In October of 1987, the friends and family of 43-year-old Patsy Bolton Wright mourned her tragic and unexpected death. Her daughter, Leslie, was shocked when she heard the news:
"You would never expect that to happen... she was so alive, she was so healthy, there was nothing wrong with her, and when it happened, you're just in awe because you would never ever have expected that to happen to her."
Eight days after Patsy's memorial service, a routine autopsy was performed. The lab technician checked for 56,000 different foreign substances in Patsy's blood samples. Suddenly the machine showed a violent positive reaction. Within seconds, the substance was identified: strychnine. Because of its horrible side effects, strychnine poisoning is considered an unusually cruel way to die. Death by strychnine is also very rare. In the death of Patsy Wright, the Arlington, Texas, authorities faced a puzzling question: How had this dangerous poison entered Patsy's bloodstream?
The morning of Patsy's death, a frantic phone call woke up Steve and Sally Horning. The caller was Sally's sister, Patsy Wright. Patsy told her sister that she took some cold medicine and was feeling nauseous. She then collapsed while still on the phone. Fearing for her sister's safety, Sally and her husband drove to Patsy's house:
"We got to the house and went to the front door. And of course, the door was locked and we couldn't get in. When we got in, she was in the bedroom. She just looked like she had kind of fainted. And so I thought, that's what had happened. And so we tried to get her up, and that didn't work."
Sally's husband Steve began mouth to mouth resuscitation:
"During that, a lot of green fluid came up from her, and I would continually spit that out onto the bed, or there was a towel there as I remember. Sometime after that, the medics came."
But the medics were unable to save her and Patsy died shortly after. At first no one suspected foul play. But, in her phone call, Patsy had mentioned taking cold medicine, which was later found to contain huge amounts of strychnine. Authorities ruled out product tampering or suicide.
Patsy Wright seemed to have everything to live for. She had two children to whom she was very close. Patsy and her sister, Sally, were successful businesswomen. They owned two wax museums worth millions. Also, Patsy had just bought three quarter horses and planned to train them herself.
Sergeant Jay Gustafson of the Arlington police began to investigate Patsy's death as a murder. He had two clues which made him think that the killer was probably someone Patsy knew very well. First, the burglar alarm had not been set on the night she died. Second, only those close to Patsy knew she had a habit of taking nighttime cold medicine before bed. The first people Sergeant Gustafson questioned were Patsy's sister and brother in law.
The Sergeant looked for a motive. Patsy's wealth came from the two wax museums she owned with Sally. Not only were the museums tourist attractions, they were also centers of social life in their respective towns. When Patsy died, the museums were inherited by Sally, and her husband, Steve:
"We as family members were being asked questions that you never even think you're ever going to be asked."
Authorities felt that if Steve had poisoned Patsy, he would not have used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to try to save her, taking potentially deadly liquid into his own mouth.
Steve and Sally Horning, along with other family members, voluntarily took polygraph tests. All of them passed.
Patsy's ex-husband, Robert Cox, was also questioned by Sergeant Gustafson:
"He was offered a polygraph test, the same as several others that I had interviewed and taken statements from and he refused to take the polygraph test."
Patsy had obtained a restraining order against Cox during their separation because she claimed he was harassing her. But Robert Cox maintained his innocence and there was no evidence to suggest he was guilty.
On the night she died, it appeared that someone had been with Patsy. Next to her bed were two empty dinner plates on a tray. Could there have been an unknown visitor that night, intimate enough to know Patsy's personal habits and to share a late-night dinner with her?
The strychnine that killed Patsy was in a pure powder form, the most concentrated type of the poison available. Very few outlets sell strychnine and all sales are controlled by the federal government. Authorities hope that someone will remember a suspicious sale around the time of Patsy's death.