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The Case of Stella Nickell

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									THE CYANIDE
  FRAUD
                                             Table Of Contents
WHAT IS FORENSIC SCIENCE? ......................................................................................3
   FORENSIC SCIENCE IN IRELAND..............................................................................................3
   WHAT TYPES OF CRIME DOES THE LABORATORY GET INVOLVED IN? ....................................4
   WHAT TYPES OF SCIENTIFIC TESTS ARE USED IN THE LABORATORY?.....................................4
TIMELINE ..............................................................................................................................5
   WHAT ARE THE GREEN SPECKS? .................................................................................6
WHAT IS POTASSIUM CYANIDE? ..................................................................................8
   HAZARDS IDENTIFICATION .....................................................................................................8
     Overview ............................................................................................................................8
     Ratings................................................................................................................................8
     Potential Health Effects.....................................................................................................8
   FIRST AID MEASURES ...........................................................................................................10
     Inhalation: .......................................................................................................................10
     Ingestion: .........................................................................................................................10
     Skin Contact: ...................................................................................................................10
     Eye Contact: ....................................................................................................................10
   EXPOSURE CONTROLS/PERSONAL PROTECTION...................................................................11
     Airborne Exposure Limit: ...............................................................................................11
     Ventilation System: ..........................................................................................................11
     Personal Respirators: .....................................................................................................11
     Skin Protection: ...............................................................................................................11
     Eye Protection: ................................................................................................................11
   PHYSICAL AND CHEMICAL PROPERTIES ...............................................................................12
     Appearance:.....................................................................................................................12
     Odour: ..............................................................................................................................12
     Solubility: .........................................................................................................................12
     Specific Gravity: ..............................................................................................................12
     pH: ....................................................................................................................................12
     Boiling Point: ...................................................................................................................12
     Melting Point: ..................................................................................................................12
   STABILITY AND REACTIVITY ................................................................................................13
     Stability: ...........................................................................................................................13
     Hazardous Decomposition Products: ............................................................................13
     Incompatibilities: .............................................................................................................13
     Conditions to Avoid:........................................................................................................13
REFERENCES......................................................................................................................14

THANKS TO .........................................................................................................................15




                                                                                                                                             2
What is Forensic Science?

Forensic Science means any science which is used as evidence in a court of law. It is also
taken to mean scientific analysis and comparison used in the detection and investigation of
crime.

The idea was popularised by authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (through his detective
Sherlock Holmes). More recently books like “The General” and “Killers” deal with the Irish
scene.

The idea of using science in the fight against crime arose from the frequency of human
poisoning across Europe during the middle ages. Poisoning was difficult to detect because
the way of dying was similar to death by many of the untreatable infectious diseases of the
time. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the first steps were made to demonstrate the
use of poison by analysing the corpse for toxic substances.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the acceptance of the idea that everybody had
different fingerprints made a great impression on the detection crime, as did the discovery
that people had different blood groups so that blood stains left at a scene or found on an
injured party could be linked to a suspect.


Forensic Science in Ireland

The Forensic Science Laboratory was founded in 1975 to provide a scientific analytical
service in criminal investigation.

The laboratory is divided into four sections: Administration, Biology, Chemistry, and Drugs
/ Toxicology.

The Biology section deals largely with crimes against the person, examining hairs, fibres,
blood and other body fluids in cases such as assault, murder and sexual assault.

The Chemistry section deals mainly with crimes against property, examining materials such
as paint, glass, soil, fire debris, hair, fibres and explosives. Case types include armed
robbery, burglary and hit and run traffic accidents.

In the Drugs section all suspected drugs of abuse seized by the Gardai are analysed to see if
they are controlled substances. Items that might have come into contact with drugs such as
weighing scales, knives to cut up a drug like cannabis resin, or hypodermic syringes used to
inject drugs are examined for traces of controlled drugs.

The laboratory spends a lot of time comparing samples from suspects with samples from
victims and crime scenes, through the examination of materials such as glass fragments,
paint flakes, fibres, hairs, traces of soil, blood or other body fluids.




                                                                                              3
What types of crime does the Laboratory get involved in?


The laboratory gets involved in the investigation of hit and run traffic accidents, criminal
damage, arson, possession of drugs, poisoning, armed robbery, sexual offences, kidnapping,
fraud, murder, firearm offences, explosives and any offences where physical evidence occurs.



What types of scientific tests are used in the laboratory?

The laboratory uses light microscopy, comparison microscopy, scanning electron
microscopy (SEM) electrophoresis, DNA profiling, infra-red spectroscopy (including FTIR-
microscopy), thin layer chromatography (TLC), high pressure liquid chromatography
(HPLC) capillary column gas chromatography (GC), GC/ITD, GC-mass spectrometry,
microspectrophotometry, UV spectroscopy including use of diode array detectors, and X-
Ray Fluorescence.




