An e-mail warning women about the South American drug ‘Burundanga’ being distributed on business cards in the USA that has been attributed to Sgt. Greg Joyner of the Internal Affairs Division of Louisville Metro appears to be bogus; The drug is real, but the e-mail is not genuine.
The e-mail received here at Ten8 (read below) listed a phone number for Sgt. Greg L. Joyner with a 502 area code and a bigyellow.com search indicated that the number was indeed an unpublished land-line in Louisville, KY.
After this confirmation we called the number listed in the e-mail at 1:19 PM on Tuesday May 18, 2010 and the call was answered by a male who identified himself as “Sgt. Joyner”; After telling Sgt. Joyner of our identity and the reason for our call he told us that the ‘Burundanga’ e-mail that has been attributed to him is bogus; he said: “That e-mail is bogus, I never sent it out”.
Following our conversation with Sgt. Joyner we performed an internet search for news articles about the drug and its criminal use resulting in our finding an article on www.hoax-slayer.com about the drug (read below) and the e-mail that has been widely circulated.
It seems that the drug is real and that it has indeed been used for illegal purposes, mostly in the South American country of Colombia.
The E-Mail Received by Ten8:
South American drug called ‘BURUNDANGA’
It sure is becoming a tough world to survive in out there!!!!!
This is a new one!
A Police Warning …………(Please send to Everyone)
PLEASE READ THIS AND FORWARD IT TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW.
There sure are some sicko people out there……..
A man came over and offered his services as a house painter to a female putting gas in her car and left his card. She said no thanks, but accepted his card out of kindness and got in her car. The man then got into a car driven by another gentleman.
As the lady left the service station, she saw the men following her out of the
station at the same time.
Almost immediately, she started to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath. She tried to open the window and realized that the odor was on her hand; the same hand which accepted the card from the gentleman at the gas station.
She then noticed the men were immediately behind her and she felt she needed to do something at that moment. She drove into the first driveway and began to honk her horn repeatedly to ask for help. The men drove away but the lady still felt pretty bad for several minutes after she could finally catch her breath.
Apparently, there was a substance on the card that could have seriously injured her.
This drug is called ‘BURUNDANGA’ and it is used by people who wish to
incapacitate a victim in order to steal from or take advantage of them.
This drug is four times dangerous than the ‘Date rape drug’ and is transferable on paper cards. So take heed and make sure you don’t accept cards at any given time you are alone or from someone on the streets. This applies to those making house calls and slipping you a card when they offer their services door to door.
PLEASE SEND THIS E-MAIL ALERT OUT TO EVERY FEMALE YOU KNOW!!!!
Sgt. Gregory L. Joyner
Internal Affairs Unit
Louisville Metro Department of Corrections
400 South 6th Street
Louisville , KY 40202
Office: (502) – 574-7213
The Burundanga article from www.hoax-slayer.com:
Burundanga Business Card Drug Warning
Email warning claims that criminals are attempting to incapacitate women in order to rob or rape them by handing them business cards laced with a powerful drug called Burundanga.
This cautionary tale relates an incident in which a woman narrowly escapes the clutches of dangerous criminals after they duped her into taking a business card impregnated with a debilitating drug known as burundanga. According to the email, just handling a card that has been treated with the drug is enough to incapacitate the victim and allow criminals to commit rape or robbery.
Burundanga is a real drug and reports indicate that it has indeed been used to facilitate crimes, especially in the South American nation of Colombia. Various reports claim that victims under the influence of the substance can be controlled at will by the criminals who administer it. Some stories relate how hapless travellers in South America are unknowingly given burundanga and “wake up” hours or days later with no idea what transpired while they were under the drug’s influence. Victims have allegedly been sexually assaulted, robbed, and callously manipulated while under burundanga’s spell. It has even been claimed that drugged victims have committed serious crimes or acted as drug mules at the behest of their controllers.
Warnings of criminals handing out business cards laced with the drug burundanga are totally unsubstantiated
Burundanga comes from Brugmansia, a genus consisting of several species of flowering plants which are native to subtropical regions of South America. The drug is also known as scopolamine, a pharmaceutical commonly used to treat nausea, vomiting, and several other conditions. According to information on drugs.com, an overdose of scopolamine can cause “drowsiness, dizziness, agitation, fever excitability, seizures or convulsions, hallucinations, coma, and death”.
Thus, there is no dispute that burundanga is a dangerous substance that can have unpredictable and serious effects on victims. Given the number of quite credible burundanga related traveller warnings, it seems beyond doubt that the drug has indeed been used by criminals to debilitate victims. However, there is serious debate about just how docile and controllable victims under the influence of the drug would actually be. Some of the more lurid horror stories about burundanga may well significantly exaggerate the effects of the drug and, frankly, tend to strain credibility.
