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  • Detecting laudanum post-mortem

    I have questions.

    Is it possible to drug a victim with laudanum before killing her and the drug wouldn't show on a post-mortem (back in 1888, of course)?

    Was MJK's blood tested for alcohol or other substance?



    Not putting forward a theory, just looking for an angle for a fiction piece.

    thanks
    Is it progress when a cannibal uses a fork?
    - Stanislaw Jerzy Lee

  • #2
    Originally posted by SirJohnFalstaff View Post
    I have questions.

    Is it possible to drug a victim with laudanum before killing her and the drug wouldn't show on a post-mortem (back in 1888, of course)?

    Was MJK's blood tested for alcohol or other substance?



    Not putting forward a theory, just looking for an angle for a fiction piece.

    thanks
    Laudanum has an odd smell. I can't really describe it, but it's kind of sweet, kind of spicy with just a hint of vomit smell... all wrapped up in booze. Kind of smells like someone lit a apple pie spice candle in a drunk tank. Sort of...

    But the effects of laudanum were well known, so if she had what was considered to be a therapeutic dose in her back then (which is considered a terribly dangerous dose now) her death would not have masked the physical signs of opiate use. And if she was a habitual user, theres a lot of damage to the body.

    Alcohol would mask the smell if they weren't looking for it, at least in her mouth and esophagus. I think it could be detected in the stomach.

    But the weird thing with laudanum is that it's pretty easy to take a lethal dose, but extremely difficult to knock someone out, or render them insensible. It's the alcohol/opium combo. They fight each other just enough to keep people generally upright, but enough laudanum to knock someone unconscious is enough to kill them. I mean, if women couldn't go about their business after treating their menstrual cramps, the stuff never would have been so popular.
    The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

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    • #3
      Looks like it could be detected chemically in the stomach:

      http://books.google.ca/books?id=SFs9...udanum&f=false
      “Sans arme, sans violence et sans haine”

      Comment


      • #4
        Thank you Errata and Magpie.

        So there was no way that MJK could had a spiked drink without her noticing, or not appearing in the post-mortem that was done?
        Is it progress when a cannibal uses a fork?
        - Stanislaw Jerzy Lee

        Comment


        • #5
          I feel like if they had tests for poisons they must have have tests for opiates. Nightshade compounds like scopolamine could be used to turn someone into a compliant zombie instantly and there would be no test available for it.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by SirJohnFalstaff View Post
            Thank you Errata and Magpie.

            So there was no way that MJK could had a spiked drink without her noticing, or not appearing in the post-mortem that was done?
            Oh her drink could have been spiked. In fact, Laudanum was cheaper than liquor and had about the same alcohol content, so people drank it like they drank booze. Which was a terrible idea, but boy did it soothe the shakes. She may have even drank it willingly. And there is a pretty good argument to be made that she wouldn't have smelled it or noted it. Crowded in a bar with unfortunates, addicts, her own sense of smell likely compromised from drink, the weather, and from the various smells coming from the people around her (bakers, butchers, tinkerers) she may not have smelled it at all, or simply assumed that the smell was coming from something (or someone) else. In her own home, she would have noticed. But maybe not so much in a bar.

            But some kinds of booze can blunt the smell. Not something like vodka, but real gin (not bathtub gin) certainly might. Wine might. Liqueurs like Anisette or something definitely would. Spike those with laudanum, and she would probably not noticed even in her own home.

            As for showing up in an autopsy, I'm not entirely sure. After 6 hours or so, the stomach contents should be gone. How much of a residue is left, I don't know. If she continued drink after being dosed, it might "wash" out the residue in the stomach contents. And I don't know where the drug is absorbed. If it is absorbed in the stomach, there is a real time limit on finding it. It it's absorbed in the intestines, there is a better likelihood of finding some in the stomach longer. I can't imagine that it sticks around for more than 72 hours. Very few things do that don't involve heavy metals. But within that, assuming it all hadn't already been absorbed into the bloodstream, I think it could be found. The test is specific. The real question is, did they test for it, and if they did and found it, did they simply assume that she, like many other drunks, had drank it because it was cheap and easy?
            The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Errata View Post
              Oh her drink could have been spiked. In fact, Laudanum was cheaper than liquor and had about the same alcohol content, so people drank it like they drank booze. Which was a terrible idea, but boy did it soothe the shakes. She may have even drank it willingly. And there is a pretty good argument to be made that she wouldn't have smelled it or noted it. Crowded in a bar with unfortunates, addicts, her own sense of smell likely compromised from drink, the weather, and from the various smells coming from the people around her (bakers, butchers, tinkerers) she may not have smelled it at all, or simply assumed that the smell was coming from something (or someone) else. In her own home, she would have noticed. But maybe not so much in a bar.

