Forensic Toxicology deals with the branch of forensic science where toxins are the main causes of death. This field investigates the type of toxin used to poison the victim by the suspect. In this article, we will be discussing the 5 famous Forensic Toxicology Case Studies of the US.

Knowing the cases regarding forensic toxicology can help us to relate it with any crime for investigation. It not just increases our knowledge but opens up our minds in every direction to find out the possible key to relate any suspect with the victim or crime scene.

In this article, the five famous forensic toxicology case studies will help you understand how criminals use toxins as a factor to kill a person and how the investigation in such cases takes place.

  • The Vosburgh Poisoning case tells us about the toxin that reacts slowly and can be detected from the victim’s fluid.
  • The case of Harold Shipman revolves around his suicide in the cell because of the allegations to kill 215 people.
  • The Jonestown Massacre tells us the story of 918 deaths at the ‘Peoples Temple‘ at the order given by Jones.
  • Homicide of Coral Springs toddlers presents the fact of Nicholas Odze’s death because of his mother’s lack of attention or something else.
  • Burrage v/s The United States is about a drug dealer who may or may not kill one of his clients named J. Banka.

There are a lot of cases where people die due to poisoning either accidentally, or suicidal or homicidal. However, these 5 cases can give a brief idea on various ways of poisoning people through different mode.

5 Famous Forensic Toxicology Case Studies

1. The Vosburgh Poisoning Case

In May 1878, R.G. Vosburgh, Jersey City, Madison Avenue Baptist church young priest, was accused of poisoning his wife named Harriet by giving her a repetitive overdose of Tartar Emetic.

Facts used to prove him guilty:

  1. Marriage failure
  2. No children were given by Harriet
  3. She has undergone two abortions without the permission of Vosburgh
  4. She accepted ‘Barman’ ring

When Harriet falls sick, his brother-in-law, James Sickles, suspected that her husband is gradually poisoning her. Sickle began his investigation by collecting samples from the drinks served by Vosburgh to his wife along with her urine samples. He sent those samples to Dr. R. Ogden Doremus lab. He found some traces of antimony in each of the provided samples.

He conducted the samples in the court as well that started featuring in many magazines and newspapers. The defence team of Vosburgh questioned Sickle for the samples he gave. Mrs Vosburgh denied testifying.

Court proved Vosburgh innocent even after the chemical analysis of the samples. He resumed his ministry and got separated from his wife. However, after some time, evidence indicating his bad treatment towards his wife forced him to resign from his ministry.

2. Harold Shipman: The Killer Doctor

Harold Shipman was found hanging in the cell of Wakefield high-security jail, West Yorkshire that brought the blackest chapter in the history of British criminals. The investigation by police started in Sept 1998. 

Harold was born on January 14, 1946. He was a clever and confident child, but his life turned differently at the age of 17 when his mother died due to lung cancer. It was the first time when he observed the drug influence that eliminated the pain.

In 1965, he went to Leeds University to study medicines. The complications in his life started when he realised that his girlfriend, who is 17 years old, was pregnant. They both got married and had four children.

When he graduated from the university, he began to work at the Pontefract General Infirmary. He soon became a G.P. worker, but he began to experience some blackouts too. His colleagues found that he has a morphine addiction. He got fired from his job and had to pay a considerable fine. He went to a rehab centre. He got captivated with rugs at college.

He gave a fresh start to his life. However, on September 7, 1998, he was arrested because of the allegations of Kathleen Gundy murder. The investigations, evidence, and police interrogation observations sentenced him to imprisonment of 15 years. Police thought that he had killed around 215 of his patients.

3. The Jonestown Massacre: The Deadliest Non-Natural Disaster

On November 18 1978, Jim Jones, a leader of Peoples Temple, instructed every town member of Guyana to commit suicide by consuming poison. Around 918 people died in a day, out of which 1/3 were kids.

Peoples Temple was an integrated church that helped needy people. Jim Jones believed in a community, where people live in peace and work for a good purpose together. He dreamt of creating a compound outside the U.S. that will be in his control, and he will be able to help needy ones in other areas without the influence of US government.

Only 50 people stayed in the compound in early 1977, while Jones was still in the U.S. Many members of Peoples Temple moved to Guyana and Jonestown compound before the printing of the article.

The compound was covered by forest and protected by many guards. If members want to leave, they require the permission of Jones. California got some bad news happening in Jonestown; therefore, they decided to go there and search what exactly is going on. However, only a few were agreed to this.

The Jonestown members who wanted to go out from there boarded a truck with Ryan’s entourage. Ryan stayed behind to check if any member got stuck who wanted to leave but they got attacked by the member of Peoples Temple and began to shoot at the group of Ryan.

Jones instructed everyone to gather at the pavilion. He was sure that the U.S. government would have a strong reaction after the attack on the Ryan group. Therefore, he ordered each member to commit suicide, and around 918 died either at the Jonestown compound or the airport.

4. Homicide of Coral Springs Toddler’s

A 4-year-old child named Nicholas Odze was found dead on September 10 because the prescribed sedative given to him by his mother turned into a case of homicide.

His mother informed the police of giving him a Lunesta pill before bed because he found difficulty sleeping. However, there were a lot of opened prescribed medicine bottles in the bathroom, and she was not sure that he had taken any of them or not.

The toxicology test found the presence of oxymorphone, oxycodone, eszopiclone, and ibuprofen in the child’s system. Eszopiclone, Lunesta clinical name, lowers the metabolism and breathing rate and can turn fatal if given in high dosage.

No charge has been filed yet. There is no sign of broken bone, physical trauma, internal bleeding, etc., on the child’s body. The search showed up a total of 68 prescribed pill bottles. Each of them was prescribed to the child. 

His father informed the police that he denied his wife to give Lunesta to his son, but she gave him anyway. 

5. Burrage v/s The United States

On April 14, 2010, M. Burrage sold heroin to J. Banka, a drug addict who was found dead the next day of this deal. Toxicology reports said the death was caused due to the intake of heroin, but he might also have died if he does not take it. That is why Burrage was convicted on his death as he gave him the heroin.

On April 27 2011, Burrage was charged with distribution of heroin that caused Banka’s death as the reports said that the heroin was the main factor for the death, and if Banka hadn’t consumed it, he might have stayed alive. After many trials, Supreme Court had granted certiorari on April 29, 2013.

The case has now been transferred to the Supreme Court. They will decide whether Burrage heroin distribution had caused the death when the victim was already lying on the death bed.   


Forensic Toxicology experts receive a lot of poisoning related cases every day. Some of them were due to overdose of drug/alcohol/medicine, etc. while some are suicidal and homicidal.

There are various different poisons that affect different parts/organs of the body with different sensations of pain and have different medicolegal uses.

Forensic science has been a constant help in identifying criminals for many centuries and with increasing crimes constantly, there is constant demand of more forensic experts.

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