That said, the primary purpose of this article is to discuss the veracity of the particular emailed warning included above. Those interested in reading more about burundanga in general – along with its use by criminals – would do well to start with psychologist and sacred plant expert Steve Beyer’s excellent and detailed commentary published on the Singing to The Plants blog in 2007.
So, is there any true to the laced business card warning? Most probably not. Firstly, to have an impact, burundanga must be taken with food or drink or inhaled as a powder. There are unsubstantiated stories that claim that criminals have drugged victims by blowing burundanga into their faces as they unfold a piece of paper that has previously been powdered with the drug. Other reports suggest that burundanga is more commonly administered by adding it to the unwary victim’s food or drink.
However, even the more questionable reports do not claim that a victim can be drugged simply by touching something with burundanga on it. The warning suggests that the woman was affected by the drug after simply taking and touching the business card supposedly impregnated with the substance. In reality, it seems vastly improbable that this method of administering the drug would be in any way viable.
Secondly, the message claims that the woman became suspicious after smelling the odour of the drug on her hand. But various credible references claim that the drug is colourless, odourless, and tasteless, so, again, the scenario described in the message seems highly improbable.
And thirdly, after extensive research, I could find no credible news or police reports warning of burundanga laced business cards in the United States or elsewhere. If such crimes were really occurring, warnings about them would not circulate solely via email. There would certainly be at least some mention of such incidents published in news sources and in law enforcement publications.
As per usual with emailed warnings of this nature, the message is vague to say the least. The alleged victim is simply referred to as “a female” and the message gives no hint as to the location where the incident supposedly occurred. The absence of such basic details in the warning makes it difficult or impossible to verify. This generic quality is often a characteristic of hoaxes and urban legends since too much detail means that such stories can be too easily debunked. While some variants of the message do specify the location as Katy, Texas, this appears to be a later addition that has simply been tacked on to the original email. Research provides no evidence that such an incident occurred in Katy or anywhere else in Texas.
The email is reminiscent of other baseless warnings that circulate via email, including the long running Car Park Perfume Hoax, the Dropped $5 Bill Serial Killer Warning Email, and the Flat Tire Mall Abduction Warning.
Thus, while people, especially those travelling in South America, should be aware of the potential use of burundanga as an aid to criminal activities, there is nevertheless no evidence whatsoever to support the claims in this warning email. Forwarding spurious warnings such as this will help nobody and will serve only to spread unnecessary fear and alarm.
IN five years’ driving buses for tour companies in Latin America, I had heard a lot of travellers’ tales. Some of the most far-fetched were about people who had been befriended on the road, drugged, and then robbed of everything they were carrying.
There was the backpacker who “lost” four days after accepting a biscuit on a Bogotá night bus; he woke in hospital 800 miles away. “The bus wasn’t even going there” is the twist in the tale. There was the traveller in Quito, Ecuador, who went for a quick drink and woke up, two days later, naked and in a strange apartment. And then, in an interesting variation, there was the Chilean diplomat who was caught smuggling cocaine on an international flight while in a deep trance.
I was halfway through a sip of beer when I blanked out. It was as though someone had drawn a curtain across my conscious mind. Just as suddenly, I was conscious again, but blind. I could hear voices. I had an incredible feeling of calm. Then I blanked out again.
Luckily, friends got me safely back to the hotel. Next day, they gleefully explained the missing minutes from the night before: I had attacked a stranger at the bar, thrown punches, rolled about on the floor; then, in the taxi home, tried to clamber into the front seat and drive. I had needed restraining.
I listened aghast. I had no sense at all of having lost any time. My mind, like an old record player, had skipped a groove.
By chance, several days later, I met two travellers who had visited the same Lima bar. The South African told me he had suddenly got dizzy a few sips into his first beer. He staggered outside, followed by some locals. His friends got to him first, hailed a taxi and took him home. The Dutch traveller told me that the barmaid had warned her of a gang that laces the drinks of tourists and then robs them outside.
The penny dropped: I was a burundanguiado. That is an Andean word for a victim of burundanga, a potent plant extract based on shamans’ old potions. A tasteless yellow powder, it has a fearsome reputation in Colombia, the centre of druggings in South America.
It comes from the datura plants once used by the Chibcha people to sedate the wives and slaves buried alive with deceased chiefs. It is still used in remote areas by curanderos (healers) to induce a “waking trance” state, sometimes preceded by sudden outbursts of violence.
Burundanga can be added to food, drinks or cigarettes. In recent decades, its sinister use on the streets has grown from its role as a weapon in Colombia’s gang wars. In Bogotá, hospital doctors say it accounts for half of all poisoning admissions, 500 per month.
