Mar 5, 2008

Do You Know the Ricin Man? The Ricin Man, the Ricin Man . . .

. . . Do you know the Ricin man,
Who lives in a Utah hospital now?

Here's what we know about the Ricin Man—and it's admittedly not much:

Name: Roger Von Bergendorff
Hometown: Riverton, Utah, but moved to Las Vegas one year ago
Personality: Described by a neighbor as a “Loner, socially regressive
Found among Ricin Man’s belongings: Several vials (I almost wrote "viles") of ricin—a chemical so deadly, a dot of it the size of the head of a pin is enough to kill a normal-sized human. The amount Ricin Man carried was enough to kill a small town. Also found were "firearms and a book on anarchy, tabbed to a page on ricin."

How the Ricin Man Got Outed: His cousin and friend, Thomas Tholen, turned over the offending substance after discovering it when he went to clear away Ricin Man’s things (after being hospitalized for exposure). Mr. Tholen has been forthcoming in reporting what he knows about Ricin man.

Why Ricin Rings a Bell: Not to be confused with sarin, the toxic substance that was released on a subway train in Japan in 1995 (killing 12), Ricin is the third most deadly toxic substance known to humankind, after plutonium and botulism. Ricin is a leftover in the extraction of the harmless castor oil from castor beans. "A ricin pellet fired from an umbrella was used to kill a Bulgarian dissident in London in 1978." Ricin was developed into a bomb (known as the “W Bomb”) during WWII. “While less deadly than if injected or inhaled, the dangers of food and water contamination are severe, and could well represent the most potent terrorist use of the toxin, serving as a means to foment mass hysteria.” But then, the whole ricin-as-terrorism-scare tactic is worse when you realize that, “Ricin's dangers do not lie in its ability to cause mass death, but in its ease of production by unskilled individuals using readily available laboratory equipment. The primary ingredient — castor beans — can be obtained easily and cheaply, while directions for producing the poison can be readily found on the Internet.” Ricin was thought to have been part of a supposed terrorist threat from a Wood Green London apartment in 2003, but later turned out to be unsubstantiated.

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