Suspect Hunted In Fatal Tampering
RUNNEMEDE, N.J. (AP) _ Tests on a package of chicken noodle Cup-A-Soup could lead investigators to whoever laced the soup with the cyanide that killed a man, say authorities who have found no poison in hundreds of other boxes.
″Instead of chasing a criminal, we’re going to trace a weapon - in this case, cyanide. Cyanide is not as accessible as a gun,″ Dennis Wixted, Camden County first assistant prosecutor, said Thursday.
Representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FBI, the state medical examiner and the Camden County prosecutor’s office met today in Newark to decide which agency will do further tests on the contaminated soup.
Investigators hope the tests will show the type and origin of the cyanide that killed Louis J. Denber, 27.
The death was the fourth from product tampering this year, but the first from a food product since the wave of tamperings began when cyanide-filled Tylenol capsules killed seven people in the Chicago area in 1982.
The death has been classified as homicide and the tampering was believed to have been a random incident, Prosecutor Samuel Asbell said. However, one theory being pursued was that it was a retaliatory act.
″It could have been a grudge against Lipton, a grudge against the fellow, a grudge against the supermarket,″ Wixted said. ″We’ll have to decide what is right and eliminate the rest.″
Asbell described Denber as an easygoing individual, and said, ″He had no problems with his neighbors or his employer as far as we can tell.″
Denber, an electronics technician for RCA Corp. in Camden, went into convulsions Monday after drinking the soup. He had been on a liquid diet while recuperating from salmonella, but that illness, a form of food poisoning, was not a factor in the death, officials said.
After two sips, Denber decided the soup looked and tasted odd, and threw it in the sink. Seconds later, his fiancee Patricia Buhl ran screaming from their home as Denber collapsed in a coma. He died at a hospital two hours later.
Larry Hicks, a spokesman for Thomas J. Lipton Inc. of Englewood Cliffs, said the tampering appeared to have occurred after the product left the plant in Flemington and a distribution center in Philadelphia.
The box had been punctured and the envelope slit, authorities said.
Cyanide was found in the empty foil soup packet that the victim’s mother picked from a garbage can Tuesday and in a second unopened package from the box, Asbell said.
No poison was detected in hundreds of boxes of Cup-A-Soup with the same code number, 6-C-13-GGF, removed from shelves of the supermarket where Denber’s mother bought the soup Sunday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.
The FDA sent an inspector to the Flemington factory where the soup was made in March and to the Philadelphia warehouse, but found no leads.
Lipton removed the soup from its stores in suburban Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, but no general recall was issued. Hicks said that while there was no cause for alarm, worried consumers should return the boxes.
The Philadelphia wholesaler, Frankford-Quaker Grocery Co., said it had notified its Lipton customers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware of the death.
At the Shop ‘n’ Bag store where Denber’s soup was purchased, Vivian Hemmerly was one of many customers who brought back Cup-A-Soup boxes Thursday.
″This is a lovely store and I had no qualms about coming in, but I did switch to cans,″ she said. ″I’m appalled by it. This is a small town where everybody knows everybody.″
Bernadette Oswald, a neighbor of Denber’s in this blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia, talked about his death as she watched her grandchildren play outside her house.
″It could have happened to me,″ Mrs. Oswald said. ″I buy that stuff for my grandchildren. They love soup. It could have been anybody really.″
″What a way to go. You drink a lousy cup of soup and you’re dead,″ said Bob DePuy Jr., who lived across the quiet dead-end street from Denber, who was buried Thursday afternoon.
Other deaths from product tampering include that of Diane Elsroth, 23, of Peekskill, N.Y., who died in February after taking cyanide-tainted Tylenol.
Cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules were blamed in the June deaths of Sue Snow, 40, and Bruce Nickell, 52, who lived a few miles apart in Auburn, Wash.