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FAMOUS & INFAMOUS VICTIMS OF POISON: Some proven, others speculative
The sudden death of powerful
individuals has often been accompanied by suspicion and charges of poison.
In the past, when toxins were not
detectable, all that needed to be looked for was a person with motive.
Anyone with a motive was considered a
potential assassin. In more modern
times, anyone dying under suspicious circumstances without an autopsy can be
the rumored (or perhaps real) victim of poison. (Author's comments in italics).
Suetonius claims that Augustus, in his
eighties, was done in by Augusta. He
claimed that she had smeared poison on the pears on a tree the Princeps was
particularly fond of. (Suetonius is often referred to in
historiography as a scandal-monger -- it seems unlikely that there was an
overwhelming need to assassinate a man in his eighties)
Actually he was poisoned by
his own hand. Found guilty of
corrupting the youth of Athens, he was forced to drink hemlock.
Another of Suetonius' poisoned
emperors. He apparently succumbed to
poisoned mushrooms served by his wife to make room for her son Nero.
Rumors abounded for several years that this
American President was done in by pro-slavery forces with either strychnine or
arsenic. Recent forensic evidence
suggests he was poisoned not by enemies but by the Salmonella he picked up from the potato salad at the dedication of
the Washington monument. The only
American president known to have died of food poisoning.
John Paul I (Albino Luciano). The shortest reigning pope in four
centuries, the youngest pope at the time death of his in 350 years and the
first pope to die unattended since 1600, his death caused a great deal of
speculation. The matter was complicated
further by the Vatican's refusal to perform an autopsy, and the official story
of his discovery not matching the reality.At least one author has woven a complicated conspiracy theory involving
the Vatican Bank, Jesuits, a FreeMason group called P-2, the fanatic Catholic
group Opus Dei and most of the Roman Curia.
are enough strange happenings in the death of John Paul I, the deliberate lies
and the strange behavior of certain church officials to render this as
"not proven" though the author personally thinks the conspiracy
theorists are wrong).
Pius XI (Achille Ratti). Another 20th Century papal death.
This pope was rumored to be on the verge of
condemning fascism in 1939 when he died rather suddenly.
Poisoning theorists point out that his
physician was a relative of the Italian Foreign Minister.
Alexander VI (Borgia). This Renaissance pope was the father of Lucretia Borgia -- one of
history's most infamous poisoners. Alexander VI was reputed to achieved his
office by literally poisoning the opposition. Then, according to Onofrio Panvino, the official chronicler of the
Popes, he poisoned three cardinals and numerous church notables to keep them
from interfering with the succession of his son, Cesare Borgia, as the next
pope. But Alexander died before his
task was complete. At his funeral
rumors abounded that he had poisoned himself accidentally by drinking a
doctored glass of wine intended for an opponent at a dinner party on a country
The acquiescence of the relatively young
Napoleon to his exile on Saint Helena, and his early death are a matter of some
speculation. At least one author has
gone so far as to suggest that Napoleon's death was the result of deliberate
arsenic poisoning on the part of the British government.
Mrs. Harding gets accused of this one. Harding was said to have
fallen afoul of his wife because of his marital infidelities
At the same time the President, who was on a
cross-country tour, had told his wife of the Teapot Dome scandal about to
erupt. She decided to do him in to save
him the pain of the scandal while they were in San Francisco. The doctors
present agreed he died of a stroke.
XIV. The Sun King died of natural causes, but he was the
rumored object of another type of chemical potion, love
philtres purchased by the Marquise de
Montespan. So widespread was poisons in Louis's
reign that in April 1679, 319 writs of arrest were handed down by a special
tribunal in the infamous "Affair of the
Poisoners. Thirty four were executed, four sent to the galleys and another
thirty-four sent in exiles. Among the
convicted was Catherin Deshayes, Madame Monvoisin, several nieces of Cardinal
Mazarin and assorted princesses, dukes, marquesses and other royalty.
The "Mad Monk"
actually died from repeated gunshot wounds and being dumped in the frozen River
Neva on December 29, 1916. But Prince
Felix Yussopov and other conspirators had tried to poison him first with
massive doses of cyanide. Rasputin's inhuman resistance was most likely due to
a common practice in the Russian courts of taking progressively larger doses of
popular poisons to acclimate his system and build up resistance.
As commander of the famed Afrika Corps, the "Desert
Fox" had captured the imagination of the German people. Then in 1944
Rommel was implicated in the July 20th plot to assassinate Hitler.
Unwilling to have Germany's greatest hero
identified as a co-conspirator, the Fuhrer gave him a choice. Either Rommel
would be subjected to a court-martial, found guilty and sentenced to death and
his family would be disgraced, or he could select death by poison.
In the event of the latter, his family would
be untouched and his reputation unmarred.
Rommel selected the latter means.
Adolf Hitler. There is still some controversy over the method of Hitler's
death though nearly all the eyewitnesses agree he shot himself, possibly biting on
a cyanide capsule at the same time for
insurance. But Hitler was the target of at least two aborted poisoning
attempts by his Minister of Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer.
After his release form Spandau Prison, Speer
claimed that he had soaked a cigar in water with the intent of using the
powerful alkaloids released by the nicotine to kill Hitler by serving it in his
tea. Speer also claimed that he had
secured a toxic agent he intended to introduce into the ventilation system of
Saddam Hussein. There is no evidence that anyone has ever actually attempted
to poison the Iraqi strong man. But
the "Butcher of Baghdad" is taking no
chances. He has returned to the tradition of having a food taster.
For several years this post was held by the
son of Saddam's chef, a particularly Machiavellian way of assuring the chef's
loyalty. The position became vacant
when Udai, Saddam's son, killed the food taster in an argument.
Who has the post now is not certain, though
it is not likely to be a high demand job.