PORTLAND (AP) – Police investigating the largest criminal arsenic poisoning in recent U.S. history indicated Wednesday they know who was responsible even though more than four months have passed and no charges have been filed.

One worshipper died and 15 others were sickened after drinking arsenic-laced coffee at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden on April 27.

Police have previously said they’re convinced that Daniel Bondeson, a congregation member whose suicide five days after the poisonings linked him to the crime, had at least one accomplice.

Maine State Police Col. Michael Sperry reiterated the position on Wednesday and went one step further by indicating for the first time that police know the actual identity of another person or persons who were involved.

The arsenic poisoning has devastated the church’s 60 regular worshippers and the small potato farming community in northern Maine.

Police say the culprits came from within the church’s tight-knit community and were probably motivated by a long-held grudge.

But they haven’t shared much more information about the investigation with locals who’ve been left to wonder and gossip. Bondeson’s nephew expressed frustration over the latest police comments Wednesday.

“If they know (who did it), why don’t they come out and say? I guess that’s my question,” Sven Bondeson said.

Sperry, who heads the Maine State Police, would not divulge the identity of the suspect or suspects. But he remains optimistic that investigators will eventually have enough evidence to bring charges.

“Our investigation is ongoing, it’s very active, and we’ll continue to pursue it until we solve this case,” he said. “I strongly feel at some point in time we can solve this case.”

Sperry said a grand jury has not been convened, but that could happen down the road.

“The grand jury is an investigative tool that we’ve used in other homicides,” he said. “We would use it again in the future if it would move this case forward toward a resolution.”

The months of uncertainty have taken a heavy toll in New Sweden and the nearby towns, said Brenda Jepson, a teacher at Caribou High School who has made documentary films about the Swedish communities in northern Maine.

“It’s like living with a giant question mark over our heads. We just don’t know what could happen next,” she said.

She said Daniel Bondeson is missed at Caribou High, where he had been a substitute teacher, and at the New Sweden Historical Society, where his seat on the roads and trails committee has yet to be filled.

“What most people have been saying is that we may be waiting for a deathbed confession,” she said. “And I think a lot of us have resigned ourselves to that.”

AP-ES-09-10-03 1628EDT



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