The FBI has arrested a 70-year-old Wake Robin resident on charges she tried to poison other residents at the high–end retirement center in Shelburne.
Betty Miller is charged with possession of an unregistered biological agent, newly unsealed federal court records show.
The FBI said Miller told investigators and health care personnel at the UVM Medical Center this week that she attempted to poison other residents using homemade ricin, “which she placed in multiple servings of other residents’ food and beverages over a period of weeks,” Special Agent Mark Emmons said in his six-page complaint.
She is due to appear before Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy for a preliminary hearing at 3 this afternoon (Friday) in U.S. District Court in Burlington. She will hear the charge against her, but no plea is expected.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says they want her jailed because “Ms. Miller presents a danger to the community that cannot be addressed with release conditions.” Prosecutors plan to ask for a 3-day continuance on today’s hearing “to collect further information that may bear on the detention hearing.” In the meantime Miller should be held, they maintain.
Miller was held at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility on Thursday afternoon, but the public was never notified until Conroy agreed to unseal the documents on Friday morning at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
After she made her comments at the UVM Medical Center, Miller’s car was seized and taken to the Vermont State Police impound lot in Williston.
A subsequent search of her residence found various pill bottles, including one marked “Ricin” that was half-full of a yellowish/white powder, Emmons wrote.
The powder later tested positive as ricin, he said.
Investigators also found a laptop computer and a sheet of instructions for making ricin that appeared to have been printed from the internet.
The FBI agents said they interviewed Miller at the UVM Medical Center Tuesday evening and learned from her that she became interested in plant-based poisons during the past summer, Emmons said.
Miller reported she “harvested 30-40 castor beans from plants growing on the property at Wake Robin,” Emmons wrote. He said Miller indicated she generated between 2 and 3 tablespoons of ricin on two occasions in the kitchen at her residence.
“Miller stated she decided to test the effectiveness of the ricin on other residents of Wake Robin,” the FBI agent wrote.
“On at least three occasions, Miller exposed other residents to the ricin she had produced by placing it on food and/or beverages she expected them to ingest,” he wrote.
“Ms. Miller indicated her goal was to injure herself, but she wanted to test the effectiveness of the ricin on others,” Emmons wrote.
Wake Robin officials have declined comment since the incident was reported.
There are no other known reports of anybody else at Wake Robin having any kind of symptoms.
The Shelburne Fire and Police Departments and the State Hazardous Materials response team responded to the retirement complex on Tuesday after Wake Robin officials were alerted about Miller being treated at the hospital, officials said.
The government in its request to have Miller detained says Miller is a threat. Prosecutors maintain her crime was carefully planned. “She researched plant-based toxins and prepared at least one extremely dangerous substance in the quiet comfort of her apartment. She relied on instructions from the internet and used, at least in part, natural substances to make her poison. By her own admission, she administered those substances to other residents in order to test their efficacy. While she has indicated her ultimate intent was to hurt herself, she demonstrated a callous disregard for the lives of others in the process,” Eugenia A.P. Cowles, first assistant U.S. Attorney wrote.
Cowles noted that in a 2010 Congressional Research Service report, ricin is “a potent plant toxin found in the seeds of the castor plant” which “works by blocking cell protein synthesis, which results in cell death. This cell death can lead to organ failure and death.”
Cowles goes on to note, “based on the information currently available, it appears even the most stringent of release conditions would not ensure Ms. Miller does not prepare further dangerous substances and/or attempt to harm those around her. Ms. Miller indicated in her interview with law enforcement both an intent to harm herself and a willingness to hurt others in the process of doing so. Absent further information about her mental state and present intentions, the Court cannot create conditions adequate to protect Ms. Miller and those around her from harm.”