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Well, no, not right

Man ‘caught with explosives and cyanide in makeshift lab in shed’
Neighbours reported loud bangs and smoke coming from the garden over many years

They do not, in fact, work together. Bang and useful poison are choices, not complements.

13 thoughts on “Well, no, not right”

  1. Potassium cyanide is a salt, solid at any temperature that a human could survive. It’s also pretty unreactive, non-volatile, non-corrosive, etc. and I would normally expect it to be stored in a plastic tub, not a metal canister. A large-print periodic table and a broken window? Just needs a big sign saying “secret lab” and we’ve got ourselves a film set!

  2. The court heard Mr Whittaker, who appeared in the dock unshaven and wearing a prison issue grey tracksuit, had a “long-standing interest in chemistry and nuclear physics”, was highly intelligent and suffered from Asperger’s syndrome.

    Ah… The actual heart of the matter…
    Hardly a terr’rist. Just a bloke following his interests, tinkering in his shed upsetting the neighbours.
    The type that does come up with new breakthroughs, provided he doesn’t Darwinise or Curie himself in the process, as opposed to Academia, if given the opportunity of an education suited for his type of Embuggerance and a proper lab.

    And honestly.. It ain’t that hard to make a cyanide bomb if you understand the chemistry behind it.
    All you need is a couple of sausages and a modern phone battery. Easily upgradeable to Tesla-size even.
    Simply an old indicator method for the presence of amino acids in a solution, which is now supplanted by HPLC.

  3. I guess potassium cyanide has a bad press because it was the suicide of choice for high ranking Nazis, not to mention poor Blondie the dog.

  4. Rudolf Diesel:

    “He first worked with steam, his research into thermal efficiency and fuel efficiency leading him to build a steam engine using ammonia vapour. During tests, however, the engine exploded and almost killed him. His research into high-compression cylinder pressures tested the strength of iron and steel cylinder heads. One exploded during a test run. He spent many months in a hospital, followed by health and eyesight problems.”

    Can you imagine the grief he must have got from the neighbours once he started fiddling with compressed air? Never mind from Frau Diesel: “If you blow yourself up again, I’m not running you down the bloody hospital …”

  5. Well, we’re hitting all my buttons this week.

    More than 30 years ago, I lived in Union Lake, MI, about a half mile down the road from Golf Club Drive, where lived an Eagle Scout named David Hahn. Part-time, as his parents were divorced. David was an enterprising young chap, and in the shed at the bottom of the garden, he built a device which produced a sustained nuclear chain reaction. This thing operated for weeks on end, contaminating the shed and surrounding areas to a significant extent.

    I’ve heard of some remarkable ‘men-in-sheds’ efforts, but that one takes the cake for me. Of course, like the chap in the OP, David was significantly neuro-divergent, as the modern phrase has it – my next-door neighbor was one of his primary-school teachers, and she said that even then, he was about 6x too smart for his own good.



  6. “They do not, in fact, work together. Bang and useful poison are choices, not complements.”

    They can be made to complement each other. In his excellent anti-religious book “The End of Faith” (2004) Sam Harris points out that suicide bombers attacking Jews in Israel pack their suicide vests with rat poison as well as projectiles. Much harder to save the live of a Jewish child who has been given a dose of toxin along with some deep penetration wounds. It’s by incremental little improvements like this that you get really good at your game.

  7. Yes a bang and poison do go together. My cold war military training told us that a smaller than usual bang during a bombardment was a useful indicator that the Soviets were using neurotoxins. The small bang was to disperse the poison over a large area.

  8. For a historical interlude into a (different) cyanide compound plus HE, back in the “Survive to Fight” days of the Cold War, there was an expectation that the unfortunate TA speedbumps – I mean, heroic front-line defenders – would be hit by three volleys of artillery, probably multiple rocket launcher.

    The first, of hydrogen cyanide, which would quickly kill anyone not masked up, but also did horrible things to the filters in your respirator; the second, sarin or similar non-persistent nerve agent, to get through the ruined filters and leave us all doing Raggedy Ann impersonations while trying to get at our combopens; and the third would be high explosives, to force everyone to take cover (into trenches or shell scrapes, where the sarin vapour was collecting) as the enemy assault arrived on our position.

    Apparently, because HCN oxidises very quickly and sarin hydrolyses in a few minutes, the Soviet attitude was to attack without wearing their (frankly awful) gas masks; we’d either be dead/crippled, or be masked up, either frantically changing filters or suffering from the sarin getting through the ruined respirators; and even in the pretty good NBC kit we had in the 1980s (the newer stuff is even better) your performance was significantly reduced compared to someone not in 4R (full suit, gloves, boots, respirator), while they might lose a few men to their own chemicals; but they felt that was worth the advantage it would give them.

  9. Steve across the Pond


    I was going to mention the Radioactive Boy Scout, but you beat me to it. He died a few years ago. Amazingly not because of anything radiation related. He used the radioactive elements out of smoke detectors. He made a neutron gun. He wasn’t doing fission.

  10. In The Brain of Morbius, the Doctor and Sarah try to kill Morbius with HCn wafting up through the air conditioning vents.

    It kills Solon ( Phil Madoc ) but not Morbius, who has a bespoke breathing system.

  11. Steve across the Pond – it was a fascinating case.

    David Hahn certainly built a significant neutron source, but that alone would not really explain the high levels of contamination that were the result of his activities. I well-remember the clean-up, with several residents of Golf Side Drive (I misremembered it as Golf Club Drive) being evacuated while NRC contractors packed the entire shed and its contents into steel drums, as well as a mass of topsoil and landscaping materials, and hauling it all away. David’s beater sedan was packed whole in a container and removed, as he had used it to store and transport his materials and it was significantly contaminated, and the Shelby Township officers who had originally searched his car and discovered a mass of material in the trunk, which set off the discovery and investigation of what he was doing, were evaluated and monitored for radiation exposure.

    It was hard to assess just what he had achieved, because his mother had several times partly-cleaned out the shed and disposed of the contents in the regular household trash. In addition to his nuclear interests, David had for years assembled powerful illegal fireworks, and the neighbours were complaining. David himself was not cooperative with the investigation, but it turned out that he had been amassing thorium (from gas-lantern mantles), radium (from antique watches and clocks with luminous dials) and tritium (from gun and bow sights) and had been working towards assembling a breeder reactor. Given the rather ad-hoc nature of his materials and the fact that some had been disposed of uncontrolled, it may never be known just how far he got, but radiation levels at over 1000x background suggest more than just a powerful neutron source. His mother couldn’t help much, as she was beset by her own demons and took her own life during the investigation.

    David served hitches in the Navy and Marine Corps, but his life fell apart when he left the service, and he became an alcoholic and drug abuser. He also rekindled his nuclear interests and was convicted of stealing smoke detectors (presumably to harvest their americium contents as before) and served a short hitch in OCJ. He died of an overdose about 10 years ago.

    Sad case. With meaningful help and support, he might have done great things, but all he had was a fractured suburban family and a school system totally unprepared for someone like him. It’s a shame.



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