Can a 'Bad Batch' of PCP Explain the Murder of Two Children?

Police in Camden, New Jersey, speculate that "a contaminated batch of PCP" (as A.P. puts it) or "a virulent strain of the drug" (per the Philadelphia Inquirer) is responsible for two recent child murders in that city. Two weeks ago, police say, a 34-year-old woman named Chevonne Thomas cut off her 2-year-old son's head before killing herself. Police say she tested positive for PCP. On Sunday an intruder attacked a 6-year-old boy and his 12-year-old sister as they lay sleeping in their home, cutting both of their throats; the girl, who said she also was raped, survived, but the boy did not. Police say Oswaldo Rivera, the 31-year-old man arrested for those crimes, reported smoking "wet" (PCP-laced marijuana) before attacking the children. "Is there some type of alteration that's being done that has triggered this?" Camden Police Chief J. Scott Thomson asks.

Notably, Thomson does not think PCP itself, long reputed to transform people into irrationally violent monsters with superhuman strength, accounts for these horrifying homicides. Instead he suspects the formula was tweaked in some way that inspires users to cut children's necks—an oddly precise effect that is more reminiscent of a magical spell than a recreational drug. Although Thomson tells A.P. that "PCP has played a role in 10 homicides in Camden in the last four or five years," he seems vaguely aware that the veterinary anesthetic "does not live up to its reputation as a violence-inducing drug," as a review of the scientific literature concluded in 1988. The A.P. story reinforces that conclusion (emphasis added):

While [PCP] is not new to the area, emergency room doctors say they have seen an increasing number of patients on the drug in the past few years. Users can fall anywhere on a spectrum from agitated and aggressive to sleepy and incoherent, but are rarely aggressively violent.

Dr. Al Sacchetti, chief of emergency services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, said doctors treat at least one or two people each day on PCP.

Sacchetti said PCP users tend to engage in "non-specific aggressive behavior" and are often more of a danger to themselves than to others. PCP users are mostly vocally aggressive, Sacchetti said.

"These tragedies, the last couple of cases, are very unusual for what we're used to seeing," Sacchetti said. "Usually people hallucinate, but they're not that focused. You have to be very focused to cut someone's head off or find someone and slit their throat."

Dr. Matthew Salzman, an emergency room doctor and toxicologist at Cooper University Hospital, said he has never heard of anyone on PCP harming someone. But the drug does break down the connection between the mind and body, he said, leading to “yelling, thrashing and flailing,” as well as incoherent speech.

Hence the speculation about "a bad batch" or "potent form" of PCP. Maybe the drug Thomas and Rivera took really was significantly different from run-of-the-mill PCP. But unless they were the only people to consume this hypothesized substance, it clearly does not "cause" throat-cutting violence against children in any straightforward sense. As with the "Miami Cannibal" case (which turned out not to involve drugs at all), the rareness of these crimes undermines the theory that drugs made people commit them. Given the wide gap between the reputation and reality of PCP (and various other drugs that supposedly make people violent), it seems a bit rash to conclude that the murder of children can be reduced to a chemical analysis.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.]

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  • ||

    "He was probably on PCP. Broke every bone in his hand and wouldn't feel it for hours. There was this guy once, you see this scar?"

  • cthorm||

    You know Jacob, as outrageous as I think the drug war is, I sure as hell don't want to hear about 2 year olds getting their fucking heads cut off. I can almost sympathize with drug war supporters' "don't just stand there, do something" idiocy.

    cut it out

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    No shit. My fucking balls hurt now.

    SUUUUUUUUUUUULLLUUUUUUUUUUMMM!!!

    Ow, ow, ow, ow....

  • ||

    I can think of two child murders in the last few years in my area. In one, a 5 year old boy was tied to a chair and doused with gasoline, then set afire. In the other, a toddler was decapitated, his body placed in trash bags and set on the curb for collection, while the head was tossed in the yard.

    In both cases, no drugs were involved. The perpetrators were just batshit crazy in the evilest way imaginable.

    If you could magically cause all intoxicants to cease working, this shit would still happen.

  • Paul.||

    I think it's perfectly reasonable to presume that a narcotic could make (induce-- maybe need a better word here) you do things you normally wouldn't do... sort of like Alcohol makes me much more funny, charming and better looking.

    But blaming the drug for the specific act is as dumb as blaming the gun for the murder.

    I didn't accept Conner Schierman's "alcohol blackout" excuse, I ain't accepting these douchbags' excuses.

    Death penalties all around.

  • fried wylie||

    sort of like Alcohol makes me much more funny, charming and better looking.

    I think that's more about alcohol's effects on the people around you who are more-charmed or more-amused by you...

  • Paul.||

    No, when I'm drunk, I'm utterly convinced I'm very charming and great looking. Whether or not anyone around me is charmed or amused by me is largely irrelevant.

  • Killazontherun||

    Magic spells? Well, when single alcohol did conjure this pimped out genie who sat on my arm invisible to the lady I would be conversing with, and he would prod me to ask her what she felt about the buttsecks.

