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A Wisconsin caretaker claims her friend was drinking an unusual cocktail before her death. Was she poisoned?

Death by Eye Drops
Death by Eye Drops 41:49

Jessy Kurczewski called 911 on Oct. 3, 2018, to report that she had found her friend, Lynn Hernan, unresponsive in her Pewaukee, Wisconsin, home. Kurczewski was the daughter of Hernan's good friend, and had known Hernan since childhood. Kurczewski told the investigators that she had been acting as Hernan's caregiver because Hernan's health had been declining, and had lately been going to Hernan's home daily.

"48 Hours" contributor Jericka Duncan investigates what happened to Hernan in "Death By Eye Drops," now streaming on Paramount+.

First responders at the scene said it looked like Hernan had possibly died from an accidental overdose, or by taking her own life. There were scattered prescription pills found on the carpet, and what appeared to be crushed medications on a plate near Hernan's body. 

But in the months following Hernan's death, questions began building around Kurczewski. Investigators with the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department discovered that Kurczewski had a criminal record — she had served time in prison for forgery and identity theft charges, and had been released from prison in 2016. Kurczewski was arrested on a probation and parole hold in July 2019 and brought in for questioning. Those interviews were recorded. Kurczewski told detectives that Hernan had been taking many medications before her death — some of which had been discontinued — and had been spending a lot of money.

But as detectives continued to question Kurczewski, her story appeared to evolve, especially after they told Kurczewski about "an anomaly" in Hernan's toxicology report, which the medical examiner had received after Hernan's autopsy. Detective Chris Kohl revealed to Kurczewski that there was "a drug in her system that's not supposed to be there." It was tetrahydrozoline, a chemical compound found in several brands of over-the-counter eye drops, which medical experts say can be fatal when ingested in large quantities. 

Kurczewski was quick to respond that Hernan "used eye drops all the time." Kohl told Kurczewski that the medical examiner suspected that due to the amount of tetrahydrozoline in Hernan's system, the eye drops had to have been ingested, not just absorbed through the eyes. Kurczewski vehemently denied ever giving Hernan eye drops to drink. 

Jessy Kurczewski
Jessy Kurczewski   Wisconsin Department of Corrections

But the next day, Kurczewski asked to speak with the detectives again, and now told them that Hernan had been determined to die by suicide. During this interview, Kurczewski said Hernan had told her she had tried drinking Visine mixed with vodka a few times, to see what would happen. Kurczewski said of Hernan, "She was looking for her way out."

Then, the following day, Kurczewski asked to speak with the detectives again —  the third time in three days. Kurczewski now said that Hernan had been regularly ingesting Visine for months and would mix the eye drops and vodka into a kind of cocktail that she would drink often, because she liked the feeling it gave her. Kurczewski said it would make Hernan relaxed and help her sleep. Kurczewski also told detectives that she had tried to get Hernan to stop multiple times, but "I always gave in to what she wanted because it's her choice and what she wanted." 

And Kurczewski now said that on the morning of Hernan's death, Hernan had told Kurczewski that she had poured six bottles of Visine into one plastic water bottle. Kurczewski said they had argued about it, but eventually she gave in and handed the water bottle filled with Visine to Hernan. But Kurczewski maintained that she had only given Hernan the water bottle because Hernan had asked her to, then left for hours to run errands, not knowing how much Hernan had actually ingested, or how it would affect her. The detectives asked Kurczewski why they should believe her now, and she claimed she had finally told them everything.

The investigation into Kurczewski continued for months after those interviews, with authorities unraveling both Hernan's and Kurczewski's finances. Detectives later said they found that large amounts of Hernan's assets had gone either directly to Kurczewski, or accounts that Kurczewski had access to, which were then depleted.

Inside the case against caregiver accused of poisoning friend with eye drops 04:20

In June 2021, Kurczewski was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of theft for stealing from Hernan before and after her death. Prosecutors alleged that Kurczewski had profited over $200,000 from Hernan since 2016, and that she had deliberately poisoned Hernan with eye drops with the intent to kill Hernan after her money had largely run out. 

Kurczewski maintained her innocence, saying that she loved Hernan, and her defense attorneys argued that Hernan had given Kurczewski money freely – as gifts or in exchange for helping her out. "48 Hours" was there as Kurczewski went on trial in October 2023. 

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