The Chatter Podcast: Assassination by Poison with Neil Bradbury

By David Priess
Thursday, February 24, 2022, 9:49 AM

This week's episode takes a walk on the dark side, with a molecular look at a prominent international poisonings.

Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov died in 1978 after a ricin pellet was shot into his leg from an air gun disguised as an umbrella. Twenty-eight years later, former KGB/FSB officer Alexander Litvenenko suffered horribly and died after having been poisoned with polonium-210 slipped into his tea. And former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia nearly died in 2018 from the effects of a nerve agent attack.

To understand how the molecules used in these assaults do their worst to the human body, I speak with Dr. Neil Bradbury, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science--where he teaches and conducts research on genetic diseases, especially cystic fibrosis. He is the author of A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them, which combines elements of popular science, medical history, and true crime to show how the precise systems of the body can be impaired to lethal effect through the use of poison. 

We discuss the four routes through which poison can be delivered to a victim, the physiology and biochemistry behind a few poisons, the prominent assassinations of Markov and Litvenenko, the attempted assassination of Skripal, and the difficulty of getting away with murder using even rare poisons once their effects are known. The information in this episode is purely for educational and entertainment purposes and is not intended to give the advantages and disadvantages of the use of any particular poison in the commission of any crime.

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo.

Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. See for privacy and opt-out information.

Among the works cited in this episode:

A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them, by Neil Bradbury

Dr. Bradbury's research on cystic fibrosis

"Murder by Numbers," The Police (the PoliceWiki)

"A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie" (