Woman puts cyanide in free gifts

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A 50-YEAR-OLD woman was arrested outside a Los Angeles post office as she tried to mail dozens of cyanide sachets disguised as promotional samples for a nutrition supplement.

Police said yesterday that a disaster was averted only thanks to the alertness of the public, a number of whom became alarmed when they saw the woman sitting in her car in rubber gloves, pouring white powder into sachets and preparing them for posting.

"Had this stuff gone into the mail, we would have had mass murder," Sheriff Sherman Block said, after the woman, Kathryn Schoonover, was behind bars.

The sachets of sodium cyanide were accompanied by a brochure for one of a variety of nutrition products sold either to boost energy or to promote weight loss. Most of the 100-odd envelopes were addressed to people in southern California, although some lived as far afield as Albany, New York.

Police said there was no obvious pattern to the intended victims.