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Welcome to criminalise a production of scandal and audio in partnership with I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to Criminality.


This season, we're exploring the lives and motivations of some of the most notorious lady poisoners in history.


I'm Holly Fry. And I'm Maria. Tomoaki. If you've been a listener this season, you may agree with the following assessment.


Modern scholars generally agree that the Victorian era was kind of the heyday for poisoners.


There were many poisons to choose from then and I mean, there still are today.


But at that time, arsenic was the poison of choice, primarily because it was really easy to get.


Plus it was tasteless and it was odorless. So it was really easy to hide as well.


And these are all good things when you're assessing poisons.


Arsenic is, as we've mentioned before, naturally occurring. But in terms of human knowledge of it, it's been around since about 150 when a German scholar named Albertus Magnus is credited with discovering it, although we also probably want to er quote the word discover, since arsenic was surely used before, Albert has put his name on it. Right.


But he put his name on it first.


This was a time when there were very few rules about how one might acquire poison and there were even fewer rules about who might acquire a poison, and some of the world's most infamous poisonous seemed to come from the Victorian era.


But let's be super clear here. Poisonings were happening long before Victorian time. The very first person to commit homicide with poison lived probably at least. Modern scholars estimate about 70000 BCE where they male or female. Was this to settle a score or maybe a hungry power play? It was so long ago, we can only speculate on the circumstance. Interestingly, historians recently believed that they have found more substantial evidence of a tribe using poison tipped arrowheads on the African continent.


And that very likely jumped from human poisoning, animal to human poisoning human. But what we do know is that humans have been poisoning one another for a very, very long time. Poisoning, too, has always been seen as a dramatic type of murder.


It's been romanticized.


It even makes its way into our entertainment. Say, like Shakespeare, for instance, he writes several instances, I believe seven actually of murder by poison in his works.


And six of those poisonings, curiously, are administered by a woman named in the sixteen hundreds. Jacobean dramatist John Fletcher, who followed in Shakespeare's footsteps, described poisoning as the coward's weapon. Oh, wow.


I mean, you know, you don't have to be there for it.


But if you go all the way back, I'm talking like back, back, back, back, back to the ancient Sumerians, which takes us back to, like, you know, 4500 B.C. You'll find evidence that they, too, used plant toxins such as wolfsbane, which we've we've talked a lot about in our episodes this season.


And they used it to poison the tips of their hunting arrows, also very likely used it to kill a person or two.


And when you're talking that far back in history, though, things get a little bit tangled between what was reality and what was mythology.


The Sumerians, for instance, worshipped a goddess named Judah, who ruled over charm's and spells and also poisons.


But it's the Sumerians who also may have been the first to document the effects of different poisonous substances. So they didn't believe it was all magical. They did sort of know that it was also based in reality.


They were intuiting the science of it. If we jump forward a bit to around 3000 BCE during the time of the ancient Egyptians, there is evidence that they definitely kept records of poisonous plants and their side effects and included pretty detailed records of how you could extract those poisons and how to distill them into poisonous substances.


The ancient Greeks are also really well known for using poisons specifically as a capital punishment, which is a sentence that they called state poison.


And if you know your history, you also know that that's how Socrates was executed. And the ancient Persians. Yep, they too were poisonous. There's a story about queen parasitosis who lived in the 5th century BCE, poisoning the carving knife before she used it to serve her daughter in Chinese history.


Oh, India's history. There are stories spanning the globe of poisoning in almost every culture going back centuries. The earliest whispers of widespread murder by poison and by women specifically dates back to about 300 331 BCE. And it involves a group of something like a hundred and seventy women who decided to use the plague as an alibi for poisoning a bunch of Roman men. Unfortunately for them, their abuse didn't work.


And I suppose, unfortunately for the Roman men as well, and all of the women who were involved were convicted of their crimes.


And I would love to see how that group came about.


I guess that's a pretty big group to get there and everybody be cool.


But here. So we're going to do that is a large group of people to get on board with one thing. Exactly.


