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'The Hot Zone: Anthrax': How did Dr Bruce Ivins die? Main suspect left 'Let me sleep' letter

After Dr Bruce Edwards Ivins' death, federal prosecutors named him as the culprit responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks
UPDATED NOV 30, 2021
Dr Bruce E Ivins was a bio-defense researcher at Fort Detrick in Maryland (US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases/ Wikimedia Commons)
Dr Bruce E Ivins was a bio-defense researcher at Fort Detrick in Maryland (US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases/ Wikimedia Commons)

National Geographic’s 'The Hot Zone: Anthrax,' about the 2001 anthrax attacks, where letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and to Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The lethal letters killed five people and infected 17 others, and provoked an anthrax scare where any unknown package or letter was deemed dangerous. 

In a six-part, three-night Thanksgiving weekend event on Hulu, which began on Sunday. Daniel Dae Kim, who stars as FBI Agent Matthew Ryker in 'Hot Zone,' described the series as “the story of the investigation behind the letters laced with anthrax. I play the lead FBI investigator assigned to finding the source of the letters and who was behind them.” It also co-stars Tony Goldwyn as Dr Bruce Edwards Ivins, the former government scientist blamed for the string of deadly attacks which took place shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Those who died from the attack included two Washington postal workers, a New York hospital worker, a supermarket tabloid photo editor in Florida, and a 94-year-old woman in Connecticut.


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On April 11, 2007, Ivins was put under periodic surveillance and an FBI document stated that he was "an extremely sensitive suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks". On July 29, 2008, Ivins died by suicide with an overdose of acetaminophen. After his death, federal prosecutors named Ivins as the culprit responsible for the anthrax attacks. Court records released by authorities showed that Ivins was "the custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks." 

How did Ivins die?

In the days leading up to his death, the federal agents were closing in on Ivins, according to the police. Prosecutors were preparing to present the results of their probe of the anthrax attacks to a grand jury. Ivins spent more than 30 years as a civilian microbiologist trying to develop a better vaccine against anthrax at the Army's biological research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, CNN reported

Ivins behaved oddly and was "sarcastic and nasty" to his wife in the final weeks of his life, police documents said. He died after overdosing on Tylenol. Although the drug ate away at his lungs, Ivins' wife, Diane, decided against putting him on the list for a transplant, saying she did not believe her husband would want one, the records said. It was not known how the Tylenol entered Ivins' body, investigators determined he bought Tylenol PM on two occasions at a local supermarket, both on July 24. On the same day, he also refilled prescriptions for psychiatric medicines. None of those pills were missing. 

He was rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious where he briefly regained consciousness. "When asked, 'Did you intentionally try to commit suicide?' patient nodded yes," said medical records cited in the reports. Ivins had to be administered an anesthetic after he grew agitated when his blood pressure improved. 

Letter from Ivins' wife

After he was taken to the hospital July 27, a letter from Diane was found on the doctor's bedside table in which she told her husband she is "hurt, confused and angry about your actions over the last few weeks. You tell me you love me but you have been rude and sarcastic and nasty many times when you talk to me. You tell me you aren't going to get any more guns then you fill out an online application for a gun license." She also noted that Ivins has been "going into work at odd hours, and walking in the neighborhood late at night," adding that she was concerned about him not following medical advice to reduce stress. Investigators said that at the back of the note, Ivins wrote, "I have a terrible headache. I'm going to take some Tylenol and sleep in tomorrow. - Bruce." A portion was scribbled out, and then Ivins wrote, "Please let me sleep. Please." Diane has vehemently defended her husband in an interview with the police, saying that Ivins had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks and she had never doubted his innocence.