The Death Of Rodney Marks

That Time A Possible Murder Mystery Happened At The South Pole

(Bill Splendor) The Amundsen Scott South Pole Station

Warning: There will be a paragraph addressing suicide in this post.

We all know the trope. Somewhere in an isolated location a group of people gather (mansion, castle, what have you). For whatever reason this group of otherwise strangers must stay together for a period of time (the butler says the roads are washed out, we’ll have to stay until morning). The lights go out, and suddenly someone has died! One of us (at least) could be a murderer, and the rest of us are trapped here!

If we take this trope to its ultimate extreme, we get the unfortunate death of Rodney Marks.

Our location is about as isolated as possible, The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station during the winter of 2000. The South Pole has essentially two seasons, summer and winter. ‘Winter’ lasts about 8 months from mid-February to early November. In this time conditions make it impossible for planes to fly in and out, meaning that if you visit for winter, you’re staying for the duration. Those that do stay, referred to as Winterovers, are in for constant darkness and temperature highs of -67 degrees Fahrenheit, with lows of less than -100 degrees Fahrenheit. (1)

(The Thing, 1982, Universal Pictures)

And a non-zero chance of this Thing.

So What Actually Happened?

When discussing any death, mysterious or not, we should never lose sight of the fact that a real person lost their life. So first, here is a bit about who Rodney Marks was. Marks was a thirty-two year old astrophysicist spending his second (nonconsecutive) winter at the Amundsen-Scott Station. (2) He was reportedly working on the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory project, one of only two Australians stationed there that year. Marks has been referred to as a kind man who got along well with the other forty-nine people wintering at the station that year. In tight quarters there are going to be misunderstandings, but as Marks’ friend Darynn Schneider stated:

(Sic) “…This is where his considerate nature and his kindness would come out. I saw him numerous times make amends in a very nice way for these misunderstandings. He would also say or do something kind for someone having a hard time in general.” (2)

Marks was even a member of the community’s band, Fannypack and The Big Nancy Boys (sorry WHAT) and was engaged to another Winterover, Sonja Wolter. They had met prior to the winter, and she changed her plans to be able to work closer to him. (3) By all accounts, he was well liked, and was sorely missed.

Sadly this brings us to his death. On May 11th 2000, while Rodney Marks was walking between two buildings at the Amundsen-Scott Station, he started to feel ill. He reportedly struggled to breathe at first, and then he began having trouble with his vision and experiencing fatigue. Assuming he had caught something, Marks went to bed early hoping to feel better later. (2)

At 5:30 the next morning, he began vomiting blood. He had increasingly terrible symptoms from that point on; pain in his stomach and joints, eyes so sensitive he had to use sunglasses, and hyperventilation. He was also reported to be extremely anxious, but it is unknown if this was caused by his illness or a result of the other symptoms he suffered from.

Throughout that day, May 12th, Marks visited the base doctor, Robert ‘Robo’ Thompson three times. (3) His symptoms persisted, and at 6pm after he was given a sedative to calm down, he suffered cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead after 45 minutes of CPR. The doctor concluded that he died of unknown, but natural causes.

However, there was still the issue of his body being in the South Pole. Marks’ body was unable to be moved for the remaining six months of winter. At that time he was flown from the research base to Christchurch, New Zealand. 

This All Happened Twenty Years Ago, Why Can’t You Just Shut Up About It? 

When Marks’ body reached New Zealand, an autopsy was finally performed, which was possible due to the cold preserving him so well. It was quickly determined Rodney Marks had not died of natural causes. He died of Methanol poisoning. 