In other parts of the Andes, it is known as borrachera, “drunken binge”. Across the divide in Brazil, drugging crimes are charmingly called Boa noite, Cinderella – Goodnight, Cinderella – after a popular Seventies television show.
Crimes involving datura are also being reported in Ecuador, where it is used as a “recreational” drug, peddled by local guides to thrill-seeking tourists.
It was in Ecuador that I once witnessed the power of a vine called wantu. On the last night of a four-day jungle trip, our local guides brewed up a bitter potion they said was used by experienced shamans. They then talked half of our group of backpackers into drinking it.
Mayhem ensued. The jungle camp turned into a scene from Night of the Living Dead as the dozen or so imbibers crashed zombie-like through the undergrowth, while trying to tear up money or passports – not very successfully, because they had lost most of their faculties, including eyesight.
Some lay in their hammocks having hallucinations about beasties. Others tottered towards the banks of the Rio Napo, a swift Amazon tributary that is no place to play blindman’s buff. We shepherded them into a wooden hut and guarded them until dawn for their own safety.
The next day, our zombies had returned, partly, to the land of the living, although their eyesight was still a bit haywire (some still could not read their watch faces several days later). None could fully recall their antics of the night before and, irritatingly, they did not believe our version of events.
Wantu, like other datura-based drugs, contains a chemical called scopolamine, which has many legitimate medical uses and is cropped for pharmaceutical companies in South America. Minute doses are used as a seasick cure, stronger ones in anaesthesia.
Scopolamine induces a dry mouth, disorientation, loss of vision, a hypnotic state and hallucinations. An overdose can cause heart failure. It also causes memory loss, which is seen as a benefit to patients undergoing surgery. That is less of a benefit to victims on the street, as Elliott Stares, a 26-year-old Londoner, found when he and his brother were coerced to change hotels before being robbed by a “friendly” couple in Recife, Brazil.
“We met them for some drinks, but were quickly rendered completely compliant to their will,” he recalls. He remembers being in a bar, then has only glimpses of memory as the brothers were walked back to their hotel and told to collect their gear in readiness for a move to another hotel.
He now believes they were moved to make it easier to rob them. He has no memory of checking into the new hotel, but was later told by counter staff that he and his brother had seemed “drunk and dazed” when they arrived and had needed help from the Brazilian couple.
The brothers slept for 20 hours before waking in their strange lodgings. All their money and credit cards were gone. It took another day for them to get their senses together, says Stares, and through comparing notes and talking to hotel staff they managed to piece together the missing hours. “Sometimes things come back to me, little bites of information, but still most of the evening is vague.”
He remembers at one point the Brazilian woman giving him a glass of powdery water, while his brother was lying unconscious nearby. “The amazing thing was that I knew what was happening without even realising any danger. I just went along with it.”
This type of drugging is not exclusive to South America. Datura-type plants grow on most continents and have long been associated with druggings both in ritual and crime. Modern science has brought us more refined Mickey Finns such as Rohypnol, Halcion and GHB, chemical hypnotics used in “date rapes” in North America and occasionally turning up in Britain.
The Foreign Office says that embassies throughout the world have noticed a rise in drugging cases, but not enough to call a trend. “It’s hard to say if the problem is growing or just being reported more, although it is wise to be alert to it,” says a spokesman.
Any assessment of the risk is made more difficult by the entanglement of genuine cases with the fictional. Drugs such as burundanga are often a feature of that durable travellers’ tale, “I woke up minus a kidney”. Stories of organ theft, which proliferate through the internet, have been thoroughly debunked as modern myth (in one study by the UN, no less). They creep so often into mainstream media, however, that in New Orleans (often named as a city where travellers get separated from their body parts) the police department has threatened legal action against those who publish them. “These allegations . . . are completely fictitious and a violation of criminal statutes concerning the issuance of erroneous and misleading information,” says the city’s Office of Public Affairs.
In other respects, the internet has been a positive force. Real victims of drugging have turned to it as a way to warn other travellers or to secure justice.
A German backpacker, who was drugged and sexually assaulted by a guide on a jungle tour in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, in 1998, publicised her ordeal on popular traveller internet sites, describing how in the aftermath she had met with “nothing but indifference from the local police and ‘my’ German embassy”.
Her report gained credibility when several other victims came forward. Warnings were posted inside guidebook covers and on hostel walls. Bolivian police eventually arrested the guide last December, but not before two more alleged attacks. He now faces multiple charges of rape and assault.
In some parts of the world, drugging is linked to sex tourism and the victims are reluctant to talk. Sometimes, they are silenced for good. In the Thai resort of Pattaya, police were called to investigate a spate of deaths from heart attack among men – more than could be explained by heatstroke, over-exertion and over-the-counter Viagra. In nine months, 45 male tourists had dropped dead. According to Thai newspapers, police arrested a gang of prostitutes who had been smearing a knock-out paste on their breasts; they had been a bit over-zealous in the application.
