por assassinato
  • got away with ↔ se saiu (sem ser pego)
  • strychnine ↔ estricnina
  • strict timetable ↔ calendário exato
  • dispatch ↔ despachar (matar)
  • predictable manner ↔ maneira previsível
  • by contrast ↔ por outro lado
  • shilly-shallying ↔ demorado
  • genetic make-up ↔ composição genética
  • acute ↔ agudo
  • linger ↔ demorar
  • fortnight ↔ quinzena
  • though ↔ embora
  • misery ↔ miséria
  • To confuse matters further ↔ Para confundir ainda mais as coisas
  • building up ↔ ampliar
  • go about it ↔ fazer, abordar
  • peasants ↔ camponeses
  • sow doubt ↔ pôr em dúvida
  • too far ↔ longe demais
  • the go-to poison ↔ primeira escolha (veneno padrão)
  • hasten ↔ acelerar


factor in levar em consideração
We forgot to factor in the cost of airconditioning.
got away with se saiu (sem ser pego)
Posting to say that you’ve broken a rule and got away with it. ↔Postar dizendo que violou uma regra e ficou impune.
The mining industry has got away with it for far too long. ↔A indústria mineira agiu impunemente durante demasiado tempo.
dispatch despachar (matar)
What compassion do they show the victims whom they dispatch with gun, knife, ax, club or poison?  
by contrast por outro lado
By contrast, the American gas market is almost independent from the outside world. ↔Pelo contrário, o mercado de gás americano é praticamente independente do mundo exterior.
shilly-shallying demorado
Hesitant; vacillating.

(not a common phrase)
In Sweden, the government is shilly-shallying, with public opinion more finely balanced.  
Stop shilly-shallying about and do something positive for a change.  
Harvard’s shilly-shallying reflects the current of self-doubt coursing through American academia.  
genetic make-up composição genética
Our selfishness is part of our genetic make-up, and it drives almost everything we do.  
linger demorar
The smell of fish lingered (ficou por bastante tempo) in the kitchen.
Many students lingered (não sairam) after class.
So much of the past lingers in my heart ↔Muito do passado ainda está em meu coração
The young perish and the old linger ↔Onde os jovens perecem e os velhos subsistem
To confuse matters further Para confundir ainda mais as coisas
To confuse matters further, the same boldness and narcissism that make West such a great artist also make him hard to take at times.  
go about it fazer, abordar
I do not think that is the right way to go about it. ↔Penso que esta não é a forma correcta de abordar a questão.
The report gives good guidance as to how to go about it. ↔O relatório oferece boas orientações sobre a forma de proceder.
the go-to poison primeira escolha (veneno padrão)
I would certainly recommend this to any employer of mine as the go-to tool for data modeling. ↔Com certeza vou recomendá-lo a todos meus funcionários como ferramenta preferencial de modelagem de dados.
hasten acelerar
You say you should prolong his life, but you want to hasten your death? ↔Diz que devo prolongar a vida dele, e apressa a própria morte?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s