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Newspaper owner poisoned with potentially lethal toxins

The co-owner of the Williams-Grand Canyon News was poisoned with what could have been lethal doses of thallium and other chemicals, according to leading toxicology and medical experts.

After experiencing prolonged, unexplained illness with severe symptoms earlier this year, Joseph Soldwedel sought medical treatment and forensic laboratory testing.

“The test findings are highly suggestive, but not confirmatory, of an intentional poisoning with an intent to kill,” said Dr. Ernest P. Chiodo, one of the nation’s leading experts in forensic toxicology who reviewed Soldwedel’s test results.

Thallium is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless heavy metal. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, after its discovery in the 1860s thallium was used as rat and ant poisoning. However, due to incidents of intentional poisoning of humans, the use of thallium in rodenticides and pesticides was banned in the United States in 1965. Today it is used in the manufacture of electronic components, semiconductor materials, optical lenses and other products, such as costume jewelry and artists’ paints. It can easily be purchased through the internet from other countries without restrictions. Thallium is still considered one of the more toxic compounds known to man.

“Thallium is known by the moniker of ‘inheritance powder’ and ‘poisoner’s poison,’” Dr. Chiodo wrote in a summary report of Soldwedel’s condition supplied to law enforcement and the Yavapai County Attorney.

Reviewing lab results from hair and fingernail samples which provide approximate dates of ingestion, Dr. Chiodo and other medical experts concluded that from approximately Nov. 29, 2016 through Dec. 27, 2016 the thallium levels in Soldwedel’s body were at 77 ug/kg (microgram per kilogram of a person’s body weight). This is more than 15 times higher than reference level, meaning normal levels for an average person in a particular living and working environment. Additional samples from February to March 2017 confirmed the presence of thallium at abnormal levels.

Additional blends of toxic chemicals were also found in Soldwedel’s body at dangerously high levels, including lithium, aluminum, barium and zinc.

Poisoned by ingestion

Doctors concluded that Soldwedel, 65, takes no medications that contain these heavy metals or other toxins, and had no known environmental or occupational exposures to thallium. Water tests conducted at Soldwedel’s places of residence showed no trace of toxic chemicals.

“The challenge with any poisoning case is it’s very hard and may be impossible to verify how the poisoning happened,” said Kaily Bissani, vice president and general manager for The Carlson Company, a lab that provides toxicology evaluation services worldwide.

“We tested the water from his residences and they were perfect,” Bissani said.

In Soldwedel’s case Bissani was confident about one thing, “The tests proved that Mr. Soldwedel’s levels were beyond environmental — at one point, more than 15 times the normal levels,” he said. “It’s poisoning. I can’t tell if it’s foul play, but it’s definitely poisoning. Other heavy metals in his body were also at poisonous levels.”

Dr. Hildegarde Staninger, RIET-1, of Integrative Health Systems, LLC is among the leading international scientists in the field of industrial toxicology. In her conclusions of Soldwedel’s test results she agreed the poisoning was not environmental. “The heavy metals are not caused by environmental factors, for there are significantly too high of values.” she wrote.

In her summary, Dr. Staninger explained that the high value heavy metal elements are ones that are found in “Catalytic Poisons” and if ingested and untreated will lead to strokes, heart attacks, liver and kidney failure, blood disorders such as leukemia and other similar diseases.

“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,” Dr. Staninger wrote. “The findings and conclusions of this report... clearly illustrates that Mr. Joseph E. Soldwedel was exposed to a poison through ingestion.”

Staninger told the Williams-Grand Canyon News, “Many seasoned poisoners that utilize this type of thallium-based poison use low doses over time in food or drinks, and then administer an elevated fatal dose. I believe Mr. Soldwedel’s food was being laced with the basis of heavy metals. Having 15 times the thallium reference level can kill you. I think he was very lucky. His will to live saved him.”

Risk and rumors

Acute thallium poisoning is primarily characterized by gastrointestinal, neurological, and dermatological symptoms. There are treatments for thallium toxicity, but no single antidote has been shown to be fully effective in severe toxicity.

“Your body cannot support those levels and you will get sick and be hospitalized,” Bissani said. “They have to be removed from the body through chelation — they won’t go away by themselves.” Chelation is the process of removing heavy metals from the blood through intravenous injections of a chelating or binding agent, a procedure Soldwedel has undergone several times since the discovery of the poisons.

“The procedures are not comfortable,” Soldwedel said. “Nothing about this entire situation is comfortable. It’s frightening to think that someone wants to see you dead. I can’t even fathom that.”

While the newspaper owner has a good idea of who might be behind the possible deliberate poisonings, he does not want to make that information public until police and the county attorney have finished their review and potential charges have been filed or arrests made. He did say that his son, daughter and lone sibling [sister] are in no way involved.

“Our newspapers serve small communities,” Soldwedel continued. “I felt it was important to let people know what was happening to me so rumors can be squashed. The physical, psychological and neurological impacts of what I believe has been a systematic, intentional poisoning have taken a toll on me.”

“The question is, where is this [thallium poisoning] coming from?” Dr. Chiodo said. “Why does a gentleman who is a media executive have these kinds of elevated levels? You should have almost no level of thallium in your body, or at least be below the reference level.”

“It is serious enough that I think someone with police powers has to investigate this,” Dr. Chiodo said. “There is enough suspicion, given the finding of these levels.”

In his report he concluded, “...there is a strong possibility that Mr. Soldwedel has been intentionally poisoned with thallium. I strongly urge an immediate investigation by law enforcement officials concerning sources of intentional poisoning of Mr. Soldwedel with thallium.”

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