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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Poisonings at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 27, 2003
Date of birth: 1950
Victims profile: Walter Morrill, 78 (church member)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
LocationNew Sweden, Maine, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself five days later, May 2, 2003

On April 27, 2003, 78-year-old Walter Morrill died of arsenic poisoning after drinking coffee at the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, and 15 other, mostly elderly churchgoers became ill, three of them seriously. Five days later, church member Daniel Bondeson, 53, shot himself, leaving a suicide note in which he confessed to the poisoning.


Poisoner's suicide note says he acted alone

By Associated Press

April 22, 2006

PORTLAND, Maine - The suicide note left by the only person implicated in the arsenic poisonings at a church in New Sweden three years ago says he acted alone.

Daniel Bondeson's note, handwritten and streaked with blood, was found in the farmhouse where he shot himself on May 2, 2003, five days after the poisonings at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church that killed one church member and sickened 15 others. Police have refused to release the note on grounds of confidentiality.

The Portland Press Herald reported Saturday that it obtained the note's contents from a police affidavit filed in a Massachusetts court on May 10, 2003, in connection with a request for a warrant to search the Amesbury, Mass., home of Bondeson's sister, Norma.

"I acted alone. I acted alone. One dumb poor judgement ruins life but I did wrong," read the note, in which the first "I acted alone" was underlined.

The note said Bondeson, 53, did not know that the chemical he put in the coffee pot before church members gathered socially after the Aug. 27, 2003, Sunday service was arsenic.

"I thought it was something? I had no intent to hurt this way. Just to upset stomach, like the church goers did me," the note read.

Despite the suicide note, police said early in the investigation that they believed that the poisonings sprang from an internal dispute within the church and that Bondeson had at least one accomplice. Investigators maintained that stance until Tuesday, when they declared the case closed and said there was insufficient evidence to show that anyone other than Bondeson was involved.

Investigators also said Bondeson sought to retaliate against church members for something he felt they had done to him and that it was unclear whether his reference to his own "upset stomach" was literal or figurative.

The police affidavit that revealed the note's contents said police believed that Norma Bondeson, who was not in New Sweden at the time of the church incident, had been poisoned by arsenic, either deliberately or unintentionally.

The affidavit said the owner of the Amesbury home, Sanford Carlisle, told police that around the time of the poisonings, Norma Bondeson was "very ill and experiencing vomiting and diarrhea," the same symptoms exhibited by ill church members.

The police affidavit asked that "Norma Bondeson be physically taken into custody, taken to a medical facility, monitored for 24 hours, and any and all urine specimens from the body of Norma Bondeson be taken, for the purpose of analysis by a laboratory proficient to test urine for the presence of arsenic."

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said Friday he did not know whether that testing was done.

Norma Bondeson has declined interview requests during the three-year investigation.

The day before his suicide, Daniel Bondeson consulted with attorney Peter Kelley of Caribou, who until Tuesday had refused to divulge publicly what Bondeson told him because of attorney-client privilege that remains in force after death.

Kelley said the contents of the suicide note were consistent with what Bondeson told him.


News from Maine - Attorney General Steven Rowe

AG, State Police Close Investigation of 2003 New Sweden Poisonings; Conclude Bondeson Acted Alone

April 18, 2006

Today in Bangor, Assistant Attorney General William R. Stokes, Chief of the Criminal Division, and Colonel Craig A. Poulin, Chief of the Maine State Police, held a news conference at which Stokes read the following statement regarding the investigation of the 2003 New Sweden poisonings:

“On Sunday April 27, 2003, more than a dozen members of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine, became very ill after consuming light refreshments and coffee at the conclusion of the morning worship service.  Several members of the church, including Walter Reid Morrill, became ill and were admitted to the Cary Medical Center in Caribou.

