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How Investigators Unraveled The Latest Ricin Case

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AP Photo

In another twist, the FBI alleged that a shared computer in the couples' home was used to search for information on the recent case in Mississippi where a man was arrested for allegedly mailing ricin-laced letters to Obama and other officials and trying to frame a rival for it.

Richardson was arrested in Mount Pleasant, Texas, Friday afternoon and made her initial court appearance soon after, according to a statement from Davilyn Walston, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for Texas' Eastern District. She faces up to 10 years in federal prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.

In an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint against Richardson, FBI Special Agent James Spiropoulos said the letters sent to Obama, Bloomberg, and Glaze all "tested positive for ricin."

Spiropoulos said the letters to Bloomberg and Glaze contained the following message (sic throughout):

"You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face. The right to bear arms is my constitutional God given right and I will excersice that right til the day I die. whats in the letter is nothing compared to what ive got planned for you."

The letter to Obama allegedly contained slightly different text (again, sic throughout):

"You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns.Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face.I served in the united states army and because your muslim ass will probly never be able to retire.i will have to work until I take my last breath.I deserve better and so do my wife and kiddos.I will take care of this myself and make sure you wont be runnin this country in the ground any further. What's in this letter is nothing compared to what ive got in store for you mr president.

No one was seriously injured by the letters, which were all received from May 24 through May 30.

According to Spiropoulos, postal inspectors determined the letter sent to Bloomberg, which was the first to reach its destination, was mailed from the vicinity of Texarkana, Texas, and New Boston, Texas. Spiropoulos said Richardson, who resides in New Boston with her husband and children, met with federal investigators on May 30 to discuss her husband, Nathaniel.

"Shannon told agents she believed Nathaniel was responsible for mailing the recent letters containing ricin that were sent to President Obama and New York City Mayor Bloomberg," Spiropoulos said in the affidavit.

Shannon Richardson also gave investigators a book of stamps. Subsequent tests determined the stamps on the letters sent to Bloomberg, Obama, and Glaze all came from that book. She also said she had a "fear of being poisoned" by Nathaniel and had noticed suspicious tupperware containers and materials among her husband's possessions.

After speaking with Shannon Richardson, federal investigators questioned Nathaniel at the Red River Army Depot, where he worked. Spiropoulos said he "denied involvement and claimed that Shannon wished to end their marriage and leave him." Nathaniel also accused his wife of trying to frame him.

"Richardson alleged that Shannon was responsible for intentionally misleading investigators when Shannon was in fact responsible," Spiropoulos said in the affidavit.

Nathaniel subsequently allowed his car to be searched. According to Spiropoulos' affidavit that search turned up "12 small brown beans in the trunk of the vehicle." Those beans were later determined to be castor beans, which are used to produce ricin. When she was being questioned, Shannon Richardson gave investigators permission to search the couples' home.

Spiropoulos said Shannon Richardson was "re-interviewed" on May 31 and "it was determined that she had been deceptive via a polygraph examination regarding her involvement in sending the letters." When investigators made Shannon aware of the polygraph results, Spiropoulos said she told them she "had been aware" her husband sent the letters and, as a result, "took deliberate steps to ensure that he would be apprehended" including placing castor beans near a golf cart he had been working on. Spiropoulos said subsequent searches did not turn up traces of ricin in the locations Shannon said she had placed the beans.

Inside the Richardsons' home, Spiropoulos said investigators found incriminating material including a box containing "20-30 beans" that were labeled as castor beans, "three or more syringes containing an unknown liquid," "four or more needles," "a bag containing approximately one teaspoon of an orange-brown unidentified substance," a cup with "milky, white liquid," and an "SD data storage card." According to Spiropoulos' affidavit, many of the items taken from the home tested positive for ricin.

Spiropoulos said searches of the laptop turned over to federal investigators by the Richardsons contained "search terms" relating to ricin and its production. There were also allegedly searches pertaining to a case from earlier this year where a Mississippi man was arrested for allegedly mailing ricin-tainted letters to Obama and other officials in an attempt to frame a rival.

According to the affidavit, further analysis of the computers in the Richardsons' home revealed online orders for castor beans and other materials used to make ricin. Spiropoulos said analysts also found files titled "Obama.docx" and "muslimbastard.docx" were saved onto a storage device from the "pink Dell laptop that both Shannon and Nathaniel Richardson acknowledge belongs to and is used exclusively by Shannon Richardson." Investigators also allegedly determined attempts were made to print those files on the day the ricin-laced letters were postmarked and that Nathaniel Richardson was at work during this time. Spiropoulos said those two documents and another one, which was entitled "guns.docx" were later found on the SD card that was in the box with the castor beans and syringes.

Shannon Richardson was questioned again Thursday, Spiropoulos said. According to his affidavit at that point she confessed to receiving the syringes and lye in the mail, printing mailing labels for the three letters, and mailing them "knowing that they contained ricin." Spiropoulos said Shannon still denied ordering the castor beans and claimed Nathaniel "typed the letter and made her print and mail them."

Neither Nathaniel or Shannon Richardson responded to requests for comment from TPM Friday. The Dallas FBI also did not respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, TPM discovered Shannon Richardson's Facebook profile was no longer on the site. Nathaniel Richardson changed his profile photo on Facebook from one that showed him with his wife to a picture of him alone.

Read Spiropoulos' full affidavit below.

Shannon Guess Affidavit

About The Author

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Hunter Walker is a national affairs reporter for TPM. He came to the site in 2013 from the New York Observer. He has also written for New York Magazine, Gawker, the Village Voice, Forbes, The Daily, and Deadspin. He can be reached at hunter@talkingpointsmemo.com