John Buettner-Janusch was on the far end of the bell curve in many respects. Unquestionably brilliant, Janusch was a geneticist, a primatologist, a prolific author, and one of the leading physical anthropologists of his generation. He taught at several research universities in the United States, including Michigan, Wayne, Yale, Utah, and Duke.
And he was quite cracked in the head.
Janusch was chairing the anthropology department at New York University when the first hints emerged that he'd put his extraordinary scientific mind to a criminal bent. How he imagined that he could keep his curious laboratory experiments a secret is a mystery, but in 1979, the prominent professor was indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan for making LSD and methaqualone (quaaludes) in the school lab.
His colleagues at NYU were thunderstruck, certain that it was a group of renegade students who were responsible for the concoctions. Their shock is more easily imagined than described when, in 1980, Professor Janusch was convicted and sentenced for manufacturing drugs and found himself transferred from the hallowed ivory tower to a decidedly public institution, where he remained for three years.
Upon his release from prison, Janusch decided to take energetic measures to exact his revenge. He returned to the lab and cooked up a brew consisting of some exotic poisons: atropine (a naturally occurring alkaloid of atropia belladonna or deadly nightshade), sparteine (a compound derived from the European shrub Scotch broom, Cytisus scoparius), and pilocarpine hydrochloride (an alkaloid found in the leaves of a South American shrub, Pilocarpus jaborandi). This he injected into some pieces of chocolate. These he boxed and mailed anonymously to the home of the judge who sentenced him and the homes of some of his former colleagues.
If his vicious intention was to poison the families of his targets, he succeeded. The judge's wife ate four pieces of the chocolate and collapsed. The wife and daughter of a former colleague also became quite ill. Fortunately, they all recovered, and another two boxes of chocolate were intercepted.
The mad scientist was arrested on his way home from the opera. Soon thereafter, he died of pneumonia in a federal prison.
NYU found itself freshly scandalized. But the university community had no reason to feel embarrassed. After all, Harvard has graduated enough murderers to thoroughly satisfy the gossips in any alumni circle. And many of those gentlemen took degrees in divinity. All of which only goes to show that genius and moral character are not on the same chromosome, arguably the most profound result of any of Professor Janusch's scientific work.
"Prof Accused of Making Illegal Drugs in Lab," by the United Press International, Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, Oct. 5, 1979.
"Arrest Upsets NYU," by the Associated Press, Syracuse Post Standard, Oct. 6, 1979.
"Jailed Professor Seeks Revenge With Poisoned Valentine Candies," by Reuters, the Kingston (Jamaica) Gleaner, Feb. 23, 1987.
"Poisoned-Candy Prof Sentenced to 40 Years," by the Associated Press, Syracuse Post Standard, July 15, 1987.
"John Buettner-Janusch, created drugs in lab," Chicago Daily Herald, July 5, 1992.