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German man suspected of killing 21 colleagues in poisoned sandwich plot, police say

Employee caught on video putting powder in lunchbox - prompting investigation into more than 20 deaths at company since 2000

Jane Dalton
Friday 29 June 2018 17:11 BST
The worker found powder on his sandwich
The worker found powder on his sandwich (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A German worker was allegedly caught on camera poisoning a colleague’s lunch – prompting authorities to investigate the deaths of 21 other employees.

Police have arrested a 56-year-old man on suspicion of trying to kill his colleague at ARI Armaturen, which makes industrial components such as valves, in the town of Schloss Holte-Stukenbrock.

More than 20 employees have died before retirement since the turn of the millennium, many of them from heart attacks – which could potentially have been brought on by heavy metal poisoning.

The suspect had been seen on a security camera opening a colleague’s lunchbox and putting a substance on the sandwich inside, police said in a statement.

The colleague had noticed something smeared on his lunch and notified his managers, who in turn called police.

Video footage at the company in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia showed the suspect spreading a powdery substance on the food.

A small bottle of a similar substance was found in the suspect’s bag when he was arrested.

Tests by the regional criminal office indicated the substance on the bread was toxic lead acetate, a highly toxic and nearly tasteless substance, and there was enough of it to cause severe organ damage, authorities said.

Fire brigade experts found mercury, lead and cadmium in the suspect’s apartment in Bielefeld.

Police said the man had “long tried to produce toxic substances, including heavy metal compounds” using substances in his home.

Authorities broadened the investigation after other cases of illness at the company in recent years emerged. Two employees are in a coma and another man is on dialysis.

Officials are also now re-examining all deaths connected to the metal fittings company since 2000 – in particular, 21 former employees who died before retirement.

“There were a strikingly high number of heart attacks and cancers among the death cases in the company,” police said.

Experts say heavy metal poisoning could have been the cause of the illnesses that led to the deaths.

The suspect’s motive was not clear because he refused to answer questions, officers said.

They plan to question family members and doctors who treated the employees affected, as well as reviewing medical records. A 15-member murder team is considering exhuming the bodies as part of the probe, Deutsche Welle reported.

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