So first, what is Methanol? It is a highly flammable chemical used in the production of formaldehyde, among other things. Methanol is colorless, but has an odor similar to regular alcohol. The difference is Methanol is highly toxic. 10 mL of the stuff will destroy your eyes, and 30 mL can kill you. For those of us who struggle with the metric system, 30 mL is less than a single shot of liquor. (4)

It is worth a reminder that Rodney Mark’s symptoms began in May, months after that last plane had been at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. As the effects of Methanol poisoning begin between 12 and 24 hours after ingestion, it is impossible for Marks to have ingested it at any time before he arrived at the station, or after meeting with anyone other than the other 49 people he was wintering with. Logically, there are five ways in which Marks could have ingested Methanol. 

  1. He drank it accidentally
  2. He drank it knowingly in a misguided attempt to get high or drunk
  3. He drank it knowingly intending to cause harm to himself
  4. He was given it to drink by someone else accidentally
  5. He was given it to drink by someone else deliberately, in an attempt to injure him or end his life

First, the accidental causes. It is unlikely that Marks’ or someone else mistook Methanol for alcohol. This was not a dry base in which no one was allowed to drink, they had alcohol readily available. (2) Someone would have had to pour methanol deliberately into drinking glasses to mix these up, or an intelligent astrophysicist drank a vial of unknown liquid at a research station. It is possible, yes, but definitely not the shiny side of Occam’s razor.

As for drinking it to get high or drunk, Marks’ was actually a well documented drinker. He was described as someone ‘who likes to drink, sometimes to excess’ (3). In fact it was reported in some accounts that the doctor originally dismissed his symptoms, believing they were just a result of alcohol withdrawal. Interestingly, he sometimes drank as a way to lessen the symptoms of Tourettes’ Syndrome. Needle marks were also found on his arms, although no illegal substance was present at his autopsy. Thompson later claimed that Marks had admitted to using intravenous drugs in the past, the last one being just before he came to the base.

However, the question that weighs down that theory is why would Marks drink methanol when alcohol (and reportedly cannabis) was readily available on the base? One theory was that he had his own still and accidentally produced methanol, and there were stills run by others found at the base. (3) However, he went to the doctor several times when he felt ill with severe anxiety over his symptoms. If he had just drank a bunch of bootleg hooch before his symptoms began, in a place where alcohol is allowed, it’s extremely likely that he would have told someone this in the day leading up to his death.

As for self harm, I want to be clear in saying that someone considering suicide does not always give warning signs. It can occur even when someone appears to be in a great place in their life, you never know what internal struggle a person is dealing with. The investigator later signed to this case, however, is quoted as saying suicide is ‘the least likely scenario’ in Rodney Marks’ death. (2) He was newly engaged, doing very well in his career, and had close friends on the base. And again, even if he drank the methanol in an attempt to injure or kill himself in a very difficult moment, he tried to save his own life repeatedly the next day. He could have explained what happened at any time, or said it was an accident. The fact that he did not indicates he did not know why he was ill.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation, please reach out. The national suicide hotline has changed to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, just dial 988 to connect with them, and know that they now can text with you as well if talking is uncomfortable for you. (5)

The only other option remaining is that someone gave Rodney Marks methanol intentionally, likely knowing it would harm or kill him. For most investigators having an exact pool of 49 suspects would be a dream come true, but there’s a reason we still don’t have an answer to what happened in this case. Some list this case as the first murder ever committed at the South Pole, although others say the first one happened at the Vostok Station in 1959. Fun fact, this was an incident in which one scientist lost a game of chess to another, then attacked him with an ax. It is unknown if this resulted in a death, but the KGB banned chess from Antarctic stations for a time. (6)

(WKA Zisan, wikimedia)

The devil’s game strikes again.

Investigations in the South Pole are complicated; there is a jurisdiction dispute between America and New Zealand. (7) In any case a New Zealand investigator was put on the case after Marks’ autopsy; Detective Senior Sergeant (DSS) Grant Wormald. 

DSS Wormald has stated that the agencies involved with his investigation, namely the Raytheon Technologies Corporation and The National Science Foundation, have been less than helpful. They reportedly did not disclose to him the names of everyone on the base at the time of the death, and he even suspects some employees have been warned away from answering questions. (7) He eventually convinced them to send out surveys to the 49 others stationed there, but they were voluntary and few were returned.

