Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Almost Random?

Reports are that an FBI agent, Linda Franklin, 47, of Arlington, Virginia, is the latest victim of the Washington-area sniper. She was shot Monday night as she and her husband loaded packages into their car outside a Home Depot at the Seven Corners Shopping Center.

One of the many odd aspects of this series of horrible murders is its apparent randomness. And perhaps it is completely random.

But is it possible that this series of apparently random murders is designed to conceal one or two premeditated murders - perhaps, for example, including an FBI agent working on an entirely unrelated matter? Ms. Franklin was apparently not involved in the investigation of the Washington shootings, but it might be worth checking out whether she or any other victims were involved in anti-terrorist activities, for example. Concealing one or even a few murders in a series of random murders seems like a very high profile and risky way of concealing a premediated murder, but similar things have happened in the past.

For example, (from Snopes) there have been incidents of over-the-counter drug poisonings concocted to make the death of one individual appear accidental rather than premeditated. In one such case from 1993:

A former insurance salesman was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole for the Sudafed-tampering deaths of two people and for trying to poison his wife for $700,000 in insurance money. Joseph Meling, 31, also was ordered by U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein to pay $3.5 million restitution to Sudafed's manufacturer and other claimants if he gets paid for telling his story. A jury in April convicted Meling of fatal product tampering, which alone carries a maximum life in prison, as well as perjury and insurance fraud.

Prosecutors said Meling tried to kill his wife, Jennifer, with a cyanide-filled capsule he put in a package of Sudafed decongestant. He put similar capsules in five other Sudafed packages on store shelves to divert suspicion from himself, the court was told. Jennifer Meling survived the Feb. 2, 1991, poisoning. But Kathleen Daneker, 40, of Tacoma, and Stan McWhorter, 40, of Lacey, Wash., died later that month. Two cyanide-filled capsules were found in homes and one was recovered from a store during a $17 million nationwide Sudafed recall by manufacturer Burroughs Wellcome Co.

There is also the related phenomenon of unrelated "copycat" murderers who kill separately from a serial killer, and attempt to make their premeditated killing resemble those of the series. However, because the ballistic evidence in the Washington shooter case seems to tie all of the killings to a single gun, it does not appear that this kind of unrelated "copycat killing" could be involved in any of the Washington area murders.

In addition, seven people died of cyanide poisoning in the 1982 Tylenol murders in Chicago between 29 September and 1 October 1982, all after having taken Tylenol. Although the case is officially listed as "unsolved," it appears this was a bona fide random poisoning and not an attempt to cover up the murder of one individual by randomly killing six others.

UPDATE: Colby Cosh points to a notorious Canadian case in which an airliner was destroyed, and all aboard murdered, to kill one passenger.

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