And not have one person sort of like tell their cousin who tells their sister, you know, and then he's in jail.


Right before the popularity of arsenic in the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, the ancient Greeks and Romans were more inclined to use hemlock as their poison of choice. Hemlock, incidentally, is also part of the Parsley family.


I actually thought that was really interesting. You know, like may inform your your culinary presentations going forward. It might be a bit careful of wild carrots.


It's also in the family.


So regardless of whether you're talking about arsenic or you're talking about hemlock or any other poison, really, for that matter, one thing is really clear.


Throughout human history, poison has been a potent weapon in every assassins' toolkit. It is discrete. It is quick if you want it to be.


And it could make a woman a wealthy widow and it could set in motion a change in power. And there's a reason we're setting up all of this assassination chalk when we look at ancient women and their knowledge of poisons. There is one that stands out and one that we have, in fact, mentioned before.


So our scene becomes ancient Rome and our poisoner is a woman named Lucasta.


When we come back, we're going to dive into the life and crimes of this ancient poisoning. Welcome back to criminality. Let's get into who the accuser was and why the Roman elite might have been interested in her skills. Lucasta was an active poisoner during the first century in the final two reigns of the Giulio Claudie and Dynasty during the Roman Empire. You may recognize her name from some of our previous episodes, but she has mainly been in the shadows.


As we've been talking about this season. There's a long list of women who are remembered for their poison fueled legacies. Right. But regardless of whether or not they actually committed the deed or in some instances, deeds, plural, sometimes there was rat poison in the eggnog, which we've seen.


But we've also learned that sometimes it was simply deadly gossip. Poisoning in Rome was so common in the first century that it was often just assumed that if anyone in the imperial court died, it was not natural causes and women were women.


Well, women were considered the most notorious poisoners at one point. As we've mentioned before, the word for adulteress was kind of synonymous with that of poisoner among the Romans. There was a pretty strong belief that Roman women poisoned for love, just romantic, but not always true because they also poisoned for money.




So Lucasta is mentioned all over the place when you're reading about the Roman Empire.


Yet not a ton of information about who she is has remained over the centuries, other than the fact that she was a woman who poisoned for money.


We do know that she came from Gaul and sometimes she is actually referred to as Lucasta of Gaul. And at the time, Gaul was the outer province of ancient Rome. Today it is part of France. There is no record, though, of how she came to be in the center of Roman power. There is one super sketchy story about her being a real sketchy kidnapped.


There's a lot of sketchy when it comes to her story.


Yes, there's one sketchy story about her being kidnapped in the year 54 and being brought to Rome to exploit her skills, which would suggest she already had a reputation. But that story is very unlikely, mainly because she was also already allegedly in jail on a poisoning charge in Rome in the year 54.


And that story makes more sense in her timeline. She probably was in Rome in jail awaiting a sentencing. The accuser herself, she actually wasn't a poisoner, she was a maker of poisons, and it's kind of smart to think of her more like a like a botanist or a chemist. And she would have been really right at home making drugs in Apothecary. But you've mentioned this man once before. He's in 19th century toxicology expert who has brought in several times as a court witness.


His name is Dr. Alfred Swain Taylor. And he once said, and we quote him, A poison and a small dose is a medicine and a medicine and a large dose is a poison.


It's a subtle difference and probably one that Lokayukta was very, very keen on maintaining. Now I'm just making compounds. Right. But being an apothecary strictly in the apothecaries sense was not the path that she chose, regardless of whether it was medicines or poisons. Though she was an expert in her craft, she's often called a serial killer. But Lucasta could really also be called more of an assassin for hire. She provided poisons because she was hired to do so.


Professor, a forensic psychologist, Dr. Catherine Ramsland, has called Lucas's business necro entrepreneur. I just I when I saw that, I was like, she's right. I think that's a great business card title. If we've learned anything this season, it's that Romans loved their poisons and in particular, they loved mixing them into their politics. So as you can imagine, Lucasta was in great demand among them.


