Poisoners are sneaky. Non-confrontational. Insidious, because the victim doesn’t stand a chance.
But what else do they have in common? What personality traits distinguish the poisoner from other types of murderers? A scientist from Michigan is about to find the answer, undertaking what is believed to be the first comprehensive study of the psychology of criminal poisoners. And the study that John H. Trestrail III, author, forensic toxicologist, and pharmacist, is about to begin will have a strong historical focus, while using the same methodologies that the FBI Behavioral Science Unit used to profile serial sexual killers—namely, interviews with living specimens.
Trestrail, managing director of a regional poisoning center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has already authored a manual for the FBI on investigating criminal poisonings. (He’s also asked to consult with authors and TV show producers on poisons, but says he doesn’t feel comfortable broadcasting detailed knowledge on the subject of how it’s done; there are real poisoners out there, he says, who might think to themselves, “Hey, I have some of that in my garage….”)
His manual, Criminal Poisoning: An Investigational Guide for Law Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists, and Attorneys examines all that is known about the use of poison as a weapon in murder and reaches quite far back. Trestrail drew on his own collection of 1,000 books going back 300 years to review the various poisons that murderers have used over the generations.
With such a vast body of historical, scientific, and anecdotal knowledge, Trestrail will approach his study of the psychology of poisoners with some hypotheses. For one thing, he believes that love and money are the principal motivators for poisonings. Although most known poisoners are men, he thinks that most criminal poisoners are actually female – they’re just better at getting away with it. It is women who caretake the sick, make the meals, clean the house… and when they end lives with poisons, they are not as often caught. Trestrail also notes that almost half (!) of the poisoners who have been caught had more than one victim.
Trestrail’s earlier book explained how poisoners accomplish their foul deeds. This new work-in-progress will explain who. That ought to fascinate armchair criminal psychologists everywhere. I can’t wait to read that book.
Michigan Public Radio interview with Trestrail on Sept. 16, 2005.