As reported by The Hartford Advocate, June 9, 2005.

Your Last Supper

Want to Use Rat Poison to Kill Someone? Well, Its Tougher Than You Think

By Meir Rinde

On the rare occasions when one American tries to poison another, they sometimes use a well-known household product in a familiar yellow box: d-Con Mouse Prufe II. The most recent such poisoning allegedly occurred in East Hartford. The accused poisoner is Adaline Colon, 45, a petite Puerto Rico native who works as a certified nursing assistant at a Glastonbury nursing home.

On the morning of May 19, Colon had an argument with her boyfriend Carlos Medina, 41, in the apartment they share on Brown Street, police said. After the argument, Medina ate breakfast and became violently ill. He called 911 and an ambulance took him to the hospital, where his stomach was pumped.

Investigators said they found a "foreign substance" in Medina's eggs and coffee. Police arrested Colon, who is described in court documents as a mother with a seventh grade education.

Officers seized several items from the apartment: a frying pan "with residue," a bowl and a plastic container with traces of scrambled eggs, a cup with some coffee and green residue at the bottom, a phone cord, fingernail scrapings from Colon and an open box of d-Con.

The next day Colon was in court on charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with an emergency call. She was released on $3,000 bail and a restraining order was later imposed, barring her from contact with Medina. Police are waiting for a toxicology report.

Colon and Medina did not return a phone message, and no one was at their apartment on a recent afternoon. A neighbor said he saw Medina come out of the apartment the day of the alleged poisoning and sit on the building's wooden stoop, waiting for the ambulance.

"People have been asking me, 'What's that I read in the paper about Brown Street?'" said the man, who would not give his name.

d-Con is not the most effective poisons for killing humans, but it can make people sick and is readily available at stores like Home Depot. Countless half-full boxes are hiding under kitchen sinks or in the back of tool closets, forgotten until a bored pet or unwatched infant gets into them.

Millions of dangerous exposures are called into poison control centers every year, but the majority are unintentional. In 2003, just 0.4 percent, or 8,641 calls, were classed as malicious poisonings, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported.

Poisonings are rare in part because they're difficult to carry out, said Bernard Sangalli, director of the Connecticut Poison Control Center at UConn Health Center in Farmington. Notwithstanding cases like the dioxin poisoning that scarred Viktor Yushchenko's face during the Ukrainian presidential campaign last year, such incidents are also not particularly quick or dramatic, Sangalli said.

"People tend to think it's like on television, where somebody takes something internally and they are immediately downed," he said. But that's highly unusual. "It's not that easy to poison someone, to get access to certain things.

"It's rare to see the more typical poisons that people tend to know about, like cyanide and strychnine, the old classic poisons. They're not that accessible unless you're in a laboratory or industrial setting," he said.

From 1990 to 1999, only 346 or 1.9 percent of reported homicides in the U.S. were poisonings, according to a report in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

But the FBI analysts also said the actual number was probably higher. They wondered "if more of these types of homicides remained undetected because of the many holes in the investigative net through which the homicidal poisoner can slip."

They give the example of a pneumonia death reclassified as a homicide after the widow collected insurance on her late husband. Suspicious police exhumed his body, and it tested positive for the herbicide paraquat. Consumed in large amounts for a few days, paraquat injures the heart, causes liver and kidney failure, scars the lungs and leads to fatal respiratory problems.

Feeding someone paraquat for days seems like a pain in the neck; the impatient murderer might prefer cyanide, which kills in one whiff, though arranging that whiff brings its own difficulties and would appear suspicious. Poison in forms like the hydrogen cyanide used at Nazi concentration camps, kill by a kind of asphyxiation, blocking the body from processing oxygen.

Strychnine is a rodenticide, but a very harsh one. Within minutes of ingesting the bitter substance, victims begin convulsing, and they die when their breathing shuts down.

d-Con, by contrast, is a slow killer. The victim would have to eat a lot of the stuff, a mix of grains and an anti-coagulant called brodifacoum. The chemical is a superwarfarin, a class of substances that thin the blood. They're used medicinally, and they kill mice by causing internal hemorrhaging.

There were more than 16,000 superwarfarin exposure reports in 2003, mostly in children under 6 years old. Victims become ill a day or two after eating d-Con, but can usually be treated with blood transfusions or vitamin K, which enables blood clotting and is blocked from working by brodifacoum.

Fatalities are so rare it's unclear what a lethal dose would be. The International Programme on Chemical Safety reports a case of a psychotic pregnant woman who survived after eating 30 boxes of rat poison -- 3.3 pounds, containing some 75 milligrams of brodifacoum -- though she suffered severe hemorrhaging and a spontaneous abortion.

In 2003 there were two reported brodifacoum deaths, including one of a 46-year-old man that was classed as malicious. He suffered stomach pain, a headache and vomiting, and died after his brain started bleeding.

A major brodifacoum poisoning case ended last month when a Wisconsin judge dismissed attempted homicide charges against a 15-year-old accused of poisoning his mother, stepfather and 3-year-old stepsister. The stepfather found blue-green crystals in his coffee and became suspicious when the boy -- who had threatened to kill his family -- was not getting sick like the rest of the family. The teen later told police he poisoned juice, milk, spaghetti, coffee and meat.

In the East Hartford incident, Medina fell seriously ill after eating and drinking his tainted meal, police said. That could mean he'd already been consuming d-Con for a few days, or that his immediate illness was caused by something else. "You wouldn't expect a sudden onset," Sangalli said. "It takes a day and a half or two days or longer. It has to be given over a period time, and has to be titrated to the right dose and time period. It's possible but not typical."

Medina himself has apparently already decided he was not poisoned, or that his girlfriend's action was forgivable. Their neighbor said that despite the restraining order, the couple is still living together.

The neighbor also said he had never heard the couple fight, or seen evidence of problems between them other than the alleged poisoning. But he was still surprised Medina stayed with Colon.

"I wouldn't do that," he said. "Who knows what could happen while you're asleep at night?"