Violet’s “Jar”

Poisoning of Violet

“[Violet] ran to the pantry, where she pulled a large measuring glass off the shelf. She hurried upstairs to her room, and from the top shelf of her wardrobe closet, she took down a can that was about six inches tall. The container was wrapped in yellow paper. The warning, “Poison, Do Not Unpack,” as penciled on it. As she tore off the wrapping she spilled some of its contents, a fine white powder, onto herself and the closet floor. She then ran in the bathroom and poured some of the crystals into the measuring cup she had brought from the downstairs pantry. Her hands were trembling so much she spilled some of the crystals into the bathroom sink. She filled the measuring cup with water, then walked back into her room where she gulped down the milky white liquid. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand, then walked out of her room to the head of the stairs. Slowly, she started down the stairs with the measuring cup dangling from her right hand. Except for a filigree of undissolved crystals on the bottom of the glass it was empty. Once violet had reached the bottom of the stairs, she shuffled to the pantry, where she met…another maid. Swaying back and forth, Violet tried to speak, but all she could manage was a gurgling sound. She then collapsed to the floor at the feet of the terrified maid. [She was dead before the doctor arrived.]” (151-152).

“The can containing white crystals was still on the table next to her bed. The printed label on the container read: Cyanide chloride, 73-76 percent. Not to be used as an insecticide or fungicide. This substance was commonly used to clean silver. (The police determined later that the cyanide had been bought from a wholesale drug house in New York City. Violet had brought the can with her to the Morrow house two years earlier.)” (152).

*”Violet’s familiarity with cyanide of potassium is explained by the fact that she had worked in the home of a silversmith in England” (441).

Wikipedia’s safety warning blurb on the chemical:

Also known as CK, cyanogen chloride [same substance] is a highly toxic blood agent, once proposed for use in chemical warfare. It causes immediate injury upon contact with the eyes or respiratory organs. Symptoms of exposure are loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis, and death. It is especially dangerous because it is capable of penetrating the filters in gas masks, according to U.S. analysts. CK is unstable due to polymerization, sometimes with explosive violence[4].

I can’t find much else on the substance, as poison control websites mostly just say “call 911.” As far as what else was in it, probably nothing. The substance was silver cleaner— it could strip tarnish off of real silver, which is pretty intense. The package was unopened until her suicide, as it says she tore the paper off of it, so she didn’t alter the substance. As far as her staying alive as long as she did, she seems to have filled a large measuring cup with water, enough that the substance was diluted. I would say that the substance was strong enough to work immediately— it says it immediately causes harm to mucus membranes and respiratory systems— but diluted enough that she could walk downstairs. But by the time she got to the bottom of the stairs and into the pantry (probably close to the servant’s stairs and kitchen) she could no longer talk and collapsed.


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