Dead Reckoning

It's been six months since John Mullen was served up an arsenic cocktail. So whodunit?

Arsenic has been the object of macabre fascination for centuries. Some believe Napoleon Bonaparte's death in 1821 can be traced to arsenic, because small amounts of the substance were found in his hair. (The French ruler's residence was decorated with wallpaper containing Paris green, an arsenic-laced compound used in fabrics that was not recognized as a health hazard until the end of the nineteenth century.) And arsenic was the homicidal poison of choice for murder-mystery writers of yesteryear. In 1944 Cary Grant starred in Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace, the classic comedic tale of two sweet old ladies whose hobby is killing lonely old men and burying them in their cellar.

But murder by arsenic, which seemed almost fashionable in the early nineteenth century, became far less popular when, in the 1830s, British chemist James Marsh developed a sure-fire method for detecting the substance.

"One thing about arsenic," notes Michael Graham. "Once it gets in the body, it stays there forever."

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