                                                                                          4
Timeline


June 6, 1986
   Bruce Nickell, Stella Nickell’s husband dies in Auburn, Washington of what is belived
   to be emphizma.
June 11, 1986

   Sue Snow found by 15 year-old daughter on bathroom floor unconscious. Sue Snow
   dies in hospital shortly after without ever regaining consciousness.
June 12 -15 1986

   During Sue Snow’s Autopsy a bitter almond odor is found by Assistant Medical
   Examiner Janet Miller. Cause of death was acute Cyanide poisoning later linked to two
   Extra-Strength Excedrin Capsules she had taken before her death.

June 16, 1986
   FDA publishes lot number of Cyanide laced painkiller. Bristol-Myers, makers of
   Excedrin, recalls all the capsules.

June 17, 1986
   Stella Nickell telephones police to inform them that her husband, Bruce, had died
   suddenly after taking Extra-Strength Excedrin Capsules. Bruce suffered from cronic
   headaches, and took pain medication regularly.
June 19, 1986
   A sample of Bruce Nickell’s blood (available since he was an organ donor) tested
   positive for cyanide.
   Police discover two bottles of tainted capsules in the Nickell home.
   Police find no connection found between the deaths of Snow and Nickell., apart from the
   Contaminated Excedrin.
June - December 1986
   Recalled bottles scanned at airport security gates in the X-ray machine, as well as at X-
   ray machines at hospitals. Potassium absorbs X rays, so potassium cyanide would show
   up as dark spots on the film, while usual ingredients of Excedrin would not.
   Two more bottles of contaminated painkillers found in store in Auburn and Kent,
   Washington.
   A local Chemist examines all five contaminated bottles and finds nothing except the
   cyanide.
   Bottles sent to FBI crime lab. The actual bottles are examined for fingerprints,
   toolmarks, any other leads. Nothing is found.



                                                                                               5
   FBI chemist (Roger Martz) examines contents of each capsule and discovers that all
   contain tiny crystal-like specks of green. It turns out the Seattle chemist was color-blind
   and therefore could not see the specks of green.



WHAT ARE THE GREEN SPECKS?

   Martz found that most of the green specks consisted of sodium chloride, common table
   salt. This is common as many products use NaCl to add bulk and carry active
   ingredients. Martz analysed the green specks on the mass spectrometer and found that it
   consisted of four common chemicals, but did not know what the combination of these
   four chemicals comprised. The mass spectrometer failed to identify the product which
   these specks came from. Martz found out that these four chemicals appeared together in
   algaecides - products used in fish ponds and aquariums, to prevent algae growing.
   Seattle investigators begin to focus on Stella Nickell, after a Seattle detective
   remembered seeing a fish tank is Stella’s home. The FBI discover she took out 3 life
   insurance policies on her husband within the past year. Handwriting analysis showed
   that Stella forged Bruce’s signature on policies. Stella would collect an extra
   $175,000.00 if he met an accidental death. (Death by poisoning is considered accidental
   by insurance companys)
   Detectives visit pet stores to read labels on algaecides . Only one product contains all
   four of the chemicals: "Algae Destroyer." Green tablets identical in colour to specks
   found in capsules.
   Agents go to pet stores in Stella’s locality and find a clerk, called Tom Noonan, at a
   store in Kent who identifies Stella as a purchaser of "Algae Destroyer."
   Stella fails a polygraph examination and calls in her attorney.


January 1987 - December 1987
   Stella’s daughter, Cynthia, comes with the information that her mother often spoke of
   killing Bruce Nickell. She said that Stella had admitted an attempt with foxglove and
   doing research on cyanide at the library.
   Local libraries were canvassed. Computer search leads to a number of books. These
   books were sent to FBI Crime Lab for fingerprinting. The book Deadly Harvest contains
   84 of Stella’s prints with the largest amount on the pages discussing cyanide.
   Algae Destroyer was found in Stella’s home. (She had mashed the cyanide salts with the
   Excedrin powder in the same bowl she’d used to mash Algae Destroyer, without washing
   the bowl.)

December 9, 1987

   Stella Nickell charged with murder by Product Tampering.




                                                                                                 6
April 1988
   Stella pleads not guilty in her federal court trial.

May 9, 1988

   The jury find’s Stella Nickell guilty. She was the first person ever brought to trial and
   convicted of causing death by product tampering.

June 17, 1988
   Stella Nickell sentenced to 90 years, with no parole until 2018 (she will be 74 ).




                From this case came the practice of tamper-proof packaging.




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                         What is Potassium Cyanide?


                                 Hazards Identification

Overview

   POISON! DANGER! MAY BE FATAL IF SWALLOWED, INHALED OR
   ABSORBED THROUGH SKIN. CONTACT WITH ACIDS LIBERATES
   POISONOUS GAS. CAUSES BURNS TO SKIN, EYES, AND
   RESPIRATORY TRACT. AFFECTS BLOOD, CARDIOVASCULAR
   SYSTEM, CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM AND THYROID.



