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1940s / Oregon Poisoned Eggs Accident - 1942
On Wednesday, November 18, 1942 a horrible mistake killed 47 patients at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem--a facility housing those afflicted with mental illnesses. An evening meal of scrambled eggs was being prepared by the two-person kitchen crew. The cooking staff had been much larger, but the manpower demands of the Second World War had reduced it to just head cook Mary O'Hare and her male assistant A.B. McKillop. Against hospital policy, McKillop designated a trusted patient, 27-year-old George A. Nosen, to go to a downstairs storage room to get a scoopful of powdered milk to add to the frozen egg yolks. Nosen entered the wrong room and brought back a six-pound scoop of roach poison from an unmarked bin. The roach poison contained huge amounts of sodium fluoride. In very tiny amounts, sodium fluoride is harmless. It is found in most toothpastes in minuscule amounts to strengthen teeth. However, even an amount as small as an aspirin can be deadly to a human. Within a short time of the eggs being served, patients became violently ill, some vomiting blood. By midnight 30 patients had died. The death toll eventually rose to 47. About 460 patients in total suffered some ill effects. McKillop quickly suspected something had gone terribly amiss because of the powdered milk. This was confirmed when Nosen showed him the bin where it had come from. Investigators were perplexed as the kitchen staff initially reported that nothing outside the norm had happened in preparing the meal. Beyond the hospital theories abounded about what may have caused the deaths. Some people blamed them on a deliberate act of malice by a homicidal patient. Others thought it was an extreme case of salmonella due to improper food storage. Still others thought it might be war-related sabotage as the frozen egg yolks were the same type that were being sent overseas to feed American troops. Eventually McKillop's conscience bothered him and he told the truth about Nosen mistaking the roach poison for powdered milk. McKillop wanted to be held solely responsible for the mishap, but he, O'Hare and Nosen were all arrested. They were never charged as a Grand Jury ruled the incident to have been merely a tragic accident--one that killed nearly four dozen innocent patients. Nosen remained an inmate at the hospital--where he was looked upon as a pariah--until his death in 1983 at age 68. He suffered a fatal heart attack while scuffling with a 75-year-old patient.