The station doctor, Robert Thompson, told the young man's colleagues that Marks had died of unknown but natural causes, likely a massive heart attack or stroke. Because it was Thompson's job to treat live patients, not perform autopsies, they would have to wait to learn any more details.
With months of unbroken darkness and dangerous cold stretched out before them, October was the soonest it would be safe for aircraft to land at the South Pole. In the meantime, people living at the base used the excess hours in their days to gather oak scraps and cut and polish them into a casket. They loaded Marks's body into the makeshift coffin and laid him to temporary rest in the base's storage , where the frigid climate would preserve his remains until the end of winter.
Martin Sage finally was able to perform an autopsy. The amount of time that had passed between the death and the examination didn't stop Sage from making a disturbing observation: Marks hadn't died of natural causes after all. According to the post-mortem, he had ingested approximately milliliters of methanol—roughly the size of a glass of wine.
Methanol is a type of alcohol used to clean scientific equipment in Antarctica: It's subtly sweet, colorless, and toxic even in small amounts—which means a fatal dose could easily be slipped into someone's drink without their knowledge. That left a limited number of options on the table. To the people who lived and worked with Marks up until his final hours, the possibility that he had killed himself was hard to believe. He had thrived in the harsh beauty of Antarctica. He was doing important research at the observatory, and when he wasn't working, he had his friends and Wolter, whom he had planned to marry, to keep him company.
But if Marks hadn't poisoned himself, that left his colleagues with the unsettling possibility that they had shared a home with a murderer for over half a year. Because Antarctica is governed by a treaty signed by 54 nations , handling crimes there can be a headache. Marks was from Australia and had worked for an American station, but he died within the Ross Dependency —a territory of Antarctica claimed by New Zealand. By October, New Zealand had taken over the job of looking into the incident. While the coroner of Christchurch began an initial inquest in , the investigation took years to complete, and involved several hearings.
Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Wormald looked at four possible causes of death: Marks drank the methanol accidentally; he drank it for recreation; he drank it to kill himself; or someone else had spiked his drink. In , Wormald stated that suicide was the least likely explanation for the young scientist's death, citing his promising career and relationship.
It was more plausible that Marks had ingested the solvent to get high and accidentally overdosed. He was a heavy drinker, and had been known to use alcohol to cope with his Tourette's syndrome. But Wormald saw this as further evidence that he hadn't drunk the methanol on purpose: Marks had access to plenty of alcohol on the base if he was looking to self-medicate, and as an experienced binge-drinker, he would have known the risk of drinking unfamiliar substances.
When he did get sick, he acted just as bewildered as the rest of the crew, suggesting he had no idea there was poison inside his body. Wormald concluded: "In my view it is most likely Dr. Marks ingested the methanol unknowingly. William Silva, who had been a physician at a nearby Antarctic station, reviewed Thompson's medical notes from that day and questioned certain aspects of his care.
Thompson had access to an Ektachem blood analyzer, a machine that would have detected the dangerous levels of methanol in his patient's system and likely prompted the doctor to take steps toward appropriate treatment. But the lithium-ion battery had died some time before, which meant that turning it off reset its electronic memory.
It was shut off the day of Marks's death, and to power it back up, Thompson would have needed to recalibrate it—a process that takes 8 to 10 hours [ PDF ]. Thompson later testified that he had been too busy caring for Marks to use the Ektachem. He also said that the machine was difficult to use and maintain—a claim that Silva disputed. According to Silva, the Ektachem "is quite straightforward," and Thompson could have called the manufacturer's free technical support line if he was having issues with it though telephone service was spotty at best.
Murder or Manslaughter? The Burning of Bridget Cleary, “Possessed by Fairies”
Thompson never provided a response to Silva's testimony. He was impossible to get in touch with during the later stages of the inquest, having seemingly fallen off the grid. He was never charged with any wrongdoing. Thompson could not be reached for comment. When Wormald asked for reports on Marks's death, the NSF reportedly wasn't forthcoming, saying it didn't have any reports that were relevant to his investigation.
The foundation also reportedly ignored his requests when he asked for the results of lab tests conducted on the scant evidence gathered from Marks's room and work station before they were cleaned. The NSF denies Wormald's characterization of how it handled the investigation.
In a statement to Mental Floss, a representative said: "[The] NSF consistently cooperated with the Christchurch coroner's office and New Zealand Police to address this tragic situation. Marks was an important member of the Antarctic research community. NSF continues to extend its deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. But according to Wormald, any useful information he pried from the government agency was the product of his own persistence. Only after being pestered by the detective, he said, did the NSF agree to send out a questionnaire to the 49 crew members who had been at the station at the time of Marks's death.
The foundation vetted the questions first, "to assure ourselves that appropriate discretion has been exercised," and when they were finally mailed out, they came with a note saying participation wasn't mandatory. Only 13 of Marks's 49 colleagues responded. Without much cooperation from the National Science Foundation and with no solid leads, the investigation failed to move forward. It fizzled out completely in when coroner Richard McElrea released a report saying that no conclusions could be drawn one way or the other about the circumstances surrounding Marks's poisoning.
Referencing a report [ PDF ] based on the medical notes about the case that said there was no reason to suspect homicide or accidental poisoning, McElrea wrote, "I respectively [sic] disagree that accidental poisoning and even foul play can be adequately disregarded without a full and proper investigation. Outside of true crime internet forums , a clear idea of what happened to Marks has never emerged.
