Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Patricia Virginia Bolton Wright
Nicknames: Patsy
Location: Arlington, Texas
Date: October 23, 1987


Details: Forty-three-year-old Patsy Wright died under mysterious circumstances in her Arlington, Texas, bedroom at 3am on October 23, 1987. A few days later, her friends and family gathered to mourn her tragic and unexpected death. Her daughter, Leslie, says that she never expected Patsy to die so suddenly because she was healthy and had no medical problems. Her sister, Sally Horning, says that she and the rest of the family still cannot believe this happened. She says she can still see Patsy coming into the room smiling and hear her laugh. She says Patsy’s death does not seem real at all.
Eight days after Patsy’s memorial service, a routine autopsy was performed. A mass spectrometer checked for 56,000 different foreign substances in her blood samples. Suddenly, the machine showed a violent positive reaction. The lab technician immediately requested identification. Within seconds, the chilling answer came back: strychnine.
Because of its horrible side effects (which include violent convulsions, muscle twitches, and the feeling of suffocation), strychnine poisoning is considered an unusually cruel way to die. Death by strychnine is also very rare. According to a leading toxicologist, since 1950, there has only been one confirmed case of homicide by strychnine poisoning in the entire United States. In the death of Patsy Wright, the Texas authorities faced a puzzling question. How had this virulent poison entered Patsy’s bloodstream?
At 3am on the morning of Patsy’s death, Sally and her husband, Steve, were awakened by a frantic phone call from Patsy. When Steve answered, Patsy said that she needed to talk to Sally. When he asked her what the matter was, she said she could not breathe. He immediately gave the phone to Sally. Patsy said that she had taken some cold medicine and that “something’s really wrong.” When Sally asked for more information, she got no response. Patsy had collapsed and dropped the phone.
Sally called the police, but since she did not know the address for Patsy’s rental house, they could not send an ambulance. Sally and Steve then drove to the house. They went to the front door but realized it was locked. Sally did not have a key. They banged on the door but received no response. Steve went around to the side of the house and noticed that one of the windows was cracked open. He used it to enter Patsy’s bedroom. He saw her lying on the bed and noticed the lights and television were on. He then went to the front door and let Sally in.
Sally thought that Patsy had fainted. She and Steve tried to wake Patsy up, but that did not work. She then called for an ambulance. Steve tried to perform CPR on Patsy. While he did that, green fluid came out of her mouth. He spat it out onto the bed and a nearby towel. A few minutes later, paramedics arrived. Sally and Steve told them about the call and how they had found her.
At first, Steve thought Patsy was responding to the paramedics’ revival attempts because he could see the monitor going up and down. But this was actually because the paramedics were pushing on her chest to try to revive her. Sally rode with Patsy in the ambulance to Arlington Memorial Hospital. Unfortunately, the paramedics were unable to save her. They told Sally they had tried everything possible, but there was nothing they could do to bring her back.
Neither Sally nor the police had any reason to suspect foul play, and at first, Patsy’s family thought she had died of natural causes. But in her phone call, Patsy had mentioned taking Nyquil cold medicine. So the police collected the bottle for possible analysis. When they received the blood test results showing that strychnine had been detected, they had the bottle tested. The cold medicine contained huge amounts of strychnine. In fact, there was enough in it to kill eight or nine people. The FBI ruled out product tampering. The police believed that either someone close to Patsy put the strychnine in her medicine or she put it in herself.
Patsy seemed to have everything to live for. She had two children, Wayne and Leslie, and was close with both of them. She and Sally were successful businesswomen. They owned two wax museums worth over $6 million. One of the museums, the Wax Museum of the Southwest, was located in Grand Prairie, Texas, and had been founded by their father years earlier. They also planned to open a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in San Antonio. Patsy, a horseback rider, had just bought three prized Quarter Horses, and she planned to train them herself. She was also in the process of buying a thirty-acre ranch in Aledo, Texas.
Dr. Jo Ann Houts, the consultant psychiatrist for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner, was asked to perform a psychological autopsy on Patsy. She interviewed Patsy’s family and friends to try and determine her state of mind at the time of her death. Dr. Houts says that, in her professional opinion, it is highly unlikely that Patsy committed suicide or was at high risk for suicide. She notes that Patsy had no financial issues, was in excellent health, and was planning for the future. She had even set her alarm clock for the morning of her death.
Patsy’s family and friends also do not think she would have committed suicide. Wayne says he talked to her on the phone the night before her death, and she seemed fine. It also seemed unlikely that she would commit suicide by strychnine poisoning due to its horrible side effects.
