By MONICA DAVEY, The New York Times
NEW SWEDEN, Me., -- The mystery of who poisoned 16 churchgoers here
with arsenic-tainted coffee seemed to be solved the other day when a
congregant shot himself to death, leaving a note that the police said
tied him to the poisonings.
But Sara Anderson, who hears all the town's important news from
behind her register at the Northstar Variety store here, is not
buying it. And the police are trying to figure out whether someone
else may have been involved.
"None of us believe that Danny did this - or at least not him by
himself," Ms. Anderson said of the man who killed himself, Daniel
Bondeson. "Even the people still in the hospital, unless the police
find the proof and put it in their faces, they're still not going to
believe he would have done this."
People in this northern Maine town of about 650 say Mr. Bondeson, a
53-year-old potato farmer, was just too nice to have put the arsenic
in the coffee that killed an elderly churchgoer, Walter Reid Morrill.
In fact, they recall, Mr. Bondeson was the person who climbed atop
Mr. Morrill's roof and shoveled two feet of snow from it this winter.
At the town offices this week, the police took DNA samples and
fingerprints from the surviving members of Gustaf Adolph Lutheran
Church, and two F.B.I. profilers were expected to arrive in town by
In a town with families that settled here together more than a
century ago and so few homicides that people strain to remember the
last one, all of the doubts have left people wondering whether
someone else could be right here, right among them.
"Most people would like to hear of some arrest in this case," Ms.
Anderson said. "Not knowing and waiting for an answer is almost as
hard to take as what happened in the first place."
On that Sunday, April 27, some of the church elders and congregants
gathered after services to sip coffee and eat treats left behind from
a bake sale the day before. Though people here, many of them of
Swedish descent, pride themselves on making strong "rugged" coffee,
this brew, percolated in a big old urn, seemed downright bitter.
Within minutes, people were vomiting.
Five days later, as Mr. Morrill's family mourned his death and other
families waited by bedsides in two hospitals, Mr. Bondeson shot
himself at his farm a few miles from the church, police said. Nearby,
they found a suicide note. Although they have refused to reveal its
contents, one thing is clear: it raised as many questions as it
Something about the wording of the note led police to wonder whether
someone else might also be involved, and so, the investigation rolled
on. The police will not say whether they know if the poisoning was,
in their words, a "conspiracy-type act," nor will they say that they
know it was not.
"The overall investigation gives us a feeling that that possibility
exists," said Lt. Dennis Appleton, the lead state police
investigator, who added that officials were looking at some "real
intriguing points" that they hoped to clear up within a few days.
"We just really are reluctant to just close the case and go away - we
won't sleep well," Lieutenant Appleton said. "Based on our theories,
we can't put it to bed."
Police would not say what physical evidence was found, but by today,
35 church members had driven to the town offices to give blood
samples and fingerprints, and 15 others were expected to do the same
in the coming days. They also were asked to answer a questionnaire,
the contents of which the police would not reveal.
Edmund Margeson, a farmer and member of the 12-person council that
leads the church, was one of those who spent about 30 minutes with
the police, as his fingertips and thumb sides were inked. Mr.
Margeson, 63, said the questionnaire he filled out was five pages
long and posed some peculiarly direct questions like: Did you do it?
Why should police believe you? How do you think the arsenic got into
Mr. Margeson, whose own son was released from the hospital on
Wednesday after days of treatment for poisoning, said he found the
investigation into church members troubling. "This is upsetting like
the whole thing has been," he said. "There is something in the back
of your mind that says, well, you know you are not involved, but it
feels odd to be suspected somehow."