Sherrilyn Kenyon, a best-selling paranormal fantasy author best known for her ‘Dark Hunter’ series, filed a lawsuit on January 8 accusing her husband and his assistant of a “Shakespearean plot” to slowly poison her in order to gain control of her career and finances.
The popular author alleges in a 95-page lawsuit filed in Williamson County, Tenn. court that her husband, Lawrence Kenyon, was feeding her toxins in her food, and that her health has improved since he moved out of her house.
The lawsuit paints a picture of a years-long abusive marriage, which allegedly culminated in Kenyon’s husband taking out a million-dollar life insurance contract with himself as the sole beneficiary and trying to poison her. Towards the end of their marriage, Kenyon’s lawsuit alleges that her health was “deteriorating to a critical level. No dentist or doctor could tell her why her teeth were routinely crumbling, her bones were breaking from very minor pressure, and her hair continued to come out by the handfuls… [it] left her unable to walk across a room without aid.”
It was only after her husband moved out in March 2018, Kenyon alleged in the lawsuit, that she went for blood, hair, and nail testing. According to the lawsuit, her hair testing results came back showing high amounts of lithium, tin, barium, platinum, and thorium in her system.
But toxicology experts who spoke to the Daily Beast called many aspects of the poisoning claims into question.
“It’s extremely odd,” Marie Bourgeois, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health and a member of the American Chemical Society, told The Daily Beast. She has studied chemical-induced toxicity. “As a researcher, I can purchase lots of things that can be technically hazardous, but I don’t know where the layperson would go about buying this stuff.” Kenyon’s husband is a lawyer, though it’s unclear if he is currently practicing.
Kenyon’s lawyer responded to the Daily Beast on Sunday with a statement: “Ms. Kenyon has had her hair, nails and blood tested. Each test has confirmed excessive and deeply distressing levels of toxins going back for a period of months to years. Due to the ongoing investigation with law enforcement and the litigation, we are unable to provide the name of the lab and doctors at this time as we do not wish to interfere with the ongoing police investigation.”
Even still, toxicologists aren’t convinced of the data. “There are much easier ways to poison someone,” Bourgeois noted, calling the choice of poison into question. “Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but this all sounds a bit like fiction, [like] an inept poisoner and his accomplices undone by the intrepid author and a chance hair test. Were there any other lab tests to support her assertions? Blood tests? Urine tests?”
“I’m not convinced that he was trying to poison her with these metals,” Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist who works with the National Poison Control Center, said.
Bourgeois and Johnson-Arbor agreed that it wouldn’t make sense to try to slowly poison someone with such difficult-to-access toxins, especially through food and drink. Other common poisons, such as arsenic and cyanide, are more effective and easier to access, they said.
Johnson-Arbor said that the toxins appearing in Kenyon’s results in the lawsuit could be from common environmental exposures, and could show up if the lab didn’t wash her hair before testing it. “There are trace amounts of all those toxins in the air around us,” she said.
“In general, metals are in the environment,” said Michelle Ruha, a medical toxicologist and Vice President of the American College of Medical Toxicologists. The CDC states on their toxic substances site that these metals are often commonly found near nuclear plants or construction sites. “Poisoning from these things are very uncommon. Small amounts of these metals are present in many of us, just because they’re part of our environment.”
Tin, platinum, and thorium are hard to find in quantities large enough to harm someone, said Ruha. Barium is often found in Pepto-Bismol, said Bourgeois.
“Lithium stands out the most because it’s a medication that is still used, and it does cause some of these symptoms [Kenyon lists], like tremors, confusion, disorientation,” Johnson-Arbor said.
Johnson-Arbor and Ruha said that studies have shown some hair testing labs can be inaccurate and unreliable. The American College of Medical Toxicologists doesn’t recommend hair testing in most cases, and “I wouldn’t solely rely on a hair test to form any solid conclusion,” said Ruha. “Just because something is found in the hair doesn’t mean it was found in the body.”
If a person presented “such pronounced, significant symptoms from metals, you wouldn’t need to test the hair,” said Ruha. “It would come up in the blood or urine tests,” which are considered the industry’s gold standard. Kenyon told The Tennessean she had blood testing done, too, but only shared her hair test results in the lawsuit.
Johnson-Arbor said after looking at the photo of the lab results that even if the hair results were correct, and Kenyon was exposed to these metals, they only show what she was exposed to from January through March 2018, rather than the three year period she claims to have been slowly poisoned during.
That’s because hair only grows about half an inch a month, and the results showed 1.5 inches of hair were tested near the hair shaft at the scalp. To test for what was affecting Kenyon over the whole period she was sick, “two feet of hair would need to be tested,” Johnson-Arbor said.
Kenyon told The Tennessean that she doesn’t believe her husband was initially trying to kill her by allegedly feeding her toxins. "I think think he just wanted to maybe try and control me (and) make me sleepy," she said.
But Bourgeois doesn’t think the sleepy argument makes sense with the elements listed in Kenyon’s lawsuit “If you want to make someone sleepy, you’d give them benadryl.”
Still, the forensic experts who spoke to the Daily Beast agreed that the majority of Kenyon’s symptoms sounded more like acute exposure to something toxic, rather than slow poisoning over time.
Kevin Shanks, a forensic toxicologist at Axis Forensic Toxicology who also writes the blog The Dose Makes The Poison, advised Kenyon on her toxicology testing and results. He told the Daily Beast that he was unable to comment on the story, as he has been “privy to specific case details and evidence due to early engagement from Kenyon’s attorney for potential toxicology consultation.”
“I don’t doubt she was having health problems, and she should absolutely get tested by a board-certified medical toxicologist,” Johnson-Arbor said. “But those toxins listed in her hair results are likely not the answer.”