Police close arsenic case

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BANGOR (AP) – Nearly three years after parishioners drank arsenic-laced coffee at a church in northern Maine, detectives have closed the investigation after deciding that the only person to be implicated acted alone, officials said Tuesday.

Church member Daniel Bondeson committed suicide after the poisonings on April 27, 2003, that killed one person and sickened 15 others at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden.

Investigators insisted over the years since then that Bondeson had an accomplice, and residents feared he had taken secrets to the grave.

Tuesday’s reversal, announced in Bangor, came as a relief for weary New Sweden, some of whom lived in fear that a killer was in their midst.

“There should be a sense of relief. There certainly is on my part,” said Ed Margeson, president of the church council, whose son drank the tainted coffee. “Hopefully this will put it to rest. I should think that there should be some sense of closure.”

Investigators announced they reversed course on the same day it was disclosed that Bondeson told his lawyer the day before he killed himself that he acted alone. That information was made available to investigators during the grand jury process.

“We have concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to believe that anyone other than Daniel Bondeson was involved in the arsenic poisoning,” said William Stokes, chief of the criminal division of the attorney general’s office.

Caribou lawyer Peter Kelley had long sought to inform police about what Daniel Bondeson had told him on May 1, 2003, but was constrained by attorney-client privilege that remained in force even after his 53-year-old client’s death.

A judge eventually relieved him of his attorney-client privilege and ordered him to testify before a grand jury late last year. His secret testimony added to the growing body of evidence that brought about the conclusion of the investigation.

On Tuesday, he said he chose to break his silence about his conversations with Bondeson after learning that the state investigation was concluded.

The attorney said Bondeson told him that he never intended serious harm when he spiked the coffee to retaliate against church members. He told the lawyer that he did not realize the liquid from a container on his farm contained arsenic.

“He did not indicate that anyone else was involved and my distinct impression was that he had done this on his own,” Kelley said.

It was an eye-for-an-eye act because he felt someone had put chemicals in his coffee, something investigators never corroborated, Kelley said.

The day after talking to Kelley, Bondeson died from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The state medical examiner ruled that it was suicide.

The poisonings shocked the northern potato-farming community of 621 residents and the story made front-page news around the world.

Investigators never released Bondeson’s blood-streaked suicide note, which is confidential under Maine law. State officials rejected a Freedom of Access requests to release its contents. They declined again Tuesday to talk about the note’s contents.

Stokes said the approaching anniversary seemed like the appropriate time to publicly announce that the investigation was over. “To continue to say this is an open investigation is not accurate,” he told reporters.

Stokes and Col. Craig Poulin, the state police chief, held the news conference after traveling to New Sweden earlier in the day to meet with 20 poisoning victims and members of the community to discuss the case at a local school.

It might take some time for the latest news to sink in. “Three years is a long time to have suspicion lodged in people’s minds,” said Brenda Jepson, a New Sweden resident.

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