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The Christmas poisoner who murdered by the book

31 December 2015

From The Guardian:

On 24 December 1977 in Créances, France, Maxime Masseron, 80, and his wife sat down for their Christmas Eve meal. They had decided to open a bottle of Côtes du Rhône given to them by their nephew, Roland Roussel, in the summer. The elderly couple were normally abstemious and they had saved the bottle for a special occasion. Perhaps they toasted their nephew before they took a drink. A few minutes later Maxime was dead and his wife was unconscious.

Fortunately a neighbour found the couple and Mrs Masseron was rushed to hospital but was still in a coma 11 days later. Doctors thought it was a case of food poisoning; the couple had made a mistake in the preparation of their festive food, a tragic accident. However, the diagnosis came into question a few days later when the couple’s son-in-law, Paul Isabert, and the local carpenter, Roger Regnault, called at the Masseron’s home. The bottle of wine was still on the table. Perhaps the pair drank to the memory of Maxime or to the speedy recovery of his wife. Maybe they just didn’t want to waste the wine. Whatever the reason, they both collapsed on the floor unconscious.

Thankfully, Isabert and Regnault both recovered but it was now clear that it wasn’t food poisoning that had affected the Masserons and the police got involved. Analysis of the remaining wine revealed it wasn’t just Côtes du Rhône in the bottle, there was also a lethal poison, atropine.

Roussel, who had presented the wine to the Masserons, immediately fell under suspicion and a police search of his apartment yielded some damning evidence. There were bottles of medicine and poisons; magazine and newspaper articles on poisons and, most suspiciously, several Agatha Christie novels.

Christie is renowned for her use of poison in her crime novels and her collected works are a rich source of information and inspiration for the potential murderer.

. . . .

Christie is absolutely right that atropine can be obtained from eye drops. In the appropriate dose, applied directly to the eye, atropine dilates the pupil by paralysing the muscles that normally cause it to contract. The other symptoms described by Christie are exactly what you would expect for atropine poisoning.

. . . .

As Roussel found out, Christie is not an infallible guide to committing the perfect crime. The science in Christie’s crime stories is usually of a very high standard but a lot has changed since the time she was writing. Today sophisticated analytical techniques mean a broad range of poisons can be tested simultaneously and atropine could be identified with a very high degree of accuracy even if it wasn’t initially suspected.

I don’t think Christie can be blamed for inspiring Roussel – he had certainly done a lot of additional research into poisons – but unfortunately for him, not enough to get away with it.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Sean for the tip.

Books in General

8 Comments to “The Christmas poisoner who murdered by the book”

  1. Be careful of reading health books, you might die of a misprint. — Mark Twain

    Famous Last Words: “hmm…wikipedia says it’s edible”

  2. Plants can be freaking dangerous—including common remedies like St. John’s Wort and feverfew, which interact with some common medications.

  3. And this excerpt was a great mystery in itself… we learned whodunit. But why? So now where can I buy the book? 🙂

    • Answering myself… I went to the source article, and I see that the couple who drank the wine weren’t even the intended victims! And no one knows who was. A mystery without an ending, still.

  4. If someone wants you gone, the only question is whether they will be caught at it and punished.

    By definition, we’ll never know, because those who don’t get caught don’t contribute to the crime statistics.

    The best crime is the one which somehow passes as ‘natural causes’ of ‘bad luck.’

    • Fallacious, ma’am. It’s Motive, Means, and Opportunity. No matter how strong your motive is, if you lack the means or the opportunity, your intended victim will not die. I have a close relative who very much wants me gone, but I’m not giving him any opportunities, and I’m still here.

  5. The book _A is for Arsenic_ is a neat guide to the poisons used by Agatha Christie (or perhaps I should say, used in her books).

  6. I wrote a short story about a crazy erotica writer who killed a nasty reviewer by poisoning her macaroons with arsenic.


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