And stories of Lucasta suggests that she was also discrete. She didn't need to know why you needed poison or who you may have hoped to kill with it.


I don't want to know about your beef, so I'm just selling you some chemicals.


I just want to know if you want hemlock or opium.


All she needed to know was how you might want a theoretical death to play out. For instance, were you thinking about a quick and sudden death or were you imagining more of an agonizingly long and painful affair?


Either way, poison was always the matter of the day. It was a silent killer and perfect, always perfect for the job.


She didn't just create and mix poisons. She advised others on which poisons would be best for their desired result. And she'd take on apprentices, which I thought was actually pretty cool. Usually if you're discreet, you don't do that.


And eventually she was running a sort of training academy for poison assassins and she encouraged and taught the poison arts to many.


Although, to be honest, most of the poisonings that were happening at this time were all happening in the Imperial Court. Emperor Caligula, for instance, is said to have had a trunk filled with various poisons. Poison was serious business in politics. So no wonder she started this cottage industry as like the University of Poison.


There are there are actually when I was doing some research, I found that there were there were sort of three women accused of being one of them and two other women who were well-known for poisoning at the same time.


But they had been apprentices of hers. So they really weren't necessarily part of her story. They just happened to be other poisoners, which I'm sure there were hundreds of across the city.


So she getting back to Lucasta was one of the few women we've talked about this season who didn't rely on our favourite poison, arsenic.


Her poisons would have actually included mostly vegetable poisons, and that meant that she would have relied on plants like Belladonna and deadly nightshade, mandrake, hemlock, opium. Those are just a few examples.


Wolfsbane was another good one that was surely part of her toolkit.


And it was known as the Queen of Poisons. It's said that when she formulated new poisons, she tested them at the emperor's request on convicted criminals and enslaved persons. And actually the reality was that she tested her poisons on anyone she wanted to test them on because frankly, she could.


I mean, it's true, right?


One of the great Roman historians Tacitus described her as, and we quote him, a woman lately condemned as a dealer in clandestine practices but reserved among the instruments of state to serve the purposes of dark ambition.


He was also known to play up the stereotype that women were much more likely to be poisonous than men were, and that stereotype has led the public to label women like Lucasta as a witch. And we've seen it time and time again, no matter what century we've talked about.


Yeah, he was not the only one to link female poisoners with witches or witchcraft. Not at all.


This there was this pervasive and very popular belief that has carried on through the centuries that any woman who could make and who administered poisons couldn't just have scientific knowledge.


She had to be a sorceress or that she was at least somehow involved with magic. And that is a belief that we talk about through the centuries when we talk about accused female poisoners, never science magic.


So this is a good time for us to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to go deeper into how Lucasta was influential among the Roman elite. Welcome back to Criminal. Let's now get into how Lucasta skills could make or break an emperor.


So we've talked briefly, very briefly about Lucasta in an episode earlier this season, very early on when we told the story of Empress Julia Agrippina.


So Julia was said to have poisoned her husband to ensure her only son, who became Emperor Nero, would ascend to the throne.


It was like Uster who provided the goods to make all of that happen.


And look, you still, while she had what seemed to be a pretty steady business, she didn't work completely unscathed, though she paid prices for this line of work that she chose. She was arrested and thrown in jail several times. Twice she was bailed out when high ranking, ambitious and impatient Roman politicians intervened.


After all, you can't have your assassin sitting in jail when their political rivals to be poisoned.


I work to do murder by poison gave him easy alibi. We've mentioned this time and time again that you probably wouldn't be around when the victim died. So it was really important to a lot of people that her business stayed up and running.


Right. It's not the same as being stabbed. You're going to be there for that event. You know, that is that they couldn't have it.


So if you recall him just a bit earlier, we mentioned that LA Keester was not known just for her skills, but for her discretion.


And that was surely by design, since she didn't want to know her clients business was regarding their plans for the various compounds she was concocting.


She couldn't then share any details with authorities if she was caught and interrogated.


