Header Image Source: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Green silk day dress, 1868 (via The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
"The Arsenic Waltz" (via Wellcome Collection)
Advertisement for wall papers "Free From Arsenic" (Wellcome Collection via Wikipedia)
“On November 20, 1861, Matilda Scheurer, a 19-year-old artificial flower maker, died of “accidental” poisoning.
The formerly healthy, “good-looking” young woman worked for Mr. Bergeron in central London, along with a hundred other employees. She “fluffed” artificial leaves, dusting them with an attractive green powder that she inhaled with every breath and ate off her hands at each meal. The brilliant hue of this green pigment, which was used to colour dresses and hair ornaments, was achieved by mixing copper and highly toxic arsenic trioxide or “white arsenic” as it was known. The press described her death in grisly detail, and by all accounts, Scheurer’s final illness was horrible.
She vomited green waters; the whites of her eyes had turned green, and she told her doctor that “everything she looked at was green.” In her final hours, she had convulsions every few minutes until she died, with “an expression of great anxiety” and foaming at the mouth, nose and eyes. An autopsy confirmed that her fingernails had turned a very pronounced green and the arsenic had reached her stomach, liver, and lungs. As Punch wrote sarcastically in an article entitled “Pretty Poison-Wreaths” two weeks later, “It was proved by medical testimony that she had been ill from the same cause four times within the last eighteen months. Under such circumstances as these, death is evidently about as accidental as it is when resulting from a railway collision occasioned by arrangements known to be faulty.” To the nonmedical public, it seemed that Scheurer’s death was predictable and entirely preventable and that her life had been cruelly sacrificed to wealthy women’s desire for fashionable adornments.
Several philanthropic organizations took up her cause, including the aristocratic members of the Ladies’ Sanitary Association. One member, a Miss Nicholson, had already visited the garrets and workshops where flowers were made and had published a shocking firsthand account of following “half-clad” and “half-starved” little girls with bandaged hands and “some cutaneous disease” as they pick up an order of leaves and turn it into bouquets. Nicholson wrote that one of the girls stubbornly refused to work any more. She had observed her fellow flower makers in the workshop wearing handkerchiefs soaked with blood and she herself “had been kept on [working with] green . . . till her face was one mass of sores,” and she was almost blind. Nicholson’s article alerted her readers to the fact that the young, female workers were ignorant of the nature and effects of arsenical greens and “imagine that it gives them a dreadful cold.” After Scheurer’s death, the Ladies’ Sanitary Association commissioned Dr. A. W. Hoffman, an analytical chemist with a worldwide reputation, to test artificial leaves from a ladies’ headdress. Hoffman shared his results with the public in a London Times article sensationally titled “The Dance of Death.”The expert concluded that an average headdress contained enough arsenic to poison 20 people. The “green tarlatanes so much of late in vogue for ball dresses” contained as much as half their weight in arsenic, meaning a ball gown fashioned from 20 yards of this fabric would have 900 grains of arsenic. A Berlin doctor had also determined that “from a dress of this kind no less than 60 grains powdered off in the course of a single evening.” A grain, based on the weight of a wheat grain, is equivalent to 64.8 milligrams or 1/7000th of a pound. Four or five grains were lethal for an average adult…”
— Source: Jezebel article by Alison Matthews David
Header Image Source: Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash
Katilyn Arquette (via realcrimes.com)
Kaitlyn Arquette's vehicle (via ABQ Journal)
Lois Duncan and Kaitlyn Arquette (Courtesy of Lois Duncan via ABQ Journal)
“Known for her young adult suspense novels including I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, and Stranger With My Face, Lois Duncan essentially stopped writing the genre after her daughter Kaitlin Arquette was murdered in 1989. Now, there’s been a break in one of the most notorious cold cases in Albuquerque history.
In July, University of New Mexico police spoke with Paul Apodaca, 53, who told officers he’d committed some murders and wanted to talk to the police about them, Albuquerque police revealed during a press conference on Tuesday. Apodaca confessed to three rapes and three murders: the 1988 fatal stabbing of Althea Oakley, a 21-year-old UNM student who was attacked while walking home in June 1988; the shooting death of Duncan’s daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, a year later; and a second shooting death that occurred in between the other two killings. Police announced Apodaca has been charged with Oakley’s murder and that more charges are expected, pending further investigation.
Apodaca explained that his “hatred of women” drove him to stab Oakley, according to a regional ABC affiliate, which quoted a criminal complaint. “I think… what made me do it, what made me attack her was all, all the hatred I had for women, because, growing up I seen men treating women bad and they, they go for the bad guys, and I try to be nice and be good and they just didn’t want that. So, I was jealous and, and had hatred and I just released it,” Apodaca said in the complaint. Police at the press conference suggested the shootings of Duncan’s daughter, Arquette, and the yet-unnamed victim were similarly motivated by “dislike for women,” describing the deceased as randomly chosen “victims of opportunity.”
Arquette was killed the summer after she graduated high school in what seemed like an inexplicable freak attack. She was driving home after dinner at a friend’s house when two bullets entered the driver’s side of her red Ford Tempo and hit her in the head.
Duncan, who’d been writing suspense books for teens since the Sixties, pulled away from the genre. “I went weak after Kait’s murder,” she told BuzzFeed’s Tim Stelloh in 2014. “How could I even think about creating a novel with a young woman in a life-threatening situation?”
Meanwhile, the Albuquerque police failed to bring Arquette’s killer to justice for more than 30 years. They’d charged but were unable to convict two other people with the crime in a move Duncan believed had been meant to resolve the case in a hurry. Meanwhile, Apodaca, who at the time already had a history of violent crime against women and girls, had actually been at the scene of the crime that night. Officers took his contact info and let him leave. “He happened to be passing by,” was how the detective who’d found Arquette in her car would reportedly later explain the interaction in a deposition…”
Racked article by Jennifer Wright “The History of Green Dye Is a History of Death”
Jezebel article by Alison Matthews David
Res Medica, Journal of Royal Medical Society article by Jessica Charlotte Haslam
National Geographic article by Becky Little
British Medical Journal, (Feb. 15th, 1862)
Bust article by ‘F Yeah History’ “These Dresses Could—And Literally Did—Kill”
KRQE article by Courtney Allen
Rolling Stone article by Andrea Marks
Albuquerque Journal article by Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Buzzfeed article by Tim Stelloh “Who Killed Lois Duncan's Daughter?”
KOAT 7 Action News article by Maggie Krajewski
Wikipedia “Who Killed My Daughter?”