issue Summer 2022

A Deep Dive into Toxic Personalities

By Margaret Smith
Neil Bradbury, PhD

Have you ever felt the book you read or movie you watched didn’t go far enough? That it left out the truly intriguing bits? RFU professor of physiology and biophysics Neil Bradbury, PhD, has, which prompted him to research exactly what he was missing. These efforts are what would later manifest into his debut, non-fiction book “A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them” — a culmination of science, murder and history, suited for even the most devoutly curious minds.

“I’ve always been an avid reader of murder mysteries, like Agatha Christie — who obviously used a lot of poison (in her work). But one of the things that I’d always found disappointing in those stories... is that they never actually explained how they died,” Dr. Bradbury said. “And that was very frustrating for me as a scientist and a nerdy-science-geek, so I started to explore that.

“And then I figured, ‘Well, maybe why not just go ahead and write a book?’ I couldn’t find a book that covered the material in the way that I wanted it covered, so I figured, ‘Let me write the book I would like, and hopefully other people would enjoy it as well.’”

And they have. Not only has “A Taste for Poison” been successful on review-based platforms such as Amazon or Goodreads, but it has received media attention as well — notably being named “Book of the Week” by the Daily Mail, a UK media outlet. The buzz the book has accrued is well-merited given the extensive time and research Dr. Bradbury poured into its creation.

Over the course of two years, Dr. Bradbury researched and compiled the book — meditating heavily on textbooks, historical transcripts and even old newspaper accounts — finding rich, gruesome stories as close as Chicago and as far away as London. While academic writing is inseparable from Dr. Bradbury’s career, this book is his first venture into less-structured literature. Yet, he hopes it will not be his last.

For curious readers, Dr. Bradbury notes that “A Taste for Poison” is less of a guide on the uses of poison and more for entertainment purposes only. And, on a serious note, that not all chemicals are inherently bad — however, he reminds readers, “Don’t use any of the poisons in the book.”

Among the chapters in “A Taste for Poison” that detail murders and the substances used in the slayings:

Insulin, Ken Barlow and a Bathtub
In 1957, Kenneth Barlow of Yorkshire, England, reported that his pregnant wife had drowned in a bathtub. An investigation revealed he had injected her with enough insulin to treat two people over the course of a day.

Strychnine, Cream and Chicago
Thomas Neill Cream, a Scottish-born and Canadian-educated doctor, provided lethal pills to patients in Chicago and a romantic rival in rural Boone County in the early 1880s before being hanged for more poisonings in London.

Digoxin and the Angel of Death
Registered nurse Charles Cullen confessed to 40 overdose murders of patients in Pennsylvania and his native New Jersey from 1988 through 2003. Among the substances he used was digoxin, a medication for atrial fibrillation and other heart ailments.

Ricin and Georgi’s Waterloo Sunset
In a dark episode of the Cold War, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was crossing Waterloo Bridge in London when he was surreptitiously and fatally shot — possibly by a KGB agent using a rigged umbrella — with a pellet smaller than a pinhead and laced with ricin.

Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based freelance editor and writer whose work largely focuses on current socio-political happenings.