Rodney Marks was memorialized by a plaque in the South Pole, and a mountain in the Worcester Range was named after him. His family now say that they believe they will never know what truly happened to him.

I believe what truly pulls me into this case is how easy it feels to solve. The scene is isolated, the suspects numbered, the cause of death all but certain, and yet no motive is known. There has been only one accusation, and that is of Robert Thompson, the doctor who assisted Marks and declared him dead. (2)

William Silva, a physician working at another antarctic station, reviewed Thompson’s medical notes that day. He noted it was off that Thompson did not use a blood analyzer he had access to, especially when Marks’ symptoms were unexplained. The blood analyzer would have easily shown his high levels of methanol, and steps could have been taken to neutralize its effects. Thompson did respond to this initially, he stated the machine was difficult to use, and he was too busy caring for Marks to use it, although he did take blood that day. In fact he supposedly took blood directly from an existing needle mark on the patient’s arm, which investigators found odd.

Silva disputed Thompson’s explanation, saying the machine, known as the Ektachem, was easily accessible, and not particularly hard to use. Thompson ‘fell off the grid’ later in the investigation, and has not responded again. He was never charged. For the record I could believe that a doctor was too busy trying to calm down a panicked man if he was the only physician available to help, but I do not see why he wouldn’t have used it after Marks’ death. He ruled the death as natural causes at the time, only to be proven wrong six months later.

I cannot make up my mind on this one. I would love to hear from you all. Do you believe Marks was murdered? The victim of a freak accident? Am I missing a possibility? This is one of the cases that leave me feeling like I’ve read half a novel that was never finished.

Until Next Time,

The Rabbit


  1. Norris, Laurel (September 14 2012) What’s A Winterover? Icecube Neutrino Observatory (Retrieved 12/18/22)
  2. Debcezak, Michele (June 25th, 2019) Death at the South Pole: The Mystery of Antarctica’s Unsolved Poisoning Case  (Retrieved 12/18/22)
  3. Fisher, David (March 14 2009) Death On The Ice  (Retrieved 12/18/22)


  1. Bill Spindler, U.S. Antarctic Program, National Science Foundation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Carpenter, John. The Thing. Universal Pictures, 1982.
  3. WKA Zisan, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

The Short Shelf Life Of Earring Magic Ken

That Time Mattel Made an Iconic Queer Toy (Then Backtracked So Fast)

Mattel, original and current creator of the Barbie brand of dolls, has had its fair share of shady practices and scandals. Eventually I’ll probably go into more of their strange and controversial toys. These stories range from the original Barbie being based on a German sex doll (no, really) and some dolls that just give off the vibe that they survive on the souls of children.


No Batteries Required (Small Blood Sacrifices Accepted)

But today’s story is a wholesome tale about my favorite toy to have ever existed, one whose very existence Mattel may have tried to erase from its history. It is my pleasure to introduce those of you who haven’t met him yet to my guy, Earring Magic Ken.

So What Actually Happened?

In the early 90s Mattel began releasing a new set of Barbie Dolls, Earring Magic Barbies. These new dolls came with pierced ears and mix and match earrings, with extra clip on earrings for the kids who got them. From what I can tell from Mattel’s website there were 7 of these dolls altogether, one of which featured ‘exclusive software from Radioshack’ with every purchase of a doll. So that gives you some idea just how long ago 1993 really was. (1)

Before releasing their new line, Mattel decided to finally do something about their Ken problem. Barbie’s long time boyfriend Ken has never been as strong a seller as the icon herself, and looking back from his introduction in 1960 it’s easy to see why. Ken was seen as an accessory to Barbie, not a hot market item to the little girls who typically played with Mattel’s Barbie line. A good example would be in the ‘Day to Night’ Barbie and Ken set that came out a few years before Earring Magic. 

