NZ scientist’s detective work may reveal how Alexander died

Dunedin, Oct 16 NZPA

A University of Otago scientist is hot on the trail of what killed military genius Alexander the Great.

Leo Schep, a poison information specialist at the university’s National Poisons Centre, may have found the key to a solving one of history’s great whodunits – what killed Alexander the Great at the age 32, in 323BC.

Dr Schep’s theory has been selected as one of the leading case scenarios in a BBC television documentary, Alexander the Great’s Mysterious Death, to be broadcast next Thursday in Britain, offering a plausible explanation for Alexander’s untimely death based on historical information and scientific and forensic research.

Dr Schep was drawn into the nearly 2500-year-old puzzle when he received an international telephone inquiry from British-based film company Atlantic Production last year.

The British firm had previously done a documentary on the death of Egyptian king Tutankhamun, and Discovery Channel had contracted it to investigate whether Alexander the Great had been poisoned.

After an initial drinking session, Alexander’s health declined over several days, eventually losing the power of speech, before dying.

Dr Schep quickly ruled out the suggestion of strychnine poisoning, which usually causes a swift, violently painful death.

Two weeks after the inquiry, Dr Schep had e-mailed to the firm a comprehensive report. Great interest resulted from his suggestion that hellebore plant poisoning produced similar symptoms to those experienced by Alexander.

Dr Schep believed poisoning was likely, with considerable discontent evident both among Alexander’s military and his inner circle at the time of his death.

The documentary will also screen on Discovery Channel early next year and is also likely to be broadcast later in New Zealand.

CAPTION: University of Otago poison specialist Dr Leo Schep, reflects on the killer of Alexander the Great. The computer screen image depicts the flowering hellebore plant which Dr Schep’s research has linked to Alexander’s death.

NZPAODTlbcs 16/10/03 21-20NZ