German man suspected of killing 21 co-workers by poisoning their food

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Police said the man "has long tried to produce toxic substances, including heavy metal compounds", based on substances found in his home.

Police in Germany on Wednesday announced they were investigating a man suspected of poisoning the sandwiches of up to 21 co-workers with heavy metals over a period of nearly two decades.

A 56-year-old man was arrested in May after surveillance video showed him putting a suspicious powder on a colleague's sandwich.

"In the beginning we thought it was a misconceived prank between co-workers, and not a murder attempt", Tilo Blechinger, the manager for the metal fittings manufacturer ARI Armaturen, told the DPA news agency.

He described the suspect, who he said worked for the company for 38 years, as "conspicuously inconspicuous".

A spokeswoman for the Poison Information Center at the University of Bonn told Bild it was a "very unusual case", and that lead poisoning is hard to detect due to symptoms that might be caused by other conditions. Officials are also now re-examining all deaths connected to the company since 2000 - and in particular, 21 former employees who died before retirement - to see if heavy metal poisoning played a part.

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Numerous deceased died of cancer or heart attacks, which could be a result of heavy metal poisoning, according to German public broadcaster WDR.

Investigators will question relatives of those workers who died and the doctors who treated them. "And some of their bodies might have to be exhumed and examined for traces of poison". Depending on the results, exhumation could be considered, the police statement said.

Separately, an ARI Armaturen employee is in a coma while another is on permanent dialysis, according to a police spokesman.

Germany's biggest serial poisoner case is still ongoing, relating to nurse Niels Högel, who is believed to have murdered at least 90 patients by injecting them with a drug to cause heart attacks.

The suspect's motive was not clear because he remained silent about the allegations, the police said. "And he is not a chemist".

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