Monday, January 21, 2019

The Women's Weapon of Choice

By Sophie Dawson

Murder has been around since the beginning of man. One of the difference between the way men kill and women seems to be that women want to do it cleanly where men are okay will the more bloody methods. Of course, the men don’t worry about who has to clean up the mess.

Poison is the method of choice when women want to do away with someone. 90% of all poison murders are perpetrated by women. It’s clean, mostly, unless the poison causes vomiting or diarrhea. Physical strength or weapons prowess aren’t needed. Poisons can easily be baked into a food or put in a drink without the victim being aware they are being poisoned. Poisons can either be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.

In the 18 and early 19th centuries, arsenic was the most popular poison. It was called the Inheritance Powder, used to speed the demise of the older generation allowing the heirs to gain their fortune, or title, before nature took its course. 

Arsenic was commonly used in Chinese, as well as western medicine. Elizabethan women used a mixture of arsenic, vinegar, and chalk as makeup to whiten their faces. In Victorian times, Arsenic Complexion Wafers were used to clear up acne. It was also used to cure syphilis, making it a very popular drug. 

A brilliant green pigment was made with arsenic. The fabric dyed with this Emerald Green was beautiful but deadly when made into clothing. The arsenic would be absorbed through the skin resulting in many accidental deaths. 

FRC2014.07.406 A+B+C Arsenic Green Dress Photo by Suzanne Petersen, Bata Shoe Museum

Through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance arsenic was the poison of choice since it was undetectable. The Borgias, Pope Alexander VI, and his son, Cesare were all accused of using arsenic as a poison. Many other famous cases of arsenic poisoning are documented. In 1836, James Marsh, an English chemist created an accurate method to test for arsenic poisoning, leading to the end of the commonly used method of murder. Arsenic is now a controlled substance in most countries, not available without a special license.

Sophie Dawson has been researching poisons for her upcoming book, An Agent for Delaney, The Pinkerton Matchmaker Series, releasing February 8 on Amazon in Kindle, Print, and KU.


  1. Fascinating! I've never heard of "arsenic green" dresses, or accidental deaths from wearing the gorgeous color.