Sergeant Jay Gustafson of the Arlington Police Department began to investigate Patsy’s death as a murder. He learned that on the night before her death, she attended a dress rehearsal for a Halloween show at the museum. She left at around 9pm, went to a bar with a friend, and then went home. Once home, she made and received several long-distance calls. Later that night, she put on her pajamas and made a late-night snack. Then, she took the strychnine-laced cold medicine. Shortly afterward, she called Sally and Steve.
Sgt. Gustafson had two clues that made him think that the murderer was probably someone Patsy knew very well. First, her burglar alarm was not set on the night she died. She had put one in after someone had broken several of her windows. Secondly, only those close to her knew it was her habit to take nighttime cold medicine when she had trouble sleeping.
Sgt. Gustafson believes that Patsy’s killer knew her and her habits. The first people he questioned were Sally and Steve. Sally says it did not take them long to realize that they were being considered suspects. She says the police asked some questions that were not very comfortable. She does not ever want to go through that again.
Sgt. Gustafson looked for a motive for Patsy’s murder. He learned that her wealth came from the two wax museums she owned with Sally. The museums were not only tourist attractions but also centers of social life in their respective towns. When Patsy died, the museums were inherited by Sally and Steve.
According to Patsy’s friends, she did not like Steve. She was reportedly infuriated that he had spent Sally’s inheritance and then gone into debt. She had tried to make arrangements so that if anything were to happen to her or Sally, Steve would not get any of their money or the museums. She died two weeks before she was supposed to have a meeting with Sally about it. The day before her death, she reportedly said she did not want him “anywhere around [her].”
Steve says the police asked him and Sally questions he never thought they would ask. He was surprised and hurt, but at the same time, he knew that the questions had to be asked. The authorities speculated that if Steve had poisoned Patsy, he would not have performed CPR on her, taking a potentially deadly liquid into his mouth. However, the paramedics told Sgt. Gustafson that when they performed CPR, clear (not green) liquid came out of Patsy’s mouth. One paramedic said that CPR had not been performed correctly on her before they did it. Could Steve have pretended to perform CPR on Patsy?
Sally, Steve, and other family members (including Patsy’s children and first husband) voluntarily took polygraph tests. All of them passed. Her boyfriend at the time, Larry Todd, was also questioned. She was reportedly dating other people as well, but authorities do not consider them suspects.
Patsy’s family suspected that Bill and Bonnie Alexander, a couple who boarded Patsy’s horses, may have been involved in her death. The day before, she had written them a check. Shortly after her death, they filled in the amount – $4,000 – and cashed it. Also, on the day before her death, a friend who was helping with her finances asked her if she had any outstanding checks. She told her friend that she did not. It was also discovered that Patsy’s horses were in the Alexanders’ names.
Bonnie claims that Patsy gave them the check and told them to add up what she owed them in boarding and contest entry fees. Bonnie also claims that the horses were in their names because Patsy did not want Steve to get them “in case something happened to [her].” But Patsy’s family theorized that Bill may have been in love with Patsy and killed her after she rebuffed him. They also theorized that Bonnie may have killed her out of jealousy. However, there is no evidence to support these theories. Sgt. Gustafson discovered that in the past, strychnine was sometimes used by horse breeders to treat their animals. Bill and Bonnie both took polygraphs and passed.
The police also gave Patsy’s former boyfriend, Leo Fikes, a polygraph test. Sgt. Gustafson notes that Leo was one of the people who would have been close enough to her to know about her taking cold medicine at night. He also owned a chemical company, which led the police to speculate that he may have had access to strychnine. An anonymous caller also claimed that Leo had dated Linda Donahew, an Arlington woman who had been murdered in June 1987. According to Sgt. Gustafson, Leo was very much in love with Patsy, but she did not want to get remarried.
Leo says he had no fear of any questions or a polygraph test. He admits he was “devastated” by Patsy’s rejection. However, he notes that they had not been very close for seven or eight months before her death. He says he had seen her and been out with her two or three times, but there was a certain tension when they were together. He insists that he did not kill her. The police determined that his company did not use strychnine. He also passed his polygraph test.
Patsy’s ex-husband, Robert Cox, was another person questioned by the police. The two met in 1981. He also owned a wax museum. In April 1983, they were married. During the marriage, he was verbally abusive toward her. She paid for almost everything, as he gambled away most of his money. At one point, she contacted a counselor who had worked with Robert and his previous wife. The counselor called Robert a sociopath and told Patsy to leave him.
