Cant even get your science right in a botched extortion attempt...

This is an... odd... educational opportunity...

Anne Bass' boyfriend mesmerized jury with frightening account of Connecticut mansion invasion:

He said, "I love you, Anne" -- then prepared to die.

Wealthy philanthropist Anne Bass' boyfriend yesterday mesmerized a jury with a frightening account of how three armed men "dressed like ninjas" invaded her Connecticut mansion with a "war cry," tied them up -- and then injected them with a purported "virus" that would kill them within 24 hours unless Bass coughed up $8.5 million.


One of the knife-toting thugs then announced: "Now here's the thing: They were just injecting you with a very virulent virus. And with this virus, the symptoms take 20 to 24 hours to appear, and when the symptoms appear, it's almost certain to be fatal."

Oh I know that virus! Its the 'Ive been watching movies instead of applying my efforts towards a career, education, family, or useful hobby' virus!

The 'virus' the extortioners 'injected' doesnt exist outside of fantasy.

Lemme give you an example. Ebola. OMFG SCARY, right? It takes ebola two-three weeks to kill you. Rabies is 'almost certain to be fatal', but it takes a few months. The best candidate virus in the real world would be the 1918 flu-- which, even if they had a time machine or broke into the CDC to acquire it, took 7-10 days after the onset of symptoms to kill people (before modern medicine, before antibiotics).

And dont even get me started on the 'antidote':

After about five hours in the house, the men became concerned with the presence of the child, the health of the victims and their apparent inability to immediately obtain the money, the affidavit says. Before fleeing, the men gave the victims a beverage that they claimed was the antidote and the victims fell asleep.

Read this neat piece by Carl Zimmer on how viruses do not have some magic antidote or cure. Viruses are hard to treat because not only are you a virus, viruses are us. We have a hard time finding angles to attack them, because attacking them is attacking us. Its difficult to find drugs that dont have an unacceptable side-effect profile (and even some that still get approved are extremely rough on the patient).

The only theoretical 'antidote' would be like what we give people who have been exposed to rabies-- prophylactic anti-rabies antibodies generated in like, horses. But you cant inject someone with rabies, inject someone with anti-rabies antibodies, and walk away knowing you didnt kill them. You need to tell them it was rabies so they can go get a rabies vaccine. The externally generated antibodies alone are not enough.

And most importantly, you would inject the antibodies into the person. Inject them. Not give the antibodies to them in a drink.


"They injected me by sterilizing my shoulder, exactly like an inoculation . . . I thought it was poisonous or they were putting me to sleep."

"I couldn't reconcile the fact that if I was being killed, why would they disinfect the injection site?" Lethbridge said about the April 15, 2007, home invasion at Bass' lavish Litchfield County residence, which sits on a 1,000-acre estate.

Yes, your analysis does make sense, Mr. Lethbridge. Clearly the perpatrators had no idea what they were doing from a logical standpoint, they were just reenacting a melange of movies they had seen without understanding the motives behind the actors movements. Why would you bother sterilizing the shoulder of someone you were about to kill? Unfortunately, this is a case of the perps being too stupid for rational people to ever understand:

The "virus" turned out to be an antifungal found in athlete's foot treatments, and the "antidote" was a sleeping aid, according to investigators.


Ugh. Whatever. You all can rest easy. They caught the perps. Ironically, in an extortion attempt that looks like it was written by bad Hollywood writers instead of real life, it turns out the butler did it.

The former butler of Anne Bass, ex- wife of oil tycoon Sid Bass, was found guilty of plotting to extort $8.5 million by injecting her with a fake "deadly virus" and demanding money for the antidote.

So cliche.

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My first thought was: "How can someone sooooo rich be sooooo stupid?"

Then I read the last paragraph - Aha! She married into it! (Not to be sexist, stupid men can also marry into money). But this got me thinking: is there any correlation at all between wealth and critical thinking skills?

I mean, you'd think getting rich would mean being savvy about markets, and taking a skeptical view towards people who might be trying to rip you off, but by-and-large it seems rich people are just as gullible at the next shmuck.


By Amenhotepstein (not verified) on 23 Mar 2012 #permalink

@1: I'm going to cut Mrs. Bass some slack here. There was an armed party in her house trying to extort money from her. As in, they had the means to kill her if they felt it necessary. I'd like to think I would be perfectly rational in that situation, but I've never had that experience, so I can't be sure. There is no evidence Mrs. Bass has had any scientific training, let alone in virology. Also, from Mr. Lethbridge's choice of words I infer that he figured out after the fact (not in real time) that the "virus" was bogus. I'll give him credit for that. But there is no reason to think the victims, under stress, would have been able to see through the extortion attempt in real time. According to the SFGate link, the scheme collapsed because Mrs. Bass and Mr. Lethbridge didn't actually have the cash on hand.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Mar 2012 #permalink

"The best candidate virus in the real world would be the 1918 flu-- which, even if they had a time machine or broke into the CDC to acquire it, took 7-10 days after the onset of symptoms to kill people..."

I know virtually nothing about this stuff, but I once trawled through a lot of contemporary newspaper reports from that period tracking "Spanish Flu" stories, and they were reporting much faster symptom onset to death timescales than that. So, for example, I have a clipping from The Times, July 21st 1918, titled "Sudden But Brief Attacks", which cites some inquest pathologist who talks about it being "very rapid at onset, acute in its progress", etc.

But, as I say, I know virtually nothing about it, and this might just be a case of press sensationalism. (Mind you, having said that, there is the suggestion in the reports that the media were trying to downplay the whole thing.)

I have to cut the idiot ninjas a little slack about the sterilizing-the-injection-site thing.

The sterilizing might encourage the victim to think it's real, because it follows the pattern of the other injections they've had.

Sure, if you think about it too much, it falls apart, but I could see it helping if you're trying to work a believable con, especially if you can keep the victim distracted.

Sterilising before administering a lethal injection. I'm not sure, but don't they do this in Texas? According to the films I have seen.

By Graham Patrick (not verified) on 24 Mar 2012 #permalink

The sterilizing thing wasn't *that* big of a tip-off; this was an extortion, not a murder, so it's not like they would logically want to be causing unnecessary harm. If you kill somebody, it gets a lot more police attention than just robbing them, plus you can't come back and try it again.

It was all the other stupid stuff that should be the tip-off.

Nothing in the Dallas papers about this, either now or at the time of the crime. I suppose it is because of the Basses' invisible Anti-Media Force Field.

By CherryBombSim (not verified) on 25 Mar 2012 #permalink

Sadly, I can totally see events unfolding exactly as described in the testimony. What I think of as specialized ignorance is actually very easy to find.

A lot of threatened "hacking" on the Internet reveals the same shared ignorance displayed by the criminals and the victim above (but with immunology, you prevent death and disease; with computer security, you prevent identity theft, theft, your computer being turned into a spambot, and those pictures of someone's naughty bits that got sent to you last Christmas winding up on Facebook).

It seems that a big problem with education of any sort is that we are competing not only with outright ignorance, but with studios and advertisers waving shiny objects all over the place while shouting "YOU CAN LOOK AT THAT BORING OTHER STUFF LATER, HERE IS A TOTALLY SEXY WAY OF THINKING ABOUT IT THAT WILL MAKE YOU FORGET ALL ABOUT ALL THOSE BORING FACTS!" Sometimes those distracting people actually dispense misinformation with an emotional appeal (I'm looking at you, Mr. Maher, et al.) which makes it triply hard to undo the damage.