  • ||

    "...Alcohol makes me much more funny, charming and better looking."

    You too huh! Wow.

  • ubercynic||

    The perpetrators were just batshit crazy in the evilest way imaginable.

    If anyone could just walk into a store and buy whatever kind of drugs they wanted, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that a lot more of these types would just off themselves (accidentally or otherwise) than would be driven to commit more mayhem.

  • Marshall Gill||

    The point is that people kill people, PCP doesn't make you do it.

    My personal experience with the drug is so very different than the claims made about it. Violence? Hell, a lack of motivation to do anything is more like it. While I realize my anecdotal experience is not necessarily representative of the whole, I am very skeptical about the claims that it causes people to act violently.

    Anyone with any personal experience with it causing people to be violent? My numerous experiences are just the opposite.

    And no, Epi, that scene in Terminator does not count as personal experience, sorry.

  • ||

    I've only taken LSD and shrooms, no PCP. Hallucinogens aren't really my thing. Benzodiazapenes and cocaine are.

    "Nice night for a walk."

  • Paul.||

    Forgive my ignorance, but as one who formerly imbibed in the LSDs and the shrooms, how are they not Hallucinogens?

  • SugarFree||

    He tried them, but didn't like them, Paul. Epi no speak English gud.

  • ||

    Uh, Paul, how would I know if hallucinogens weren't really my thing unless I tried them, and them being the ones I listed? I don't think what I wrote was really that confusing, NutraSweet's retardation notwithstanding.

  • Paul.||

    Hmm, apologies, but I interpreted your comment to mean that you tried LSD and shrooms but not PCP [because] Hallucinogens aren't really [your] thing.

    But when I re-re-read your comment, it all comes into focus.

  • The Hammer||

    PCP is not a hallucinogen, it has veeeeery different effects than LSD or shrooms. It's a dissociative. And it is horrible stuff, not fun at all. My single experience with it was like Marshall's, I didn't want to do anything, I didn't have fun, I didn't gain any particular insight like with hallucinogens, I just wanted it to be over. On the plus side (sort of), someone could've strapped me down and performed an invasive surgery and I probably wouldn't have noticed, so I could see some useful applications for it, maybe, but I would not recommend anyone try it for recreation.

  • ||

    So it's like ketamine.

  • SugarFree||

    Ketamine is a derivative of PCP and was used to replace it because of PCP's side effects.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Hmmm. Was one of those side effects... murder?

  • SugarFree||

    Hallucinations, mania, delirium, and disorientation according to Wikipedia (PBUH)

  • BakedPenguin||

    Ah. Too bad, that would have explained a lot.

  • ||

    I used to work in a primate lab, and we used ketamine to tranquilize the monkeys. After watching them drool in a complete stupor after getting injected, I couldn't decide if I'd love or hate doing Special K.

  • ||

    So is it like drinking a whole bottle of Robitussin DM?

  • Killazontherun||

    I'd say my experience was all positive. There was initially this stage of paranoia similar to pot (makes me hate being inside) but not really, conquering that paranoia lead to an incredible fearless exhilaration like nothing I've ever fealt.

  • BarryD||

    Really? When I went to Marhshall's, I wanted to find some cheap clothes I wanted. I didn't, but I wanted to.

  • SIV||

    Benzodiazapenes and cocaine are.

    I woulda figured you for amyl nitrate, and benzocaine lube.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    Epi do you have anxiety? i ask because you like benzos and not hallucinogens. i havent tried medication for my anxiety but i know some who love benzos for that reason. i dont like pot, and would never try lsd or shrooms. i dont need to try those to know i wouldnt like them.

  • Coeus||

    Almost everybody loves benzos.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    i didnt think about that, i almost always see them in the context of the anxiety chatrooms i visit, so i just associate them with that. plus the avoidance of hallucinogenic drugs is a big thing in those rooms as well.

  • Loki||

    It's a veterinary anesthetic, so it's not particularly surprising that it would make you just sort of lay around and do nothing.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Which is why the claims of insane violence brought on by PCP seem quite strange to me, to say the least. Once in high school a guy "OD'ed" on some. He basically just did enough that he was completely incoherent, couldn't walk or talk. He couldn't have been violent if he wanted to be.

  • ||

    "... it seems a bit rash to conclude that the murder of children can be reduced to a chemical analysis."

    People like answers that are easy to grasp. They also dont like to face true evil, or take responsibility. The truth is scary.

  • T||

    They also dont like to face true evil

    Ding! Nobody wants to admit there are monsters walking among us. It's too disturbing to contemplate.

  • Pagan Priestess||

    They also don't want to face the fact that we're ALL capable of being monsters, we just need the correct circumstances and triggers for the monster to emerge.

  • Loki||

    "Some men just want to watch the world burn."

  • GILMORE||

    a virulent strain of the drug

    What the fuck. 'strain'? Its not a goddamn form of bacteria, and its not contagious, so how the fuck does PCP become *virulent*?

    Is this journalistic laziness, sensationalism, or genuinely dishonest attempts to cast 'drugs' as some living entity that infects our innocent society which is completely devoid of any self control?

