December 11, 2017

The Story of an Arizona Newspaper Publisher Who Was Probably Intentionally Poisoned by Someone Over Several Months


Thallium, because I’m not googling “rat poison” to find a better picture for you

There’s no smooth way to give you this lede: Arizona police are investigating what appears to be the intentional poisoning of a local newspaper publisher, after he was found with fifteen times the normal level of thallium in his system — an amount that could be fatal.

If you’re kicking yourself for not paying more attention in chemistry class, thallium is a soft, gray, metallic element, often used to make costume jewelry, paint, and optical lenses. But what thallium used to be used for? Rat poison.

As Richard Haddad reports in Prescott’s Daily Courier, the paper’s co-ower and co-publisher Joseph Soldwedel went to the doctor around a year ago, feeling like shit. After bloodwork and other laboratory tests were performed, lethal levels of thallium, which is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, were found in Soldwedel’s system, in addition to “dangerously high levels” of other toxic metals including zinc, barium, and lithium. The water at his houses was checked for any trace of these metals, as were all medications he might’ve been taking. Haddad quotes Dr. Hildegarde Staninger (one of the top international scientists in industrial toxicology, and the preeminent researcher in the field of cool scientist names) that the high levels were “not caused by environmental factors, for there are significantly too high of values.”

Staninger continued:

“These elements are specifically at an extremely elevated level, which are indicative of a catalyst poisoning through ingestion… and show a particular time frame for the exposure, which was after eating specific foods…. The findings and conclusions of this report… clearly illustrates that Mr. Joseph E. Soldwedel was exposed to a poison through ingestion.”

Staninger’s report also details that untreated poisoning by these minerals could lead to “strokes, heart attacks, liver and kidney failure, blood disorders such as leukemia and other similar diseases.”

Per a report by Kathleen Joyce over at Fox News, the Prescott police are investigating the incident as a criminal matter.

Making the whole thing even weirder? Soldwedel says he has a “good idea” who might’ve tried to slowly murder him via rat poison. And while he won’t air his suspicions until the authorities have finished their review, Haddad reports that Soldwedel “did say that his son, daughter and lone sibling [sister] are in no way involved.” Phew.

Finally, at the New York Daily News Jessica Chia added one more interesting wrinkle to the story: Soldwedel started The Daily Courier with his family “to investigate law enforcement in Yuma County after his wife was arrested in 2000” following a house search that turned up meth, pot, and other drug paraphernalia.



Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.