That engendered a level of trust in her, which is another reason why Rome's high and mighty would step in to help her.


When she got all jammed up the third time Lucasta was imprisoned, it was actually the Empress herself, Julia Agrippina, who sprung her. Of course, she had a specific purpose in mind.


Well, it's Julia.


Julia wanted to poison her husband, Emperor Claudius, and lo que still was happy to oblige, so.


It's here that we take another turn to show just how enterprising Julia Agrippina was, so instead of payment, which Lucasta was very likely expecting and maybe a thank you, Julia instead turned her into the authorities and accused her of poisoning the emperor, which, yes, sure, technically she had provided the poison, but it was actually Julia who did the deed.


Lokayukta was arrested again, surely a surprise to an assassin waiting for her payment for services rendered instead of being paid with.


Traitorous moves, right, man, and at this point, she was sentenced to death. However. Not long after the sentencing, Julius son and now Emperor Nero freed Lucasta and absolved her of all of her crimes and allegedly gave her a get out of jail free card for any future crimes. That's a pretty sweet set up.


It's a fantastic setup. When I was reading about it, I actually checked it in multiple sources because I was like I was like he not only gave her you know, he absolved all of her sins for before this, but any future ones like.




So Nero, if it sounds like something that an emperor would do, if he say maybe he wanted to make an ally of a poisoner, it was very likely that Nero did, in fact, want to be Elize with the poison or at least have this one on speed dial.


So mainly because there were political parties who wanted to get rid of he wanted look used to out into the Roman elite.


Poison was the obvious way to make that all those deaths happen.


It's important to point out that Lokayukta was very instrumental in Nero's rise to power, not just getting him on the throne, but beyond that she provided the murder weapon for him over and over, which he mainly used against members of his own family and those in the imperial court. We have no idea how many people were actually poisoned by the results of concoctions coming out of Lucas's lab, but we do know Nero was very, very busy, wasn't he?


So he then actually rewarded her for all of her great work with him with an official title. She was called The Imperial Poisoner, which I mean, that's not very subtle.


But then everybody already seemed to know who she was.


So subtlety was really already out the window here. And her are you know, I'm picturing the cocktail parties. It's like, what do you do?


I'm the imperial poisoner.


I see. And you draw your hand away right slowly back out of the room, back out and find somebody else and talk to Gokul.


Must be very gentle with that.


Like her career and her school for poisoners also really flourished under Niros 14 year reign.


I mean, she just she had a great decade.


But of course, if you are close to power, that was gained in troublesome ways, eventually it all falls apart. And when Nero's reign ended, so did Luke Eustace.


Now there's something that we have to address. So bear with us. There's actually a really terrifying rumor about Luke Houston's death.


That is not and I repeat, not all caps, not not true, but we're going to talk about it, if only to be one more voice on record saying that this did not happen.


The story's terrible. So we're just going to give you the short version. It's so gross, so gross that someone even concocted this as a fiction. It's no secret that the Romans enjoyed watching prisoners be tortured. Watching someone torn apart by wild animals was considered pretty good fun.


It was not that uncommon. All true.


And while this terrible story suggests that that happened to Lokayukta, that she was torn apart by wild animals, it also suggests that she was first raped by an animal, by a giraffe. It is, as I said, horrifying. So let's say this one more time. That's not a real thing. This is not how to died. This is something that someone concocted somewhere along the way. The Internet will tell you this story over and over. Oh, yeah.


That is not based in any kind of fact that no matter what the Internet says, do not believe it.


This is not the true story. The real story is that Luke Houston was executed in the year 69 shortly after Niros Suicide. Suicide was an acceptable way to end your life in Rome.


So this part of his story actually was one of the least scandalous things that he probably ever did in his life.


Nero, by the way, though, died by a dagger, not by poison, though Lakita had provided a pinch for him in a small gold box in case he ever needed it. Nero was succeeded by Emperor Galba, who actually only reigned quite briefly, not even two full years, but that small period of time was long enough to put to death all of Nero's favorites.


