Tag Archive | "Claudius"

Inheritance by Murder: Are Baby Boomers Next?

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It has been speculated that as the American baby boom generation passes on, the greatest transfer of wealth in the world’s history will occur.  And recently, there have been numerous accounts in various media sources of children of baby-boomers running up large debts in the certain belief that they will receive a large windfall upon the demise of their parents.  While the attitudes of many of the heirs to the baby-boom wealth may seem rather crass and callous, their collective demeanor is rather mild by historical standards.


History is replete with instances of murder by family members for personal gain.  Since wealth was often tied to royal or class status, we can only surmise how many royal successions that occurred following a death by reported “natural causes” were in actuality caused by foul play.  In many other cases, there is no need to theorize as the evidence of murder is clear.


One of the most famous cases of succession by murder is that of the Roman Emperor Claudius.  Claudius Nero Germanicus, third Emperor in Julio-Claudian dynasty, ruled Rome from 41 to 54 AD.  As was the case with other Emperors, his relationships with his wives and children provide insights into the succession problems of empires and monarchies.


In the year 38, Claudius married Valeria Messalina, scion of a noble family.  Valeria bore him a daughter Claudia Octavia, known as Octavia, and a son, Tiberius Claudius Germanicus, who his father dubbed Brittanicus after the conquest of Britain in 43 AD.  By 47 AD, concerned with the longevity of Claudius and succession of her son Brittanicus, Valeria pronounced herself divorced from the Emperor and married another nobleman in an apparent attempt at a coup.  The plot failed and led to Valeria’s demise.


In that same year, Julia Agrippina, young niece of Claudius known for her ambition and treachery, determined to secure the Emperor’s throne for her son, Nero.  Married to her second husband, she determined to dispose of him and marry her uncle, Claudius.  This she accomplished via poisoning and use of her feminine wiles.  In 49, she married Claudius, and in 50, she persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero as his second son and to install him as heir to the Empire in place of his own son.  In 54, with succession plans in place, Agrippina deemed the time right and killed Claudius by poisoning.  Unfortunately for her, Nero ultimately had other plans that included neither his step-brother, Brittanicus, nor his mother.  In 55, Brittanicus died by poisoning, and in 57, Agrippina died at the hands of Nero’s henchmen.


People of the royal and noble classes have always had to remain alert to the possibility of treachery from unexpected sources.  Greed, however, knows no particular socioeconomic status.  Wealth, like most things in life, is often a matter of perspective.  And, with the advent of life insurance, a whole new class of murder victims was created.


Such was the case of the famous “Philadelphia Murder Ring” of the 1930’s.  In the early to mid 1900’s, South Philadelphia was home to an immigrant population of mostly poor, largely uneducated people, many of whom were of Italian ancestry.  This environment would hardly seem a likely place to hatch a scheme of murder for personal gain.  And yet, by introducing the relatively new element of life insurance proceeds, it became a viable plan enabling the murder for personal enrichment of between fifty and one hundred unsuspecting victims over the course of almost a decade.


The architect of the plan was Morris “the Rabbi” Bolber, who along with Herman Petrillo, a spaghetti salesman by trade, and Herman’s cousin Paul Petrillo, a tailor, implemented the plan.  The Petrillo’s and Bolber were involved in spiritualism and magic.  Many of the poor immigrants consulted these men and others.  Often, the spiritualists supplied potions to help with health and other problems, along with advice to procure inexpensive life insurance policies.  Many times, those seeking advice were wives, discontented with their husbands, who became willing accomplices in the murders of their spouses.


The delivery mechanism was usually in the form of a tasteless, arsenic-containing powder that could be added to the victim’s food.  If a single dose did not do the trick, multiple doses usually would.  Because such powders had been employed to carry out similar acts for centuries, they  became labeled “inheritance powders.”


Of course, improved toxicological testing makes it unlikely that someone today could murder another by poisoning and escape detection.  Yet, there may be new toxins that can mimic death by natural causes, enough so as to reduce potential suspicions of murder.


Baby-boomers beware!  Is that simply salt in your shaker?  Has your spouse taken to cooking with new spices?  Has the tamper-resistant seal been compromised on that gift bottle supplied you by your children?  Are you worth more dead than alive?  The inattentiveness of a generation oblivious to the possibility of treachery may mean that the massive transfer of wealth from departed baby boomers may begin sooner than any of us expect.

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