In August 2016, a 74-year-old retiree became an extortionist due to “old age poverty.” This Dortmund resident developed a name for himself as his entire extortion scheme involved cyanide, gummy bears, millions of euros, and unfulfilled purchases from a vendor on the darknet. Although he previously confessed to the crime, his motive was unknown until a June court appearance.
As we wrote in March, the 74-year-old attempted to get more than $1 million from Haribo, most well-known as a gummy bear manufacturer; $330,000 from Lidl, a supermarket chain; and $1 million from Kaufland, another supermarket chain. He wrote letters to the companies with his threats and demands. “Either you pay me a million euros in bitcoins within the next ten days, or I poison your products with cyanide,” he wrote one company.
The supermarkets quickly learned that he went for the Kaufland frozen pizzas and Haribo gummy bears. Store associates found packages of both the pizzas and bears with “caution, poison” written where customers could clearly read the warning. His threats were then conveyed over email instead of physically mailing letters. Investigators already identified the man as the likely perpetrator once the emails started.
Targeted companies had already notified authorities before receiving digital threats. The police traced the letters and caught the suspect on video footage. Investigators also monitored the suspect’s IP address. They noticed that the grandfather attempted to purchase potassium cyanide from a vendor on the darknet. He paid roughly $55, according to the prosecution.
The whole toxins and poisons market never took off, for some reason. Poison vendors and buyers have fared similarly to German firearm vendors. Law enforcement regularly finds success in keeping tools of destruction out of the hands of buyers—and that includes tools of mitochondrial destruction. Potassium cyanide falls into that category and, not unexpectedly, the 74-year-old grandfather never received his pack. The attempted purchase of something with the brutal killing power of the cyanides, combined with the threats, would seemingly bring an easy conviction.
Without his true weapon, the damage he threatened simply smoldered out. And of course authorities arrested him around the same time—Christmas Eve. He cooperated with police and gave them a confession. It may have been due to the holiday season; prosecutors will likely never know.
However, he willingly unveiled details during his most recent court appearance. First, prosecutors were confused as to why a native speaker wrote with a poor grasp of the language, used “we” and not “I” and ended his messages with ”Allahu Akbar.” When asked why, he had no problem answering. “I wanted to give the impression that Islamists were at work, I wanted to confuse the investigators,” he told the court.
The second lingering question was about the man’s motive. Again, he responded openly. He lived on a pension of $200. The day he decided to make money through extortion was the same day he was unable to afford a prescription refill.
He is once again a free man pending further decisions by the court. His defense counsel fought that since no cyanide ever entered the scene, the threats were meaningless. Without the cyanide, there was no risk of bodily harm, he told the court.
The 74-year-old could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the most serious of the charges: attempted predatory blackmail and damage to property.