And we quote the scum that had come to the surface in Nero's day, and that included Nero's favorite poisoner, Lucasta.


So without Niros protection anymore and her skills were so well known, she was sentenced to death for her role in the murders of dozens of members of the Roman elite.


She was put in chains and she was paraded through the streets of the city to her public execution.


Now, popular methods of execution did include wild animals sometimes, but it also very much included things like beheadings, strangulation, being buried alive, drowning.


And a big favorite at the time was crucifixion. So although we don't know exactly which one of these her execution would have been, we know that it had nothing to do with a giraffe.


Yeah, the story ended on a down note. It really did. Thanks a lot, Maria. Sorry, but she was a cool assassin for hire and then I just took it to a bad place.


One of the things that I really liked about her story was this idea that especially because she was working primarily with, you know, vegetable based poisons and was a botanist, really, I felt like you really sort of bonded at the idea that she was kind of a botanist chemist type.




She's just busy figuring out what plants do. So it got me thinking about fun things that I could make with plants, and that might be unusual. As of late, I have been in the evenings as part of my wine down ritual, having a a very milk heavy, kind of like a chai that's not caffeinated. And it just got me to thinking that something in that space might be very, very fun. So I came up with something that I called the botanists latte, and this starts with two cups of almond milk.


You could also use any other milk that you desire. I do usually almond or oat a bag of Earl Grey tea. I opted for decaf in this case and then a quarter cup of culinary rosebuds. These are easy to find if you just do it in a search online for food grade rosebuds or culinary rosebuds, you'll find all kinds of sources for them. They're easy to get. And then I put all this in a saucepan and I just let it heat on medium until the milk got kind of steamy and just started to bubble around the edges.


You don't want it to actually boil. Just get nice and nice and warm and then you turn off the heat, give it a quick stir to make sure the rosebuds are all covered with the milk. And then you just leave that to sit for several minutes while you go put on your pajamas or whatever.


That got strained into a mug because you don't want to eat all those rosebuds. And then I put sweetener in mine, which however you want to do that, if you just want to do sugar, if you have some sugar free sweetener, you can also add a little vanilla syrup or a simple syrup, whatever your prefer, to the point where you like it. And then it's not a heavy hitter in terms of alcohol. You could drink it just as it is at that point.


But I also added just an ounce of brandy. Brandy.


I was waiting to see what you might add into that.


So when you mentioned that you used Earl Grey, have you ever seen you're not really a citrus person, though? Have you ever had Lady Grey? Yeah.


I imagine you probably like Earl better than lady, but like lady at this side, some more citrus to it. And I would probably try this with with that type because I am I'm a citrus kind of person I like.


But that was immediately I was it was the first time that you've had a drink where I've gone. I'm going to try it, but I'm going to swap out this ingredient, like usually I'm just going to try it the way that it is.


I love ingredient swaps because everybody does have different tastes. You could also use different food grade flowers in here if you wanted to. You could use chrysanthemums or food grade lavender if you wanted to. There are all kinds of options. I really like a rose flavored things. I did too.


I feel like I'm in the wrong century because nobody ever has that anymore.


Well, you had to just make it yourself. Exactly. I will say this smells so beautiful. I bet so beautiful.


It smells like soft and it smells creamy even though like I used almond milk, there is still the almond milk combined with the rosebuds makes this very creamy scent. It's quite pretty.


And then the brandy is just like a perfect little. And if two cups of almond milk sounds like a lot, you lose a good bit in the the steaming.


It does reduce down a bit. Yeah. And if you're like me when you try to pour it out of the saucepan through the strainer into a mug, you lose a little more because I'm a sloppy jalopy. And like I said, you don't have to add the brandy. It's quite yummy. Just on its own. That is the botanist Lati.


We hope you enjoyed this particular little concoction and that it sounds like a yummy thing to try. That is it for today's criminal.


And we will talk to you again next week with more poisoned stories.


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