A year after the marriage began, Robert and Patsy divorced. While they were separated, she obtained a restraining order against him, claiming he was harassing her. Some people told Sgt. Gustafson that Patsy was afraid of Robert. She believed that he had followed her home, parked nearby, and watched her on multiple occasions. He had reportedly threatened to “ruin” her. While they were married, he told her that he knew people who could “snuff someone out.”
Patsy was also going to testify against Robert in an upcoming civil suit between him and his insurance company. In February 1983, his warehouse burned down in a fire. He claimed it was an accident, but the insurance company believed he had ordered the fire to be set. According to Sally, he had called Patsy on several occasions and asked her to change her testimony. She told him that she was going to tell the truth. She died ten days before the trial was supposed to begin. He later won his case. According to Sgt. Gustafson, Robert was offered a polygraph test, but he refused to take it.
Robert maintains his innocence, as does Leo. And there is evidence to suggest that neither of them is guilty. On the night she died, there were two empty dinner plates on a tray next to her bed. It seems highly unlikely that she would have spent an intimate evening with either Robert or Leo. Could there have been an unknown visitor that night, intimate enough to know her personal habits and share a late-night dinner with her?
The day after Patsy died, her daughter, Leslie, received a strange phone call. The female caller asked for Patsy. Leslie said, “Well, she’s not here right now. Can I take a message?” The caller, however, persisted in wanting to talk to Patsy. Finally, Leslie told the caller that Patsy had passed away the previous day. The caller said something to the effect of, “Well, good, I wanted her dead.” Leslie immediately hung up.
Leslie does not know if it was a prank phone call or if it meant something. She wonders if somebody wanted to find out if Patsy had died by taking the poisoned cold medicine. But she also says that it might be unrelated. She does not know.
Sometime before her death, Patsy told Sally that the spare keys to the house, which she kept over her oven, had disappeared. It is possible that the killer took the keys while visiting Patsy one day and then used them to enter her house. The police noted that she had been away from her house two weeks before her death on a camping trip with Leslie. She also went horseback riding, met with her realtor, and attended the museum party the day before.
Strangely, Patsy is not the only person connected to the wax museums to die under mysterious circumstances. One day in September 1984, Patsy’s secretary, twenty-six-year-old Lori Ann Williams, went home sick. She was later taken to the hospital, complaining of severe stomach pains. Doctors removed her appendix, but it was later found to be healthy. Eleven days later, she died. Her cause of death was officially listed as “viral pneumonia,” a complication of the surgery. However, a forensic scientist believes she may have been poisoned. Her symptoms were similar to those of arsenic poisoning. It is not known if her death is related to Patsy’s.
On September 9, 1988, the Wax Museum of the Southwest caught fire and burned down. More than 300 wax figures, along with a collection of antiques and memorabilia, were destroyed. Fortunately, no one was injured. Fire investigators first believed that a faulty electrical box may have caused the fire. However, the cause was later changed from “accidental” to “undetermined.”
Some of the fire investigators are certain that the fire was arson. They note that it spread very quickly, possibly due to an accelerant (although no tests were done to confirm this). Despite the intensity of the fire, several expensive wax figures were only slightly damaged. However, the investigation was hampered when the original file disappeared from a locked file drawer in a locked room at the Grand Prairie Fire Department.
On September 24, a man was seen combing through the debris of the museum. When he noticed that police were watching him, he picked up a financial ledger book from the museum’s business office and took off running. As he ran away, he tossed the ledger into a nearby bush. A police officer went after him and was able to write down his car’s license plate number as he drove off.
The man was soon identified as twenty-two-year-old Stanley Lester Poynor, described as a drifter who held several jobs for brief periods of time, including grocery store clerk and pharmacy technician. He sometimes used the name “Steven Poyner” and had three different Social Security numbers. Although his jobs were low-paying, he was able to live a “comfortable” lifestyle. He had previously been arrested for arson. Police have been unable to locate him, and they do not know what connection, if any, he has to this case.
The authorities are still convinced that the murderer is someone who knew Patsy well. Sally says it is frightening because they know that the killer knew Patsy and her habits well and was close enough to her to know how to get in her house and poison the cold medicine. Sally is afraid that she and her family know the person well.
Leslie says it is hard for her to know that the killer probably knew Patsy well. She is certain that she and her brother Wayne know the killer since they were such a big part of Patsy’s life and knew most of the people she knew. She says it is also hard because she does not know who she can trust anymore.
