Segments in this Video

Fremont and Annie Jackson Mystery (03:11)


A maid enters a hotel room and finds two people dead. Experts consider their causes of death. In 1922, 997 New Yorkers died of poisoning.

Credits: The Poisoner's Handbook (00:58)

Credits: The Poisoner's Handbook

Coroners, Science, and Law Enforcement (02:13)

Medical Examiner Charles Norris studies victims' bodies to find out how they died. Learn how suspicious deaths were traditionally handled.

Charles Norris Creates a Medical Legal System (01:51)

Learn about Norris' education. In 1918, bitterly opposed by Mayor Red Mike Hylan, he helped create the medical examiner's office.

Toxicology Lab (02:38)

Charles Norris teamed with Alexander Gettler. Forensic Pathologist Michael Baden recalls meeting Gettler. Gettler looked for the poison that killed the Jacksons.

Alexander Gettler (02:22)

Alexander Gettler examined the contents of the Jacksons' stomachs, looking for cyanide. Learn about Gettler's childhood and education.

Cyanide Poisoning? (02:34)

Alexander Gettler found no traces of cyanide in the Jacksons' tissues. Police learned that the hotel fumigated rooms with Cynogas.

Poison Mystery Unfolds (01:46)

Police learned how cyanide gas entered the Jacksons' apartment. Alexander Gettler located cyanide in Fremont Jackson's lungs.

Forensic Science in Court (03:14)

Alexander Gettler provided testimony on cyanide; the defense attorney made him look foolish. Gettler performed hundreds of tests and wrote "Toxicology of Cyanide."

Chemical Revolution (01:57)

In the 1920s, new materials were created and old materials altered for new uses. Infant mortality rates dropped and life spans increased. WWI created revulsion for chemical weapons.

Poison on the Grocery Store Shelf (00:50)

Many chemicals were in medications, pesticides, and cosmetics. Pharmaceutical companies were not required to test products.

Newark, 1923 (03:28)

Mary Frances Creighton's brother, Charles died after moving in. Police investigated and charged Mary Frances with murder.

Second Case Against Creighton (03:18)

Police investigated Mary Frances Creighton's involvement with her in-laws' deaths. Alexander Gettler examined the mother-in-law's remains.

Mary Frances Creighton's Second Trial (03:25)

Alexander Gettler gives testimony about the tests he performed on the mother-in-law's remains. Creighton was found not guilty.

New York, 1923 (02:07)

Migration fueled a cultural renaissance. Learn about Alexander Gettler's personal life.

Prohibition (02:34)

Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler opposed prohibition. People turned to other forms of liquor, some poisonous. Learn the effects of methanol.

Poisoned Alcohol (01:19)

Methanol became one of Alexander Gettler's obsessions; he worked to stop the spread of the poison. Charles Norris publicized prohibition's toll.

Failures While Building Science (01:28)

Alexander Gettler found comfort in chemistry. Charles Norris was under constant pressure and personally bankrolled the department.

1924: Elizabeth, New Jersey (02:52)

Some employees at the Standard Oil Refinery began to do strange things; they worked with leaded gasoline-Tetraethyl lead.

Cars Transformed American Life (02:37)

If gasoline was leaded, Standard Oil and GM stood to gain a large profit. New Jersey ordered the "looney gas building" closed and sought the help of Charles Norris.

Death by Lead Poisoning (02:48)

Andrew Gettler confirmed lead in the men's bodies, measured the precise lead concentration, and traced the lead's passage through the body.

Ban Leaded Gasoline? (02:18)

Charles Norris issued a report on Standard Oil employee deaths; cities banned leaded gasoline. President Coolidge's expert panel dismissed the report and restrictions were lifted; Norris took a six month break.

New Authority (01:34)

Gentleman Jimmy Walker succeeded Mayor Red Mike Hylan. Charles Norris returned to his duties with new enthusiasm.

Murder? (02:32)

Charles Norris examines the remains of a woman's body and announces her cause of death; the DA disagrees.

Push to Take Forensic Science Seriously (02:00)

Francesco Travia was a loner who lived near the Brooklyn waterfront. Charles Norris believed Anna Fredericksen died of carbon monoxide poisoning; police arrested Travia.

