Here’s a real mystery;
Sir Bernard Lovell, the visionary scientist who became the founder of the Jodrell Bank observatory, did more than give us a brilliant bit of rhyming slang. He believed that during a trip to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s the Communist authorities tried to kill him with lethal radiation because they had discovered that Jodrell Bank was secretly being used as an early warning device against Soviet nuclear attack.
Now, it’s not such a strange claim as it sounds. The Russians had tried to get him to defect and he had rebuffed them, then fell deeply and mysteriously ill. Intelligence agents felt he might have been exposed to radiation from a very powerful transmitter. Sir Bernard was at the front line of defence at the height of the cold war with Russia. This was the time of the ‘seven minute warning’, when Jodrell Bank could track Soviet inter-continental ballistic missiles, so Sir Bernard would have been a legitimate target.
And Russia has a history of favouring irradiation as a weapon, as you may recall from the case of the London poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, after his sushi was injected with Polonium. Before that was the famous umbrella poisoning of Georgi Markov from a Ricin-filled pellet; this is the very stuff of Golden Age mysteries.
But the idea of interfering with the mind for spying purposes goes back further. In Mike Jay’s utterly riveting book ‘The Influencing Engine: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom’, we have the extraordinary story of a man confined in Bedlam as an incurable lunatic in 1797, who believed the French had controlled his wits by a machine that knitted the very gases of the air – yet much of his story was found to have its basis in truth. Check it out here, at Strange Attractor.