The Anthrax Letters

Letter Envelope
On September 11, 2001, foreign terrorists attacked the United States. Citizens of the United States were shocked, scared and grieving. It was a time of paranoia and distrust. People wondered when and if the country would be attacked again. Then, a matter of days later, something happened that caused nearly everyone to believe that the U.S. was still under attack. A number of letters containing spores of the bacteria that causes anthrax were sent to public figures. People who had been exposed to these letters, or letters that had come into contact with the anthrax letters, began falling ill.

Anthrax is a disease that is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. It typically affects herbivorous mammals, but can infect any mammal, as far as we can tell, including humans. Most human anthrax infections are caused by contact with infected animals or infected animal byproducts. There are three ways to contract the disease, through open skin, breathing in spores or eating the bacteria. It is not contagious, meaning it cannot be spread from one infected human to another. The bacterium is tasteless, odorless and the amount needed to kill a person is invisible to the naked eye.

Anthrax that is contracted through the skin, or cutaneous anthrax, causes necrosis. It starts as a small bump that escalates into a painless ulcer. This form of anthrax is highly treatable. Only one percent of treated cases of cutaneous anthrax will cause death. The mortality rate is 20 percent for untreated cases.

Anthrax that is contracted through the digestive system can cause a painful death. The symptoms are nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Later symptoms include bloody vomit and diarrhea. Twenty-five to fifty percent of people who contract anthrax in this manner will die.

Anthrax that is contracted through the lungs is the deadliest form of the disease. Symptoms start like the common cold and progress to severe difficulty breathing. Eventually it becomes so bad that victims have described the sensation as having your head held under water. Shock is very common in this form of anthrax. Roughly 75 percent of people who contract anthrax through their lungs will die. The Anthrax letters of 2001 caused five deaths. All of them occurred in individuals who had inhaled the bacteria.

According to the F.B.I., there were four letters (there are claims of more, however). The first two were sent on September 18, 2001. Their intended recipients were Tom Brokaw of NBC and the New York Post. Two more were sent October 9, 2001. The intended recipients of these letters were Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. All of the letters were mailed from a box in Newark, New Jersey. According to the CDC, 23 people contracted anthrax as a result of these letters; one of them was a baby. Obviously, the person or group was sending these letters did not care who got hurt.

Through handwriting analysis, the F.B.I. was able to conclude that the same person wrote each of the letters. Of course, this did not rule out the possibility that a group planned the attack. The popular (and logical) thinking, initially, was that a foreign terrorist group was responsible for the attack. Authorities knew that they had to uncover the person responsible and fast. Terrorists who are capable of using biological weapons and are not afraid to use them are a scary prospect. However, authorities did not uncover a foreign terrorist group. When it was found that the anthrax came from an American source, the F.B.I. turned their attention to possible domestic terrorists.

The first public "person of interest" in the anthrax letters case was Doctor Steven Hatfill. Hatfill was an Army doctor. He was closely scrutinized by the F.B.I. for quite some time. He was eventually found innocent of any wrongdoing. However, he had been so closely watched that he felt it had damaged his career. He sued the government for invasion of privacy and won.

The next noteworthy "person of interest" in the anthrax letters case was an unassuming Army biodefense expert, Doctor Bruce Ivins. The F.B.I. had concluded that the anthrax causing bacteria had come from his laboratory (experts have since claimed that the F.B.I.'s evidence for this was not conclusive). They subjected Bruce to the same scrutiny that they subjected Steven to. However, they found many things that led them to believe that Bruce was their guy. Bruce had a number of photos of blindfolded women in his computer (circumstantial); later in the investigation, they found correspondence of Bruce's in which he claimed to have multiple personalities (circumstantial); the F.B.I. discovered that Bruce was obsessive about women (circumstantial) and they also listened in on a conversation in which Bruce said that he couldn't remember having mailed any anthrax letters and that he thought (hoped) he wasn't capable of such a thing (decidedly not a confession). Dr. Bruce Ivins committed suicide by ingesting an overdose of Tylenol in 2008. He never confessed to the crimes, nor has direct evidence been found linking him to the anthrax letters.

In February of 2010, the F.B.I. officially closed their investigation into the anthrax letters of 2001. They concluded that Dr. Bruce Ivins was responsible for the letters and that he acted alone. Many people believe that the F.B.I. closed the case prematurely and/or that they based their investigation on preconceived notions. Lawrence Sellin Ph.D., and others, believes that, while it could have been Ivins, the case has yet to be thoroughly investigated. Furthermore, it is the belief of some that Ivins' mental issues (apart from his obsession with women, which hardly makes him a murderer), including his suicide, were a direct result of the investigation.

Read more from the F.B.I.'s investigation here.