How Did Anna Fredericksen Die? (03:39)

Alexander Gettler discovered that dead bodies cannot absorb carbon monoxide. Francesco Travia and Gettler testified and detectives began taking forensic science seriously.

Toxic Liquor (02:09)

On December 24, 1926, patients flooded New York emergency rooms. During Prohibition, denatured alcohol became an attractive source for bootleg liquor.

Prohibition, a Chemical War (01:49)

Alexander Gettler found an array of poisons in denatured liquor. Charles Norris used the information to campaign against Prohibition.

December 31, 1926 (02:31)

The government doubled the poison and added benzine to denatured alcohol. On New Year's Day, the hospital morgue overflowed and Charles Norris chronicled the epidemic.

Fall, 1927 (03:04)

Alexander Gettler and Charles Norris investigated a 5-year-old murder; they encountered radium for the first time. The public believed radium had health giving properties.

Dial Painter Deaths (01:43)

Learn how radium exposure affected Amelia Magia; she died Sept. 12, 1922. By 1925, five were dead and many others showed similar symptoms.

Radium Girls (04:38)

Alexander Gettler found radium in Amelia Magia's bones. Magia's employer was forced to pay survivor compensation. Public opinion on radium began to shift.

Great Depression (02:14)

By 1933, Prohibition had not fulfilled promises. Congress overturned the 18th amendment, but it remained in force.

Mike the Durable (02:42)

Michael Malloy frequented the Mermaid Tavern in the Bronx. Four purchase life insurance on Malloy and conspire to kill him.

Justice for Michael Malloy (01:45)

Alexander Gettler examined Malloy's body; the four conspirators were sentenced to death. The Depression created a spike in violent deaths; three New Yorkers committed suicide every day.

Frederick Gross (03:45)

Gross lived in a neighborhood of poverty. His family died and the police suspected him of murder; all the bodies contained thallium.

Using the Theory of Spectroscopy (04:07)

Frederick Gross insisted his innocence. The DA had Alexander Gettler examine the evidence. Gettler proved the cocoa was not poisoned.

Case Against Frederick Gross (01:49)

Experts learned that Gross' wife killed their children by poisoning their food. Gross was set free.

Norris' Last Fight (04:16)

In May, 1935, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia accused Charles Norris of embezzlement; he was acquitted. On Sept. 11, 1935, Norris died.

Fanny Creighton Returns to Notoriety (02:21)

The Applegates moved in with their neighbors; Aida Applegate died in 1935. Alexander Gettler found large amounts of arsenic in Applegate's remains.

Creighton Commits Murder...Again (02:50)

Fanny Creighton explains how and why she killed her brother. Learn about the relationships inside the Applegate house. In January, 1936, Creighton stood trial for murder.

Creighton's Third Trial (03:16)

Alexander Gettler testified against Fanny Creighton in 1936. On January 30, the jury found Fanny Creighton and Everett Applegate guilty of murder; juries liked the certainty of science.

Gettler Retires at 75 (04:04)

Homicide poisonings were significantly reduced. Experts reflect on the legacy of Alexander Gettler's career. By 1959, the FDA was policing chemicals.

Credits: The Poisoner's Handbook (02:03)

Credits: The Poisoner's Handbook

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The Poisoner's Handbook

3-Year Streaming Price: $339.95



In the early 1900s , the average American medicine cabinet was a would-be poisoner’s treasure chest. Deadly chemicals such as radioactive radium, thallium, potassium cyanide, and morphine lurked in health tonics, depilatory creams, teething medicine, and cleaning supplies. While the tools of the murderer’s trade multiplied as the pace of industrial innovation increased, the scientific knowledge and the political will to detect and prevent the crimes lagged behind. All this changed in 1918, when New York City hired Charles Norris as its first scientifically trained medical examiner. Over the course of a decade and a half, Norris and his chief toxicologist, Alexander Gettler, would turn forensic chemistry into a formidable science and set the standards that the rest of the country would ultimately adopt.

Length: 115 minutes

Item#: BVL58617

Copyright date: ©2014

Closed Captioned

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