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O41: Dark Web shopping: A case report of a cyanide suicide - 28/06/14

Doi : 10.1016/S2352-0078(14)70049-6 
G. Tournel 1, 2, E. le Garff 1, L. Humbert 2, J.-F. Wiart 2, A. Garat 2, V. Hedouin 1, D. Allorge 2
1 Institut de médecine légale de Lille, CHRU de Lille, France 
2 Laboratoire de toxicologie, institut de biochimie et biologie moléculaire, CHRU de Lille, France 

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We report an uncommon case of a young white man found dead in a hotel room after cyanide poisoning in a context of suicide. Cyanide was apparently ordered on the Deep Web. The purpose of this case is to compare it with a review of literature about cyanide poisoning (clinical facts and epidemiology), toxic deaths in hotel and scientific observations about black-market and illegally-ordered products on the Dark Web.

Case report

a 28 years old man was found unresponsive in a hotel room by the cleaner around 12.00pm. The investigations of the crime scene were as follows: a white young man dressed and clean lean, lying on his back in a bed, a farewell letter left on the bedside table, as well as two small plastic bags (around 5×8cm) and an empty glass containing a lemon slice. Each bag was numbered, one with a “1” and the second with a “2”. A radiological imagery and an autopsy were performed. Bilateral oedematous and congestive lungs and a visceral congestion without any trace of external or internal traumatism were observed. The family revealed the notion of chronic illegal chronic drug abuse and of the potential purchase of a suicide kit on the Dark Web.

Toxicological findings

Femoral and cardiac blood, vitreous humor, gastric content, urine, hair and bile samples were collected during the autopsy. Toxicological screening was performed for ethanol, drugs, illicit drugs and cyanide in the biological samples and both plastic bags. The toxicological results were positive for morphine in femoral blood (11.4ng/mL), urine, bile and vitreous humour and for cyanide in femoral blood (7,2mg/L). Alprazolam traces were detected in all biological samples and dextromethorphan (an antitussive drug) was present in the gastric content. Analysis of both plastic bags could only identify dextromethorphan traces in bag “1”.


Cyanide intoxication can be intentional (suicide or homicide) or accidental (occupational accident, consumption of cyanogenic plants or food), but it is a rare kind of poisoning, reported previously in few cases. Lethal suicide poisoning with cyanide is even more unusual, especially when the drug is shopped and shipped from Internet. In the present case, the concentration of CN- in femoral blood is very high and corresponds unambiguously to a lethal concentration, considering life-threatening intoxications with cyanide are reported in the literature for blood concentrations superior to 1–2mg/L. It allows to conclude here that the cause of death is asphyxia by cyanide poisoning and the manner of death is suicide. Although cyanide intoxication with clinical and visceral effects and cyanide-related deaths are well-documented, this case report appears somewhat unusual regarding the association of a toxic death in a hotel room through lethal cyanide poisoning with a shipped and pre-manufactured suicide kit shopped on the Deep Web. Dark Web (or Dark Net) is currently better known, especially since the soar of virtual money named “bit coin” has been used on the Deep Web for shopping. The Dark Web is the part of the web without an indexation on conventional internet search engines. To access to that anonymous web, the user has to know the address that he wants to shop on and to use anonymous devices like TOR. In this case report, two arguments are present to suspect that the young man went to those particular websites: first, the high possibility to perform anonymous shopping of cyanide on the Dark Web, and second, the prudence of the sellers (multiple plastic bags, industrial packaging with no drug trace in bags and no reference on the bags). Moreover, the profile of customers of those websites has been previously shown to correspond to males, young (between 20 and 40 yrs), white, heterosexual, employees or students with a preference for MDMA, LSD and cannabis; the present case is in agreement with this aforementioned profile.

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Vol 26 - N° 2S

P. S23-S24 - juin 2014 Retour au numéro
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  • O40: The effect of the national drug law reform on the incidence of 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) among users of illegal drugs in Finland
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