Authorities: Montco teen put ricin in birthday card

Posted: March 21, 2014

A MONTGOMERY County man tried to poison a romantic rival by sending him a scratch-and-sniff birthday card that had been tainted with the toxic substance ricin, authorities said.

Nicholas Helman, 19, was arrested yesterday and charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, risking catastrophe and related offenses after he left the laced letter in the mailbox of another teen, according to court documents.

A slew of law-enforcement officials, including FBI personnel, nabbed Helman outside his home on Byberry Road near New Street, in Hatboro, after a nearly two-week investigation.

Police were tipped off to Helman by a girl with whom he works at a Target store in Warrington, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said.

According to Heckler, Helman bragged March 6 about rubbing ground castor beans, a toxic substance, into a scratch-and-sniff birthday card intended for the teen now dating his ex-girlfriend as a way of "trying to impress" his co-worker.

The next day, the girl contacted Warminster Township police, who then confronted Helman outside his home. He told investigators that he had coated the card with sodium hydroxide - a poisonous substance used in making ricin that is highly toxic if ingested - according to court documents. He also admitted to sending his ex's new beau threatening messages through Facebook since November. A notebook he was carrying at the time of his questioning contained a recipe for ricin, the documents say.

Helman initially was charged with harassment after that questioning March 7, the documents show, but police upgraded the charge after a subsequent test of the scratch-and-sniff card - which they recovered before the intended teen's family could open it - yielded positive results for ricin.

"He managed to produce some seriously poisonous stuff," Heckler said. "If anyone came into contact with this, they would've been [seriously injured]."

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