              But some kinds of booze can blunt the smell. Not something like vodka, but real gin (not bathtub gin) certainly might. Wine might. Liqueurs like Anisette or something definitely would. Spike those with laudanum, and she would probably not noticed even in her own home.

              As for showing up in an autopsy, I'm not entirely sure. After 6 hours or so, the stomach contents should be gone. How much of a residue is left, I don't know. If she continued drink after being dosed, it might "wash" out the residue in the stomach contents. And I don't know where the drug is absorbed. If it is absorbed in the stomach, there is a real time limit on finding it. It it's absorbed in the intestines, there is a better likelihood of finding some in the stomach longer. I can't imagine that it sticks around for more than 72 hours. Very few things do that don't involve heavy metals. But within that, assuming it all hadn't already been absorbed into the bloodstream, I think it could be found. The test is specific. The real question is, did they test for it, and if they did and found it, did they simply assume that she, like many other drunks, had drank it because it was cheap and easy?
              I'm not sure laudanum would be very useful for the rippers purposes. It's always possible but my guess would be it wouldn't suit his purposes. You would need a pretty high dose to render someone defenseless. If he spiked a drink it would have to be large dose and victim would likely have a soon onset. I think that large of a dose needed would be easily detectable...if they knew to rest for it. I figure laudanum would be quite popular as well as opium.

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              • #8
                Just lick the lips of the dead....Johnny Depp did....

                Comment


                • #9
                  Hi SirJohnFalstaff,


                  Originally posted by SirJohnFalstaff View Post
                  I have questions.

                  Is it possible to drug a victim with laudanum before killing her and the drug wouldn't show on a post-mortem (back in 1888, of course)?

                  Was MJK's blood tested for alcohol or other substance?



                  Not putting forward a theory, just looking for an angle for a fiction piece.

                  thanks
                  Qualitative analytical testing for opiates was available in the 1880's and considered to be reliable as legal evidence in the criminal courts.
                  Quantitative analysis was not quite as precise as qualitative at the time, so though it was also used in the courts, the accuracy could be argued by the opposition to achieve reasonable doubt.
                  Toxicological testing was not routine in that era, and wasn't often performed even in probable overdose cases. These tests were usually only done when there was suspicion of a murder/attempted murder by intentional poisoning, so the only analysis needed to prove intent would be in qualifying (confirming) that the suspected poison was in the sampled body fluids.

                  Only a few pages of MJK's autopsy report still exist, with no mention either way regarding toxicology; however, laudanum was widely used and abused at that time, and while it's odor could have been recognized by a medical examiner, in the case of a mutilated East End prostitute it would have probably been assumed that the victim had been self-medicating.
                  The idea that a (hypothetical) murderer might drug his victims before killing them might never have entered the pathologist's or law enforcement's minds.

                  Best Regards,

                  MacGuffin
                  Regards,
                  MacGuffin
                  --------------------
                  "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" - Albert Einstein

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by SirJohnFalstaff View Post
                    I have questions.

                    Is it possible to drug a victim with laudanum before killing her and the drug wouldn't show on a post-mortem (back in 1888, of course)?

                    Was MJK's blood tested for alcohol or other substance?

                    Not putting forward a theory, just looking for an angle for a fiction piece.

                    thanks
                    The officials supposed the women were lying down on their backs when the throats were cut, and the evidence is that few sounds were ever heard by nearby witnesses, led the police to consider drugging almost immediately. Im certain that to the extent they could they tested for substances.

                    Cheers
                    Michael Richards

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I've always thought that if a drug/substance was used, it'd have been chloroform. A possible argument for it found here: http://www.casebook.org/dissertation...oo-chloro.html

                      I've also often thought if JtR was not using any substances, relying instead on the blitz-attack method alone (sudden strangulation/head injury) there'd very likely be early attacks where a victim had either survived, or the death was messy and noisy, with a struggle involved. His MO as we see it in the set of JtR murders is pretty darned polished. I highly doubt he started out that way.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Ausgirl View Post
                        I've always thought that if a drug/substance was used, it'd have been chloroform. A possible argument for it found here: http://www.casebook.org/dissertation...oo-chloro.html

                        I've also often thought if JtR was not using any substances, relying instead on the blitz-attack method alone (sudden strangulation/head injury) there'd very likely be early attacks where a victim had either survived, or the death was messy and noisy, with a struggle involved. His MO as we see it in the set of JtR murders is pretty darned polished. I highly doubt he started out that way.
                        The anesthetic use of chloroform is a bit more detailed, as it requires at least five minutes of continuous inhalation (or more, depending on body weight) to render an adult patient fully unconscious, and a steady chloroform drip on the application mask (or "soaked rag", if you will) the patient's inhaling from, to keep them unconscious.
                        As such, it's nearly impossible to subdue an adult with a chloroform soaked rag alone, and would definitely require other impairments/implements like alcohol, drugs, a bludgeon to the head, etc..

