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Deadly Ricin Discovered in Vegas Hotel *UPDATED*

UPDATE, 3/02/08

(Post date and time have been changed to bump this entry to the top of the blog’s main page.)

An article published today in the Salt Lake Tribune has new information about Roger Von Bergendorff, the man currently in a coma in a Vegas hospital after possible exposure to ricin. While it still isn’t clear that he is the same Bergendorff whose award-winning artwork was featured on the covers of science fiction novels and possibly even magazines (link may not be safe for work) he is described as a “57-year-old graphic designer” who moved to Las Vegas from Utah over a year ago, allegedly for a job in his field.

Police in Salt Lake are investigating the Riverton-area home Bergendorff shared with cousin Tom Tholen in 2005 and 2006 and a nearby camper where Bergendorff lived after moving out of the Tholen residence. The owner of the camper, John Walster, told the Tribune that Bergendorff was basically a nice guy who could sometimes flip and become “vindictive” towards others. While Walster was aware that Bergendorff may have owned a handgun, he never saw the graphic designer behave in a violent manner.

Bergendorff was apparently a loner in while living in Utah and continued his asocial ways in Vegas, tending to his pets and minding his own business. He reportedly told John Walster of past problems with drugs, but he’d apparently beat his addictions.

Walster’s wife, Carol, wasn’t fond of Roger Bergendorff. She told the Tribune that she “never felt comfortable around” the man. “There was just something about him,” she said.

Other sentiments in the same article are similar to Carol Walster’s — something about Roger Von Bergendorff bothered others. The Tholens’ neighbors, however, are certain that Tom Tholen had nothing to do with any of Bergendorff’s current pursuits.

UPDATE, 3/01/08

Right-wing bloggers like Michelle Malkin are interested in this story, perhaps because they believe it to be related to terrorism.

As you’ll see if you follow the link to Malkin’s blog, the man currently hospitalized in Las Vegas is 57-year-old Roger Von Bergendorff. Not the most muslim-sounding name you’ll see today.

Malkin references the Las Vegas Review Journal‘s article naming Von Bergendorff. The paper acquired a “Homeland Security internal document” giving the comatose man’s name.

According to the Review Journal, Von Bergendorff called emergency services on February 14. He indicated that he was in distress and needed to go to the hospital.

Von Bergendorff can’t speak, but authorities say his condition definitely dovetails with his having been exposed to ricin.

An “anarchist textbook” and firearms were found in the suite Von Bergendorff had occupied. The “textbook’s” section dealing with the preparation of ricin was bookmarked, or “tabbed.”

Police learned about the toxic substance from Thomas Tholen, age 53, who said he was related to Von Bergendorff. Tholen entered the suite and found the poison as well as castor beans. Ricin is derived from processing castor beans.

Authorities don’t seem to believe that the ricin was intended for an act of terrorism. They have been equivocal about Von Bergendorff, as well; he could have been a victim, not the creator of the substance. They did indicate to the Las Vegas paper that Von Bergendorff had at least one misdemeanor arrest on his record, but that was it.

Public records show a Roger V. Bergendorff, also age 57, has lived in both Riverton and St. George, Utah.

Relatives or not, Bergendorff and Thomas Tholen have both been listed in public records at the same Riverton street address, a 3-bedroom, 1-story home in the 3000 block of West 13400 Street. Salt Lake County property records show that address is owned by Tholen.

There is no evidence at the moment that the man in the Vegas hospital is the same Roger Bergendorff who created sci-fi-oriented visual art in the 80s, but it is interesting to note that some of the Salt Lake City-related info found related to a Thomas Tholen online indicate that Tholen may be a fine arts teacher at a Salt Lake area high school.

ORIGINAL ENTRY, PUBLISHED 2/29/08

Las Vegas authorities say an unnamed man is currently in critical condition and comatose in a local medical facility, a possible victim of exposure to ricin. The man was found Thursday night in a room at the Extended Stay America Motel.

Though FBI spokesman Richard Kolko publicly stated that this incident “does not appear to be terrorism related,” the FBI and Homeland Security are working with local police to determine just why anyone would have any positive reason to have one of the deadlier toxins known to man in a Vegas motel room. There has been speculation that the poison was related to a murder plot.

Several others were treated for possible exposure as a precaution, but so far, only one person has fallen ill.

Ricin is a vicious killer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is made out of castor beans and can be made into a pellet, mist, or powder. Further info from the CDC on what ricin can do, depending on how it is ingested:

# Inhalation: Within a few hours of inhaling significant amounts of ricin, the likely symptoms would be respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), fever, cough, nausea, and tightness in the chest. Heavy sweating may follow as well as fluid building up in the lungs (pulmonary edema). This would make breathing even more difficult, and the skin might turn blue. Excess fluid in the lungs would be diagnosed by x-ray or by listening to the chest with a stethoscope. Finally, low blood pressure and respiratory failure may occur, leading to death. In cases of known exposure to ricin, people having respiratory symptoms that started within 12 hours of inhaling ricin should seek medical care.

# Ingestion: If someone swallows a significant amount of ricin, he or she would develop vomiting and diarrhea that may become bloody. Severe dehydration may be the result, followed by low blood pressure. Other signs or symptoms may include hallucinations, seizures, and blood in the urine. Within several days, the person’s liver, spleen, and kidneys might stop working, and the person could die.

Comments with new links and updates are welcome, as are tips or inside information about this strange and still-developing story.

This entry will be updated and revised.

Sources:

Yahoo News/AP: “Man critical after ricin find in Vegas.”
Reuters: “Toxin ricin found in Las Vegas hotel room.”
MSNBC