Chapter 43: Reading And Thinking

I kept reading through the archive.
Holmes didn't return immediately and I kept reading through the archive. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but I didn't have any pressing commitments, and having conquered my emotions, for the moment at least, I thought I might as well do something useful if I could.

I found an interesting piece from Wales, published on September 7, containing a statement I had overlooked the first time I'd read it. But now my interest was piqued and I was paying closer attention.

According to Darren Devine,
... despite police referring to an “unexplained death”, Home Office forensic pathologist Dr Brian Rodgers said the circumstances suggest it was “clearly a homicide”.

Dr Rodgers, who has worked on high-profile murder investigations in North Wales, said aside from cases where someone has died of injuries such as stab or gunshot wounds, establishing a cause of death was more complex in a decomposing corpse.

He suggested Mr Williams may have been poisoned or strangled with a necktie as a pathologist would have problems establishing this on a decomposing body.
Holmes and I agreed that it was clearly a homicide. But was it possible that Gareth Williams was strangled with a necktie? I considered the idea for the first time.

Darren Devine continued:
Dr Rodgers said: “The difficulty with any body that’s decomposing is that some of the subtle signs of certain modes of death can be very difficult to ascertain – like asphyxia with a ligature.”

Dr Rodgers, 57, who works part-time at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, added: “What you have to remember is that from the process of decomposition chemicals are produced in the body which can affect the analysis of various poisons, so you’d get false positive and negative results.

“I don’t know anything about the case other than what I’ve read in the papers and has been on the news, but I suspect he’s either been poisoned or strangled in some way.”
I had not seen any mention of Dr. Rodgers in any other clippings, and I was impressed by what he had said. Holmes and I had talked about poison in general terms, and at the time I had thought a virus more likely. But now, especially considering what I had just read, I was starting to change my mind.

Dr. Rodgers had explained very clearly how and why testing for poisons on a decomposing body could, and likely would, yield false results. It occurred to me that perhaps his statement was too clear and forthright to be carried by the popular press, which was more interested in the reports of nothing at all coming from the police toxicology labs.

But as to the cause of death, I found myself leaning toward poison and suffocation rather than strangulation. What better way to cover up a poisoning, I thought, than to speed up the body's decomposition?

I wondered whether the powder found on the counter tops could have been, as Slate suggested, the residue of a cleaning product, and whether that cleaning product itself could have been used to accelerate the breakdown of the victim's tissue?

It occurred to me that perhaps Gareth Williams had been poisoned with a short-lived drug, which would incapacitate him long enough for his attackers to strip him, stuff him into the bag and lock it, and place it in his bathtub -- but which his body would begin to metabolize even as he suffocated inside. If he were on his back, as Holmes had theorized, and struggling for even a short time, that would account for the bruises on his elbows.

His body heat would have been trapped inside the bag, and if he were conscious enough to struggle, or even to panic, he would have begun to perspire very rapidly. All his pores would have been open, and if an accelerant -- Slate's hypothetical cleaning product, perhaps -- had been added to the bag, or spread over his naked body, his flesh would have begun to break down even as he breathed his last.

It was horrible to contemplate, but if this were the case, then the chemical reactions that must have taken place in the bag between the time of death and the discovery of the body would have made it extremely unlikely that either the drug, or the cleaning product, would ever be detected.

Lacking any first-hand knowledge of the body or the scene, I knew it would be impossible to draw any reliable inferences. And yet, it seemed to me, every link in the chain I had assembled was quite plausible, perhaps even probable.

Was I getting anywhere? That would be for Holmes to decide. In the meantime, I thought, the more information I could compile for him, the better our position would be when he returned.

So I kept reading, and thinking.