(Barbie Creations)

Was he decapitated moments before this photo?

Barbie is out here looking gorgeous and drawing all eyes to her and Ken is just… there. 

Ken was lame, and people noticed. So Mattel does a survey of 1000 adults and a focus group of children, and they learn that Ken himself isn’t necessarily the problem, just his look. 60 percent of adults wanted Ken to stay, and about 50 percent of kids. But they mostly agreed Ken should get a new look. No joke, the adults said Ken should look more like Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, and Joe Montana(2). So my family and I thought about it hard, and here you go:

It’s Robbie Amell


Got a better one? Please God let us know, this was so fun.

According to Mattel, the changes in Ken’s designs came directly from little girls. In their survey they asked exactly what cool looked like now, and the girls told them. Now onto the gay stuff.

As you might remember (or not if you’re young enough to understand Roblox, which I do not) the nineties were not a safe place to be part of the LGBT+ community. The community was on the tail end of the devastating AIDS epidemic. By 1995, one gay man in nine had been diagnosed with AIDS, and 10 percent of men aged 25-44 in the US had died. (3)  It was not better for other genders in the community; in many states it was still illegal to be in a homosexual relationship. Not just to get married, not just to adopt children, but literally being gay was illegal. And we’re not talking about old antiquated laws still on the books like it being illegal to push a moose out of an airplane in Alaska. Various states passed laws throughout the nineties to specifically outlaw gay marriage. In 1993 the infamous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law went into affect, meaning you could serve in the military as a queer person, just never ever talk about it or tell anyone. (4)

However, one thing that US culture was willing has been willing to do for a long time is steal the hell out of gay culture. Slang, music, whatever the community creates that shines the brightest often gets co-opted into mainstream popularity, often with people being unaware of its origins. Fashion has been an increasingly stolen aspect of gay culture for years now. Here is an interesting article by Paul Flynn (5) in which he talks about how gay fashion has changed through the years due to old dress codes becoming mainstream. 

So back to Mattel asking little girls what cool was. Some sources indicate these kids were heavily influenced by what they were seeing on TV, club culture and background dancers and celebrities on late night TV. When the ink dried, here is what Mattel came up with. Earring Magic Ken. (2)


Earring Magic Ken sported a purple mesh shirt with a purple pleather vest with tight dark jeans. His normally boring hair sported bright blonde highlights. His left ear was pierced, and he came with mix and match earrings to share with barbie. And, uh, about his necklace, here’s a quote from an article by Dan Savage. Savage wrote the first article that exposed Earring Magic Ken as being the gay icon he is.

“Chrome cock rings like Ken’s were long worn by the leather crowd on the shoulders of their biker jackets (left for top, right for bottom). In the waning years of our long national nightmare (aka the Reagan-Bush years), younger gay-boy-activist types with brand-new leather jackets took to wearing cock rings on whichever side looked best or, to the horror of the leather crowd, on both sides.” (6)

So A Doll Company Made a Doll. Why Can’t You Just Shut Up About It?

Earring Magic Ken debuted in May of 1993. To Mattel’s delight, he sold much better than previous Ken dolls. Like, a lot better. Like, suspiciously? In fact, some accounts report that Earring Magic Ken is not only the best selling Ken doll of all time, it may be the best selling doll of all time, period. (7)

When Dan Savage reached out to Mattel prior to his article in The Stranger, they were less than thrilled to hear that they had missed their target demographic, and Earring Magic Ken was being bought in droves by gay men who finally saw a toy on the shelves that represented them, even if accidentally. Mattel denies any intention whatsoever that they tried to make a ‘gay’ Ken, and in fact Savage’s article implied they were very annoyed he would even suggest such a thing. (6) A spokesperson for Mattel is even quoted as saying “We’re not in the business of putting cock rings into the hands of little girls!” A bit ironic when you remember, again, that Barbie was modeled after a german sex doll. (We’ll get there, baby steps guys.)

