When 94 year old Ottilie Lundgren of rural Oxford, Connecticut, died on November 21st, the mystery of how she contracted inhalation anthrax became even more of a matter of public health concern than it already was. Now there was a victim, one with no obvious contact with the federal government or others who had been targeted by terrorists, who was dead. A murder victim, as sure as she had been shot through the head, with no motive, no apparent contact with her killer, and no trace of the murder weapon.
When I used to read mystery stories, those were the three things needed to prove that a murder had actually taken place: motive, opportunity and weapon. Without these, the police could never hope for a solution to the crime. Now in a real life setting, we have an absence of all three of these, yet we have a murder victim. The answer to how this could happen is prompting one of the most significant crime scene searches in history.
An extensive search of the victim’s home has turned up absolutely no evidence of how she became exposed to anthrax… let alone inhalation anthrax. To catch this disease, you have to inhale the spores. As far as the evidence has shown, so far, there weren’t even any spores, let alone ones to be inhaled.
Investigators have checked her mail, her house, her clothing, her garbage and even her church… literally every aspect of her life has been searched, analyzed, evaluated, and inspected. And still no results that would lead one to know where the spores came from, or from whom, or how she inhaled them. No motive, no weapon, no opportunity… but yet a murder.
What impact does this have on public health? Why is this death of such concern to the CDC, the FBI and other agencies who are undertaking the investigation. Consider this: If a little old lady in Connecticut can catch inhalation anthrax, how can we be sure that others in the public don’t become exposed to it as well. Unless we find how she came in contact with the spores, we are limited in what we can do to protect others from her fate.
It is for this reason that the general public should be aware of the possibility of exposure. Investigators feel that the contact had to have been through the U.S. Mail, since the strain of anthrax was the same as that found in letters to Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. Pat Leahy. We know that their offices were exposed to the spores through letters. Logic tells us, therefore, that Mrs. Lundgren was also. What can we do to protect ourselves from possible tainted mail. The U.S. Postal Service offers several suggestions on a post card sent to every address in the United States. These are reprinted here for your information and as a reminder of the proper steps to be taken.