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The investigation into the 1986 drug-tampering deaths of two...

By
G.S. KHALSA

SEATTLE -- The investigation into the 1986 drug-tampering deaths of two people who took cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Excedrin has focused on the widow of one victim, her lawyer said Monday in a published statement.

Attorney Tim Hillier told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Stella Nickell, 45, is the subject of an investigation under way since her husband, Bruce, and an Auburn, Wash., woman, Sue Snow, died of cyanide poisoning in June 1986.

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Hillier, federal public defender in Seattle, said he was appointed May 15 to represent Nickell after authorities told her she was under investigation, but he declined to discuss any other aspect of the investigation.

Both Hillier and Nickell were unavailable for comment Monday.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI refused to discuss the case.

'All we can do is neither confirm nor deny that there's an investigation until if and when it should change,' U.S. Attorney Gene Anderson said Monday.

FBI spokesman Joseph Smith said, 'Other than to say we still have a pending investigation, I can make no comment.'

William Donais, another lawyer for Nickell, confirmed to the Seattle Times that Nickell is under investigation and called the suspicions 'asinine and ridiculous.' Donais represents Nickell in her wrongful-death lawsuit against Bristol-Myers, the maker of Excedrin.

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He said FBI agents have questioned Nickell and obtained handwriting samples from her, but have not asked her to appear before the grand jury. He also confirmed that relatives and friends of Nickell had been asked to testify.

The company that carried a life insurance policy on Bruce Nickell has refused to pay his widow the benefits pending the outcome of the inquiry, Donais said, adding that his client has refused to take a polygraph test.

No dollar amounts were available for either the insurance policy or the lawsuit, which also names three stores in south King County where tainted capsules were found.

Paul Webking, Snow's husband, also has filed a wrongful death suit against Bristol-Myers. He said Sunday the FBI has not told him if there is a suspect in the case.

The investigation began June 16, 1986, when authorities in Auburn announced that Snow, a 40-year-old bank manager, died of cyanide poisoning June 11, 1986, after taking Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules.

After reviewing other deaths, investigators determined that Nickell, 52, a state highway maintenance worker who collapsed June 6 in his home near Auburn, also was a cyanide victim.

The cause of his death was not determined until 13 days later, after Stella Nickell turned in two Excedrin bottles containing cyanide-laced capsules, telling authorities her husband had taken the headache remedy before he died.

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Other poisoned capsules of Extra-Strength Excedrin were found in Snow's home.

There was no known relationship between the two victims.

No one has been charged in any of the 13 product-tampering deaths believed to have occurred in the United States since 1982.

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