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Victim didn't detect any strange odor

Register Staff Reporter

A Mobile woman says she passed out after sniffing cologne offered for sale by a stranger and awoke with more than $800 missing from her purse and car in a bizarre case that a toxicologist said reminds him of a James Bond movie.

Bertha Johnson, 54, of St. Stephens Road in Mobile, told police the incident occurred around 2 p.m. Monday.

She said she had just pulled into the parking lot of AmSouth Bank in the 2300 block of St. Stephens Road when a woman approached her offering to sell her $45 bottles of cologne for $8.

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Ms. Johnson said she was sitting in her car when she sniffed the cologne, and when she awoke she was parked at World of Wicker in the 3000 block of Dauphin Street, about two miles from the bank.

She said her head was throbbing and more than $500 of her own money, and about $300 belonging to her employer, Coca-Cola, was missing. Someone at World of Wicker called about 2:30 p.m. to report the incident, police said.

Police are investigating the report as a theft but no arrest had been made as of Tuesday evening, said Officer DaVon Grey, a Mobile police spokesman.

Grey said he was not aware of any other case in which a victim was knocked out in such a fashion and then had money or items stolen from them.

"It's an unusual case," Grey said.

Grey said blood and urine samples were taken from Ms. Johnson for toxicology tests, and police hope to have the results later this week.

Dr. Matthew Barnhill, a toxicologist with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences office in Mobile, said Tuesday he had not yet gotten the blood and urine samples and had not been advised of the case.

He said it was the "first time I've ever run across something like this."

Barnhill said he has worked in the toxicology profession for 29 years and had no idea what could have been in the cologne that would cause a person to pass out that quickly.

Such knock-out drugs usually are administered in a drink, he said. To knock someone out by simply inhaling it, the drug or chemical must be very potent, he said.

"It seems like something more like out of a James Bond movie than something we see every day," Barnhill said. "At this point I don't have a specimen, so I have no idea at this point."

Ms. Johnson said that whatever was in the bottle caused her blood pressure to skyrocket and gave her a throbbing headache. She was being treated for the high blood pressure with pills and a patch on her left arm.

She said she had just pulled into the bank parking lot when a woman approached her trying to sell a brand-name cologne at a fraction of the regular cost.

Ms. Johnson recalled that the woman said, "Can I interest you in some cologne? ... "Here, I bet you will like this here, it sells real good."

Ms. Johnson said it smelled sweet and she didn't detect any strange chemical odor. She sniffed it once, liked it, sniffed it harder and blacked out.

"The last thing I remember is I smelled that cologne, and the next thing I remember was standing up, my keys in my hand, and thinking where the devil am I," Ms. Johnson said.

Ms. Johnson and Grey said people need to be aware of the scam especially with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approaching.

"I feel like I got flimflammed out of something that I should have known better than to even look out the window at her," Ms. Johnson said.

Ms. Johnson said the woman is black, weighs 120-130 pounds and is about 5 feet 7 inches tall. She was wearing a leopard print wrap on her head and large gold-loop earrings.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call police at 208-7211.

© 1999 Mobile Register. Used with permission.

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