Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

The Black Bag

At the hospital, doctors drew Sunny's blood and immediately noticed her extremely low blood sugar level —a problem, but not unusual for unconscious patients. They ordered intravenous dextrose in an attempt to raise the blood sugar to acceptable levels. Instead of raising Sunny's sugar level, the dextrose caused the level to drop, which indicated to physicians that her body contained higher than normal levels of insulin.

Insulin is a naturally occurring chemical produced by the pancreas. In simple terms, it regulates how the body metabolizes sugar. Eat a hot fudge sundae and the pancreas will secrete extra insulin into the body to prompt cells to absorb the sugar to keep the blood sugar level balanced. Go without food for a long period and the pancreas will limit production of insulin to prevent cells from absorbing too much sugar.

When Sunny's blood sugar level fell after she was given dextrose that indicated that her body had been directed to step up the absorption of sugar. Sunny had never exhibited signs of diabetes, the condition in which the body is unable to regulate insulin and blood sugar on its own. Something must have been introduced into her body to affect her this way, the doctors concluded.

No one suspected foul play. The physicians didn't even suspect that exogenous insulin had been injected into Sunny, but instead worked to stabilize her sugar levels and restore her to health. After all, they reasoned, who would knowingly inject insulin into their body unless they were diabetic?

Black bag and medications, trial evidence
Black bag and medications, trial evidence

In the hospital, Sunny regained consciousness and over the next several days was subjected to a battery of tests to discover the cause of the coma.

No, she told them, she did not inject herself with insulin. No, she didn't have a drinking problem. No, no illegal drugs. Yes, she did have a fondness for sweets.

Finally, the physicians chalked up the coma to the low blood sugar and diagnosed Sunny as being hypoglycemic, which means that her body was capable of producing insulin, but if she overindulged in sweets or went too long without eating, she could trigger another incident.

While her mistress recovered in the hospital, Maria Schrallhammer was still stewing over Claus' behavior during Sunny's illness. He hadn't reacted appropriately, she felt, and only called a doctor when backed into a corner by Alexander and Maria.

At this time, she was the only one who suspected foul play, and she kept her suspicions to herself.

Several weeks later, Maria found her first clue that Claus was involved in Sunny's collapse. The servant was cleaning a closet and happened on a travel bag used by Claus to shuttle items back and forth from New York to Newport. It was unzipped, and inside Maria saw a black leather case about 4 inches wide and 8 inches long. It was sealed, but Maria was curious.

"I really didn't know why I did it," she would later testify. "It just... happened."

Inside the bag Maria saw pills, later determined to be Valium, a powder and a vial of liquid. She immediately called Ala and surreptitiously took the black bag to Ala's apartment to show her. Claus was out of town and oblivious to Maria and Ala's activities.

The Valium was in a prescription bottle, but the name on the label, Leslie Baxter, was unknown to Maria. Ala made notes of the prescription label, and took samples of the powder and liquid, which she turned over to a family physician, Dr. Richard Stock. The results were alarming. The liquid — a paste, really — was Valium and the powder was the powerful barbiturate secobarbital. The substances themselves weren't surprising to Stock; he had prescribed both for Sunny several times in the past. What was curious was that Valium and secobarbital were not available in the forms in which they were found in the black bag. No pharmacy would ever fill a prescription in those forms. The drugs must have come from an illicit source.

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