Earring Magic Ken was pulled from shelves after six months. There are conflicting reports as to whether this was because of Savage’s expose, or simply due to seasonal changes although it is a bit hard to believe they would pull their best selling doll of all time when it was still a hot item. 

Now where you won’t find Earring magic Ken is on most lists of Mattel’s bestselling toys. Many reports are that they have tried to erase him from history, though for what it’s worth I did find him in their official online archive next to his Magic Earring sisters. But Ken gained thousands of homes when he debuted almost thirty years ago, and he continues to sell among collectors. 

At a time when American culture was still extremely homophobic, Earring Magic Ken gave people who had been without representation for so long the opportunity to see themselves in a toy. He didn’t have be specifically marketed as LGBT+ like Gay Bob, another real toy from the seventies that I’ll talk about one day. Instead he said all he needed to be reflecting the culture at the time, and I think that’s pretty damn cool.

Until next time,

The Rabbit

Do you have a better answer for who a combination of Cruise, Cozner, and Montana would look like? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you. And please let me know if there are any particular topics you’d like me to dive into. See you next time!

  1. 1992 – Barbie Collectors Guide – Photo Gallery
  2. Mcnary, Dave (Dec 5 1991) “MATTEL SAYS BARBIE WON’T DUMP KEN – AND NEITHER WILL FIRM – Deseret News Retrieved 12/17/22
  3. The AIDS epidemic’s lasting impact on gay men | The British Academy
  5. Flynn, Paul (25 April 2017) 30 Years of Gay Style The Gaurdian
  6. Savage, Dan (July 22, 1993). “Ken Comes Out”. Chicago Reader. Retrieved 12/17/22
  7. Jones, Amelia 2003 The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader – Google Books Psychology Press


Brian Galindo, 11  Unintentionally scary vintage dolls that will make your skin crawl, Buzzfeed. Photo by Mattel

Photo by Barbie CreationsOn flickr

Heroes & Villains, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Earring Magic Ken Photo by Mattel

The Tunguska Incident

That Time We May Have Been Hit By an Meteor That Could Have Ended Civilization and Like… Forgot About It

Imagine you have been given the heavy burden of choosing a spot on the Earth to be hit with a football stadium sized meteor. This is (hopefully) a difficult decision for you. You want to minimize casualties as much as possible, so dense cities are out. How about we just take out Iowa? It’s only corn and cows  right? Maybe the ocean? Do you want tidal waves? Because that is how you get tidal waves.

Well, nature may have already chosen for us. The fact is that a giant meteor already hit the Earth, and we’re not talking about the one that killed the dinosaurs. Surely if such a massive event happened while humans were on the Earth it must have been thousands of years ago, especially if no one ever talks about it.

No, it hit in us 1908.

Telephones were already installed in more than three million homes. We had airplanes.

So What Actually Happened?

On June 30 1908, sometime between 7am and 8:30am local time (reports differed), something fell from the sky near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River. (1) This was a sparsely populated area of Siberia, but there were witnesses. A nearby seismograph at the Irkutsk Magnetic Meteorological Observatory recorded the activity and classified it as an Earthquake (2) which, I mean, fair.

The director of the observatory at the time, A.V. Voznesenky, collected several questionnaires from surrounding towns, but the results were not published until 1924. The responses he received sounded downright apocalyptic. This is an account from one witness, taken from a translation of those questionnaires:

“M.R. Romanov wrote: “At the beginning of 9 o’clock in the morning local time, a fireball appeared, which flew in the direction from the southeast to the northwest. This ball, approaching the earth, took the form of an oblate ball above and below (as it was seen approaching even closer to the ground, this ball looked like two pillars of fire. When this huge mass fell to the ground, two strong, thunder-like impacts occurred, and as proof that it was not thunder, the fact that the sky was completely cloudless, then further noise was heard, as if from a strong wind; the duration of this phenomenon was about 15 minutes.” (2)

Other accounts also state that witnesses thought that the noise may be the sound of war breaking out, that nearby windows broke in their frames, and at least one man said it was so hot it was like his shirt had caught fire, despite the fact that he was 40 miles away (3). I definitely recommend reading the accounts, they’re a hell of a deep dive on their own. 

