Coronavirus

Police Investigating Death of Arizona Man From Chloroquine Phosphate

Mesa City PD opens investigation into death of Gary Lenius whose wife, Wanda, said she served him a deadly cocktail to ward off coronavirus

Tablets containing chloroquine and Plaquenil
Tablets containing chloroquine and Plaquenil / Getty Images

The Mesa City Police Department's homicide division is investigating the death of Gary Lenius, the Arizona man whose wife served him soda mixed with fish tank cleaner in what she claimed was a bid to fend off the coronavirus. A detective handling the case confirmed the investigation to the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday after requesting a recording of the Free Beacon's interviews with Lenius's wife, Wanda.

Gary Lenius, 68, died on March 22. Wanda, 61, told several news outlets last month that both she and her husband had ingested a substance used to clean aquariums after hearing President Donald Trump tout one of its ingredients, chloroquine phosphate, from the White House briefing room.

Detective Teresa Van Galder, the homicide detective handling the case for the Mesa City Police Department, confirmed that the investigation is ongoing but declined to provide additional details.

"As this is an active investigation, I cannot go into any details at this time regarding the case," Van Galder said. The Free Beacon provided a recording of its interview last month with Wanda Lenius.

News of the police probe comes after a series of Free Beacon stories raised questions about the portrayal of the couple in the initial NBC News report that vaulted the story onto the national stage.

Though that report and others suggested the couple mindlessly followed the president's medical advice to disastrous results, friends of Gary Lenius told the Free Beacon they were skeptical he would knowingly ingest fish tank treatment.

Rather, they described Lenius as a levelheaded retired engineer and recounted a troubled marital relationship that included a previous domestic assault charge against his wife, of which she was ultimately found not guilty. The Free Beacon also reported that Wanda Lenius was a Democratic donor whose most recent contribution went to a "pro-science" super PAC.

"What bothers me about this is that Gary was a very intelligent man, a retired [mechanical] engineer who designed systems for John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa, and I really can't see the scenario where Gary would say, ‘Yes, please, I would love to drink some of that Koi fish tank cleaner,'" one of his close friends told the Free Beacon. "It just doesn't make any sense."

Another source, who asked that all identifying information be withheld, told the Free Beacon earlier this month that Wanda Lenius "would constantly berate Gary in public.… Everyone was embarrassed for him, but he outwardly did not seem to care much."

"In our opinion, their marriage was seen outwardly to be as one-sided as a marriage possibly could be: Gary worshiped Wanda," this person said, adding that his wife "would routinely call him a doofus" and humiliate him in public.

Wanda Lenius was charged with domestic abuse assault in 2001 after she allegedly hit her husband and swung a mounted birdhouse at him. Gary Lenius declined to cooperate in the case, testifying that he was not injured or placed in fear of injury. His wife was exonerated.

Wanda Lenius said in a phone interview with the Free Beacon last month that she and her husband had watched the president tout the virtues of chloroquine on the news, citing preliminary studies that showed it may be a promising treatment for coronavirus.

She remembered purchasing a container of "chloroquine phosphate" years before to clean a fish tank, she said.

The powder, which can be lethal if ingested, is sold by aquarium suppliers and used to treat viral outbreaks in large fish tanks. She told the Free Beacon that she had mentioned this to her husband "and he kind of laughed at me, you know. It was just a regular conversation."

"We weren't big supporters of [Trump], but we did see that they were using it in China and stuff," she said. "And we just made a horrible, tragic mistake."

Campaign finance records show that Wanda Lenius has given thousands of dollars to Democratic groups and candidates over the past two years, most recently to the 314 Action Fund. The group bills itself as the "pro-science resistance" and has criticized the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, holding up the Lenius case to slam the White House.

In the same interview, Wanda Lenius told the Free Beacon that her husband had been planning to schedule a doctor's appointment to have a leg injury looked at and the couple worried he might pick up coronavirus at the clinic. That's when, she said, she reached for the fish tank cleaner in her pantry. Her husband's response, she said, was, "Is it still good?"

Wanda Lenius routinely prepared a "vitamin cocktail" for him, according to Gary Lenius's friend.

Asked if she and Gary Lenius had a conversation about taking the chloroquine at that time, she told the Free Beacon: "No. I mean, it was really kind of a spur of the moment thing," adding that the couple ingested "one teaspoon and some soda" each, at least four times the lethal limit.

UPDATE, April 29, 11:17 A.M.: After publication, a spokesman for the Mesa City Police Department told the Free Beacon that it is "normal protocol" for the homicide department to investigate "all death cases (other than obvious natural causes)" and that the death "has not been ruled a homicide at this time."