  • sarcasmic||

    Yes. Just as guns cause gun violence, drugs cause drug violence.

    Those damn violent drugs! They jump right out of the baggy and kill children!

  • ||

    It's a very stupid statement, and the idiot who said it probably meant "batch". Remember, GILMORE, don't take the brown acid.

  • Killazontherun||

    That dude at Woodstock was just trying to horde it at a discount.

  • sarcasmic||

    Someone did something bad and they had drugs in their system.

    Therefor the drugs caused it. Period.

    There is absolutely no possibility that these events would have happened had the person not used drugs. None whatsoever.

    It was the drugs. It had to be. Because drugs are bad.

    M'kay?

  • BarryD||

    Or that shitbags do terrible things like this, and shitbags also do PCP?

    Causation fallacy?

    Hard to say.

    Seems like criminal and civil liability for ACTIONS will do all we can do to curb shitbagness, and bans on substances and objects don't accomplish much.

    Some percentage of human population is insane, and some percentage simply evil. There's not much we've ever been able to do about that, I don't think.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I think it was Sullum who made the point that PCP and Ketamine are very similar drugs. PCP tends to be used by poor people, while Ketamine is often used by professionals. When was the last time you heard of someone blaming a murder on Ketamine.

    (To be fair, though, PCP probably has many more users as well.)

  • BarryD||

    I thought K was used by hicks.

  • Coeus||

  • ||

    I'm sure that once they find out who sold or manufactured the PCP, they will do their best to prosecute them for murder.

  • Tim||

    Every government needs a class of people to demonize. Gotta justify all the cops, the machine guns, the SWAT teams, the helicopters, the surveillance, and on and on.

  • Rich||

    Better do a thorough chemical analysis of the air and water in Washington, DC.

  • BarryD||

    Are there GOOD batches of PCP?

  • SugarFree||

    I smoked "wet" marijuana once. I was by accident (we didn't know what we had.) I didn't kill anyone, but a little pin joint got four of us high as balls and I don't remember an hour and half or so of time too well.

  • ||

    I had a great Spiderman comic that was a complete propaganda piece for the drug war, and in it some kids smoked PCP-laced joints and went apeshit. Hilarious; I loved that comic. It was given out en mass on some (thankfully unique) super-propaganda-day in grade school that we had once and then never again.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Did you actually call it "wet"? Back in the day they were dips or seams or wac but I don't remember anyone calling it wet.

  • SugarFree||

    No. I was just using the article term. It was a joint stolen from this kid's stepfather. We though tit was just really great weed at the time, but it had to have been laced with PCP. We were just way too fucked up.

    Some people call "dips" joints that have been in formaldehyde. I've never smoked one. Sounds horrid. Of course, there's some that argument that's an urban myth.

  • Marshall Gill||

    I also heard it called formaldehyde but couldn't say what it was. As I recall, it has been a couple of decades, it had a petroleum taste which is probably from where the moniker "jet fuel" came. I don't remember it tasting that bad, just chemical.

  • ||

    Some people call "dips" joints that have been in formaldehyde. I've never smoked one. Sounds horrid. Of course, there's some that argument that's an urban myth.

    Did nothing for me aside from making me gag. To this day I'm convince that it was just some clever marketing by some entrepreneurial dealers to make kids think that their shit weed was worth more than the going rate.

  • Loki||

    I didn't kill anyone, but a little pin joint got four of us high as balls and I don't remember an hour and half or so of time too well.

    Then how can you be sure you didn't kill anyone if you can't remember an hour and half or so very well? Any unsolved murders in your neck of the woods from the same day you tried "wet"?

  • SugarFree||

    None of us were covered in blood and entrails when we got back to the car. I think we just wandered in a parking lot the whole time, too fucked up to get to where we were going. It was disturbing, but not troubling. The rest of the night went OK.

    Or we were abducted by aliens. "Look out! He's got a probe!"

  • Marshall Gill||

    covered in blood and entrails when we got back to the car.

    Umm, is that a bad thing? I always assumed I had just done the Altered States thingy and that since I was on drugs I was OK.

  • Loki||

    Or we were abducted by aliens.

    Has this ever happened to you?

  • SugarFree||

    Not yet, but the night is young.

  • fried wylie||

    more reminiscent of a magical spell than a recreational drug

    "There's a difference?"
    -Drug Warrior

  • Loki||

    BATH SATLZ!!!!111!!!!!one!!!

  • AlmightyJB||

    "But the drug does break down the connection between the mind and body, he said, leading to “yelling, thrashing and flailing,” as well as incoherent speech."

    So they're piping in PCP fumes into the DNC convention? It's all starting to make sense to me now. They're not batshit insane, they're high on PCP. What a relief.

  • Lincoln||

    Are you kidding? A good batch of PCP could easily be cause for murder when used by an unstable person. PCP is probably the most dangerous recreational hallucinogen out there.

  • Coeus||

    It's certainly gotten that reputation from the drug warriors. Is there any reason that they'd be telling the truth this time? Can you think of any time they've been honest about anything?

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