American Experience: Season 25, Episode 4

The Poisoner's Handbook (7 Jan. 2014)

TV Episode  |  TV-14  |   |  Documentary, History
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Ratings: 8.3/10 from 65 users  
Reviews: 1 user | 3 critic

From PBS and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: In the early 20th century, the average American medicine cabinet was a would-be poisoner's treasure chest, with radioactive radium, thallium, and morphine ... See full summary »



(original book) (as Debbie Blum) , (story), 1 more credit »
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Episode credited cast:
Iva Baumanova ...
Anna Fredericksen
Alexander Gettler
Daniel Brown ...
Defense Lawyer - Creighton Case
Jiri Cap ...
Fremont Jackson
Detective McCallister
Filip Dyda ...
Morgue Assistant
Alena Guigarova ...
Annie Jackson
Dominika Hasková ...
Amelia Maggia
Ryan James ...
Prosecutor - Creighton Case
Pavel Koutecký ...
Francesco Travia
Lucie Kozinová ...
Alice Merritt
Iveta Elisabeth Lit ...
Katherine Schaub
Howard Lotker ...
Abraham Freireich
Curtis Matthew ...
Prosecutor - Creighton Case
Judge - Creighton Case


From PBS and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: In the early 20th century, the average American medicine cabinet was a would-be poisoner's treasure chest, with radioactive radium, thallium, and morphine in everyday products. The pace of industrial innovation increased, but the scientific knowledge to detect and prevent crimes committed with these materials lagged behind until 1918. New York City's first scientifically trained medical examiner, Charles Norris, and his chief toxicologist, Alexander Gettler, turned forensic chemistry into a formidable science and set the standards for the rest of the country. Written by Anonymous

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Release Date:

7 January 2014 (USA)  »

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16:9 HD
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User Reviews

Fun and fascinating history
2 December 2014 | by (US) – See all my reviews

Enjoyable and educational story of the life work of New York's first medical examiner Charles Norris, and his head toxicologist Alexander Gettler. Before Norris, New York coroners (as in many places) weren't doctors, and often had absolutely no scientific training. It was more a give-away, political patronage job, and forensic evidence wasn't taken very seriously by juries, judges, or lawyers.

But Norris and Gettler dragged New York, and ultimately other places into the age of science in the courtroom. For this show it specifically focuses on the issue of poisonings and how Gettler and Norris got ever better at exposing the truth behind these killings – to the point where intentional poisonings went from hundreds of cases a year to only one or two. That's how good they were. It was no longer worth the risk.

Unlike most American Experience films, this relies heavily on reenactments. That usually means cheesy and unimpressive. But here the acting is first rate, and it makes the device work surprisingly well. One could imagine a fascinating series about these two – a sort of real life Holmes and Watson.

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