Maine Community Stunned in Poisoning Case
May. 11, 2003
NEW SWEDEN, Maine (AP) _ The Bondeson family has been part of New Sweden since the town was started, with Swedish immigrant Mons Bondeson purchasing a plot of land in 1871, the year that Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church was founded.
His descendants farmed the land, served in leadership positions at the church and recently donated a communion table.
Now one of them, Daniel Bondeson, is at the center of an investigation into the poisonings that killed one member of the church and sickened 15 others who drank arsenic-laced coffee at a reception after a Sunday service.
State police said last week that Daniel Bondeson was responsible for the poisonings and that ``important information'' was contained in a suicide note found in his home, which prompted police to continue their investigation. The state medical examiner's office hasn't revealed the contents of the note.
Claire Hodgkins said it's hard to believe the neighbor who dropped off a load of free kindling for her last fall could have done it.
``It's not the Danny we know,'' she said from her farmhouse a half-mile from Bondeson's home. ``He was helpful and did nice things.''
A wave of violent illness swept through a group of church members on April 27, killing a 78-year-old usher and sickening others.
Authorities announced that the illness was a result of arsenic poisoning, and then they shocked residents by saying the poisoning was intentional, not an accident possibly involving a household chemical.
Days later, Bondeson committed suicide.
Investigators are looking into the possibility that others were involved, leaving residents wondering what really happened.
``I'd like some answers,'' said Daniel's nephew, Sven Bondeson, who lives in nearby Woodland. ``It's just bizarre. As someone else put it, it's like living in the middle of an Agatha Christie novel.''
Daniel Bondeson, 53, was the great-great grandson of Mons Bondeson, who came to the United States with his wife Bengta from Skane, Sweden, settling on land near the site of the farmhouse where Daniel lived.
Daniel Bondeson, one of six children, was known as a quiet boy but he was not a recluse. He had friends and engaged in social activities, said Gloria Seigars, his English teacher at Caribou High School.
He attended the University of Maine at Presque Isle, earning a degree in physical education in 1976. Like his father, he was an avid cross-country skier, even going to Sweden to race. He ran the Boston Marathon several times and was a familiar face at local road races.
Bondeson served as a ski coach in Caribou and enjoyed high school sports, school officials said. He worked as a substitute teacher in the 1980s and 1990s while helping out on the family farm.
Recently, since caring for his father until the older man's death, Bondeson had been living alone at the farm and working the evening shift as a certified nursing assistant at the Caribou Nursing Home. He was always on time and never called in sick.
David Ouellette, principal at Caribou High School, sat with him during school lunch, a week before the poisonings. ``We talked about skiing, just like we always do,'' he said.
But two colleagues who worked side by side with him for a year at the nursing home knew little about him. One knew he was a substitute teacher only because her daughter had him for class.
But Seigars said he was not a misfit and that she never had worries about him.
``He was not strange. He was not one of those strange ones who nurse grudges or worry about things,'' she said.
Investigators looking for a motive are looking at internal squabbles.
Church members say there have been differences over construction of a basketball court, whether the church should be called Gustaf Adolph or simply ``G.A.'' and the way in which communion is conducted. The communion table donated by the Bondeson family sat unused for several weeks.
But Hans Arneson, associate bishop of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said similar disagreements exist in all churches.
``We all have disagreements about any number of things but violence is not an appropriate response,'' he said. ``People who are well _ emotionally, spiritually and mentally _ don't lace coffee with arsenic.''
The Bondeson family has not yet been able to have a funeral for Daniel Bondeson because of fear of a media circus, and they are still waiting for an explanation of what happened.
``We don't know yet what happened. We don't know what the story is. Right now, it's just a big question mark,'' said Sven Bondeson.