                        Now as a plot device for a hypothetical murder circa 1880's, it would be excellent, as the body eliminates most of the chloroform quickly via the lungs during exhalation. It's also processed by the liver, and small traces may be secreted in urine, but analytical detection of it's metabolites in tissue samples was basically non-existent prior to mass spectrometry.

                        As for JtR, he may have used what we across the pond refer to as a "choke hold", much the same as Gary Ridgeway did to his victims.
                        Ridgeway would come behind his victims after "services rendered", and gently embrace them from behind as if hugging them to maneuver into a choke hold, and I suspect JtR did it much the same way.
                        Most manual strangulation victims will have injuries like finger bruises/marks, crushed windpipes or fractured hyoid bones, all of which usually occur from a position of the murderer facing the victim during the choking attack.
                        In a choke hold, the murderer is behind the victim during the attack, using the crook of their arm to choke instead of their hands (which crush), and thus leave little bruising, and an undamaged hyoid bone.
                        In addition to cutting off airways, this type of hold also cuts off the blood flow at the carotids and/or jugulars, and can cause unconsciousness within several seconds, and subsequently death.

                        This could also explain the clenched fingers of Kelly and Stride, the protruding tongue of Chapman, the tongue laceration of Nichols, and the seeming lack of arterial blood spray/spatter at most of the murder scenes.
                        He may have done a quick blitz hit to stun them first, or the choke hold itself
                        was the blitz, but however he subdued them, it most probably caught them completely off guard.

                        I doubt that Whitechapel street prostitutes serviced their clients while lying on the filthy ground, but rather while standing, and by hiking their skirts up from behind to allow the client easier access, and quicker completion of said services. This would have made a choke hold easy and fast to perform, catching the victim unawares and unable to cry out, while rendering them unconscious in well under a minute, and near-death or dead in a couple of minutes. The quicker the victim lost consciousness, the quicker JtR could start (and possibly have more time for) the cutting.

                        Best regards,
                        MacGuffin
                        Regards,
                        MacGuffin
                        --------------------
                        "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" - Albert Einstein

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by MacGuffin View Post
                          The anesthetic use of chloroform is a bit more detailed, as it requires at least five minutes of continuous inhalation (or more, depending on body weight) to render an adult patient fully unconscious, and a steady chloroform drip on the application mask (or "soaked rag", if you will) the patient's inhaling from, to keep them unconscious.
                          As such, it's nearly impossible to subdue an adult with a chloroform soaked rag alone, and would definitely require other impairments/implements like alcohol, drugs, a bludgeon to the head, etc..
                          Best regards,
                          MacGuffin
                          The anesthetic use of chloroform requires time. The quick and dirty use takes less. I had a friend dose me. It took about 10 seconds for chloroform to knock my knees out from under me. I was not unconscious by any stretch of the imagination, but being upright was right out the window. Which is really all a killer needs. Dazed and confused is just as good as out cold. Especially if they aren't big enough to actually restrain someone while killing them. Once I fell and the rag was gone, it took about 20 to 30 seconds to get my head clear. But my jugular could have been severed in that time, so I think it's fair to say chloroform would be useful. Just not for actual unconsciousness.
                          The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Well, thanks to Errata being a braver soul than I, we can see chloroform -might- account for the utter silence and lack of signs of struggle. Which is eerie, when you think about it, the proximity of people to those locations.

                            MacGuffin, I tend to think very much the same way. Blitz attack, victim well and truly subdued and prone before the throat is cut. If they'd been standing or even leaning forward against a wall (for the skirt lifting stuff) there'd be blood absolutely everywhere.

                            Errata, did you get redness around your mouth, at all?

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Errata View Post
                              The anesthetic use of chloroform requires time. The quick and dirty use takes less. I had a friend dose me. It took about 10 seconds for chloroform to knock my knees out from under me. I was not unconscious by any stretch of the imagination, but being upright was right out the window. Which is really all a killer needs. Dazed and confused is just as good as out cold. Especially if they aren't big enough to actually restrain someone while killing them. Once I fell and the rag was gone, it took about 20 to 30 seconds to get my head clear. But my jugular could have been severed in that time, so I think it's fair to say chloroform would be useful. Just not for actual unconsciousness.
                              You are a far braver soul than I, while I've caught a few strong whiffs of it while using it as a reagent, I don't think I'd ever let anyone try that experiment out on me.
                              Did you have any side effects like headache or nausea?
                              I remember a tech who spilled a few ounces, and she was in an unvented area, and leaning down close to the counter as she cleaned it up which caused her to experience a severe wave of nausea with some vomiting.

                              Best regards,
                              MacGuffin
                              Regards,
                              MacGuffin
                              --------------------
                              "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" - Albert Einstein

                              Comment

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