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Vegas ricin investigation expands to Utah

Vegas ricin investigation expands to Utah

Posted - Mar. 1, 2008 at 10:00 p.m.

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Sarah Dallof reporting A bizarre mystery in Las Vegas involving the deadly toxin ricin now has a Utah twist. Today, FBI agents searched a Riverton home, leaving neighbors wondering.

One neighbor told us, "We just woke up this morning and saw all of the HAZMAT and police, and we were wondering, so we don't have any answers."

Vegas ricin investigation expands to Utah

The deadly toxin was found in a motel room earlier this week. The occupant of the room is in a coma in a Las Vegas hospital, and his condition is deteriorating. We've learned that man lived with relatives in Utah. Now their home has become a focus of the investigation.

Roger Von Bergendorff lived in Riverton for about a year, staying with his cousin Tom Tholen. It was Tholen who actually discovered the ricin in the Vegas hotel room, bringing the investigation back to Utah.

Neighbors watched today as men in HAZMAT suits descended on Tholen¹s Riverton home. Two women, neighbors identified as Tholen¹s wife and daughter, were helped out of their car and taken through a decontamination process. The reason for the painstaking process was the Tholen¹s former houseguest, Von Bergendorff.

Vegas ricin investigation expands to Utah

Neighbor Tammy Ewell said, "He wasn't social. He was quiet, kept to himself in the basement of the house. They were kind enough to let him live in the basement while he got back on his feet, then help him move to Vegas."

Von Bergendorff checked into a Vegas hospital in mid-February, complaining of breathing problems. Police searched his motel room and found guns and anarchist literature highlighting ricin, but none of the deadly toxin.

This week Tholen went to gather Von Bergendorff¹s belongings and found what authorities have since identified as ricin. Police sources say at that point Von Bergendorff was in such bad shape he was unable to speak with authorities to tell them if he manufactured the ricin and why it was in the room.

Neighbor Brad Ewell said, "Roger was an everyday Joe. We're totally surprised and shocked and just hoping for the best for the Tholens."

The FBI released a statement today confirming they're working with a number of agencies here, on tips from Las Vegas authorities. They say there's no reason to believe there's a risk to public heath or to neighbors in the quiet subdivision.

We did some digging to find out what exactly ricin is. It's a highly toxic poison that comes from castor beans. Once it enters the body, it gets inside the cells and prevents them from making vital proteins. Without the proteins the cells die.

Ricin is so potent, a pinpoint-sized amount can kill a person. It is 6-billion times more toxic than cyanide. There is no known antidote for ricin poisoning, though there is a vaccine. And the only legal use for ricin is in cancer research.


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