“During the early morning hours of Monday, April 28, 2003, Walter Reid Morrill died.  Physicians at the Cary Medical Center informed the Maine State Police that it was suspected that the affected members of the church had ingested a poison.  Members of the church were interviewed and the common denominator appeared to be that everyone who had become ill had consumed coffee served at the conclusion of the morning worship service on April 27, 2003.

“On Monday, April 28, 2003, investigators from the Maine State Police and the Maine Bureau of Public Health responded to New Sweden to investigate the incident at the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church.  The investigators recovered water samples and numerous items reportedly used in the preparation and serving of the coffee.  These items were submitted to the Maine Bureau of Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory for analysis.

“On Tuesday, April 29, 2003, detectives with the Maine State Police learned that extremely high levels of arsenic had been found to be present in a liquid coffee sample that had been collected from the church on April 27, 2003.  Also on April 29, 2003, Dr. Michael Ferenc, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maine, performed an autopsy on Walter Reid Morrill.   After receiving the results of the laboratory testing, he concluded that Mr. Morrill died as a result of acute arsenic poisoning and ruled the death a homicide.  During the course of the investigation, the Maine Bureau of Health as well as a private lab - National Medical Services of Pennsylvania- conducted numerous laboratory tests.  Those tests confirmed the following: the source of arsenic was in the brewed coffee.  Tests done on the tap water, the sugar and unbrewed coffee found at the scene were all negative.  Abnormally high levels of arsenic were also confirmed in biological samples from the surviving victims.  The investigation into this case produced no evidence supporting the conclusion that the introduction of the substance (later determined to be arsenic) into the coffee was accidental.

“On Friday, May 2, 2003, detectives with the Maine State Police were dispatched to a shooting that had occurred at the Daniel and Norma Bondeson residence located at 113 Bondeson Road in Woodland, Maine.  Upon arriving at the residence, officers found Daniel Bondeson, who had sustained a single gunshot wound.  Mr. Bondeson was transported to the Cary Medical Center in Caribou where he later died.  While at the Bondeson home, detectives observed a handwritten note on the kitchen table, which appeared to the authored by Daniel Bondeson.  Based upon the contents of that note, investigators were satisfied that Mr. Daniel Bondeson was involved in the poisoning incident at the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church on April 27, 2003.

“On May 5, 2003, Dr. Michael Ferenc performed an autopsy upon Daniel Bondeson and determined that that cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest.  Dr. Ferenc ruled Daniel Bondeson’s death to be a suicide.

“Following Daniel Bondeson’s death, the investigation into the poisoning incident continued in an effort to determine whether persons in addition to Daniel Bondeson may have been involved.

“Through the Grand Jury process, we have now had the opportunity to examine evidence that was previously unavailable to us, but which we cannot disclose because of Grand Jury secrecy requirements.  Based upon that previously unavailable information, and the information gathered through the investigation over the last three years, we have concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to believe that anyone other than Daniel Bondeson was involved in the arsenic poisoning at the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine on April 27, 2003.

“We are now satisfied that on the morning of Sunday April 27, 2003, Daniel Bondeson drove alone to the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden and there entered the kitchen while the members of the congregation were attending the worship service.  While inside the kitchen, Daniel Bondeson poured an undetermined amount of liquid arsenic into the percolator and the brewed coffee.  He then left the building.

“We are now satisfied that the source of the arsenic was a chemical container located at the Bondeson farm.  That container has been recovered.

“We have met with members of the church and family members of the victims of the poisoning to give them an update on the investigation and our conclusions.

“No further investigative efforts are planned in connection with this case.”


Poison Mystery Widens After a Suicide Note

By Monica Davey - The New York Times

May 9, 2003

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 Friday.

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 answered.

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 the coffee?

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.''

Of the Bondeson family, Mr. Margeson said: ''We happen to have been good friends.'' And his son, Erich, 30, who will now be given EKG tests every day to guard against other, unnoticed damage from the poison, concurred: ''I knew Danny well, and I have nothing bad to say about him.''

