Unique lethal compounds fascinate me and, as a medical thriller writer, I’m constantly on the search for new methods of murder. Today, I’d like to discuss a most interesting chemical—perchloric acid. It has deadly potential in a number of ways and should be of interest to a variety of writers because of its versatility.
Perchloric acid is usually found as a water-based solution. It is colorless and odorless, but extremely deadly. Interestingly, because of its industrial use to etch chrome and crystal displays, it’s readily available on the Internet.
It is somewhat regulated, however, since it is also used to make rocket fuel; but someone with a little knowledge of chemistry can synthesize it by reacting sodium perchlorate with hydrochloric acid. Sodium perchlorate is used in standard laboratories to extract DNA; and hydrochloric acid, commonly known in the plumbing industry as muriatic acid, is used to clear clogged drains.
As a murder weapon, perchloric acid’s obvious potential is that it’s a strong acid. Actually, it’s classified as “a super acid”—that means perchloric acid is more acidic than 100% pure sulfuric acid. Upon contact with skin, eyes, or mucous membranes, this acid causes severe burns and tissue destruction. The villain in your murder plot will have to handle perchloric acid with neoprene gloves and use chemical goggles, a face shield and a rubber apron for protection from accidental spills. And the chemical should be stored in either glass or porcelain containers.
What is most fascinating about perchloric acid is that it’s a powerful oxidizer. This substance, while not necessarily combustible in itself, yields enough oxygen molecules when heated to cause fires and even explosions. When heated rapidly, such as with an incendiary device, perchloric acid reacts violently (often explosively) to oxidize paper, wood, metals such as copper and brass, and clothing. Clothing materials include nylon, polyester, cotton and wool.
Thus, perchloric acid could be the basis for a rather dramatic scene of personal or large-scale explosive destruction with residual intense fire. It would be like having several open oxygen canisters near a flame.
Another interesting advantage of using perchloric acid as a weapon is its potential to destroy DNA evidence. Because of its strong acid capacity and its explosive oxidizing capability, this chemical will destroy any DNA evidence inadvertently left behind by the perpetrator.
Although my job as a writer is to think like a villain, I also believe that most should get caught at some point. Perchloric acid will make that process much more difficult and possibly create some rather interesting plot twists.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!