Did I really just ask that? You have to believe me, I’m not crazed or vindictive and don’t have a criminal streak in me. What I am, though, is a fiction writer. I write about murder, mayhem and medicine (usually all three mixed together) and that stimulates lots of thoughts about the perfect crime. In fact, planning the perfect crime has been churning inside my head for a few days now and I just had to blog about it. So back to that question: What drug would a killer use to create the perfect murder?
Before I answer that, let me take a minute to give a general disclaimer. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME WITHOUT SUPERVISION. Scratch that!! Simply, DON’T TRY THIS! My novels are all about what if’s and this is just another one of those “I’m just saying” things. So, let’s get back to the matter at hand.
If I were to develop a plot around the perfect drug as a murder weapon, what would I use? There are a number of possibilities, (and some of my murder mystery friends are probably already thinking of a few). Let’s first narrow down the field. Anything that would leave telltale trace should be eliminated right away. Agreed?
For instance, a strong tranquilizer like Valium would leave lots of evidence in the blood. We have to find a drug that either leaves no metabolite trace or one that is indigenous to the body anyway. Let’s discuss that first possibility: leaving no metabolite trace.
What is a metabolite anyway? By definition, it’s a byproduct of the body’s metabolism. It’s what’s left after the body breaks down a substance into either smaller components or changes it (the drug) into other chemicals. Like when we eat an egg (made up of protein, carbs and fat), our bodies break down that omelet into components that it can use for fuel and the rest is eliminated.
The same thing happens with drugs. They’re broken down into metabolites (the breakdown products) and those byproducts circle around in blood and provide a therapeutic (or toxic) effect until we eliminate them (usually through the kidneys).
So what drug leaves no metabolite trace? The simple answer is NONE. Nothing came to mind as I wrote this blog and a quick Internet search revealed no new epiphany, except for a couple of fictional drugs concocted by mystery writers with more active imaginations than mine.
And with that we’re left with our second possibility: a drug that may leave behind metabolites, but only ones that are normal to the body. There are several possibilities, but two come to mind that are excellent.
The first is succinylcholine (SUX for short). It’s a neuromuscular paralytic drug. In short, it causes ALL the muscles in the body to be paralyzed. They simply stop functioning, including those used for breathing. So without medical help, a person given a dose of SUX will stop breathing and asphyxiate. That happens in a matter of seconds and certainly less than a minute after a person is injected with the drug. That’s why it’s used in anesthesia. It helps doctors get those breathing tubes down the throat easier during surgeries. It’s a wonderfully effective drug and fast acting, but the bad news is that while the drug is working (causing ALL muscles to stop functioning) the person remains wide awake with no sedative effect. So it’s an agonizing death for sure.
Why would SUX make a great murder weapon? Because it metabolizes (gets broken down by the body) almost immediately into the byproducts succinic acid and choline, both of which are normal to the body. So at autopsy, minutely elevated levels of these chemicals are the only evidence of the crime, and a toxicologist could easily overlook the slightly abnormal blood chemistry. It would be difficult to prove murder without corroborating evidence linking the actual injection to the perpetrator.
The second drug that could make the perfect murder weapon is potassium chloride. This drug specifically is used for patients with low levels of potassium in their blood. And, when dosed, the drug simply is metabolized into potassium and chloride, both of which are normally in the body. But what about elevated blood levels of these components, you ask? Good question! You’re paying attention.
The simple answer is found in the effects of a potassium chloride overdose. It causes severe heart arrhythmias and mimics a heart attack. In a matter of minutes, the heart spasms out of control and then simply stops functioning in what’s called SCD (sudden cardiac death). Now that alone is enough to kill but what about those pesky elevated blood levels of potassium. No problem, because whenever any muscle tissue is damaged (and the heart is muscle tissue), unusually large amounts of potassium are released into the bloodstream. So a medical examiner would likely list the cause of death as a fatal heart attack.
But the murderer would have to choose carefully which potassium chloride to use. It would have to be ONLY the injected kind. The pills that are available from pharmacy shelves wouldn’t work because of the failsafe system we have in our GI tracts to prevent overdoses from unusually large intakes of oral potassium. The over the counter supplements would just pass through our gut without being absorbed. The injectable liquid, however, all goes to provide a therapeutic, or lethal, effect.
So there you have it, a BONUS. Not one but two great drug choices for the perfect murder. Is it any wonder that the prison system uses both of these drugs in the trio cocktail mix for lethal injections? Happy writing as you plot the next perfect crime.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.