Accidential killer dies at Oregon State Hospital

Philadelphia Inquirer – October 3, 1983

A mental patient who inadvertently killed 47 people in 1942 when the cockroach poison he mistook for powdered milk was used in scrambled eggs at a hospital has died of apparent head injuries.

George A. Nosen, 68, who was institutionalized in the Oregon State Hospital for 41 years, died Friday.

Lee Hick, a Marion County deputy medical examiner, reported that an elderly patient said Nosen and another patient had fought and that Nosen was struck in the head and the stomach and fell to the floor.

An autopsy was scheduled for today.

Peter J. Batten, a Marion County medical examiner who also had served as Nosen’s clinical psychiatrist at the state hospital, said Nosen had a long history of disputes with other patients. He said Mr. Nosen died of apparent head injuries.

Batten said Nosen was a paranoid schizophrenic and that his parents placed him in the hospital in 1942 after he had suffered a head injury.

Nosen worked as a helper for two cooks in the hospital kitchen. Investigators determined that when Nosen was sent to the basement to get powdered milk, he accidentally picked up a white, crystalline cockroach poison in a nearby container.

Kitchen workers prepared scrambled eggs using an estimated 5 to 6 pounds of the poison. Forty-seven patients died and 400 patients and employees became ill after eating the scrambled eggs.

Then-Gov. Charles A. Sprague initially called the deaths a “mass murder.” The federal government temporarily halted distribution of the type of frozen egg yolks that were used at the hospital.

One cook was charged with manslaughter and another was accused of being an accessory. But a grand jury later refused to return indictments against the cooks or Mr. Nosen.