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Could the Game of Thrones poisoning happen in real life?

Cyanide, deadly nightshade and pesticides have disturbingly similar symptoms to the toxin that took a powerful character’s life, writes Rachel Nuwer. Warning: this post is laced with potent spoilers.

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Polonium-210: A pretty good way to horribly murder somebody

Last week, a Swiss investigation found evidence to support the idea that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with polonium-210 — a radioactive element that's safe to carry around in a container, but causes unstoppable death if swallowed. NPR sat down with Deborah Blum, a science writer who specializes in the chemistry of poisonings, to talk about what makes polonium-210 a particularly handy way to off somebody and why it's so hard to bring a polonium poisoner to justice. Maggie 34

Where the Silk Road ends: Feds arrest 'Dread Pirate Roberts,' alleged founder of largest Bitcoin drug market


What users who attempt to connect to the Silk Road marketplace see now (HT: Adrian Chen)

Looks like the government shutdown didn't stop federal agents from shutting down the most popular "deep web" illegal drug market. In San Francisco, federal prosecutors have indicted Ross William Ulbricht, who is said to be the founder of Silk Road. The internet marketplace allowed users around the world to buy and sell drugs like heroin, cocaine, and meth.

The government announced that it seized about 26,000 Bitcoins worth roughly USD$3.6 million, making this the largest Bitcoin bust in history. There were nearly 13,000 listings for controlled substances on the Silk Road site as of Sept. 23, 2013, according to the FBI, and the marketplace did roughly USD$1.2 billion in sales, yielding some $80 million in commissions.

According to the complaint, the service was also used to negotiate murder-for-hire: "not long ago, I had a clean hit done for $80k," the site's founder is alleged to have messaged an associate.

Ulbricht, 29, is also known as "Dread Pirate Roberts."

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Solving a nearly 100-year-old cold case

Dan Herbeck of The Buffalo News has a story about how researchers are using historic archives and forensic data to solve (maybe) a nearly 100-year-old string of murders in upstate New York. The killings might have been the work of a previously unidentified serial killer. Maggie 2

Intro to Murder Ballads

Murder ballads are the true crime novels of the 16th-19th centuries. Lyrics telling the story of a murder were written, printed on broadsheets, and sold within days of the crime. Paul Slade is a UK journalist with a fascination for the history of murder ballads in the US and Europe. He maintains this great resource on the topic. Above, enjoy classic murder ballad "The Knoxville Girl" as sung by the Wilburn Brothers in 1959. While "The Knoxville Girl" is an Appalachian ballad, its roots can be traced back to 17th century England. Here's Slade on his love for Murder Ballads:

Cheerfully vulgar, reveling in gore, and always with an eye on the main chance, these songs were tabloid newspapers set to music, carrying news of all the latest 'orrible murders to an insatiable public.

People get stabbed, bludgeoned or shot in every verse, but the songs telling their tale never die Then there's the fact that murder ballads never stop mutating, morphing to suit local place names as they cross and re-cross the Atlantic, and changing with the times as they move down the decades to fascinate each generation's biggest musical stars. Victims are bludgeoned, stabbed or shot in every verse and killers are often hanged, but the songs themselves never die.

Murder Ballads

Investigating the Gulf Coast dolphin murders

Along the Gulf Coast, people are killing (and sometime gruesomely mutilating) dolphins in record numbers. At National Geographic, Rena Silverman goes in-depth on the killings, which investigators now believe are the work of multiple people who are not connected to one another. Xeni wrote about it last year, when that was apparently less clear. Is it less or more disturbing that this isn't likely to be an isolated dolphin serial killer? Maggie

Following a chain of unexplained deaths in Thailand

Over the past few years, multiple people have died in Thailand from what appears to be exposure to some kind of poison. Most of these people have been tourists. And most of them have been young women. The deaths have happened in clusters. Five or so on the island vacation hotspot of Kho Phi Phi. Another group of six at Chiang Mai's Downtown Inn.

Lots of possible explanations have been suggested — ranging from serial killers, to hallucinogenic beach drinks, to overuse of banned insecticides in hotel rooms. But, so far, none of the specific poisons proposed as the culprit totally makes sense in relation to the deaths. And, to make things worse, it seems like Thai authorities are doing their best to make it difficult to actually investigate what has happened in individual cases, and figure out whether the cases are linked or not. At this point, it's hard to even know whether all the people who have died exhibited the same symptoms.

Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who has done a lot of reporting on poisons and true crime has been following this story and just published another piece on the still-unfolding mess.

Your daughter died.

Your daughter died thousands of miles from home. In a hotel where no one came to help. In a hospital where she struggled to keep breathing and just couldn’t. In a room where her heart – and somehow you still don’t really believe this – just stuttered to a stop. In a country, where authorities have failed for months, years even, to tell you how or why your daughter died.

Your daughter, you’ve come to realize, died in a pattern that links too many other young women, a chain of suspected poisonings over the last few years. Jill St. Onge, 27, of Seattle, Washington, and Julie Bergheim, 22, of Drammen, Norway, who both died in May 2009 on the southern island of Koh Phi Phi. Sherifa Khalid, 24, of Kuwait, who died 12 hours she spent a day on the same island in July of the same year.

Read the rest of the story at Deborah Blum's blog, Elemental

Check out two previous stories that she's written on the same subject.

Children of tech executive slain in New York; nanny accused of murder and attempted suicide

Two of the three children of CNBC Digital senior vice president Kevin Krim and Marina Krim, a mom who maintained a blog about their family life, were apparently stabbed to death by their nanny last night in NYC.

