SOLVING HISTORICAL COLD CASES WITH HINDSIGHT - AND MODERN TECHNIQUES
Diagnosing Very Cold Cases
For the past 25 years, Philip Mackowiak, a professor (now emeritus) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in Baltimore, has hosted a conference about solving the mysterious deaths of historical ɿgures 7he gatherings have generated some very intriguing diagnoses for people like Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln and this yearšs selection, Saladin, the ɿrst sultan of(gypt Newsweek spoke to Mackowiak about his obsession with cold cases, which began with the writer (dgar Allan Poe
What about Poe’s death intrigued you?
In 1849, Poe was found in a gutter in Baltimore and died soon after 7he presenter in our ɿrst conference thought his symptoms were from rabies Based on the writer’s life and medical history, it seemed more likely to me that he died from delirium tremens, a condition stemming from alcohol withdrawal
Don’t we know the cause of death for Abraham Lincoln and Joan of Arc?
Our question surrounding Joan of Arc’s death was slightly different :e set up a court to rule on whether she should have been acquitted based on a plea of insanity Either she was delusional, or she had conversations with representatives of *od Our Mury chose to believe the former Incidentally, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake not because of her professed conversations but because she wore men’s clothing
For Abraham Lincoln, we wanted to know whether he would have survived if he’d had access to modern trauma care 7he head of a shock trauma unit concluded that Lincoln may have survived and continued his presidency At the time, I thought that conclusion was ridiculous-a bullet went through the left side of his head, destroying everything in its path But after suffering the same wound, Gabrielle Giffords recovered
What about Beethoven?
Beethoven was ill most of his life +e probably had irritable bowel syndrome as a young man +e began losing his hearing in his early 30s and was totally deaf by 50 Beethoven had a multifaceted illness that included end-stage cirrhosis :hen he died, he was coughing up blood and his abdomen was full of acidic ʀuid An autopsy revealed evidence of brain atrophy, shriveled auditory nerves and some bony abnormalities +e was Must a wreck Our conference presenter thought he probably had syphilis It may have been congenital, but we also know that Beethoven was patronizing prostitutes at a time when 10 percent of the European population was thought to have syphilis
And why Saladin this year?
7he strife in the +oly Land right now is not much different from his time; the players are different, but many of the problems are the same Inɿghting within Islam was a mamor problem for Saladin >his full Arabic name was Salah al-'in <usuf ibn Ayyub@, who spent more time ɿghting other sects than ɿghting Christians-though when he did turn his attention to them, he crushed the Frankish forces that had controlled Jerusalem for about 80 years
What was his likely cause of death?
7uberculous meningitis, based on his headaches and the mental problems he e[perienced as he became sicker Shortly before he died, he sweated so much that it went through his mattress and formed a puddle on the ʀoor; that kind of perspiration is also somewhat characteristic of tuberculosis, which was rampant in that area at the time Our presenter, however, believed Saladin died from typhoid fever
Who is your subject for 2019?
A religious ɿgure who died of a mysterious illness during the early medieval times :e will have a diagnostician with access to a supercomputer pitted against a doctor crowdsourcing the diagnosis with a network of physicians — Jessica Wapner
HISTORY’S MYSTERIES Clockwise from top left: Poe, Saladin, Joan of Arc, Lincoln and Beethoven.