Council on Foreign Relations, The Anthrax Letters, retrieved 5/1/10,

Shane, Scott, F.B.I., Laying Out Evidence, Closes Anthrax Case, retrieved 5/1/10,

Questions and Answers About Anthrax, retrieved 5/1/10,

The Bizarre Life and Death of Anneliese Michel: A Woman Possessed

The gravestone of Anneliese Michel
The gravestone of Anneliese Michel
Anneliese Michel was born in Germany on September 21, 1952. She grew up in an arguably extremly Catholic family. Pictures of her taken in her childhood show a vibrant, pretty girl on her way to becoming a gorgeous, healthy woman. She had shining black hair, an open, honest face and a stunning smile. By the time she was 23-years-old, she was emaciated, heavily bruised, scarred and deranged. She was allegedly taken over by demons and fought for nearly eight years before finally losing her battle with evil. Later, her death was labeled negligent homicide, but was there anything anyone could have done for Anneliese Michel? Were those who were with Anneliese really fighting Satan or did her caretakers fail to treat a serious mental illness?

Four years before Anneliese was born, her mother, Anna Michel gave birth to an illegitimate daughter. This was a source of shame for the Catholic family. After she married and gave birth to Anneliese, she apparently harbored feelings of guilt about her first daughter. Unfortunately, Anneliese's older sister died at the age of eight, but Anneliese reportedly felt like she needed to repent for her mother's sin. It is said she spent much of her time doing penance for her mother, sinful youth and bad priests.

Anneliese's symptoms of possession or mental illness began in 1968. Anneliese was a 16-year-old high school student. The symptoms were convulsions and they were eventually diagnosed as epilepsy by a neurologist. Michel took medicine for her condition and continued her life to the best of her ability. She finished high school and went on to college, where she studied to become a teacher. Apparently, the medicine was not helping her much. Her problems only got worse.

Over time, Anneliese complained of seeing disturbing visions while saying her prayers. Later, evil voices giving her commands followed. Finally, Anneliese began showing an aversion to religious iconography. An older woman, a friend of the Michel family, noticed this while on a pilgrimage with Anneliese. She said that Anneliese smelled "hellishly bad" and took her to see some priests. Many of them said Anneliese needed a doctor. However, one said Anneliese needed an exorcism and that exorcism was eventually granted.

In 1975, Anneliese Michel and her parents stopped seeking medical advice and gave over Anneliese's fate to the Roman exorcism ritual. Anneliese, the priests and her parents truly believed she was possessed. Anneliese Michel herself said that Judas, Nero, Hitler, Cain, Lucifer and others were inside of her. Over the next ten months, Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt performed 67 exorcisms on the tormented girl. It is important to note that every action taken during these rituals was condoned by Anneliese. However, most would say her ailment was mental and that she could not have understood what was really happening.

Sometimes, the seriously ill Anneliese would perform hundreds of genuflections during these rituals. It is rumored that her parents held her up for them when she got too weak to do it herself. It is not hard to imagine this being necessary, given that Anneliese stopped eating altogether for some time before she died. She believed it would lessen the evil's control over her. There are claims that Anneliese spoke several different languages (or the demons and evil souls that possessed her did) during the exorcisms. The author of this article cannot verify such claims, as she does not speak the languages Anneliese supposedly spoke in the tapes.

It is certain that medicine was not saving Anneliese Michel from whatever tormented her, but there is no questioning that things got worse for her when she gave herself over to exorcism. In all likelihood, she needed a different kind of medical attention. She allegedly urinated and defecated on the floor frequently, also licking up her own urine. She ate insects, growled at religious icons and sat under her kitchen table barking for two days. Surely, her family was afraid of her, but a medical professional probably would not have left her under the table for two days or let her starve to death, which is eventually what she did.

Anneliese Michel died of dehydration and malnutrition on July 1, 1976. The 23-year-old woman weighed 68 pounds at the time of her death. Josef Michel (her father), Anna Michel and the two exorcists were eventually charged with negligent homicide. During the trial, evidence of the possession worked both for and against the defense. Forty-two of the exorcisms were audio-recorded and there were various pictures of a seriously ill-looking, bruised and sore-covered Anneliese. Anneliese is horrifying in these tapes which might have helped the defense, but is certainly not conclusive. If nothing else, the tapes made it clear that Anneliese was seriously ill and no one was making her eat. It is certain that possessed or not, Anneliese should have been cared for better.

There is no way to prove or disprove supernatural occurrences, such as possession. That makes it difficult to know what really happened to Ms. Michel. However, it is possible to prove that there is some evidence that epileptics are at an increased risk of displaying symptoms of schizophrenia and it is has been posited that Michel suffered from dissociative personality disorder and schizophrenia. That, combined with her religious background, could easily account for the events leading to her death.

Tape of Exorcisms of Anneliese Warning: This is very disturbing


Questioning the Story, retrieved 4/8/11,

Slater, Eliot & Beard A.W., The Schizophrenia-like Psychology of Epilepsy, retrieved 4/8/11,