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Suspected fatal poisonings still subject of inquiry

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

Lab tests may show whether a divorced couple died from accidentally ingesting cyanide.

Nearly four months after John and Gail Walter died an hour apart of an apparent cyanide poisoning, investigators still are trying to piece together what happened.

Their housemate, Alan-Jan P. Manes, told investigators that the two must have accidentally ingested cyanide contained in a solution Manes had used while electroplating a computer circuit board the night before the couple died.

Detectives are awaiting results of FBI laboratory analysis of several items. The Sheriff's Office sent several plates and utensils from the home at 502 Pennsylvania Ave., as well as a control sample of the cyanide-containing solution Manes said he used.

"We are still in the process of evaluating all of the evidence," Pinellas County Sheriff's Lt. Stephen Shipman said this week.

Although investigators say Manes is not a suspect, his flight during a break in the inquiry raised questions.

Shipman said the toxicology report from the Medical Examiner's office has been completed, but the results are not being released because the case still is under investigation.

Next week detectives plan to meet with a prosecutor and the medical examiner to discuss their next step.

"What that's saying is there has been no determination yet on the manner and cause of death of the two victims," Shipman said.

Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said it may be weeks before officials decide whether to file any charges.

"This is still a very preliminary investigation," Davidson said. "It's a complex situation. It's not like a gunshot. In this case, there are different chemical substances that have to be considered."

It was Manes who made the 911 call that brought paramedics to the Crystal Beach home early in the morning of Sept. 7.

John Walter, 60, who was unconscious or semiconscious when paramedics arrived at the home, was taken to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m. Walter's ex-wife, Gail Walter, 63, was taken to Mease Dunedin Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 11:30 a.m.

Manes talked briefly to investigators at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital but ran out of the hospital during a break in questioning. Early the next morning, Manes was detained briefly in Georgia on a traffic violation.

In a sworn statement used to justify a search of the home after the two deaths, detectives stated that Manes gave conflicting versions of the events before fleeing.

A week after the Walters' deaths, Manes retained high-profile Tampa attorney Barry Cohen. Shipman said Cohen has advised Manes not to speak to investigators.

"They (investigators) are doing their thing," Cohen said this week. "We'll see what happens."

Cohen said he is confident investigators will conclude that Manes did nothing illegal.

"We hope they do a thorough job," Cohen said. "They'll recognize there was no criminal responsibility here."

Aside from waiting for the results from the FBI lab, Shipman said that there is little else for detectives to do.

"We've done about all we can do, I think," Shipman said. "If A.J. (Manes) is not going to talk, that's about as far as we can go down that road."

Cohen would not say where Manes is living now. Manes is no longer living in the rented home in Crystal Beach.

Manes met Gail Walter when he was a patient and she was a nurse at the Manors psychiatric hospital in Tarpon Springs. Manes and the Walters, who were divorced in 1991, had been friends and housemates for years.

_ Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farleysptimes.com.

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