The elder Mr. Margeson said he was waiting, nervously, to learn whether other church members will be implicated. ''That'd be like a double whammy, if that turns out to be,'' he said. ''Who knows where this ends?''

Police have said they are looking at disagreements within the church as they search for a motive. There have been conflicts, to be sure. Certainly, the matter of finding a new pastor -- their last one left two years ago -- had been tense. Lutheran leaders had told the church elders they were having trouble finding a pastor who would want to move to such a cold, faraway spot, Mr. Margeson said.

''That's the biggest debate,'' he said, ''but I cannot imagine anybody being that upset over trivial, normal happenings.''

Mr. Bondeson certainly would not have been, his family said. Yes, he went to the church, just as his father had before him, his nephew, Sven Bondeson, said. But he was not wrapped up in church politics. ''Not a whole lot bothered Danny,'' his nephew said. ''He went along with the flow of things. He wouldn't have cared.''

Mr. Bondeson was not serving on the church council at the time of his death, Sven Bondeson said, although his sister, Norma Bondeson, was.

The family had recently bought a communion table to give to the church, he said. They collected donations among themselves to buy it, then assembled it and took it over. The table was inside the church last Sunday, Sven Bondeson said. He said the church council had not officially accepted the table, but that that was merely a formality. They had not met recently to take a vote, he said. ''This was just a table, nothing out of the ordinary,'' Sven Bondeson said.

Three days before the suicide, the two men had worked together packing potatoes. It was just another day. Daniel Bondeson did not seem troubled or depressed, his nephew said. The Bondeson family had been through more than its share of pain over the last six years: Daniel's father and brother had died of health troubles and another relative had died in a snowmobiling wreck.

But Daniel Bondeson had busied himself with multiple jobs: at a nursing home, substitute teaching and farming. He also skied and liked to jog on the long stretches beside the potato fields and cattle pastures here.

In a house just down the road from the steepled church, more than a century old, and the waiting picnic tables out back, Mr. Morrill's family showed photographs of him to a visitor. He was 78, a retired railroad worker, a veteran of World War II, someone who had twice made a hole in one at the Caribou golf course.

''We're trying to cope with this, and the horrible way that he went,'' his son, Ron Morrill, said.

Still, Mr. Morrill, 51, said that the possibility of another person being involved in his father's death was an open question in his mind. ''It's a big puzzle,'' he said. ''But we believe that Danny would never intentionally want to hurt Dad. He was a friend.''


Arsenic Suspect Left Suicide Note

Cops Continue Getting Prints And DNA From Other Church Members

By Francie Grace -

Maine, May 7, 2003

Police now say the man they suspect of involvement in the arsenic poisonings of members of a tiny church in northern Maine did in fact kill himself and furthermore left a suicide note that contained "important information."

Maine state police spokesman Stephen McCausland says the note left behind by potato farmer Daniel Bondeson has prompted police to continue their investigation into the poisoned coffee that killed one parishioner and sickened 15 others at Gustav Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden.

At least three people are still in the hospital, in Bangor, in critical condition.

State police have pointed to Bondeson as a suspect in the poisonings but they have also said more than one person could have been responsible. The possibility of squabbling among church members is part of the police investigation into the motive for the April 27 poisonings.

As part of their investigation, police on Tuesday resumed the process of obtaining voluntary fingerprints and DNA samples from every member of the congregation. The process had been suspended Friday, after Bondeson was found fatally shot in the chest at his farmhouse.

The state medical examiner's office did not reveal the contents of the suicide note, which is confidential by statute, McCausland said. Law enforcement officials sometimes paraphrase a suicide note, but investigators declined to do so Tuesday.

Shortly after police deemed parishioner Walter Morrill's death a homicide on Friday, Bondeson was found dead in his farmhouse in nearby Woodland. Bondeson, who worked on the family potato farm and at a nursing home, was at a church bake sale the day before the poisonings but was not there for Sunday services, police said.

The state medical examiner's office said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest. A determination was pending on whether it was an accident, suicide or homicide.

Two relatives said Monday they had seen Bondeson in the days after the poisonings, and he was his usual reserved self.

Bondeson's older brother, Paul, said the two talked Monday or Tuesday while Daniel was jogging near his farmhouse. "Nothing seemed strange," Paul Bondeson, 58, said in the yard of his New Sweden home.

Daniel's nephew, Sven Bondeson, 28, of nearby Westmanland, said his uncle helped him pack potatoes before heading to his job at a nursing home.

Police have raised the possibility that the arsenic came from a now-banned chemical product that might have been in storage on a local farm.

Paul Bondeson said that his sister Norma, who lived on the farm sporadically, never throws anything away, but he added that he was not aware of any chemicals containing arsenic on the farm.

Speaking of his father, who died several years ago, Paul Bondeson said: "I can't remember him ever using a deadly poison for top kill or anything like that."

He described Daniel as a regular churchgoer, but added, "Lately in the last few years maybe he hasn't been as active as he used to be."

Still, Paul Bondeson said, the Bondeson siblings just last month gave a Communion table to the church in memory of their parents and two other relatives who died in recent years.

Bonnie Cyr, director of nursing at Caribou Nursing Home, where Bondeson was a certified nurse's aide for a little over a year, said he last worked Thursday night.

She described him as a polite, quiet, dependable and patient employee.

"He came in, he said hello and nothing seemed unusual," she said.


Poisoning suspect's death ruled suicide

Authorities: 'Important information' left in suicide note

CNN News

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

NEW SWEDEN, Maine (CNN) -- The principal suspect in the arsenic poisonings here left behind a suicide note containing "important information" that requires further investigation into the plot that sickened more than a dozen churchgoers and killed one, authorities said Tuesday.

Authorities did not elaborate on the contents of the note from Daniel Bondeson, 53, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest Friday night after being rushed to a hospital. The state medical examiner's office ruled the death a suicide Tuesday.

Steve McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, confirmed that a note was found in Bondeson's home.

"Investigators say that 'based upon important information contained in that note, we will be continuing our investigation into the poisoning homicide in New Sweden,'" McCausland said.

He said investigators met to discuss the case with representatives of the state attorney general's office, the state police crime laboratory and the chief medical examiner's office.

The poisonings have sent shock waves through this tight-knit community of about 600 in northern Maine. A 78-year-old caretaker of Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church died, and 15 church members were sickened, three of them critically, after drinking arsenic-laced coffee at the church April 27.

Bondeson attended a bake sale the day before, but authorities have said he was not in the church that Sunday.

Soon after Bondeson's death, authorities said they believed he was linked to the poisonings -- possibly motivated by a church dispute -- and that he might not have acted alone.

"I'm not prepared to say that he acted alone or that he was the person who introduced [the arsenic] into the coffee," Lt. Dennis Appleton of the state police said at a news conference Monday.

Carefully choosing his responses to reporters' questions, Appleton would not comment on any specifics of the investigation or other suspects in the case.

"We never discuss suspects. We just feel we shouldn't stop [with Bondeson]," Appleton said.

He said "church dynamics" might have triggered the poisoning, but he would not elaborate specifically.

"It probably was something that was grinding at some people for some time," Appleton said. "In the end, we may find they don't seem like logical explanations for murder."

It took "some tugging and pulling" to get information from parishioners, Appleton said.

"Perhaps they weren't as candid at first as they could have been," Appleton said. When authorities questioned parishioners, "It was, 'can you tell us anything?' And the answer was no. You go back to them and ask a specific question, and it's, 'OK, I'll tell you about that.' I think they just wanted to be asked specific questions."


Mass Poisoning

By Katherine Ramsland

No one at the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine, which had a congregation of some 60 regular worshipers, could quite believe what had happened.  One minute, the two dozen people who had gathered for coffee and doughnuts after the service on April 27, 2003, were greeting one another as usual, and the next, over a dozen members of the congregation had become violently ill.  Samples taken from the victims were tested in the toxicology lab of the Maine Public Safety Department.

