“Brief Lives of Famous Men #1: Bruce Nickell” / Memorable Fancies #2203

Bruce Nickell was a mean little kid, my 1945 third-grade nemesis. Snotty but dumb – you know the type. People in our little town called him “Nichols,” but his last name really was “Nickell.”

Well, I went on to bigger places and forgot all about Bruce Nickell until – until he became famous in 1986 as one of the first “Extra-Strength Excedrin” poisoning victims, where “extra-strength” was a real understatement. Although the pharmaceutical company was blamed at first, and recalled all their Excedrin from area stores, Bruce, as it turned out, had met his fate at the hands of his wife Stella.

“Stella met Bruce Nickell in 1974,” according to Wikipedia. “Nickell was a heavy equipment operator with a drinking habit, which suited Stella’s lifestyle, and the two were married in 1976. In the course of their ten-year marriage, Bruce Nickell entered rehab and gave up drinking. Reportedly, Stella resented this. Her bar visits were curtailed by Bruce’s sobriety.”

Reforming, as it turned out, had come too late for Bruce. On June 5, 1986, he died. At first, his death was ruled “due to natural causes,” and Stella collected on the $76,000 life-insurance policy the couple had taken out. So far, so good for her.

But then, Stella got greedy. The policy she’d taken out on Bruce paid an extra $100,000 if his death had been accidental. She insisted that Bruce’s body be exhumed, and traces of cyanide were found. But was that an accident, picking up an innocent-looking but deadly bottle in a drugstore? Investigators turned their attention to Stella, and found doctored Excedrin bottles, and much more evidence, in her home – she’d neglected to destroy it. Other information turned up, including proof that she’d forged Bruce’s signature on the insurance application forms. Before long she was arrested and charged with her husband’s murder.

Stella was tried and sent to prison for two ninety-year terms and two ten-year terms, all to run concurrently.

She’s eligible for parole soon. If it’s granted, I think I’ll give her a call and reminisce about Bruce, dearly departed mean little kid, and how she and he have their own Wikipedia article while that storehouse of all knowledge still refuses to recognize my own existence.

But if she offers me some pain killer, I’ll just say “no, thanks.”

           >> below: a one-act play available from the publisher, stageplays.com <<

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