Bitter Almonds

Bitter almondsIf you’re a reader of whodunits you’re probably familiar with this scene. The detective (perhaps a professional detective or maybe an amateur sleuth, it makes no difference) comes across the body of the recently deceased and takes a whiff (perhaps of the deceased mouth or maybe from the glass where the deceased took a final drink) and utters:

“Ah. The unmistakable scent of bitter almonds. This is a case of cyanide poisoning. The deceased has been murdered.” 

The thing is, I have no idea what bitter almonds smell like, and I always wondered how those detectives were so familiar with that apparently distinctive odor.

Oh, well. It’s escapist fiction. No need to ask too many questions.

But there were were some real murders done with cyanide 40 years as Phoebe Judge recollects in the latest episode of her Criminal podcast, The Tylenol Murders.

On September 29, 1982, Adam Janus suddenly collapsed in his home outside of Chicago. He died within hours. Later that same day, in the same house, his brother also collapsed — then his sister-in-law. All three of them had been healthy. Nobody could figure out what was going on.

Probably people under the age of about 40 or so don’t recall a time when products didn’t have tamper proof packaging. 

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