Monthly Archives: September 2012


In the late 1600s the men of Naples and Palermo were afraid of their women. A woman called Toffana sold a compound called Acqua Toffana. It contained arsenic and her customers used it to poison husbands and fathers, or any unwanted man.  Toffana must have had many customers because it has been estimated that over 600 men were killed, including two Popes.  She operated undetected for several decades.  A substantial number of women must have known of her existence and passed her name and address amongst themselves.  The men eventually realized what was happening, but what could they do?   Which loving smile might conceal a murderous heart? Which gentle hand might prepare a fatal cup? Should they fear their wife, a daughter or a female servant?

Arsenic could be administered to kill swiftly, or provide a lingering death that could easily pass for an  illness. It was difficult to detect.  How could they protect themselves?

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