Flier warning public of LSD-soaked tattoo dupes parents, police No evidence of 'Blue Star' found

letter's origin a mystery

September 27, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

John Cook got the warning flier from his foreman at work. Nancy Winter's child brought it home from nursery school. It crops up in pediatricians' waiting rooms and on computer bulletin boards.

It's known as the Blue Star Letter.

Warning that persons unknown are selling a temporary tattoo in the shape of a blue star that's soaked in the hallucinogen LSD, it's targeted primarily at families of preschool and elementary school children.

It causes outbreaks of fear and concern among parents. It also causes headaches for police and drug abuse officials in Maryland and across the country.

That's because the flier is a hoax.

There has never been any evidence of a blue star tattoo soaked in LSD sold to any child. Nor have authorities ever seen a temporary tattoo laced with the drug.

At the beginning of every school year for at least five years, the flier has appeared. When authorities track it down and cut off one supply, hundreds more appear.

In Maryland, the flier has appeared most frequently in Baltimore County, although no one knows why.

"Our success in educating the public about drug awareness in this case might be working against us in trying to stop this hoax," said Michael Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse.

The flier takes different forms. But almost every one urges: "Please copy and post at work. Give to friends. Send to your local schools. This is very serious. Young lives have already been taken. This is growing faster than we can warn parents and professions."

When a parent comes across the flier, Mr. Gimbel said, the first reaction -- with good intentions -- is to spread the word to as many other parents as possible.

As a result, the flier is often duplicated and sent to school for distribution to parents. It's reprinted in PTA newsletters, hand stuffed into mailboxes and even left on buses.

Finding the letter's source is almost impossible, said Lt. Col. Tom Carr, chief of the Bureau of Drug Enforcement for the Maryland State Police. "We run out of leads very quickly."

Consider the flier John Cook got from his foreman at the Carr Lowrey Glass Co. It came with a memo from the company's vice president for administration urging employees to take it home and send it to school with their children.

"I have several grandchildren in schools in Baltimore County, and this flier really got me worried," Mr. Cook said.

Nancy Winter, the glass company's vice president, said she found the letter among papers one of her children brought home from nursery school.

"One of your fears as a parent is that something like this could be endangering your child and other children," Mrs. Winter said. "I thought this was important enough to alert . . . our company about."

Mrs. Winter's child goes to the nursery school at the Glenmar Methodist Church in Ellicott City.

Louise Walker, the school's administrator, said the letter was handed to her by a fellow church board member.

"I put in on the school's bulletin board and several parents said I should make copies and send it home with each child, so I did," she said. "The letter was very frightening because these temporary tattoos are popular with young children."

Mrs. Walker said the person who gave her the flier had found it in her mailbox at home.

Before John Cook sent the flier to school with his grandchildren, he called Mr. Gimbel's office. There he learned of the hoax.

Nancy Winter learned about the hoax after she distributed the flier.

Barbara Weber also contacted Mr. Gimbel's office before bringing the flier to a PTA meeting at her child's Essex-area elementary school. Her husband, who works for a federal agency, saw the flier on his computer system at the office, printed it and brought it home.

"Whoever started this letter has to be twisted," she said.

Colonel Carr said he has contacted law enforcement agencies around the country, but none has traced the Blue Star letter to its origin.

The most recent version, in its second year of distribution, identifies the source as "J. O'Donnell" of the Hospital Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Service in Danbury, Conn.

The treatment center is real. But Gudrun Turner, coordinator of marketing and client services for the Danbury facility, said no one named J. O'Donnell has ever worked there.

"Our name started appearing on these fliers last year, and ever since we have been inundated with calls from around the country," Mrs. Turner said. "We have absolutely nothing to do with it."

Mrs. Turner said the center was aware of the Blue Star letter for several years before its name began appearing on it. She said the flier started on the East Coast but has spread across the country.

"It's getting completely out of hand," she said. "But I don't blame people for distributing it because it is a frightening letter."

The letter is frightening, said Mr. Gimbel, in part because of the many inaccuracies it contains.

First, LSD is generally sold in small tablets or sprayed on postage stamp-sized blotters that can be licked.

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