Polonium, bruises, absent CCTV: Decoding evidence of Sunanda Pushkar's death

The body was found lying in a hotel just a few days after the deceased had ‘threatened to reveal lots’ of secrets. Initial reports suggested the cause was natural.
A few days later, however, the police shocked everyone by claiming it was a case of murder. The needle of suspicion pointed towards two men who had entered the hotel room. The suspects were allegedly linked to a cricket betting syndicate.

No, this isn’t a quick recap of the mystery surrounding Sunanda Pushkar’s death. This is a quick reminder of another famous death in a hotel room—that of former Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer.

Woolmer died a day after Pakistan were knocked out of the 2007 cricket world cup. Eight years and two world cups later, we still do not know if he died of a heart attack or was murdered.

Sunanda Pushkar’s death, eerily similar to Woolmer’s, may also prove to be a difficult mystery to crack because of the various twists and turns (murder, suicide, natural?), delay, conflicting evidence and the noise of the self-anointed sleuths that obfuscate such high-profile cases.

Polonium 210: First and foremost is the mystery of the untraceable poison. Almost nine months ago, Subramanian Swamy—the leader of the self-anointed Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirots probing the case—had suggested that Sunanda was ‘administered Russian poison’ by professionals. He had alleged that Sunanda’s nostrils were squeezed to force her to swallow the poison, suspected to be Polonium-210.

 Polonium, bruises, absent CCTV: Decoding evidence of Sunanda Pushkars death


The police now, as if inspired by Swamy’s investigations, also suggest that Sunanda was poisoned but they are not sure if it was Polonium or some other rare venom.

But, unlike Swamy who alleged that the poison was given forced orally, the cops are pointing at a syringe injury. Therein lies the confusion. Polonium is an odourless, colourless poison that is lethal in extremely small doses. It can be easily mixed in a glass of water, tea or coffee without raising suspicion. Why would somebody take the trouble of injecting it when it would have been more convenient to just slip a small quantity into whatever Sunanda was drinking? Especially if it was an insider job, as Shashi Tharoor’s critics seem to be insinuating.

Similarly, why would professional killers go to the extent of pushing it down her throat? Since there were no signs of struggle in Sunanda’s room, the possibility of forcible administration of Polonium 210 sounds a little difficult to believe. Is this why the cops are now suggesting the crime scene was dressed up?

Paracetamol poisoning: Many of us pop paracetamol tablets regularly, often as painkillers. Even infants and children are prescribed this drug to bring down temperature during an illness. It is a safe drug.

Paracetamol can kill only if it is taken in large quantities over a long period of time. In high doses it leads to liver toxicity and in some cases failure. However, many patients recover completely after discontinuing the use of this medicine.

Some experts suggest that Sunanda may have died because of an overdose of acetaminophen (paracetamol). But, there is no sign of any damage to any of her internal organs, including the liver. Neither is there any evidence of drug-related reactions likes bleeding or vomiting.

So, unless Sunanda mixed paracetamol, alcohol and some other medicine, which caused a rare reaction, there is very little to believe that acetaminophen could have killed Sunanda.

The most famous example of a cocktail of drugs leading to sudden death is of Michael Jackson. But Jackson had been taking painkillers for several years and on that fateful night his doctor had prescribed him a lethal overdose of cocktail.

In Sunanda’s case we have evidence of paracetamol, alcohol and nicotine. But was this good enough to kill her quickly?

No CCTV, no staff: The police claim there was no CCTV footage and the floor attendant was asked to leave. Yet, the police now claim to have found evidence that the crime scene was dressed up; an allegation that was the basis of another famous mystery, the murder of Aarushi Talwar.

Who dressed up the crime scene? Who was the witness? So far we have no idea.

Bruises and syringe marks: Her post-mortem report stated that there were over a dozen injury marks across Sunanda's body but these were superficial in nature and not severe. The report also said Sunanda had minor bruises on her left cheek. These could be signs of a struggle before death.

Finally, the syringe mark. A few days before her death, Sunanda had undergone some medical tests. Media reports had indicated that she was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, an autoimmune disease, and possibly Tuberculosis.  Could the syringe marks have been from her medical examination?

The mystery gets complicated further by the latest findings that Sunanda was perfectly healthy prior to her death and was not suffering from either Lupus or TB.

Celebrity deaths: Singer Jim Morrison died suddenly and peacefully, probably because of an overdose of alcohol and heroin. Marilyn Monroe died in her room, probably because of an overdose of barbiturates. All his life, rock star Kurt Cobain suffered an undiagnosed illness that caused severe stomach pain and made him suicidal.

What killed Morrison? Who killed Monroe? What was Cobain suffering from? To solve the mystery of Sunanda’s death, sleuths and medicine experts will have to answer similar questions.

And we will have to learn from Woolmer’s death: This is certainly not an open and shut case.

Updated Date: Jan 07, 2015 18:41:17 IST