Pablo Neruda died in 1973; experts have now checked his remains for more than 2,000 chemicals. Credit: RIA Novosti/Alamy

A forensic analysis has found no evidence that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was poisoned. Experts were able to confirm that the Nobel laureate had advanced prostate cancer when he died more than 40 years ago.

The findings were released on 8 November by the Chilean judge Mario Carroza. He had ordered the April exhumation of Neruda’s remains and the subsequent analysis, after the poet’s former driver, Manuel Araya, alleged that Neruda had been poisoned by government agents. Neruda, an outspoken left-wing intellectual, died on 23 September 1973, 12 days after the coup d’état that brought right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile.

The analysis was conducted by an interdisciplinary group of 13 experts and 3 observers from Chile, Spain and the United States. The group checked the poet’s bones for more than 2,000 chemicals, including thallium and arsenic, which were widely used as poisons during Neruda’s lifetime. The tests did find derivatives of dipyrone, a medicine used in the 1970s against prostate cancer.

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“Our results mean that there is no forensic evidence of any unnatural cause of death,” says Francisco Etxeberria, a forensic anthropologist at the University of the Basque Country in Vizcaya, Spain, and a member of the study team.

Previous analyses, including about 5,000 X-rays and further microscopic examinations, revealed widespread evidence of metastatic prostate cancer in Neruda's bones, which were well-preserved.

The fact that the team found residue of medicines makes it less likely that the poet was poisoned by a chemical that has now dissipated, says Etxeberria. The team did not, however, check for poisons such as sarin that by now would have degraded to undetectable levels.

Carroza still maintains that it is impossible to establish whether Neruda was murdered. At a press conference on 8 November, he said that further tests may be ordered, including one to make sure that the remains exhumed from Neruda’s tomb at his house in Isla Negra, Chile, belonged to the poet.