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January 14, 2008
Volume 86, Number 02
p. 64

Crimes Of Chemistry

"It was Mrs. Schuster, in the chemistry lab, with the hydrochloric acid." Not a game of Clue, regretfully, but a real-life homicide. As the saying around the C&EN office goes, chemistry is indeed everywhere. And on July 10, 2003, chemistry played a leading role in the murder of Timothy Schuster, 45.

Police records state that Larissa Schuster, now 47—a biochemist who, along with her estranged husband, co-owned the Fresno-based Central California Research Laboratories—and James Fagone, now 25, former assistant at the Schusters' lab, disabled Timothy Schuster by knocking him out with a stun gun and chloroform as he answered his front door.

Love Hurts: Especially when you love a chemist.

Fagone and Larissa Schuster then kidnapped Timothy Schuster and dropped him headfirst into a 55-gal container. According to authorities, the two then poured HYDROCHLORIC ACID into the barrel containing the still-breathing man.

Larissa Schuster may have been a competent chemist, but she proved to be a terrible criminal. She spoke multiple times about wanting to kill her husband, took the hydrochloric acid from her own lab, placed the barrel containing his half-dissolved body in a storage unit she rented, and covered the barrel with a cardboard box labeled with her business' shipping address. Consequently, Timothy Schuster's body was discovered a few days after his disappearance.

Fagone testified that Larissa Schuster paid him $2,000 to help rob and assault her husband but was not aware murder was part of the plan. Larissa Schuster testified that Fagone killed her husband by accident and that she only helped dispose of the body.

It's a stretch to believe that someone could "accidentally" fall headfirst into a barrel of hydrochloric acid, and the jury didn't buy it. Larissa Schuster was convicted of first-degree murder on Dec. 12, 2007. She faces life in prison without parole at sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 16.

Fagone faces the same fate. He was convicted in December 2006 of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

We've all been advised to lock up our valuables left outside—bikes, cars, storage sheds—but roofing and electrical wiring?

If a string of robberies in England and the U.S. is any indication, copper wiring and lead roofs have become a HOT COMMODITY among thieves. Record-high prices of lead and copper paired with eager buyers have driven thefts of the metals to epidemic proportions throughout England and the U.S.

The cost of lead is an astonishing seven-times higher than it was five years ago, jumping from $450 per ton in 2002 to $3,200 in 2007. Likewise, copper has skyrocketed from $1,600 per ton in 2004 to around $7,000 today.


According to the Washington Post, in England alone, more than 2,000 claims were filed in 2007 for thefts of roofing metals at churches compared with 80 claims in 2005.

Schools, homes, bars, and even swimming pools and play areas have been targeted by the scrap-metal thieves. Some roof thefts have gone overlooked for a week or more, until heavy rain caused interior damage and forced notice.

In the U.S., farmers and construction sites have been hit by copper thieves. The epidemic has gotten so bad that at least 27 states have passed or recently introduced bills that make selling copper scraps a more arduous business.

Arizona, for example, now requires sellers to provide identification to scrap-metal buyers when selling more than $25 worth. Buyers must also mail checks to sellers instead of paying them on the spot.

The English have a more creative way of dealing with the thieves. Churches are beginning to paint their roofs with SmartWater, an invisible solution that glows neon-green under ultraviolet light and remains on the skin, hair, and clothes of anyone who touches it.

Want to catch any potential thieves green-handed? Check out www.smartwater.com for some informational videos, complete with English accents.

This week's column was written by Faith Hayden. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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