For most of us, the risk of being drugged will arise in less compromising circumstances. The Foreign Office warns tourists to take particular care with their food and drink in Brazil, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey and the former Soviet countries. On Russian trains, the word is: “Don’t accept any drinks from rail staff.”
If you do fall victim, then the official advice is to tell the police and your nearest embassy or consulate as soon as possible. It might not be a good idea to return to your hotel or hostel. “There is a chance the druggers know where you are staying – they may even have copies of your keys – and you could be in continuing danger,” says a Foreign Office spokesman.
The embassy itself can act as a temporary safe haven and help with lost tickets, passports and money. The Foreign Office is keen to hear of even minor incidents. If there is credible evidence of a persistent risk in an area, then it can instigate local inquiries and add warnings to its travel advisory bulletins.
Travellers sensibly avoiding the sleazy side of town should take care on buses and trains, and remember that there is no archetypal drugger. Last October, Peruvian police received a dozen reports of druggings by a “sweet middle-aged lady” handing out sweets to passengers on the night bus to Huaraz, a popular resort.
A whole Bolivian family was in on the act on the long-distance bus from Argentina to Bolivia. “They were very friendly,” recalls their Danish victim, who passed out after accepting a sip of Fanta from grandmother. He woke to find the family and his bags gone.
Across the Pacific, a couple’s trip to Manila last year went awry after they met three “nice, well-educated and rich” Filipinos who invited them to go for a snack. Their after-lunch nap lasted 33 hours, during which £4,000 was wiped off their credit cards.
Such cases make for depressing reading. The offer of food or drink is a time-honoured expression of friendship in most parts of the world (especially on Russian trains) and few travellers would want to miss out on it completely. But, when in doubt, it may be better to say no than take a risk. In areas they regard as dangerous, many experienced travellers make a habit of drinking only from bottles or cans they have opened themselves.
Given that so many druggings happen in bars, it is probably a good idea to ensure that when you have a night on the town it is with people you know and trust: go in a group and try to return together. If you do split up, make sure friends know where you are.
Fraser Devan, from London, says he owes his life to fellow backpackers who found him unconscious on his hotel-room floor 24 hours after his drink was spiked in a nightclub in Bangkok. They got him to hospital, where he spent six days in intensive care.
His narrow escape has not dampened his enthusiasm for travel or for Thailand. He is planning to return to Bangkok on his honeymoon in June – “and I’ll be checking out that nightclub to see if anything comes back to me”.
How you can avoid becoming a victim
Colombia is one country where the Foreign Office has noted a trend for robberies facilitated by drugging. The British Embassy in Bogotá says that “these attacks frequently occur on public transport and travellers should never accept food, drink or cigarettes from strangers, no matter how friendly or well dressed the individual appears”. Food sold by street vendors or in cheap cafes might also have been impregnated with a drug.
Ben Box, the editor of the South American Handbook (Footprint), says that the Andean countries – Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – are particularly known for cases of burundanga poisoning, but that travellers should also be wary in Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela, where drugs are constantly being smuggled across borders.
He offers the following advice: never accept a bar drink from an opened bottle unless you can see that the bottle is in general use; always insist that the bottle is uncapped in front of you. When buying bottled water, make sure that the seal is unbroken.When travelling in a drug-producing area, especially in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, check with the embassy or tourist office before going off the beaten track.
Richard Danbury and Melissa Graham, co-authors of the Rough Guide to Chile, are less convinced that drugging poses a serious risk in South America. For safety’s sake, however, they say that you should avoid taking a lot of money or jewellery into bars and carry a photocopy of your passport rather than the real thing.
“Keep yourself as safe as possible by travelling in groups and avoid overnight trains, especially in anything other than a lockable compartment in first class. When travelling on public transport, lock your luggage to something solid.” Finally, they say, be wary of people who are over-friendly and refuse to take no for an answer.
According to the poisons unit at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital in London, symptoms of datura poisoning (other than those described by Steve Hide) include difficulty in swallowing and speaking, flushed skin, dilated pupils with blurred vision, vomiting, difficulty in passing urine, rapid pulse, high temperature, drowsiness, slurred speech, confusion, delirium, agitation and combative behaviour. The effects can last up to 48 hours, although the pupils may remain dilated for more than a week. Following recovery, the victim may have amnesia.
The Foreign Office website has updated advice on dangers in particular areas and individual embassies often have more detailed information.
The South American Explorers Club was set up to give advice to people visiting Latin America. Its website has noticeboards where travellers can recount their experiences.