He didn't have any known enemies at Amundsen-Scott Station, and there was no evidence implicating any of the workers at the base with a crime. With the inquiry into his death producing more questions than answers, Rodney Marks's story occupies a strange place in the history of Antarctic tragedies. Driving on approved routes may reduce the risk of falling into a crevasse—and banning chess may stop game-related fights—but this particular incident left no obvious path toward preventing ones like it from happening in the future.
It's not even clear whether Marks's death should be grouped with Antarctica's freak accidents or rare acts of violence. As of , there's still no system in place for handling homicides that happen on the continent. With so many territorial claims, and some that even overlap, the general rule is that jurisdiction falls to the home country of the person who committed the crime and the station where it took place.
That means if a Russian researcher assaults someone at a Russian station, as was the case in October , the case is handled by Russian authorities. But things get stickier if an American commits a crime on a Russian base, in which case both countries could have a claim to the investigation. Situations where an apparent crime produces a body and no obvious perpetrator are, of course, even more complicated.
Until Marks's death, that was an issue the nations working in Antarctica had never had to face. There still has never been a trial for a murder that happened on the continent—though the question of whether murder has been committed there remains unanswered. BY Maria J. The town of Tipperary, Ireland. History Weird. Subscribe to our Newsletter! BY Bess Lovejoy. BY Michele Debczak.
The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story
Crime and Death in Antarctica Death is rare in Antarctica, but not unheard of. She owned a sewing machine, which enabled her to follow the trade of milliner and dressmaker. In a rural slum, she had taken a step up in the world, and there were people who would say that she had lost the run of herself.
Her husband Michael was a cooper, who lodged in Clonmel where he worked, coming home at weekends. Perhaps it was inevitable that, with husband and wife living apart, tongues would wag. It was whispered that Bridget had a lover who termed himself a Land Steward he was otherwise known as an "emergencyman": i. Socially, he was a step above the Clearys.
See a Problem?
Meanwhile, it was rumoured that Bridget's absentee husband did not stint himself for female companionship in Clonmel. It seemed logical that violence, if it happened, might be in the nature of a crime passionel but sexual misconduct seems to have played no part in the murder. She was killed and not a dissenting voice was raised because of her husband's belief that she was a changeling, that the real Bridget Cleary had been "taken" by the fairies.
She was two inches taller than my wife. Nine days before her death, Bridget caught a chill and took to her bed with a "raging" headache. Her father, Patrick Boland, who lived with his daughter and son-in-law, walked the eight miles to Fethard and asked the dispensary doctor, Dr Crean to call on her. The evidence suggests that Crean was a drunkard; at any rate, it was only after four days and a second summons that he came.
The woman was suffering, he said, from "nervous excitement and slight bronchitis. TWO days passed, and Bridget was well enough to get dressed and sit by the fire. It looked as if she was on the mend. Her husband had already forced her to eat herbs boiled in fresh milk. She may have had an inkling of what was to come, for she warned him that "the peelers" were at the window; his response was to throw the contents of a chamberpot over her head. No one will ever know at what point Michael Cleary became seized by the conviction that Bridget had been "taken" by the fairies, but there was one who played Iago to his Othello.
That person was a local seanachie named Jack Dunne. At 55, he was already deemed to be an old man; he lived near a fairy fort and walked with a severe limp. He had back-aches that were caused, he said, by fairies having lifted him out of his bed. Sometimes, he declared, fairies played hurling matches outside his house. He was a walking or, rather, a limping compendium of fairy lore with its charms, spells and incantations.
Fairies had become the stuff of folklore. Yeats wove romantic poems about them; fairy tales charming, or often dark - were told to children at bedtime; only twilight creatures such as the banshee carried any shred of credence. Christianity, which had been a bedfellow of the fairy world for centuries, now seemed to have appropriated the bed-covers for itself.
If it was indeed Jack Dunne who first planted the notion in Michael Cleary's head that his wife had been replaced with a kind of Celtic doppelganger, then there is a question to be answered, and it is Why? Her mouth and throat were damaged enough to be recorded in the post-mortem examination. Cleary bed c. One of the ritualistic treatment methods tried by Michael and the others was to hold Bridget over a kitchen fire. While these strange treatments were happening, Bridget Cleary was understandably becoming angry. In her illness, and anger, she began to constantly mock her family—Michael being the main target.
Was her annoyed behavior understandable? Most certainly. No doubt about it.
By March 15 th , Bridget felt well enough to walk around her house, but she was still confined to the Cleary home. Friar Ryan made a return trip to the house to hold mass for Bridget and the family members attending her during her sickness. When the friar and other well-wishers dispersed, Michael again began the folk medicine practices.
That day, Michael repeatedly interrogated Bridget, demanding to know if she was a fairy or changeling. Cleary hearth and room c. At some point during that night, after Bridget was knocked to the ground, her chemise-style gown caught fire. The fabric Bridget was wearing proved to be highly flammable, for she was quickly engulfed in flames. The testimonies conflict about whether Bridget died quickly or in a long agony.
Are You a Witch or Are You a Fairy? The Murder of Bridget Cleary - Criminal Element
Either way, Michael helped the flames consume Bridget Cleary—he doused her with oil. Some sources claim that he applied the oil only after it was apparent that she was dead. Others claim he kindled the fire with oil while she was still alive.
Approximate location of Bridget's water-filled shallow grave c. The next day, Michael, and other family members, acted as if nothing had happened. They went on a trip to Drangan to seek out advice from some priests. The police quickly became suspicious, however, and a search for Bridget Cleary began on March 16 th. Claiming that his wife had been taken by fairies as he assumed Bridget was replaced by a changeling , Michael spent the next 3 days March 17 th — 19 th camped out near Kylenagranagh Fort. He claimed to have been waiting for his real wife to ride back to him on a white horse.