April 27, 1973: A storm system stalls over the Saint John River Valley, unleashing the worst flood ever recorded there.

The flood causes severe damage in northern Maine and a crisis in next-door New Brunswick, where 1,450 people are evacuated. In and around the provincial capital, Fredericton, water pervades older neighborhoods and spills into the basement of the legislative building.

April 27, 2003: One man dies and more than a dozen other people become ill after drinking coffee at the Gustav Adolf Lutheran Church in the Aroostook County town of New Sweden, a small town noted for its Swedish character stemming from a mass migration of Swedes to the area in 1870. Investigators discover the coffee has been poisoned with arsenic.

Five days later, on May 2, church member Daniel Bondeson, 53, is found shot in the chest with a rifle at his home in nearby Woodland. A note left on a table convinces state police that Bondeson was involved in the poisonings. He dies later at Cary Medical Center in Caribou, the same facility that treats many of the poisoning victims. Police say later that Bondeson’s death is ruled to be a suicide.

A local waitress who knew Bondeson describes him as a shy, quiet, frugal man who worked as a substitute teacher, nursing assistant and seasonal raker of blueberries. Many people in New Sweden say the events are out of character for Bondeson.

A police line blocks the driveway at Daniel Bondeson’s home in Woodland where a shooting took place. Daniel Bondeson was transported to Cary Medical Center in May 2003. Staff photo Shawn Patrick Ouellette

In 2006, the state attorney general’s office and the state police release a statement saying that while they investigated the possibility that others could have been involved in the poisonings, they became convinced that Bondeson acted alone and that the arsenic had been stored at his farm.

The case influences public health policies and medical research, including a change in the way federal money designated for fighting bioterrorism is distributed.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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