NBC’s ‘Dateline: Toxic Relations’ features how 50-year-old Linda Curry was murdered inside her San Clemente, California, home in early June 1994. While the initial investigation and the victim’s friends pointed to an obvious perpetrator, it would be almost two decades before the authorities arrested and charged them with first-degree murder in her death. If you want to learn more about the case, including how Linda died and her killer’s identity, we’ve got your back. Let’s begin then, shall we?
How Did Linda Curry Die?
Linda Lee Kilgore Curry was born to the late Guy Leroy Kilgore and Mary Jane Irvin Kilgore in Los Angeles County, California, on February 18, 1944. She met one of her closest friends, Merry Seabold, in the 1960s when they both worked at Southern California Edison inside the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. When asked to describe her friend, the latter said Linda was a “fashionista” who always had “nice new outfits with shoes to match, purse to match, earrings to match, bracelets to match.”
Linda started at an entry-level position but quickly moved up, with Merry describing her as a “go-getter.” As she climbed her career ladder, moving from secretary to management, she quickly went through two marriages before she started to date Bill Sandretto, a life insurance salesman. He recounted, “She had a great personality. Very loving. We went on trips together. …We had a great time.” They dated on and off for eight years, but he didn’t want to get married. Bill also cited Linda’s overspending as one of his chief concerns.
Bill alleged, “The only thing that was bothering me was the way she spent money. She would spend it. Yeah, for every dollar she made, she spent two.” Linda’s extravagance exceeded when she bought a gorgeous house in San Clemente, California. Then 45, she met her future husband, Paul Curry, then 32, in 1989. He was hired as a Consulting Engineer at Southern California Edison and taught the power plant’s nuclear engineers about safety issues. Merry recalled how the couple quickly fell in love as Paul impressed Linda with his smarts.
After three years of dating, Paul Curry and Linda married in Las Vegas on September 12, 1992. According to the episode, Paul bragged about winning thousands on “Jeopardy!” twice in the 1980s and being a member of Mensa, the international society of people with high IQs. However, the marriage was more of “comfort” than “passion,” according to most friends and colleagues.
Less than a year after getting married, Linda became ill with gastrointestinal problems and was rushed to Samaritan Hospital in July 1993. The attending doctors suspected poisoning, and her nurse alerted authorities that someone had tampered with the IV. Linda’s mysterious illness returned in December 1993, and Paul took her to a different hospital in Mission Viejo. According to the episode, the Mission Hospital also reported someone tampering with her IV.
Merry recounted receiving an email from Paul on the morning of June 9, 1994. She claimed he wrote that he was concerned about Linda’s health and that his wife felt worse than ever. Around midnight on June 10, Paul called 911 and alleged he had awoken from his sleep to find Linda had stopped breathing. The first responders rushed her to Samaritan Hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival. Linda’s toxicology report revealed extremely high levels of nicotine in her body and the presence of sleeping medication.
Who Killed Linda Curry?
According to Merry, the Curry couple had no passion in the marriage, with Linda telling her that Paul seemed uninterested in lovemaking. She further alleged that a month into the wedding, Linda confided that her new husband wanted her to get a $1 million life insurance policy, naming him as beneficiary. Suspicious about Paul, she asked another close friend and coworker, Frankie Thurber, to move into their home and spy on her spouse. Yet, the latter concluded at the end of her stay that Paul appeared as a doting husband.
Frankie stated Paul drew his wife bubble baths and prepared her favorite exotic salad dressings. Yet, friends grew suspicious following Linda’s two quick successive bouts of illness. Merry even alleged she remembered seeing a sign outside Linda’s room during her second hospital visit that stated Paul be not allowed inside unaccompanied. Besides, Linda’s former lover, Bill, begged her to leave the house she shared with her husband. He even convinced her to change the beneficiary on some of her insurance policies from Paul to her sister.
Linda’s death from nicotine poisoning seemed suspicious since neither Paul nor she was a smoker. Following his wife’s death, he collected $419,000 from two of her life insurance policies and retirement plan, despite her dividing her estate between him and her sister. Meanwhile, the investigation into Linda’s death stalled for years after the police ran out of leads and suspects. However, Sergeant Yvonne Shull of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department decided to re-open the case in 2002.
The detectives re-examined the evidence and reinterviewed witnesses, as Sgt. Shull tracked Paul Curry to Kansas. He lived in Salina with his new wife, Teresa, and worked as a City Building Code Inspector. After believing they had enough evidence, the authorities arrested Paul on November 9, 2010. Teresa visited him in prison the following day, and he further incriminated himself during a recorded phone call with her. Although the prosecutors lacked any direct physical evidence that linked him to Linda’s death, they were confident.
During his late 2014 trial, Paul’s defense counsel argued that Linda had health problems before meeting her husband and used self-administer a nicotine enema. Nonetheless, a renowned expert and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Neal Benowitz — a prosecutor’s witness — testified the victim died quickly from nicotine poisoning. The jury convicted Paul of first-degree murder for financial gain since he was alone with Linda on the night of her murder. He was sentenced to life without parole on November 14, 2014.