Everything in life, there has to be start. A single event that happens to be repeated over and over. These pages will take us through some first "historical" events in crime.
On July 11, 1986, Susan Katherine Snow, a respected 40 year old assistant Vice-President of a Bank in Auburn (south of Seattle),and mother of two daughters, died in Hospital. After two failed marriages, Sue Snow had recently re-married to Paul Webking and was very much in love.
The quick and dramatic illness of Sue Snow suggested a brain aneurysm or some kind of drug overdose, but the absence of internal bleeding and the knowledge of Sue Snow not being a drug abuser ruled out these theories.
During the autopsy, the assistant medical examiner, smelt the scent of bitter almonds. Not noticable by many and not detected by everyone, the smell is a finding of cyanide poisoning. Toxicology tests confirmed the presence of cyanide in Sue Snow's system.
After Investigators talked to Sue's family members, and her youngest daughter who found Sue on her bathroom floor, it was found that Sue had ingested two Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules. After examining the bottle, three more adulterated capsules were found. Strangely, Paul Webking had also taken some capsules from the same bottle, but nothing had happened to him.
Within days, the lot numbers Sue's bottle had come from were published by the FDA, and the manufacturer, Bristol-Myers, had recalled its product Nationwide. The Seattle Police, after investigating every store, found two more adulterated bottles. One in Auburn and another in a neighbouring community, Kent.
Paul Webking, Sue's grief striken husband agreed to take a Polygraph test and passed without a hitch.
The FBI became involved after a new legislation was passed due to the proceeding Tylenol poisonings. They waited for some kind of demand from the unidentified perpertrator but nothing came.
On June 17, Stella Maudine Nickell, 42 years old, contacted Seattle Police informing them that her husband Bruce, 52 years old, had died two weeks earlier in a Seattle Hospital. The hospital had listed his cause of death as emphysema, but Stella distinctly recalled her husband had taken Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules not long before he became ill. Stella also said she had cross-checked the lot number in the publicized Sue Snow case to the bottle Bruce had ingested the capsules from, and they matched!
A sample of Bruce's blood, taken in the processes of an organ donor (which Bruce had been before his burial), was tested and it was positive to contain sodium cyanide.
The Invesigators then found something odd. Of the thousands of bottles of Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules that had been screened, only five had been found to be adulterated. Two of the five tainted bottles were found in Stella Nickell's Trailer. The Investigators turned there attention to Stella Nickell.
The FBI discovered that the adulterated capsules contained more than cyanide. Four other chemicals were also found. Two of these chemicals were in algicides, a formula used in fish tanks. Roger Martz, a Laboratory Agent working for the FBI, went to pet stores and found an algicide that contained all four of the chemicals found in the adulterated capsules.
The Seattle Agents also found something very suspicious. They learnt that Bruce Nickell's Life Insurance Policy of $31,000 had had additional policies taken out by Stella Nickell. If her husbands death was ruled an accident, which death by poisoning is ruled, Stella looked to collect around $175,000.
After reading Martz's report, a Seattle Agent remembered seeing a fish tank in the Nickells' Trailer home. Agents then visited local pet shops, with a packet of photographs (including Stella Nickell), showing salespersons to see if they had seen any of the people. A store in Kent, picked out the photo of Stella Nickell, remembering he had to put in a special order for the algicide and had also sold Stella a mortar and pestle to grind the tablets in.
Stella Nickell failed a Polygraph test and the FBI's Document Section found the signatures of Bruce Nickell had been forged on two of his Life Insurance Policies.
The evidence, so far, wasn't strong enough until, in January 1987, Stella's daughter told authorities that her mother often talked about killing Bruce, one time mentioning cyanide as a means. Her daughter also said that her mother had consulted books at the Library on the topic and authorities found Stella's fingerprints on a number of the books' pages.
In short, due to Bruce's death not being ruled an accident, where Stella could collect on his Insurances, Stella took matters into her own hands, and killed an innocent person, being Sue Snow, to get her husbands death re-examined. If the assistant medical examiner hadn't been able to smell the bitter almonds, the thought of how many other innocent victims is enough to make anyone tremble.
On May 9, 1988, Stella Nickell was found guilty of murder and sentenced to two ninty-year terms for the murders of Sue Snow and Bruce Nickell, and ten years for three counts of Product Tampering - all to be served concurrently. She is the first person in American History to be found guilty of murder through Product Tampering.
Reference: Douglas J. & Olshaker M. The Anatomy of Motive, Pocket Books (1999). And, the many times I've seen New Detectives on Austar.