Murder, she wrote

Criminal profiler Pat Brown believes Cleopatra didn’t choose to make a quick exit with a snake bite, but that she met a crueller fate

By Deepa Kandaswamy

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Published: Fri 22 Mar 2013, 10:31 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:30 AM

History books have taught us Cleopatra VII committed suicide. After Mark Antony’s death, Cleopatra tried to use her wiles on Octavian (Augustus Caesar). When it didn’t work on him, she was imprisoned with her two maids. Angry, Cleopatra got one of her servants to smuggle a snake in a basket of figs. She committed suicide by letting the snake bite her, rather than have Octavian humiliate her by parading her on the streets of Rome as the spoils of war! Her maids also died with her in a suicide pact.

For 2000 years, no one questioned this version of Cleopatra’s death, until world renowned criminal profiler and American TV personality Pat Brown did, in her just released non-fiction best-seller, The Murder of Cleopatra. The book is fascinating as it tracks the Greek descent of Cleopatra, the murder of Caesar, Mark Antony, and the fate Cleopatra’s children (Caeasarion, who was born to Julius Caesar and the other children who were born to Mark Antony), and why the grave of Mark Antony is yet to be found.

In this exclusive interview to Khaleej Times, Pat Brown talks about how she ended up investigating Plutarch’s version of events, and what she found out.

Were you fascinated by Cleopatra growing up?

When I was growing up, I always appreciated Cleopatra, since she was one of the few women of power in history who wasn’t just the wife of a monarch, but a monarch herself. And, since I loved travelling, I couldn’t help but 
appreciate the exotic locale of the story. Oh, and I actually liked reptiles, so I thought the snake was rather a cool ending to life!

How were you chosen to investigate this cold case?

I was picked by London-based 
Atlantic Productions and Discovery Channel because of my presence on television, my commentary on breaking crimes, and the analyses I had done on a show called I, Detective. I think they liked that I was willing to question everything but based my conclusions on evidence and logic.

How did this investigation of Cleopatra come about?

I was approached by Atlantic 
Productions, who wanted to do a documentary on Cleopatra’s death for Discovery Channel. I was quite skeptical bec-ause I had never really looked into anything about her 
demise; I just knew that a snake was purportedly involved and it happened over 2000 years ago. What I was going to profile, I didn’t know. But, as soon as I started examining the historical information, I knew no snake killed Cleopatra and I told them I would profile the case and do the documentary which came out in 2004 and is entitled, The Mysterious Death of Cleopatra. I was very pleased with the show, but I wanted to examine far more about Cleopatra’s life than what was included in the programme, so I went ahead and started res-earching for my book. It took me another eight years to complete my work and find a publisher who had the guts to put out such a controversial book!

Was your experience as a criminal profiler enough or did you have to have to study more for this book?

Certainly, the skills of deductive criminal profiling and crime scene reconstruction helped me analyse Cleopatra’s life and death. But actually like any case one is analysing, one must learn about the victim, the perpetrator and one must study the culture and times in which the individuals lived. One must study their behaviours and actions, and one often must learn about some specific element that adds to 
understanding of the events. For Cleopatra, I had to learn about the military strategy of the times, ancient shipbuilding, and how tombs were constructed, both Macedonian and Egyptian. I needed to learn about the attitudes toward marriage, incest, and suicide. So many things go into understanding history and the history of ancient times is 
no different from understanding history of recent years.

How did you come to the conclusion that Cleopatra was murdered?

To come to a conclusion of 
murder, one must first eliminate other manners of death — natural death, accident or suicide. The first is easy to eliminate: 
the chances of three healthy, relatively young women dying of natural causes within minutes 
of each other are astronomically low. As for accident, no report of damage to the three women’s bodies was noted. This leaves suicide or homicide. It is claimed a cobra killed all three ladies, but it is scientifically unlikely that this could have occurred within the short time frame it is claimed to have happened (less than about twenty to thirty minutes).

The Naja haje (Egyptian Cobra) won’t always succeed in releasing venom each time it bites; a high percentage is what is called a “dry” bite. Even if all three women had gotten enough venom in a bite to kill them, it would take them anywhere from thirty minutes to five hours to die. All died within the first half hour! Of course, no snake was ever seen, which is hard to believe considering the tomb room the ladies were supposedly being held captive would have no openings for the snake to slither out. Perhaps, it is now theorised, the ladies used poison — a better choice but no container was found or symptoms of poison evident. And we have to ask, how could suicide occur while the women were 
in captivity and under guard? All these questions and much more analysis led me to eliminate suicide as a manner of death. Octavian had every reason to kill Cleopatra and good reason to cover it up.

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