In 2003, people in Ellicott City, Maryland, were shocked to learn that local teen Ryan T. Furlough had poisoned his friend, Ben Vassiliev, by putting cyanide in his soda. On January 3, one life was lost, and another was destroyed. All because of obsession over a girl and because a teen was able to buy cyanide online.
I lived in the area at the time and remember first hearing about the case on the local news radio station as well as following it on TV and through newspapers. Although I had followed a lot of true crime cases, I couldn’t comprehend why a teenager would do this to his friend, let alone how he was able to obtain cyanide.
That all of this happened in Ellicott City, a town with a low homicide rate, in a community near the local library, was even more disturbing. This is also near the former site of the Enchanted Forest theme park and not far from Ellicott City’s famous Main Street, a shopping and dining district.
A Crime in a Familiar Setting
One minute, Ben was playing video games with his friend, Ryan. The next minute, Ryan gave him a Vanilla Coke. Little did he know that Ryan was hiding cyanide under the sofa. Shortly after drinking the poisoned soda, Ben collapsed. It was Ryan’s father who called 911, reporting that his son’s friend had “a very serious seizure.” His wife, Susan, a registered nurse, described it to 911 operators as a “grand mal seizure.”
Despite the medical attention he had at the scene, Ben would not recover from this. He was first taken to Howard County General Hospital. Dr. Walter Atha, the physician who treated him determined he should be transferred to Johns Hopkins University, one of Maryland’s most prestigious hospitals. He remained in a coma and died on January 8. Dr. Atha later testified that Furlough could have saved his friend’s life by revealing that he had poisoned his friend with cyanide.
On January 9, Furlough was arrested for the murder. He was indicted on January 29. Originally, his defense attorneys planned to use an insanity plea as their defense; although they withdrew that later, they kept the focus on Ryan’s mental…