Cynthia Sommer didn’t fit the role of a grieving Marine widow. Shortly after her husband died suddenly, she hosted boisterous parties at her home on the base.
Authorities say she showed Marine wives her newly enhanced breasts — paid for with her husband’s life-insurance policy. And within two months, she had taken up with another man.
Military investigators say Mrs. Sommer wanted a life that was out of her reach as a mother of four working at a Subway restaurant and married to a strict Marine — and they say she poisoned her husband with arsenic to get it.
Mrs. Sommer, 32, is in a Palm Beach County, Fla., jail fighting extradition back to San Diego. She is charged with first-degree murder for financial gain, a special circumstance that could carry the death penalty. Mrs. Sommer’s next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4 in Florida.
Marine Sgt. Todd Sommer, 23, died in February 2002 in his home at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. His death initially was ruled a heart attack, but tests of his liver later found levels of arsenic 1,020 times above normal, court documents show. Arsenic is a colorless and usually tasteless poison that causes stomach distress and then death.
After a lengthy investigation by military and civilian authorities, the San Diego County medical examiner concluded this October that the cause of death was acute arsenic poisoning.
Only his wife had the motive or the close access to poison him, Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent Rob Terwilliger said in a court statement filed last month seeking a warrant for Mrs. Sommer’s arrest.
According to the statement, Sgt. Sommer began showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning on Feb. 8, 2002 — 10 days before he died. That day, his wife visited a plastic surgeon’s office and inquired about breast augmentation, authorities say.
Sgt. Sommer’s death left his widow a $250,000 lump-sum payment from his service member’s life-insurance policy as well as a $6,000 death gratuity, Mr. Terwilliger said. She also was entitled to receive $1,871 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs.