Forensic Friday: Sleep of the Dead
Propofol took center stage in the news several years ago when Michael Jackson died following an injection of it from physician Conrad Murray. Murray was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Nonetheless, propofol is rarely an instrument of death, let alone murder, though several cases have been brought to trial.
While abuse of the drug is spreading, propofol itself is not easily accessible to the general public as its primary use is with anesthesia. A respiratory depressant, it can affect both respiration and the heart. Since an overdose can cause death, it is also a weapon.
Used without intent to kill, effects last only a short time and the last evidence of it leaves deep tissue in about six days. It’s not illegal. It’s felt by users in just seconds and is somewhat easily obtainable by many in the medical community.
Here’s a scene from THE SHARK in which Dr. Kincaid, the Medical Examiner, Joshua Shield, head of Shield Security, former FBI agent Clay Bowman and Virginia state trooper Riley Tatum look for leads in a murder—and suspect propofol as the means.
He released the button and the elevator descended, the doors opening to the cool antiseptic air of the medical examiner’s offices and Joshua Shield.
Shield was dressed in his trademark dark suit with his shock of white hair combed off his angled face. He strode straight to them, his attention riveted on Riley. Dark eyes collected and inventoried details quickly. “Trooper Tatum. I’m Joshua Shield.”
“I recognize you from your press pictures.”
Bowman noticed that most people were intimidated by Shield. They dropped gazes, shuffled feet, or fidgeted in some way. Not Riley. She glared at him as if he were a rookie intern late for his first briefing.
Shield extended his hand to her. “Nice to finally meet you,” he said. “Mr. Bowman speaks well of you.”
Clasping hard, she held his gaze.
“Solving this case is a team effort,” Shield said.
Smiling, she shook her head. “We’ll see.”
Bowman gave her props for not pulling punches.
“Consider the advantages of my expertise,” Shield said. “My company resources helped you in the past.”
“You were an uninvited guest that I could have managed without.”
He grinned as if enjoying the sparring.
Before he could respond, Dr. Kincaid appeared. She wore a lab coat and glasses that covered slightly bloodshot eyes.
“Dr. Kincaid,” Bowman said. “We appreciate you meeting us. Sorry to get you out of bed so early on a Saturday morning.”
“Mr. Bowman, Mr. Shield, you gentlemen have friends in powerful places.” Calm and unruffled, she extended her hand to both.
Shield shook her hand. “We help each other out when we can.”
Dr. Kincaid glanced at Riley. “I’m assuming Agent Sharp called you.”
“No, it was Mr. Bowman. But I contacted Agent Sharp.”
“Good,” Dr. Kincaid said. “Follow me.” She led them down the long hallway and pushed through a set of double doors. “I understand you also want to see Vicky Gilbert’s body.”
“Correct,” Shield said.
“Your timing is fortuitous. The funeral home is picking up her remains in a couple of hours. Her mother opted for cremation.”
“And you’ve done a complete exam?” Shield asked.
“I have. I’ve collected enough samples so that we can run any kind of test conceivable in the future if necessary. The Gilbert family is anxious to have a memorial service.”
“Their daughter ran away from home over a month ago and they didn’t call the police or try to find her,” Riley said. “What’s the big rush now?”
A slight shift in Riley’s tone could have made her sound bitter. But she kept her voice monotone, effectively hiding any potential anger or resentment.
Bowman reached in his breast pocket and removed a slip of paper. “Dr. Kincaid, I’d like you to test for this sedative.”
“Propofol? That’s a very powerful narcotic and I don’t see it often.”
“If we’re dealing with the man we suspect is the killer, this is likely the drug he used on his first four victims. This killer is a creature of habit. The sedative is one of his signatures.”