An scare e-mail claiming that gang members are placing a deadly LSD/strychnine combination on public telephones shows no signs of being true.
In 1998 a rumor spread around the Net that drug addicts were placing HIV-contaminated needles in phone booths and that people were getting infected with the virus as they dug out their change. It quoted the Centers for Disease Control as saying this was a problem. The CDC responded with a post explaining that they had never made such an announcement, and that the story was a hoax.
Some genius then decided "hey, this hoax idea has potential" and modified it slightly. Instead of drug addicts and HIV needles, they warned about gang members who were placing LSD laced with strychnine on telephone booth buttons. Like this first, this one was bogus too. This hoax is a reader favorite, so I decided to go back and updated it.
Here's the text of the e-mail:
Date Collected: circa early 1999
Subject: WARNING !!!!!
Hello, this is to warn everyone of a new thing happening in communities as a gang initiation and such. If you care about anyone, please forward this to them immediately so they can learn of the possible harm. Even if you don't read this, at least forward it to people.
Hello, my name is Tina Strongman and I work at a police station, as a phone operator for 911. Lately, we've received many phonecalls pertaining a new sort of problem that has arisen in the inner cities, and is now working its way to smaller towns.
It seems that a new form of gang initiation is to go find as many pay phones as possible and put a mixture of LSD and Strychnine onto the buttons. This mixture is deadly to the human touch, and apparently, this has killed some people on the east coast. Strychnine is a chemical used in rat poison and is easily separated from the rest of the chemicals.
When mixed with LSD, it creates a substance that is easily absorbed into the human flesh, and highly fatal. Please be careful if you are using a pay phone anywhere. You may want to wipe it off, or just not use one at all. If you have any questions, you can contact me at the links listed below. Please be very careful. Let your friends and family know about this potential hazard.
SSgt Terence D. Murchison
4E232 Air Force Pentagon
There are more than a few signs that something's rotten with this e-mail:
- Where's the Source: We're told that Tina Strongman -- presumed author of this ditty -- is a phone operator for 911. That lends the e-mail an air of authority, but where are the credentials? Why doesn't she say what police department or 911 organization she works for? And where are those credentials she refers to? ("If you have any questions, you can contact me at the links listed below"). My guess is that if they ever existed, they were accidentally chopped off by an over-enthusastic forwarder.
- Where's the News? I know I say this a lot, and a lack of news doesn't mean that something isn't happening but ... where's the freaking news? Newspapers, television, radio and web sites would be jumping all over this if it were true (especially after the post 9/11 Anthrax scares).
- Where are the Warnings? This e-mail talks about gang members and about how this problem is spreading from the inner cities to the suburbs. So I decided to check out some official law enforcement Web sites. First, the FBI. No news on the home page, no results when searching for "LSD" and "Strychnine". Then I tried the New Jersey State Police (my home state having quite a few large cities). No dice. Then I tried the Pennsyvlania State Police. Again, no dice. In fact, in the three years since I first saw this hoax I haven't seen one authentic post by a law enforcement official (If you find one, please e-mail it to me).
Here are some excellent debunkings of this hoax:
- Snopes.com: Snopes provides a good overview of the hoax, including speculation on the origins of the LSD/Strychnine connection.
- About.com's Urban Legends Guide: Another debunking that looks at some other variations of this e-mail, as well as an experiment by one person to see what sort of responses the original contact e-mail "firstname.lastname@example.org" might get. (apparently that e-mail was included on earlier versions of the e-mail -- I never received one of those though).