Police: Source of arsenic in poisonings found

AUGUSTA (AP) – Police said Wednesday they have generally determined when arsenic was placed in a pot of coffee that sickened 16 worshippers at a northern Maine church and believe they know the source of the deadly poison.

But 10 weeks into their probe of one of the most sensational murders in state history, investigators are reluctant to reveal much new evidence in the case.

There have been no arrests following the April 27 illnesses that killed one member of Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden. The subsequent shooting death of a churchgoer named Daniel Bondeson and a suicide note found at the scene led police to conclude that he and at least one other parishioner were the culprits.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, State Police Col. Michael Sperry did not back away from previous statements made by Lt. Dennis Appleton, who’s leading the investigation. But Sperry, head of the Maine State Police, said releasing much more information could jeopardize the ongoing probe.

“We clearly feel that Daniel Bondeson was not the only one involved in this case, which would indicate that we do have other suspects,” Sperry said. “To go into the exact theory, I think, wouldn’t be appropriate.”

Sperry refused to say whether the arsenic came from Bondeson’s farm, where old chemicals used for potato cultivation had apparently been stored for many years.

And when pressed about the timeline police have developed, he would not provide specifics. Appleton has previously said the arsenic could have been placed in the coffee pot up to two weeks, or mere hours, before the Sunday worship service.

Police initially expressed frustration that residents in the close-knit town were not telling investigators all they knew. The cooperation of worshippers seemed especially critical in a case where physical evidence did not initially produce a smoking gun, and police believed the motive sprung from an internal church dispute.

But Sperry said police now have no complaints about how New Sweden’s 621 residents have responded to police questioning.

“It’s a very unique case, and no one would think that a simple dispute within the church community could result in something like this. And we feel that the community has been very forthcoming with us,” he said.

Sperry said that within the next month, authorities expect to complete all testing of physical evidence, and the FBI should finish its psychological profile of Bondeson.

Bondeson, 53, has been described by those who knew him well as a reserved bachelor who did not have many close friends. He lived in the family’s farmhouse with his sister Norma and raised organic potatoes with his brother Carl.

Norma Bondeson, who serves on the church’s 12-member council, splits her time between New Sweden and Amesbury, Mass., and Maine State Police have acknowledged traveling to Amesbury twice as part of their investigation.

When asked whether anyone outside the Bondeson family could have acted in conjunction with Bondeson, Sperry paused before saying, “I think I’d leave that alone right now.”

He also would not discuss the current number of suspects in the case. Appleton said in late May that police had eliminated all but six to 10 church members.

Sperry’s comments Wednesday should reassure church members who are worried that police will abandon their investigation.

“We’re committed that we’re going to find the answers in this case, all of the answers,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

AP-ES-07-09-03 1850EDT

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