Nanny Yoselyn Ortega (50) is accused of attacking Lulu (6) and Leo Krim (2), shown in the family photo at left; then trying to kill herself.

The details of how the mother (38) encountered her children are in the NYT story, CNN, and the tabloids. A third child was with Mrs. Krim when the attack happened at their home, and did not witness it.

From posts on the family blog [update: which is now offline] the nanny appears to have worked with the family for more than a year.

The Krim family visited Ms. Ortega's home and family in the Dominican Republic with her on a 9-day vacation this February.

The family LiveJournal contains thousands of photographs of the children, whose lives were chronicled there in loving detail by their mom. Marina Krim published an entry about her son just three hours before the attack.

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Forensic psychologist says mass killing is about culture, not mental illness

The story is familiar to us today: Somebody, usually a young man, walks into a public place, kills a bunch of people seemingly at random, and (usually) ends the murder spree with a suicide-by-cop.

But this story—at least, in Western culture—is startlingly new, relatively speaking. In fact, Paul Mullen, a forensic psychologist, says we can pin a date and place on the first time it happened. On September 4, 1913, in the German towns of Degerloch and Mühlhausen an der Enz, Ernst August Wagner killed his wife, his children, and at least nine strangers. He shot more than 20 people and set several fires during his killing spree. He ended up spending the rest of his life in an insane asylum.

But when we try to pin killings like these on mental illness, Mullen says, we're not quite hitting the right point. The people who go on killing sprees are mad, sure. But that's not the same thing as diagnosable, objective, physical mental illness. Only about 10% of the people ever arrested for crimes like this had actual mental illnesses. In fact, Mullen thinks these killings have more to do with culture than brain chemistry. His argument is interesting. And it might sound a little similar to the old "angry music made him do it!" trope. But what Mullen is talking about is different than that. Science journalist David Dobbs tries to explain the distinction:

I’m not saying the movies made Holmes crazy or psychopathic or some such. But the movies are a enormous, constant, heavily influential part of an American culture that fetishizes violence and glamorizes, to the point of ten-year wars, a militarized, let-it-rain approach to conflict resolution. And culture shapes the expression of mental dysfunction — just as it does other traits. This is why, say, relatively ‘simple’ schizophrenia — not the paranoid sort — takes very different forms in Western and some Eastern cultures. On an even simpler level, this is why competitive athleticism is more likely to express itself as football (the real kind) in Britain but as basketball in the U.S. Culture shapes the expression of behavioral traits.

This is an interesting argument and an interesting thing to think about.

Read the rest of David Dobbs' post about the difference between blaming movies for violence and talking about the consequences of violence in culture.

Watch the video of Paul Mullen discussing cultural violence, mental illness, and spree killings

Read a very good post at the Neuroanthropology blog that expands on Paul Mullen's ideas and provides more interesting links

Canadian politician: My internet spying bill would help us catch serial killers like Luka Magnotta

The Toronto Sun today reports that "politicians and their aides in Ottawa have been shocked by the gruesome killing" attributed to Luka Magnotta. But not too shocked to exploit it for their own political gain! Buried in a story about how the missing accused murderer will face charges of "Criminal harassment" for sending dead body parts to lawmakers, in addition to all the murder and ass-cheek-eating and corpse-sexing stuff:

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Responding to "cannibal fever," CDC denies existence of zombies

"CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms)," wrote the US government agency spokesman David Daigle in an email to The Huffington Post. Xeni

Cannibal news: MMA fighter, high on ’shrooms, ate friend’s still-beating heart

A California judge has determined that a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter accused of killing his friend and sparring partner "by ripping his still-beating heart from his chest after gruesomely beating and torturing" him is mentally fit to stand trial. Prior to the attack, the two had consumed mushroom tea. There have been an awful lot of news stories like this one, this week. (thanks, @mattbors) Xeni

Accused Maryland cannibal-murderer who ate pal's heart and brain had podcast, was into QR codes, self-publishing

Profile pic Alex Kinyua, aka COREeye67, used for his "WARRIOR SYNDICATE RADIO (WSR-366)" podcast.


Maryland resident Alexander Kinyua reportedly confessed to police that he killed his a man who lived with his family for months by cutting him up with a knife, then eating his heart and parts of his brain.

The Baltimore Sun reports about the online life of Kinyua, an electrical engineering major at Morgan State University and long-time member of its ROTC program. He was "always in his own little world, preaching everywhere he went and talking about how he was writing a book," said one acquaintance.

Kinyua's online life included a self-published podcast, motivational videos on YouTube, lots of Facebook posts, a manic stream of internet comments directed at media figures and celebrities, and plans to self-publish an e-book.

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Gay porn actor in Canada wanted for killing friend, publishing dismembering videos, mailing body parts

Authorities in Canada are searching for 29-year-old Luka Rocco Magnotta, an adult film actor who appears on various websites featuring hardcore gay male porn. Magnotta is beleived to be the man responsible for killing a friend, videotaping and then publishing online video of the man's dismemberment, then mailing body parts to various addresses in Ottawa, including the ruling Conservative party's headquarters.

A human torso recently discovered in Montreal, and a human hand and foot mailed from Montreal to Ottawa, are all presumed to be connected to the killing.

In 2009, Magnotta (or someone using his name) published a blog post on "how to disappear completely and never be found."

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Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder

George Zimmerman, the Florida man who killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, was charged today with second-degree murder. [Wapo] Previously.