After arresting a factory worker for attempted murder and finding toxic chemicals in his home, German police are now investigating the premature deaths of 21 of his colleagues over the span of two decades to see if there is a link.
In May, a 56-year-old man, known only as Klaus O right now, was arrested for attempted murder after surveillance video at his place of work, the metal fittings manufacturer ARI Armaturen in Schloss Holte-Stukenbrock, Germany, caught him opening up a 26-year-old co-worker's lunchbox and pouring a strange powder directly onto his sandwich, according to Bild.
After he was taken into custody, police found a small bottle filled with a "powdery substance" in his bag, reported CNN.
Authorities later identified the suspicious powder as highly toxic lead acetate, which can severely damage a person's organs and cause death.
A University of Bonn spokesperson told Bild that lead poisoning is a "very unusual case" because it is hard to detect since the symptoms displayed by affected people — like paralysis, shaking, dizziness, and gum staining — are common among many other illnesses.
ARI Armaturen's personnel manager, Tilo Blechinger, said Klaus O had been working for the company, which employs about 700 people, for 38 years and was "noticeably inconspicuous."
Blechinger also said that, initially, the company thought what they saw on the surveillance video was some kind of bad joke among the two colleagues and not an attempt to kill the man.
When police searched Klaus O's apartment, they found several other toxic substances, including mercury, lead, and cadmium. Some of these chemicals reportedly taste and smell sweet, and would not be too noticeable if added to food.
Now, police want to find out if a string of ARI Armaturen employee deaths, dating back to the year 2000, were due to heavy metal poisoning. Among these deaths were a "remarkably high number of heart attacks and cancers," noted CBS News.
German officials in Bielefeld have even formed a 15-member homicide squad to review medical records and question family members and medical professionals who treated these 21 individuals to see if there is a chance that poisoning led to their deaths. They may also exhume the bodies if necessary.
Additionally, Deutsche Welle revealed that there are three other people employed by ARI Armaturen who are currently dealing with life-threatening medical issues, which may be related to poisoning. Two of the people are in comas and the other one, a man, is on dialysis.