Elderly Woman Poisons Neighbors With Homemade Ricin At Senior Living Facility

Female flowers of castorbean / castor-oil-plant (Ricinus communis). A woman in Vermont made ricin and tested it on neighbors at a retirement community. Getty Images

A Vermont resident of a retirement community made ricin and tested the poison on her neighbors by putting it in their foods and drinks over a period of weeks, according to investigators.

Betty Miller, 70, told an FBI agent that she wanted to "injure herself" and was testing the effectiveness of the deadly toxin on other residents living in West Robin senior living facility in Shelburne, Vermont, according to a criminal complaint that was filed in federal court on Thursday, the Burlington Free Press reported.

Miller said she harvested 30 to 40 castor beans from plants growing on Wake Robin's property and made 2 to 3 tablespoons of ricin twice in her kitchen, according to the complaint. She exposed other residents to the ricin on at least three occasions, the complaint said.

Authorities were called to the senior facility on Tuesday after Miller told healthcare providers had made the ricin and placed it in other residents' food and beverages, according to the complaint.

The FBI and the Vermont Department of Health both interviewed Miller Tuesday evening at the University Vermont Medical Center, federal law enforcement said in a statement. The Health Department said they became aware on Friday of one person who most likely fell ill with ricin poisoning but said no one is currently sick.

"We have received assurances from the VT Department of Health and the FBI that no one's health is at risk," Wake Robin President and CEO Patrick McKee said in the statement. "The resident of the apartment in question is now involved with the criminal justice system and will not be returning to Wake Robin."

Investigators found a pill bottle half filled with powder labeled as ricin in a basket in the kitchen cabinet of Miller's apartment, along with other pill bottles labeled as "apple seed," "cherry seed" and "yew seed," the complaint said. The powder tested positive for ricin.

Miller was placed in custody and is scheduled to be in court again on Wednesday. She could be charged with unregistered possession of ricin and if convicted could face up to five years in prison, according to federal law enforcement authorities.

If inhaled, ricin causes difficulty breathing and other symptoms like tightness in chest and nausea. If the deadly drug is ingested, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, and seizures. Initial symptoms of ricin poisoning are most likely to occur within four to 10 hours of exposure.