Despite all these witnesses, it took until 1927 for the impact zone to be explored. There are a few reasons for this, but keep in mind this is Russia in 1908. The country was smack dab in the middle of two revolutions, and by reports was extremely impoverished. (4)

Tunguska site, Credit of Leonid Kulik Expedition

Leonid Kulik, a noted mineralogist (which yes I had to Google) was the first to lead an expedition to explore the affected area. (5) He interviewed the previously stated witnesses, and concluded things sounded pretty damn asteroid-y to him. So he went right out to the zone to examine this event, and whatever you’re thinking it looked like… it was bigger than that.

Waiting at the site for them was 830 Square Miles of leveled vegetation. For context, New York City is about 302 Square Miles. Around 80 million trees had been flattened by the blast, spreading out in a somewhat butterfly pattern. It was evident that something of enormous size had fallen here from the sky.

(Credit Bpierreb)

Obligatory Your Mom Joke

(Credit Bpierreb)

So A Big Rock Hit Us. Why Can’t You Just Shut Up About It?

Because guys, there was no crater.

When I mentioned the Butterfly Destruction Zone (decent band name) you may have pictured the center of it as a big smoking pit with raised edges. Or at least you would expect a hole with a rock in it like that one that turned Steven King into a pile of lawn clippings.

(Creepshow 1982)

Real fresh fucking reference kid, hook them in.

Kulik found no impact site, no crater, and no meteorite fragments. At first it was thought that perhaps it broke so completely on impact that no crater existed, and that they should be looking for smaller fragments. However when they examined any holes nearby the site they did not appear to have been caused by impact either. Minerals common in space were eventually found, but in very small amounts. (3)

To dig into theories, let’s first explain a few terms that I thought were basically the same, but that NASA is apparently fussy about. An asteroid is a small rocky body orbiting the sun. A comet is a collection of ice and dust that orbits the sun. A meteoroid is a piece of either a comet or an asteroid that breaks off. That same meteoroid becomes a meteor when it enters Earth’s atmosphere. Then when it hits the ground, it’s a meteorite. (6) I totally didn’t have to scroll up and edit every incorrect use of these terms I used so far when I looked this up.

One running theory was that it was a meteor from a comet that hit Tunguska. Since it would have been made of ice, it may have disintegrated in the atmosphere. However, the minerals that eventually were found are not common in comets. They align more with a meteor from an asteroid. (3)

The most widely accepted theory now is that the Tunguska Incident involved a meteor airburst. A meteor airburst occurs when air gets into the pores of a falling meteor, causing it to explode before hitting the ground. The resulting shock wave can be similar to the effects of a nuclear bomb. (7)

There is one more theory that roped me into this topic in the first place. Recently Russian scientists have reported that the Tunguska could have been caused by a meteor coming through Earths atmosphere at such an angle that it was then skipped back out of our atmosphere.

Wikipedia Commons

Like This But Bigger

The Daily Mail reports that the remnants (and lack thereof) of Tunguska can be explained by this theory, which honestly sounds like a cartoon. (3) Where did the meteor go? Oh, it bounced away. At the end of the day I just want to image all of Siberia is just snow covering a thick trampoline. Imagine the ‘boing’ sound that would have created. If we really almost all died, we should at least get a memorable sound effect out of it.

Until next time,

The Rabbit









Tunguska site, Credit of Leonid Kulik Expedition

Bpierreb, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Creepshow, George A Romero, 1982,Warner Brothers

Dave Parker, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons