Last week, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was exhumed to see if his death eight years ago was actually brought on by poison. With tensions in the Middle East high the investigation may have significant impact, although results won’t be ready for at least four months.
In the meantime, Digital Dying decided to examine some of the more famous, and weird poisoning cases across history…
Alexander Litvinenko, Russian Spy – Litvinenko served in the KGB and its successor, the Federal Security Service. After publicly accusing his superiors of ordering the assassination of Boris Berezovsky, a famous mathematician and critic of President Vladimir Putin he was arrested. Litvinenko fled Russia for England, where he wrote a pair of books that accused Russian secret services of staging apartment bombings and other acts of terrorism in order to bring Putin to power. On November 1, 2006 Litvinenko fell ill and was admitted to University College Hospital, where it was determined he had been poisoned with polonium-210, a rare and lethal radioactive isotope. No one knows for sure who poisoned Litvinenko but his activities on the day he fell ill provide a number of suspects.
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Early on he met with Dmitry Kovtun, a businessman and ex-KGB agent and Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard. The men also introduced Litvinenko to a thin tall man with central Asian features who went by the name, Vladislav Sokolenko. Later in the day, Litvinenko had lunch at a sushi restaurant with an Italian friend named Mario Scaramella, a nuclear waste expert who was part of a commission investigating KGB penetration into Italian politics. On November 22 Litvinenko’s doctors reported that he had had a heart attack in the night. The following day he died. In Litvinenko’s last known statement he accused Scaramella of poisoning him, but most of the investigation fell around Lugovoi. Britain was never able to extradite him and the following year he was elected into the Russian parliament, automatically granting him diplomatic immunity. Earlier this year Lugovoi underwent a lie detector test on the Russian TV show “Innocence Test”. He passed.
Socrates, Greek philosopher – The world’s most famous philosopher was a vocal social critic and drew many enemies. At the age of 70 he was put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to die by being given a dose of poison hemlock, a flowering plant native to the Mediterranean and southern Africa. Socrates’ supporters bribed a guard and arranged for his escape but the philosopher did not want to flee, believing it would indicate a fear of death. Socrates also firmly believed that he had voluntarily lived by the laws of Athens and therefore should die by them too. After drinking the poison Socrates was instructed to walk around until his legs became numb. He then lay down and the man who had administered the poison pinched his foot, Socrates could no longer feel his legs. The numbness slowly crept up his body until it reached his heart.
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Bando Mitsugoro VIII, Japanese comedian – Bando was born in 1906 and remains one of Japan’s most famous kabuki actors. He specialized in the aragato style, which involves using especially exaggerated forms and movements. Bando made his stage debut at age 7, by the time he was 25 he was performing at Tokyo’s prestigious Meiji-za theater. He later moved to the Kansai region of Japan and spent nearly 20 years performing in Osaka. Mitsugoro took part in the final performance at the famous Osaka Kabuki-za, which closed down in 1958 and became a department store. In 1973, the Japanese government formally declared him a “living national treasure”. Two years later, he visited a Kyoto restaurant with his friends and ordered an extra large portion of the infamous fugu fish.
Also known as puffer fish, the fish’s internal organs contain an ultra-poisonous toxin called tetrodotoxin. The fish is popular in restaurants, but chefs must spend years learning how to properly prepare the meat. Mitsugoro claimed he was immune to the fish’s poison and ordered four portions of fugu liver, the most poisonous part of the fish’s body. Reluctant to turn down the famous actor, the chef complied. Mitsugoro ate the toxic livers and promptly went into convulsions and paralysis. Seven hours later he died.