The cyanide suicide of Mary Anderson

THIS BLOG CONTAINS POST MORTEM IMAGES.

On Wednesday October 9, 1996, a woman called the Hotel Vintage Park in Seattle to reserve a room.  (As a side note, for anyone who likes to google these places, the hotel is now called Kimpton Hotel Vintage Seattle).

This is how the hotel is described now which sounds similar to how it was in 1996.  A pleasant place:

A Delightful Downtown Seattle Hotel

Think of your favorite tasting room — it probably serves as a social hub, with a communal vibe and some lovely wine to drink. Now add in contemporary design, plush beds, and a prime location on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle, and you’ve got an idea of what Kimpton Hotel Vintage Seattle has to offer. Pop the top on a stay here, and you’ll be in for a best-of-all-worlds experience you can’t get anywhere else.

The woman arrived by cab at the hotel about an hour and a half after she called.

She has two bags and paid $350 in cash for two nights. Upon check-in, she listed her name as Mary A. Anderson and gave a New York City address and telephone number.

The phone number she gave was  (212-569-5549) and the address was (132 East Third Street, New York, NY 11103).

The zip code (11103) and area code (212) are actual codes corresponding to different areas of New York City in Queens and Manhattan. 

The street and street number she used (132 East Third Street) is a valid address when used with the ZIP codes 10009 (in Manhattan) or 11218 (in Brooklyn) – suggesting she had some familiarity with the NYC area, particularly Manhattan.

Some reports said that there were hesitation marks on the hotel register where she wrote down this information – which lead people to believe she made up the name ‘Mary A. Anderson’ on the spot.

The clerk who checked her in has said there was nothing remarkable about the woman – no accent, nothing unusual.  The clerk did recall that she had a lovely manicure and seemed well groomed – she carried an expensive looking olive-green, woven-leather purse.

For two days, there are no reports of anyone seeing her leave her room – she did not order room service, nobody has reported seeing her in the lobby. 

At some point (I assume as soon as she arrived as there are no reports of her room being serviced), she put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

She put on a pink Estee Lauder lipstick that was found later in the room, and neatly combed her hair.  She wrote a note on the hotel stationery that said”:

“To whom it may concern: I have decided to end my life and no one is responsible for my death. Mary Anderson.

“P.S. I have no relatives. You can use my body as you choose.”

After she did that, she mixed some cyanide with metamucil (random) and opened the hotel King James bible to Psalm 23.

She put black clothing and black slippers on and she reclined on the bed.  She placed the bible open on her chest and drank the cyanide.  

Mary was due to have checked out of the hotel by noon on October 11.  When she failed to do this, a bellman was sent to check the room.  He was unable to enter as the room was deadlocked from the inside.  

The lock had to be bypassed by management and engineers, and when they finally got into room 214, they found Mary dead on the bed.

There is a very interesting article about this case called ‘The Cipher in Room 214’ and this info comes from that:

When police arrived, they found the room “neat and orderly,” half a dozen stretch velour separates in hues of emerald green, fuchsia, navy and black hanging in the closet. She had a cobalt blue Himalaya Outfitters jacket and black leather gloves from Nordstrom. Her purse contained $36.78 in cash, but no ID. No key. No credit cards. She had packed slippers for comfort. Size 10.

Police noted her final coordinates — “head to the west, and feet to the east” — like a ship gone down at sea. There were, according to official reports, “no signs of a struggle.”

Investigators conducted an autopsy on Mary Anderson.  They discovered that at some point she had breast surgery (likely a breast reduction) and that she had a copper IUD inserted.  The IUD part number had worn away over the years.  She had never given birth to children.

They estimated her age to be between 30-50.

You can view Mary’s NAMUS entry here.

She also had a dental plate and slightly crooked teeth.

She had short reddish hair and brown eyes and was around 5’8 and 240 lbs.

The medical examiner’s office stated that Mary had “intentionally obliterated” any means of identification.

An inventory of her items was carried out:

  • Two luggage bags.
  • Six stretch velour outfits.
  • Olive green purse made of woven leather.
  • Cobalt blue jacket.
  • Black leather gloves.
  • Shoes.
  • Slippers.
  • Pantyhose.
  • Estée Lauder cosmetics.
  • Perfume.
  • An iron.
  • A kitchen bowl.
  • Toothpaste.
  • Crystal Light.
  • Metamucil mixed with cyanide to facilitate her suicide.

She owned two pairs of eyeglasses and shopped at midrange department stores. The brand names she wore, The Villager (by Liz Claiborne) and Alfred Dunner, were available at what was then The Bon March?, or at J.C. Penney. In Canada, she could have bought those brands at Sears or Hudson’s. She preferred bright lipstick: Starlit Pink or Rich and Rosy. She wore Estee Lauder Private Collection perfume.

Investigators ran her fingerprints through the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. They checked with Canadian and American missing-person records, with Interpol and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They checked with cyanide manufacturers, and tried to trace her possessions.

They even managed to track the Metamucil lot – it was shipped initially to Phoenix but it could have gone anywhere after that.

None of these tactics worked though, and Mary became a Jane Doe.

 Jerry Webster, the former chief investigator for the King County Medical Examiner’s Office remembered a few months into the investigation that there was a copy of the Seattle Weekly in the room.  A pressed maple leaf had been set on a page – seems like a big clue to have missed?.

“The maple leaf might have been a clue,” he said. Or perhaps it was pointing to one. Based on the symbolism of the leaf, he and his team redoubled their efforts to search in Canada.  As far as we know, nothing came of this.  

The use of cyanide as a suicide tool indicated to investigators that she was educated. They looked into the possibility that she might have worked for a mining company or a chemistry lab — either medical, or university — where she would have had access to the poison. But a search produced nothing.

Mary Anderson is buried in a Jane Doe’s grave in Ballard, Washington. 

A timely update to this very cold case is that in May 2021,  the King County Medical Examiner’s Office partnered with Othram to use advanced DNA testing and forensic genealogy to establish an identification of, or to find the closest living relatives to Mary. 

I believe they are trying to crowdfund this and as of recording, they have raised $360 of the $5k needed.

You can discuss Mary’s case at TrueCrimeSociety.com

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