Ratings



   Health Rating: 3 - Severe (Poison)
   Flammability Rating: 0 - None
   Reactivity Rating: 2 - Moderate
   Contact Rating: 3 - Severe (Life)
   Lab Protective Equip: GOGGLES; LAB COAT; VENT HOOD; PROPER
   GLOVES
   Storage Color Code: Blue (Health)


Potential Health Effects

   In most cases, cyanide poisoning causes a healthy pink to red skin color. However, if
   a physical injury or lack of oxygen is involved, the skin color may be bluish.
   Reddening of the eyes and pupil dilation are symptoms of cyanide poisoning.
   Cyanosis (blue discoloration of the skin) tends to be associated with severe cyanide
   poisonings.

   Inhalation:
   Corrosive to the respiratory tract. The substance inhibits cellular respiration and may
   cause blood, central nervous system, and thyroid changes. May cause headache,
   weakness, dizziness, labored breathing nausea and vomiting, which can be followed
   by weak and irregular heart beat, unconsciousness, convulsions, coma and death.


   Ingestion:
   HIGHLY TOXIC!!! Corrosive to the gastro-intestinal tract with burning in the mouth


                                                                                             8
and esophagus, and abdominal pain. Larger doses may produce sudden loss of
consciousness and prompt death from respiratory failure. Smaller but still lethal
doses may prolong the illness for one or more hours. Bitter almonds odor may be
noted on the breath or vomit. Other symptoms may be similar to those for inhalation
exposure.


Skin Contact:
Corrosive. May cause severe pain and skin burns. Solutions are corrosive to the skin
and eyes, and may cause deep ulcers which heal slowly. May be absorbed through
the skin, with symptoms similar to those for inhalation.


Eye Contact:
Corrosive. Symptoms may include redness, pain, blurred vision, and eye damage.




                                                                                       9
First Aid Measures


Inhalation:
   If inhaled, remove to fresh air. Administer antidote kit and oxygen per pre-planned
   instructions if symptoms occur. Keep patient warm and at rest. Do not give mouth
   to mouth resuscitation.


Ingestion:
   If ingested, antidote kit and oxygen should be administered as above. If the patient is
   awake, immediately give the patient activated charcoal slurry. Never give anything
   by mouth to an unconscious person. Do not induce vomiting.


Skin Contact:
    Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing
   contaminated clothing and shoes. Get medical attention immediately. Wash clothing
   before reuse. Thoroughly clean shoes before reuse. Administer antidote kit and
   oxygen per preplanned instructions if symptoms occur.


Eye Contact:
   Immediately flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes, lifting lower and
   upper eyelids occasionally. Get medical attention immediately.




                                                                                             10
Exposure Controls/Personal Protection

Airborne Exposure Limit:
   Permissible Exposure Limit:
   5 mg/m3 skin

Ventilation System:
   A system of local and/or general exhaust is recommended to keep employee
   exposures below the Airborne Exposure Limits. Local exhaust ventilation is
   generally preferred because it can control the emissions of the contaminant at its
   source, preventing dispersion of it into the general work area.

Personal Respirators:
   If the exposure limit is exceeded, wear a supplied air, full-facepiece respirator,
   airlined hood, or full-facepiece self-contained breathing apparatus. This substance
   has poor warning properties.


Skin Protection:
   Wear impervious protective clothing, including boots, gloves, lab coat, apron or
   coveralls, as appropriate, to prevent skin contact.


Eye Protection:
   Use chemical safety goggles and/or full face shield where dusting or splashing of
   solutions is possible. Maintain eye wash fountain and quick-drench facilities in work
   area.




                                                                                           11
Physical and Chemical Properties



Appearance:

    White, granular solid.



Odour:

    Bitter almonds.


Solubility:

    Very soluble in water.


Specific Gravity:

    1.55


pH:

    11


Boiling Point:

    1625C


Melting Point:

    634C




                                   12
Stability and Reactivity



Stability:

    Very stable when dry. Moisture will cause slow decomposition, releasing poisonous
    hydrogen cyanide gas.


Hazardous Decomposition Products:

    Emits toxic fumes of cyanide and oxides of nitrogen when heated to decomposition.


Incompatibilities:

    Strong acids and strong oxidizers. Reacts with acids to liberate toxic and flammable
    hydrogen cyanide gas. Water or weak alkaline solutions can produce dangerous
    amounts of hydrogen cyanide in confined areas. Can react with carbon dioxide in
    ordinary air to form hydrogen cyanide gas.


Conditions to Avoid:

    Heat, moisture, incompatibles.




                                                                                           13
References

  Books
  Bitter Almonds - Gregg Olsen
  Deadly Harvest - Various Authors

  Television
  Discovery Channel (Europe) - Medical Detectives - Something’s Fishy
  CBS - 48 Hours - Bitter Pill

  Internet
  Selection of URLS




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Thanks To

Discovery Channel
Gerry D’arcy
CBS
Barbara O Riordan
Garda Technical Bureau
Public Analyst Lab (Galway)
Gregg Olsen
The Forensic Science Laboratory of Ireland




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