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A Milwaukee woman has been charged with first-degree murder after being accused of fatally poisoning a friend with eye drops and staging her death as an overdose — then defrauding the woman for nearly $300,000, according to a criminal complaint filed last week.
Jessy R. Kurczewski, 37, was arrested and booked into Waukesha County Correctional Facilities, online jail records show. Officials suspect Kurczewski murdered the woman, who has not been identified by authorities, with tetrahydrozoline, which is the main ingredient in eyedrops. It’s unclear how the woman ingested the solution.
"The state believes that [the] defendant has evidenced her capacity to take advantage of at-risk individuals and poses a risk to the public," said state attorney Abbey Nickolie, NBC News reported.
The woman’s death was initially suspected to be a drug overdose; however, authorities now believe Kurczewski staged the death that way. Crushed pills were later found on the woman’s chest, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal.
Kurczewski later confessed that she watched the victim imbibe Visine with vodka shortly before she died. She also allegedly told a cellmate at Taycheedah Correctional Institution that she slipped the victim “several bottles of Visine to kill her.” According to a criminal complaint, Kurczewski didn't think the eyedrops would kill her because she had been drinking it “regularly for so long.”
Following the woman’s death, Kurczewski assumed control of her financial holdings, investigators said. In total, investigators believe Kurczewski fleeced the dead woman for more than $290,000, records show. In one instance, she allegedly fraudulently cashed a check made out to her from the victim in the amount of $130,204.
"The amount was arrived at based on the different places of credit card activity, the amounts, the frequency of use and based on the continued activity after," the criminal complaint stated.
Kurczewski had told the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department she was the woman’s only friend, acted as her caregiver, and had her power of attorney, according to court filings.
The victim’s death, which her family said they found “suspicious,” was ultimately ruled a homicide when the toxic levels of tetrahydrozoline were discovered in her system. The Waukesha County Medical Examiner stated it was “impossible” for such high levels of the toxin to have entered her system through her eyes alone.
Kurczewski denied staging the victim’s body. She is being held on a $1 million bond. Court records do not list an attorney representing her in the case.
In recent years, a number of people have used eye drops to fatally poison others. In 2018, paramedic Joshua Hunsucker cashed in as a beneficiary on a $250,000 payout after feeding his wife a lethal dose of eyedrop solution, according to the Shelby Star. Stacy Hunsucker died of cardiac arrest after ingesting the over-the-counter eye drops.
Common brands like Visine, Clarine, and Murine Plus contain tetrahydrozoline, which can be lethal if ingested.
“As little as one to two milliliters can be dangerous or fatal for kids or children,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University Of New York. “Adults vary a lot more in terms of body size and body mass. If you look at some of the past cases, there have been situations in which a bottle or even sometimes less than a half a bottle [of eyedrops] can cause a lot of problems.”
Tetrahydrozoline, Lee said, binds to alpha-adrenergic receptors throughout the body, in turn constricting blood vessels and adversely affecting the central nervous system.
“Your heart has to get enough blood — if you constrict the blood vessels that are supplying blood to the heart, that can then put the heart in danger,” he said.
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