8a13
Back to Crime Page >
Case file:
Joann Curley

In August 1991, Pennsylvania electrician Robert Curley was admitted to the hospital with a mysterious illness. He had leg pains, numbness, nausea, and burning in his hands and feet. His condition improved, however, and he was discharged on August 29. Nine days later, he was back and getting worse. On September 22, he recovered sufficiently to see his wife, brother, and sister, but that night deteriorated and continued to do so until his wife agreed to the withdrawal of life support on September 27. By then, doctors had discovered high levels of thallium in his system.

Curley had been working in a building that contained jars of thallium salts and, at first, it was thought that he had been accidentally exposed to the poison there. Tests showed that this was not possible, however. Moreover, the levels of thallium in his body could only have come from ingesting it through eating or drinking.

One theory was that a fellow worker may have played misguided prank on Curley by adding the thallium to his iced tea, thinking it was the similar-sounding Valium tranquilizer. Investigators interviewed his coworkers, but with no positive result. Since Curley had sought treatment, the case was ruled a homicide.

Years passed without any real progress. In 1994, however, a forensic toxicologist offered to produce a timeline indicating the peaks of thallium ingestion, which would give a clue as to how Curley had been exposed to the poison. The body was exhumed and samples taken of hair, nails, skin, and other tissues where thallium would be deposited. The analysis showed that the thallium levels in Curley's body began to rise in late 1990, then dropped, then rose, and continued seesawing throughout 1991 until a final massive increase caused his death. It was puzzling that this had occured even while he was in the hsopital.

It became clear that Curley must have ingested the final dose on September 22, when he receieved visits from his family, and the fiinger of suspicion pointed at his wife, Joann. On his death, she had collected over $296,000 from an insurance policy. When investigators studied the peaks of thallium ingestion, they discovered that only Joann Curley had access to her husband on every occasion.

On July 17, 1997, Joann Curley admitted to murdering her husband with rat poison. The Curleys' marriage had been only a few months old when Joann began poisoning Robert because it had not turned out the way she thought it would. When asked why she didn't simply divorce him, she replied that she wanted the insurance money. She received a sentence of 10-20 years.
1