Death on Coconut Drive: Insecticide in a Bottle of Gin, and Other Things We Learned

Categories: Crime, Crime
ron-vinci-boat.jpg
Ron Vinci
The bulk of the background information for this week's feature story about the murder of Ron Vinci came from evidence released by the prosecutor's office at the end of last year, during an initial media inquiry. At the time, media outlets had been reporting that Vinci's body had been found wrapped in duct tape -- which was untrue, though the situation (as you'll find in the story) was plenty bizarre without.

As I was reporting the story, I submitted a request for some additional items from the prosecutor -- subject to public-records laws -- including final toxicology reports, autopsy photographs, and a police report from Catherine Pileggi's sister's death in St. Lucia.

Pileggi's lawyer, Bruce Udolf, attempted to put a stop to our obtaining the records, although he didn't cite any specific reasons why they might hinder a fair trial. New Times prevailed in court and got many of the documents requested.

We didn't learn anything absolutely shocking from the additional material, but there are spooky details -- for example, the presence of insecticide in a bottle of gin ostensibly belonging to Ron Vinci. It wasn't the first we had heard of it, though.

I was over at Vinci's $4 million house on Coconut Drive one day in March, meeting Spencer Gordon and other friends of Vinci's. By this point, the millionaire had been dead for about nine months. The house was still in the process of being sold, and the friends continued to visit, sit by the pool, and converse over drinks in the last home Ron Vinci ever owned.

They had plenty of theories, those friends -- some of which, unfortunately, I can't report at this time because there's no evidence to back them up, and they involve real, live people. But that's only natural: After losing a friend, people talk. 

As we sat in the kitchen, Gordon also mentioned offhand a "cloudy bottle of gin" that he said he had given to police investigators. There had been talk in police statements of Pileggi's poisoning Vinci's food or drink and some hints that people thought she may have done so on the night he died. And he certainly did love his gin. But I didn't see anything about this bottle of gin in any of the police reports, so I wasn't sure what to make of the claim.

In the toxicology report obtained as part of the material that Udolf was trying to block, there's a section that was completed in January 2012. It involves tests of three bottles that were collected by police on September 7, 2011: Seagram's tonic water, Schweppes tonic water, and a bottle of Tanqueray gin -- possibly the one the friends turned over and thought looked cloudy.

The tonic water bottles tested positive only for quinine, a normal component of tonic water. But the gin bottle tested positive for Bifenthrin.

From the Wikipedia page: "Bifenthrin is a pyrethroid insecticide used primarily against the red imported fire ant by influencing its nerve system. It has a high toxicity to aquatic organisms." It's an active ingredient in products like Ortho Home Defense Max.

In a test of blood from Vinci's heart, investigators found several prescription sedatives, an antihistamine, and a cough suppressant but did not find any trace of Bifenthrin. The medical examiner had previously ruled his death a homicide from gunshot and stab wounds.

At this point, we do not know for sure whether somebody laced a bottle of Vinci's gin with insecticide, because the bottle was unaccounted for until several months after the murder. If it is, in fact, the same bottle handed over by the friends, it's certainly something that's likely to come up in trial, and that needs an explanation. For now, though, all we have is the report.

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