British Woman Found Dead After Using Perfume, Turns Out it Was Actually Soviet-Era Nerve Agent


Dawn Sturgess thought she was applying a daub of perfume. Instead, authorities say the 44-year-old Britisher accidentally applied a Soviet-era nerve agent used in an attempt on the life of a former Russian spy in the U.K.

Unlike the spy, however, Sturgess would succumb to the poison.

According to CNN, Sturgess and her partner, 45-year-old Charlie Rowley, live in the town of Amesbury, close to Salisbury. On June 30, Sturgess collapsed in her home and was taken to the hospital. Rowley was later transported to the hospital after he felt sick.

It quickly became apparent to authorities that Sturgess and Rowley had been sickened by the same poison used against former Russian spy and MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal (and his daughter Yulia) on March 4. Both were found passed out on a bench in Salisbury and rushed to the hospital.

Skripal and his daughter were treated and released. It was eventually determined that they had been poisoned by novichok — a nerve agent that causes slowing of the heart and restriction of airways — placed on the handles of Skripal’s car door.

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While Russia denied it was involved, U.K. intelligence determined otherwise — particularly since almost no one outside of Russia has experience with the nerve agent involved. A total 23 Russian diplomats were expelled from Great Britain after the incident.

As for where Sturgess and Rowley got in contact with the poison, that took a bit longer for authorities to suss out. After they were admitted to Salisbury District Hospital — the same hospital where the Skripals were treated — police said they had touched a contaminated object, but they couldn’t figure out what the object was.

On Thursday, officials announced that it was a small bottle of novichok that Sturgess had apparently taken for perfume. It remains unclear where she got the bottle.

Sturgess succumbed to the agent on July 8. After spending the better part of the month in the hospital, Rowley was released on Friday.

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“On behalf of all my officers, staff and volunteers, we welcome today’s news that Charlie Rowley has been discharged from Salisbury District hospital,” Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said, according to the U.K. Independent. “We wish him the best with his ongoing recovery.”

He added that “Wiltshire Police will continue to co-ordinate activity with partner agencies at a local level to ensure that Mr. Rowley continues to receive the support he needs in his ongoing recovery.”

Police have identified several suspects in the case, all (surprise, surprise) from one country.

“Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time,” a source said. “They are sure (the suspects) are Russian.”

Meanwhile, authorities believe the novichok could have been brought into the U.K. via one of its airports in a “discreet” container.

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A senior government source said  “it’s a small volume and it’s not difficult to think you might be able to conceal that.

“We’re not talking about gallons of the stuff, we’re talking about a very small amount and therefore it’s a very discreet container potentially.”

Scary stuff, particularly given the potency of the novichok. And, given the cases of Ms. Sturgess and Mr. Rowley, we can’t rule out that more Britishers are at risk of the same fate.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture