When he had the chance to work on Antarctica’s Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory in the late 1990s, Australian astrophysicist Rodney Marks felt it was a seemingly perfect opportunity. He was newly engaged, too, and things were falling into place. But on May 11, 2000, he suddenly fell ill.
He was sidelined by severe stomach pains, fever, and nausea. Within 36 hours, he was dead. While it was initially believed he’d died of natural causes, a further investigation proved something more nefarious was at play. This is the story of the unsolved case of the only person ever murdered at the South Pole…
It was the late 1990s, and young Australian astrophysicist Rodney Marks’s life and career were just beginning to blossom. Barely 30, he was assigned to work on the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory in Antarctica—a life’s dream.
Not to mention, he was engaged to the love of his life, Sonja Wolter, who was stationed on the Antarctic base with him and working as a maintenance specialist. But just as life was looking up for the young couple, it all suddenly took a turn.
On May 11, 2000, Rodney began suffering from severe stomach pains, fever, and nausea. Tragically, within 36 hours, he was dead. While it was initially assumed he’d died of natural causes, the circumstances of his demise began to seem suspicious. Soon, it was believed that he’d been the first and only person to ever be murdered at the South Pole…
Because the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was in Antarctica—one of the most remote places in the world—getting proper medical attention simply wasn’t an option. Flights had been canceled for the next several months due to inclement weather.
Since no flights were leaving Antarctica, Rodney’s body had to be stored in a freezer on-site for six whole months—a period of time that was likely detrimental to authorities looking for much-needed clues.
No one stationed at the base ever imagined something sinister could’ve been at play. After all, if he’d really been murdered, one of them had to have done it, which seemed unlikely. Besides, Rodney was well-liked and he didn’t have any known enemies there.
The National Science Foundation released a statement that claimed Rodney’s passing was due to natural causes thanks to a history involving years of alcohol abuse. But they were mistaken…
Six months later, when Rodney’s body was finally brought to Christchurch, New Zealand, to be properly examined, an autopsy discovered the horrific truth: someone had intentionally poisoned the astrophysicist with methanol.
Suddenly, everyone was in fear. A murder investigation began and other clues started to emerge. A series of needle marks on both of Rodney’s arms were discovered—yet there was no detection of any illegal drugs found in his system.
As people scrambled for answers, theories began to swirl. Some authorities believed an alcohol addiction, accompanied by the desolate Antarctic environment, drove Rodney to purposely ingest the methanol in an attempt to kill himself. His co-workers, however, weren’t buying it.
Other theories suspected that he’d accidentally dropped methanol in his liquor while attempting to distill it. Yet even that was strange: besides the fact that there was plenty of alcohol on base, Rodney was a scientist—and he’d have known that putting methanol in his beverage could be deadly.
That’s when authorities began investigating the source of the methanol. Quickly, they learned it was kept on base to be diluted and used to clean the work facility. Everyone stationed there had easy access to the supply.
Of course, this opened the door to the possibility that one of Rodney’s fellow scientists had purposely placed the methanol in his beverage. From that point forward, investigators began treating his death as a potential homicide case.
With only 49 people stationed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, whittling down the possible suspects list wasn’t too daunting a task for the investigators. Or at least, that’s what they thought…
Eventually, authorities hit an unexpected roadblock in the form of the United States government. Unbeknownst to them, the Amundsen-Scott Station was located on a legally divided territory between New Zealand and the United States…
Daniel Leussler / Wikimedia
The territory was owned by New Zealand, even though it was a U.S. base. When lead investigator and detective senior sergeant Grant Wormald from the New Zealand Police Department began questioning Rodney’s fellow scientists, only 13 of the 49 agreed to participate.
The impediments only grew when Detective Wormald asked the U.S. government for help. Seeking answers about the scientists and their criminal history, authorities refused to oblige, as they were conducting an investigation themselves…
Unfortunately, both sides of the investigation were too stubborn to share any information with one another, which, of course, led to problems in solving the case. Without cooperation on either end, the investigation quickly hit a standstill.
Meanwhile, as authorities continued to conduct their separate investigations into Rodney’s tragic demise, his family all but gave up hope. “I don’t think we are going to try to find out any more in regards to how Rodney died. I’d see that as a fruitless exercise,” his father said at the time.
To this day, Rodney’s tragic murder remains unsolved. It’s highly unlikely that anyone would be able to recover usable evidence to help aid in the investigation and bring justice to his family. Hopefully, however, a breakthrough comes one day.
It’s so sad to think that, all these years later, Rodney’s untimely death still hasn’t been solved. Here’s to hoping that not all hope is lost.
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