How difficult is it to kill a person by carbon monoxide poisoning? And how can one person escape a house alive while another dies?
Those questions have been discussed around water coolers and lunch tables in Lima ever since Dr. Mark Wangler was charged in September with killing his wife, Kathy. No one knows for sure how such a crime could have been committed, if one indeed did occur. It’s all speculation. Authorities have been tight-lipped about their case against the Lima anesthesiologist and Wangler has pleaded not guilty.
Dr. Ernest P. Chiodo of Chicago, who also is an attorney, specializes in toxin exposure issues from a medical and legal standpoint. He was told as much information as authorities have released. Chiodo was asked to give a scenario on how a he would go about committing the crime and make it appear like an accident.
Here’s what he said:
The perfect crime
Obtaining a drug to knock out his victim for a short period of time would be the first thing Chiodo would do, something he said would be easy for a doctor. The drug would be one that would quickly vanish from the system and not show in an autopsy toxicology report.
With the victim knocked out, Chiodo would place the person in a closed garage and turn on a car to fill the room with carbon monoxide. He would then go into the house and return a half hour later to recover the dead body to place somewhere in the house.
Chiodo would allow some of the carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that can go undetected unless discovered by an alarm or meter, to enter the house. He also would make sure he had some exposure in case he was tested.
Chiodo said he would rig the hot water heater or furnace to vent into the house to make it appear it was the source of the carbon monoxide. Finally, he would call emergency help.
While that scenario sounds fairly simple and possibly the perfect crime, Chiodo said there are all sorts of landmines along the way to avoid and the reason he would use a car’s exhaust as the source of carbon monoxide.
Using a car would allow Chiodo to limit his exposure, but deliver a fatal dose. But using a car is not without problems. There likely would be unusually high amounts of soot deposited under the exhaust pipe or on the ceiling of the garage, something investigators and a scientist could find.
Trying to rig the furnace or hot water tank to be the source of carbon monoxide to fill the house would be too risky since it would expose Chiodo to the deadly gas.
“It would be very hard. You would have to sit down and monkey with the furnace, block the furnace,” he said.
Even if it’s not the source, the furnace or water tank would have to be rigged somehow to try to convince investigators it was the source. Failure to properly do it, however, would set off alarm bells with investigators, he said.
The only way he would attempt that would be to vent one of the devices into the house, leave the house and then return, he said.
“You have to leave the home, but someone may see you leave the home. You’re going to have all this stuff in the house. You have to make sure you don’t kill yourself,” he said.
Typically when a device fails and allows carbon monoxide into a house it’s a clogged vent, which may be hard to duplicate in an authentic way, he said.
Another obstacle is most carbon monoxide detectors, which Wangler said woke him before he found his wife in seizure, likely have an early warning system that sounds an alarm when gas is present, not when it’s at a level that causes immediate death.
Chiodo said he would commit the crime at night since the deadly gas usually kills people in their sleep.
A ‘smoking gun?’
Chiodo was asked how one person could survive inside a house while others die.
It’s highly possible two people in the same house could survive carbon monoxide poisoning. It all depends on a person’s rate of breathing, location in the house and metabolic rate, he said.
“Just the fact that he survived and she died doesn’t tell me anything. It isn’t a smoking gun,” he said.
Investigators will need to establish a motive, a reason Dr. Wangler would want his wife dead, Chiodo said. They will look into his marriage, and question family and friends on how well the couple got along, he said.
“There must be some reason they would think they have a smoking gun on this guy rather than this is just a tragic circumstance,” he said.
Wangler, 54, is accused of killing his wife, Kathy Wangler, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning on Sept. 4, 2006, inside their home. It was more than three years later before he was charged with the crime. In between, he remarried.
A trial date has been set for April 26. If found guilty of the charge of aggravated murder, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
He told investigators he woke to the sound of carbon monoxide alarm and found his wife unresponsive in their Yorkshire Drive home. He said he tried to revive her. She was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital.
Wangler is currently out of jail on $1 million bail.