Police believe the seven American tourists who have mysteriously died in the Dominican Republic over the past year may have been poisoned by bootleg liquor.
U.S. authorities who are scrambling to get to the bottom of a rash of deaths of American tourists on the Caribbean island are now looking into whether poisioned alcohol is a factor.
Investigators are trying to determine who supplied the alcohol the victims drank in the hours before their deaths, a law enforcement source told the New York Post.
They also want to test the drinks to see if they contain dangerous chemicals. The FBI will reportedly take blood samples from the dead victims to test back at its Virigina research center.
Officials in the Dominican Republic have insisted that the deaths are all isolated incidents but most of the victims were apparently healthy adults before their sudden deaths.
Several of them are known to have drank from their hotel room minibars before becoming extremely ill. The deaths have all occurred at two resorts: the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville hotel.
Seven Americans have died in suspicious circumstances over the past year: David Harrison, 45; Robert Bell Wallace, 67, Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41; Couple Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Day, 49; Yvette Monique Short, 51 and Leyla Cox, 53.
VICTIMS (left to right): Leyla Cox, Robert Bell Wallace, Yvette Monique Sport, Miranda Schaup-Werner and David Harrison
Maryland couple Cynthia Day, 49, and Nathaniel Holmes, 63, (pictured together) were found dead in their hotel room on May 30
The most recent deaths – the latest reported on Monday – have drawn attention to earlier deaths of American tourists at island resorts that received no publicity at the time but some of which are now considered suspect.
Five Americans have died this year alone between April and June at the two resorts, while two others were reported in June and July last year.
Many others have also reported falling sick on their vacations but survived.
Leyla Cox’s son Will, 25, said his mother was in good health, walked everywhere and was only an occasional drinker. But he told the New York Post she would likely have had a few drinks on vacation.
‘That’s what vacation is for — to enjoy yourself and have a good time. That being said, she would not have drank excessively,’ he said.
Yvette Monique Sport, 51, of Glenside, Pennsylvania, died in June 2018 after drinking from the minibar at a Bahia Principe hotel in Punta Cana. Her family said the previously healthy Sport had the drink, went to sleep and never woke up.
In October, 2018 Awilda Montes, 43, of New York, claims she drank a bottle of soda from the minibar at the Grand Bahia Principe resort in La Romana that ‘turned out to be bleach.’ She survived but suffered chemical burns.
On April 10 this year, Robert Bell Wallace, 67, of California, became ill almost immediately after drinking an alcoholic beverage from his in-room minibar at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino resort in Punta Cana. He died four days later.
Less than a month later, Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Pennsylvannia, died within hours of consuming a drink from a resort minibar at Bahia Principe Hotel in La Romana.
The Hard Rock hotel and Casino – where two victims were staying – denied the claims, saying it only purchases ‘unopened products from licensed and reputable vendors’
David Harrison, Cynthia Day and Nathaniel Holmes also died after becoming sick in while on vacation on the island. It is not known whether they also drank alcohol from their hotel rooms.
Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensic science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, told the New York post that the symptoms of many of the dead and sick, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are consistent with poisoning from methanol or pesticides.
Methanol is toxic form of alcohol used as antifreeze. It is a light, colorless, flammable liquid with a odor similar to that of ethanol (drinking alcohol).
‘Adulterated alcohol is usually methanol added to alcohol or just plain methanol, which is very, very toxic,’ Kobilinsky told the Post.
‘It looks to me, from what I’ve heard and read, is that something was added to the drinks or bottles in those little refrigerators.’
‘There should be no methanol at all (in the liquor). If it’s there, it means it’s been adulterated or put there deliberately.’
In a statement, the Hard Rock resort said clinical tests from a local hospital showed both deaths at its hotel were the result of heart attacks, adding that it only purchases ‘unopened products from licensed and reputable vendors.’
TIMELINE: American tourists who mysteriously died or were struck down with illnesses in the Dominican Republic
June 2018: Yvette Monique Sport, 51, of Glenside, Pennsylvania, dies after drinking from the minibar at at a Bahia Principe hotel in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Family said the previously healthy Sport had the drink, went to sleep and never woke up.
June 2018: Kaylynn Knull, 29, and Tom Schwander, 33, woke up in their hotel room at the Grand Bahia Principe with a pounding headache. They returned to the room later in the day, to find a ‘chemical smell’. The couple changed their flights and flew home early.
July 2018: David Harrison dies while on vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana to celebrate his wedding anniversary. He woke up struggling to breathe and covered in sweat. He died that same day. His widow said he’d visited the doctor before the trip who’d given him a clean bill of health.
October, 2018: Awilda Montes, 43, of New York, claims she drank a bottle of soda from the minibar at the Grand Bahia Principe resort in La Romana that ‘turned out to be bleach.’ She survived but suffered chemical burns.
April 10, 2019 : Robert Bell Wallace, 67, of California, became ill almost immediately after drinking an alcoholic beverage from his in-room minibar at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino resort in Punta Cana – the same hotel as Harrison.
April 14: Wallace dies in hospital four days after falling ill.
May 25: Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Pennsylvannia, dies within hours of consuming a drink from a resort minibar across the island at Bahia Principe Hotel in La Romana.
May 25: Cynthia Day, 49, and Nathaniel Holmes, 63, of Maryland, check into the Bahia Principe Hotel, La Romana.
May 30: Day and Holmes are found dead in their rooms.
June 10: Leyla Cox, 53, of Staten Island, New York, is found dead in her hotel room. The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo informed her family that she died of a heart attack, but her son, William Cox, says he is suspicious.