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Among many methods to facilitate robbery is spiking unsuspected victims' food or beverage with drugs. In this short report, we would like to present a highly unusual and a very creative case of drug-facilitated robbery to highlight the possibility of this type of case in the field of travel safety.
Reports on substance-facilitated criminal activities such as sexual assault or robbery have been on the rise in recent years. Among the most commonly used substances in these activities are alcohol, prescribed medications such as benzodiazepines, hypnotics, tranquilizers, and drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, and LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide).1
Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that are often used in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and muscle spasms.2 They can cause physical dependence and are often abused which leads to their high representation in forensic cases.
Benzodiazepines are used for their hypnotic, sedative, anxiolytic, and amnesic properties.3 These actions are believed to be the reason behind their frequent use in drug-facilitated sexual assault and robbery cases which have been widely reported in forensic medicine literature.4–11
Travelers often carry their valuables such as wallets, watches, and laptops within their arm-reach during their trips, which leaves them vulnerable as easy targets for thieves. It has been reported that benzodiazepines are used in spiking food and/or beverages of the unsuspecting victims to facilitate the robbery.6,7
A striking case series from Bangladesh reported on the medical records of 130 consecutive patients aged between 16 and 80 who were admitted to a general medicine ward with central nervous system depression after using public transport. Ninety-eight percent of these individuals remembered buying or accepting food or drinks before they lost consciousness. Toxicological analysis revealed the presence of benzodiazepines in 74% of the cases. Travel-related acute poisoning is reported to be a major problem in Bangladesh.12
We would like to report a case of similar nature but smaller scale that took place in a small town, Aydin which is on the west coast of Turkey. The method used by a 50-year-old male for the purpose of theft, who had previously been in prison for other crimes, has not been encountered in the literature review. During the 4 months' period between January 2001 and April 2001, on two different occasions, two persons presented with central nervous depression after having been found unconscious on public transport. Both individuals reported stolen property and this led to a widespread warning in the area. A third robbery was intercepted during the act, following the warnings and information made available to the public.
The perpetrator employed a highly unusual and a very creative method where he cut the hazelnuts in half and carved them so that he could implant his choice of drug, which tested to be clonazepam, and then glued them back together. To overcome the unpleasant taste of the drugged hazelnuts he mixed them with dried raisins. He then offered this mixture to the fellow passenger who sat next to him during the trip. When the traveler was unconscious, he stole the unsuspecting passenger's valuables and left the vehicle without drawing any attention to himself.
The victims remembered eating only two or three hazelnuts before they lost consciousness. There were 18 hazelnuts seized from the crime scene on the third case. The hazelnuts contained 3-g clonazepam in total. Each hazelnut contained 166.7-mg clonazepam.
Our literature search revealed that this method was unique and a case like this has never been published before.
Drug-facilitated robberies pose a threat for travel safety. This short case report underlines the importance of common-sense public warnings for travelers about not accepting food or beverages from strangers during their travels.