On Monday, Walter Reid Morrill, 78, died.   He'd been a longtime member of the church and had often served as a caretaker and usher.  Laboratory tests conducted on the coffee by the Maine Bureau of Health and a private lab in Pennsylvania confirmed that the cause of the sudden illness was arsenic.

The others who were ill were fortunate. After the September 11 terrorism incident, officials had used federal antibioterrorism grants to stockpile arsenic antidotes in Portland, Maine, and these supplies were rushed to New Sweden to treat parishioners who had consumed the coffee and were in a critical condition.  Everyone besides Morrill survived.

The Boston Globe, CNN, ABC News, and many other media outlets covered the case as it was breaking.   Parishioners interviewed recalled that the coffee had had a peculiar taste.

It soon became clear that someone had introduced the deadly substance into the coffee, but it was not yet known whether this had been done by accident.

"We don't know what the motive is," said a police spokesperson.   "We don't know who is responsible for doing this."

The investigation's initial focus was on those who'd had access to the building over the weekend.   Church members insisted that their community was safe and that no one in the membership would do such a thing.  They were a close-knit community.  Nevertheless, investigators interviewed many of them, looking for disputes or disagreements.  Tests on the well water, sugar, and unbrewed coffee in the can confirmed what everyone feared: someone had intentionally introduced a large concentration of the poison into the brewing coffee.  Someone had meant to hurt them, perhaps even kill them.

The police now had a homicide investigation on their hands.   It was the 13th largest mass arsenic poisoning in the nation's history.  They began to seek fingerprints and DNA samples from members.

Then on Friday, May 2, a substitute teacher, nurse, and member of the same church, Daniel Bondeson, 53, died after being taken into surgery at Cary Medical Center.  He'd apparently shot himself in the chest in his home in the neighboring town of Woodland.  Investigators were not sure if the two violent incidents were linked, or if the shooting was a suicide or accident, but they obtained a search warrant and entered Bondeson's home.

That Sunday, May 4, before the analysis of this second incident was released, Maine's governor and several state troopers attended an after-service reception to ensure that the incident was not repeated.   Bondeson, they knew, had not attended the fatal reception, and he was certainly not at this one.  His autopsy had not yet been done, but he was the chief suspect. Police seemed sure the coffee would now be safe.  It was.

At a news conference the following day, police announced that Bondeson had left behind a suicide note that contained "important information."   While the note itself remained the confidential property of the medical examiner's office (by Maine statute), a lawyer for the estate, Alan F. Harding, later indicated that Bondeson had described how he merely wanted to give the church group a "bellyache."  He had not intended to kill anyone and did not even realize it was arsenic that he had used, which indicated that the "homicide" might have been more along the lines of an accident.  At that time, 12 people were still in the hospital, three in critical condition, four in serious condition, and five in fair condition.  Three others had been released.

Bondeson was the son and grandson of potato farmers and a loner who served on the church's historical committee.   He operated the family farm with one of his brothers, Carl. Another brother, Paul, said that he'd seen Daniel several days after the poisoning and just before his suicide. While Daniel was his usual "reserved" self, Paul said,   he had not acted out of character.

So the situation might have been left at that: a man who had planned the prank had seen it go too far and had killed himself out of shame and remorse.   But that wasn't the end of it.  The police suspected that Bondeson had an accomplice—probably at least two and possibly more, all of whom were in the congregation.  By September, they believed they knew who this person or persons were, but had not yet filed charges.  State Police Col. Michael Sperry told the Blethen Maine Newspapers that information received from FBI profilers and out-of-state laboratories had bolstered the investigation, but he would not say whether the case was nearing its conclusion.  They had searched a home in Amesbury, Mass., where a relative of Bondeson had occasionally lived.  The motive now appeared to have been a long-held grudge about church policies and ideas for change.

As of November 2003, the case remained open and "very active." Police say they will solve it.



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