When your Periodic Table of DEATH image is on an actual DEATH CERTIFICATE.
My aunts spoke about my great-grandfather in those low-voiced side-of-the-mouth conversations… Because he was a monster.
Oh, not the serial-killer kind. But the explosive at-the-drop-of-the-hat temper kind…and his wife, Maria, apparently took the brunt of it, although his nine children probably saw the back of his hand more than once.
He’d emigrated from the Campania region in Italy in the 1890s (I’ve also heard he was KICKED OUT of Italy because his strident politics), and bought a house and mill on a creek in Franklin, Massachusetts. Based on his death certificate, he worked in the textile mills until he retired.
Although there is no excuse for his behavior, he was said to suffer from horrible migraines. The story goes that on the night of his death in 1918, he awoke with a blinding headache and stumbled to the medicine cabinet. Since light stabbed his skull like knives, he didn’t bring a candle or lamp. In his pain and the darkness, he chose a bottle later identified as bisulphide of sodium. He was dead in twenty minutes. Accidental poisoning.
OR WAS IT?
As a mystery writer, my mind wanders to “other” explanations.
1. Lots of medicine can be poisonous and can kill you if taken in the wrong dose. But why would he take the incorrect dose if he suffered from chronic migraines?
2. Was he the one who prepared the medicine? Or did he send his long-suffering wife to do it for him? Hmm…
As a biochemist, I like poisons. I’ve tried to find bisulphide of sodium as a medicine. No luck yet. But what I HAVE found is:
3. NaHSO3 Sodium Bisulfite (S denotes the element sulfur, Na is sodium)(1)
So what is sodium bisulfite? A chemical that’s made using sodium hydroxide (a basic chemical) and sulfur dioxide gas. It’s a white crystalline structure that has a slight rotten egg smell and is used in baking(!) as an anti-browning agent and preservative (2, 3). That might explain why it was in the house, but in the medicine cabinet?
4. AND here’s the kicker: Sodium bisulfite is also used as an antichlor after bleaching garments with chlorine. So it might have been something from the textile mills he worked in. (4)
5. Finally, sodium bisulfite is extremely corrosive if swallowed (5), which my great-grandfather apparently did. But, why?
Poisoning was an ‘easy’ way to murder early last century because we lacked the forensics to prove it. As for Alfonso, I guess I won’t ever really know…
Do you have any information on bisulphide of sodium as a medication? I would love to hear about it. Email me at email@example.com.
As always, these are my own opinions based on my biases, knowledge, and understanding, and the websites I’ve linked are in no way an endorsement.