Arsenic Probe: Slow But Steady

The Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine, is shown Tuesday, April 29, 2003. Arsenic is likely to blame for an outbreak of illness that swept through the church in northern Maine, killing a 78-year-old man and sickening a dozen others, health officials said Tuesday. AP

Police investigating last week's arsenic poisonings at a church are looking closely at the church's inner workings for clues.

Maine State Police Lt. Dennis Appleton said an autopsy was completed Monday on gunshot victim Daniel Bondeson, a longtime parishioner who investigators have said they suspect of being linked to the poisonings of 16 members of the Gustaf Adolph Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Sweden.

The state medical examiner's office said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest. A determination was pending on whether it was an accident, suicide or homicide.

Arsenic-laced coffee served at a church reception after Sunday services April 27 killed 78-year-old Walter Morrill and sickened 15 others, at least three of whom remain in critical condition.

Appleton said church members initially were not as candid as they could have been to police, but apparently later decided "we better just bare our souls." He said police are confident the poisonings are related to the church community and are looking closely at the "dynamics" of the church.

"In the end, we may find that they don't sound like logical explanations for murder or poisoning. ... It probably was something that was grinding at some people for some time," Appleton said.

He said investigators have not ruled out the possibility that more than one person was behind the poisonings.

New Sweden, a town of 621 people in far northern Maine, considers itself a wholesome, upstanding community, settled by Swedish immigrants in the 1870s.

Shortly after police deemed Morrill's death a homicide on Friday, Bondeson was found dead in his farmhouse in nearby Woodland. Bondeson, who worked on the family potato farm and at a nursing home, was at a church bake sale the day before the poisonings but was not there for Sunday services, police said.

Two relatives said Monday they had seen Bondeson in the days after the poisonings, and he was his usual reserved self.

Bondeson's older brother, Paul, said the two talked Monday or Tuesday while Daniel was jogging near his farmhouse. "Nothing seemed strange," Paul Bondeson, 58, said in the yard of his New Sweden home.

Daniel's nephew, Sven Bondeson, 28, of nearby Westmanland, said his uncle helped him pack potatoes before heading to his job at a nursing home.

Police have raised the possibility that the arsenic came from a now-banned chemical product that might have been in storage on a local farm.

Paul Bondeson said that his sister Norma, who lived on the farm sporadically, never throws anything away, but he added that he was not aware of any chemicals containing arsenic on the farm.

Speaking of his father, who died several years ago, Paul Bondeson said: "I can't remember him ever using a deadly poison for top kill or anything like that."

He described Daniel as a regular churchgoer, but added, "Lately in the last few years maybe he hasn't been as active as he used to be."

Still, Paul Bondeson said, the Bondeson siblings just last month gave a Communion table to the church in memory of their parents and two other relatives who died in recent years.

Bonnie Cyr, director of nursing at Caribou Nursing Home, where Bondeson was a certified nurse's aide for a little over a year, said he last worked Thursday night.

"He came in, he said hello and nothing seemed unusual," she said.

She described him as a polite, quiet, dependable and patient employee.


By Kevin Wack
  • Francie Grace

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.