Testing chronology

Friday, August 8, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:52 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

A chronology of National Medical Services’ involvement in the investigation of the deaths of patients at Truman Veterans Hospital in 1992:

July 1997: National Medical Services determines that the 1992 death of Elzie Havrum, a patient at Truman Veterans Hospital, was a codeine overdose.

August 1997: National Medical Services retracts its statement that Havrum died from a codeine overdose.

Nov. 27, 2001: Tissue samples from 10 patients who died at Truman Veterans Hospital in 1992 are delivered to National Medical Services for analysis.

May 16, 2002: Succinylmonocholine is identified in the 10 tissue samples by Dr. Kevin Ballard at National Medical Services. Succinylmonocholine at this time is thought only to be found in the tissues of patients who had been injected with succinylcholine. The FBI laboratory in Virginia is then asked to perform confirmation testing on the tissue tested by Ballard.

May 31, 2002: Boone County Medical Examiner Jay Dix rules that the causes of death were the administrations of succinylcholine and that the deaths were homicides.

June 3, 2002: Ten counts of first-degree murder are filed against Richard Williams.

June 2003: Kevin Crane, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney, is notified that the FBI laboratory’s preliminary findings are that succinylmonocholine was found in control testing that had not been exposed to succinylcholine as well as in the patient tissues. National Medical Services tested the control tissue used by the FBI and its own control tissue and also found succinylmonocholine in the control tissue.

July 7, 2003: The FBI releases a toxicological report that the lab’s findings “preclude the use of succinylmonocholine as an exclusive indicator of exposure to the parent drug succinylcholine.” Crane said he received this report on July 23.

July 31, 2003: Crane travels with representatives from the Veterans Administration Office of the Inspector General to National Medical Services in Pennsylvania to discuss the situation.

Aug. 1, 2003: Ballard reports that recent research has shown that succinylmonocholine is no longer assumed to be a foreign substance caused only by the administration of succinylcholine and can be found in other tissues. He said these findings show that “no definitive conclusions can be drawn regarding the succinylmonocholine findings in this case.”

Aug. 4, 2003: Crane receives Ballard’s report.

Aug. 6, 2003: All charges are dropped against Richard Williams, and he is released from jail.

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Peter Roloff October 7, 2010 | 4:21 p.m.

The FBI originally confirmed the science behind succinylmonocholine and later retracted its backing citing its own studies concluding that the chemical was found in several cadavers tested. The assumption being that environmental contamination occurs in small amounts in everyone. How prevalent is succinylmonocholine that it would be found in most people? Would an independent study on living individuals substantiate this claim? Is this an attempt by the FBI to render useless technology able to identify homicide in a favorite method of covert murder?

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