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December 04 , 2007

Strange Case of the Mad Professor

A True Tale of Endangered Species, Illegal Drugs, and Attempted Murder


It was one of the biggest scandals in New York University history. Professor John Buettner-Janusch, chair of the Anthropology Department, was convicted of manufacturing LSD and Quaaludes in his campus laboratory. He claimed the drugs were for an animal behavior experiment, but the jury found otherwise. B-J, as he was known, served two years in prison before being paroled, emerging to find his life and career in shambles. Four years later, he sought revenge by trying to kill the sentencing judge and others with poisoned Valentine’s Day chocolates. After pleading guilty to attempted murder, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison, where he died in mysterious circumstances.
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But before he was infamous at NYU, B-J, a scientific luminary, had also taught at Yale and Duke. One of the world’s foremost authorities on lemurs, our distant primate relatives on the remote island of Madagascar, he brought international attention to these endearing and endangered creatures. He cofounded the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina and inspired a whole generation of scientists to study them and conservationists to save them and their habitat. His trials captured national headlines, but the mad scientist’s full story has never been told—until now.

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