Walsh's findings put to rest earlier speculation that mercury poisoning—possibly from treatments for syphilis—killed Beethoven. But how did he accumulate such high doses of lead? At that time, before its toxicity was recognized, lead was widely used in producing ceramics, glass, paint and even medicines. But for now, scholars are reluctant to offer a definitive explanation for the extremely high level found in Beethoven's hair. "It's all guesswork," says Walsh.
The biochemist was brought into the case by Nogales, Ariz., urologist Alfredo Guevara, a Beethoven lover who bought the 582-strand lock of hair from Sotheby's in London for $7,300 six years ago. There is talk that fragments of Beethoven's skull may also become available for scientific analysis. Says Ira F. Brilliant, founder of San Jose State University's Center for Beethoven Studies: "Be patient. It's an exciting story—and it's not finished yet."
On Newsstands Now
- Brad's Devotion: The Inside Story
- Oklahoma Tornado: Heroic Rescues
- Michael Douglas on Catherine's Health
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine