Hypoxia is a condition where the body or a part of the body does not receive enough oxygen to function properly. It can cause various symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, confusion, and even death. However, in some cases, the cause of death by hypoxia may not be obvious, and may even contradict some observations. One such case is the Chicago cyanide murders, a series of poisoning deaths that occurred in 1982.
What Happened in the Chicago Cyanide Murders?
The Chicago cyanide murders were a series of seven deaths that occurred in the Chicago area in September and October of 1982. The victims were all found to have taken extra-strength Tylenol capsules that had been tampered with and laced with cyanide, a deadly poison. The murderer was never caught, and the motive remains unknown.
The victims were:
- Mary Kellerman, a 12-year-old girl who died after taking Tylenol for a sore throat.
- Adam Janus, a 27-year-old postal worker who died after taking Tylenol for a minor chest pain.
- Stanley and Theresa Janus, the 25-year-old brother and 19-year-old sister-in-law of Adam, who died after taking Tylenol from the same bottle as Adam.
- Mary McFarland, a 31-year-old store clerk who died after taking Tylenol for a headache.
- Paula Prince, a 35-year-old flight attendant who died after taking Tylenol for a cold.
- Mary Reiner, a 27-year-old mother of four who died after taking Tylenol for a fever.
What Was the Cause of Death by Hypoxia?
The medical examiner determined that the cause of death for all the victims was hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to the tissues. Cyanide works by inhibiting an enzyme called cytochrome c oxidase, which is essential for cellular respiration, the process of converting oxygen and glucose into energy. Without this enzyme, the cells cannot use oxygen, and they die of hypoxia. Cyanide also binds to hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood, and prevents it from releasing oxygen to the tissues.
How Can You Reconcile This Observation with the Cause of Death Being Hypoxia?
One of the puzzling observations in the Chicago cyanide murders was that the blood oxygen levels of the victims were higher than normal. This seems to contradict the cause of death being hypoxia, as one would expect the blood oxygen levels to be lower if the tissues were not receiving enough oxygen.
However, this observation can be reconciled with the cause of death being hypoxia by understanding the mechanism of cyanide poisoning. Cyanide does not prevent oxygen from entering the blood, but rather prevents it from being used by the cells. Therefore, the blood oxygen levels remain high, but the tissue oxygen levels are low. This is called histotoxic hypoxia, or cellular hypoxia, where the cells are unable to use the available oxygen.
Another way to reconcile this observation with the cause of death being hypoxia is to consider the compensatory mechanisms of the body. When the body senses low oxygen levels in the tissues, it triggers a response called hyperventilation, which is an increased rate and depth of breathing. Hyperventilation helps to increase the blood oxygen levels and decrease the blood carbon dioxide levels, which are both indicators of cellular respiration. However, hyperventilation is not enough to overcome the effects of cyanide, and the tissues still die of hypoxia.
The Chicago cyanide murders were a tragic and unsolved case of poisoning that resulted in seven deaths by hypoxia. The cause of death by hypoxia may seem to contradict the observation of high blood oxygen levels, but this can be explained by the mechanism of cyanide poisoning and the compensatory response of the body. Hypoxia is a complex and multifactorial condition that can have different causes and manifestations.