Cyanide-laced capsules kill bank manager

AUBURN, Wash. -- Coroners said cyanide-tainted Extra-Strength Excedrin killed asuburban Seattle bank manager in the fifth fatal tampering case of the year. The drug's manufacturer today recommended stores nationwide take the capsules off their shelves.

The victim, identified as Sue Snow, 40, was found collapsed on the floor of her home in Auburn last Wednesday and died later that day, the King County medical examiner's office reported Monday night.


An autopsy the following day revealed she died from acute cyanide poisoning, but it was not until Monday night that toxicologists traced the poison to a bottle of Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules in her home, the medical examiner's office said.

Coroners said they were uncertain whether the woman had taken one or more of the tainted capsules.

'Although we believe this to be a local isolated incident,' said Bristol-Myers spokesman Jerry Parrott in New York, 'we are also asking all stores throughout the United States to quarantine excedrin capsules for the time being and to remove excedrin capsules from store shelves until we have more information from stores in Auburn.'


Snow was an assistant vice president at Puget Sound National Bank and manager of the bank's Auburn branch. She was married and the mother of two girls.

Police in Auburn, located about 20 miles south of Seattle, declined to say whether they suspected foul play or suicide in Snow's death.

Auburn police spokeswoman Carolyn Crawford said, 'The detective in charge said it is a 'death investigation.' That's what he's labeling it at this time.'

It was the fifth death in 1986 linked to over-the-counter medication poisoned with cyanide. Three of the previous cases involved tampering with Tylenol capsules, including one other death in Washington state. Suicide is suspected in two of the deaths. A fourth death was linked to a cyanide-laced Anacin-3 capsule.

The Food and Drug Administration reported Monday night that 'several capsules' in a 60-capsule bottle of Extra-Strength Excedrin found in the Snow's home were laced with cyanide.

The bottle containing the poisoned capsules was believed to have been purchased from a store in Auburn June 8 or 9, police said. The bottle carried the lot number 5H102, the FDA said.

'At the current time, we're advising the general public in the Seattle area about the Excedrin capsule problem and warning them not to gake the Excedrin capsule product until more is known,' said Chris Rezendes, an FDA spokesman in Seattle.


Auburn police and FDA agents worked through the night to remove all bottles of Extra-Strength Excedrin from all store shelves in Auburn, officials said.

In addition, Auburn police were asking any consumers with bottles of Extra-Strength Excedrin bearing the same lot number as the tainted capsules to bring the capsules to police.

Rezendes said the maker of Excedrin, Bristol-Myers Co, was notified Monday of the cyanide poisoning. A Bristol-Myers spokesman reached in New York City said he was unaware of the case.

Snow's death came nearly two weeks after, Edward Arlen Marks, 24, an investment brokerage trainee, was arrested on suspicion of spiking Contac, Dietac and Teldrin capsules with rat poison.

Marks, arrested May 30 in Los Angeles, is accused of tampering with the medication in a scheme to aimed at manipulating the value of stock in the SmithKline pharmaceutical firm.

The first rash of killings in the United States from poisoned painkillers occurred in 1982 when seven people died from taking cyanide-laced capsules of Extra-Strength Tylenol that had been planted on Chicago-area markets.

The poisonings resulted in tamper-resistent packaging of consumer products everywhere.

The Tylenol scare resurfaced four years later after Diane Elsroth, 23, of Peekskill, N.Y., died Feb. 8 from taking two Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules from a bottle purchased in an A&P store in Bronxville.


On Feb. 13, a second bottle of poisoned Tylenol was found in a Woolworth's store in Bronxville, and four days later, Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, announced it had halted production of all non-prescription capsule drugs.

On Feb. 23, 1986, guitar repairman Timothy Green, 32, was found dead in a Nashville, Tenn., cyanide poisoning linked to Tylenol capsules. Investigators determined he committed suicide.

On April 27, 1986, Sandie Gregory, 21, of Pullman, Wash., died of acute cyanide poisoning after taking two Tylenol capsules. She had access to cyanide in her work at the Washington State University veterinary laboratory, and an investigation determined she probably committed suicide. The death of Kenneth Wayne Faries, 24, a University of Texas student, apparently from a cyanide-contaminated Anacin-3 capsule, was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. Toxicological tests indicated Faries died of acute cyanide poisoning on May 20 or May 21.

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