Sgt. Gustafson compares Patsy’s killer to someone who sets a trap out in the woods to trap something illegal. The trapper knows what path the animal goes down. He knows if he sets a trap and walks away from it, he can be away and in a crowd of people when the trap goes off. Sgt. Gustafson says that Patsy was alone when she took the medicine that night, and the medicine was like a trap.
The strychnine that killed Patsy was in a pure powder form, the most concentrated type of the poison available. Fewer than 600 outlets nationwide deal with this type of poison, and all sales are strictly regulated by the federal government. However, it is also available in some college chemistry labs. The authorities hope that someone will remember a suspicious sale before Patsy’s death in October 1987.

Suspects: Sally and Steve Horning were initially considered suspects in Patsy’s death. The police speculated that they may have killed her so they could control the wax museums. In fact, following her death, they inherited the museums. It was also known that Patsy did not like Steve and did not want him to have control of the museums or their money if she or Sally died. She and Sally were supposed to meet about this shortly after her death. However, the police do not believe Steve would have given Patsy CPR, potentially getting the strychnine in his own mouth, if he poisoned her. Both he and Sally passed polygraphs.
Bill and Bonnie Alexander were also considered potential suspects. They boarded Patsy’s horses and received a check from her the day before her death, which they filled out and cashed. Her horses were also in their names. However, they claim that she told them to fill out the check and had the horses in their names to keep Steve from getting them if she died. They both passed polygraphs.
Leo Fikes was also considered a suspect. He knew that Patsy took cold medicine before bed. The two had broken up several months before her death. He says they had not been close since then. He also passed a polygraph test.
Robert Cox was considered a suspect as well. He was verbally abusive towards Patsy. After they separated, she obtained a restraining order against him, claiming he was harassing her. She reportedly feared him and believed he was following her and watching her house. She was also supposed to testify against him in a civil suit about an arson fire. He tried to get her to change her testimony, but she refused. He refused to take a polygraph.
Stanley Poynor was seen stealing a financial ledger book from the ashes of one of Patsy’s museums that had burned down. However, it is not known if he has any connection to her or the museums.
Based on the fact that Patsy’s burglar alarm had not been set and that her cold medicine was poisoned led the police to believe she was killed by someone she knew.
Evidence found at the scene suggested that another person (not Leo or Robert) was responsible for Patsy’s death. Next to her bed were two empty dinner plates on a tray.
One day after Patsy’s death, a woman called her house asking for her. When Leslie told the woman that Patsy had died, the woman said she was glad Patsy was dead. It is not known who the woman was or if she had anything to do with Patsy’s death.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the April 26, 1989 episode.
  • It was also featured on The Trail Went Cold podcast.
  • One of the wax figures featured in the museums was Billy the Kid.
  • Robert Cox refused to cooperate with the show.
  • The Alexanders, Poynor, Lori Ann’s death, and the museum’s fire were not mentioned in the segment.

Results: Unsolved - In June 1989, Patsy’s family hired private detective Bill Dear to investigate her case. He was suspicious of Lori Ann’s death and believed she was poisoned with arsenic. He theorized she was killed to “scare” Patsy after Patsy stumbled onto something sinister at the museum. However, the police found no evidence of illegal activity there. Her family believes she ingested poison meant for Patsy.
On September 12, 1989, Lori Ann’s body was exhumed, and a second autopsy was performed. However, a toxicological evaluation found no trace of arsenic in her system. Dear believes the poison may have exited her body before her death, possibly due to the intravenous solutions given to her at the hospital. Minute traces of strychnine were found, although it was not enough to be harmful. Sally and Steve fired Dear shortly afterward. However, Lori Ann’s mother asked him to continue investigating.
In late September 1989, the medical examiner officially changed the manner of Patsy’s death from “undetermined” to “homicide.”
On September 26, 1989, Stanley Poynor was arrested and charged with theft for stealing the ledger from the museum. He was working as a student mortician at the time of his arrest. After that, the police said there was evidence linking him to the museum. They questioned him about the museum fire and the deaths of Patsy and Lori Ann.
Poynor admitted removing the ledger but claimed he thought it was a museum piece. He also claimed he ran from the police out of fear but did not know they were still searching for him. He denied any involvement in the fire or the deaths and said he had no connection to the museum. He also denied using an alias. He was given a polygraph test, which he claimed to have passed. Four days later, he was released on bond after the police said they could find no links between him and the deaths.
Dear notes that Poynor would have had to go across the museum’s debris, past several other artifacts, and climb on a chair to get the ledger from a shelf. He believes Poynor either was hired to steal the ledger or was searching for things in the rubble that he could use as blackmail. Dear says Poynor made several large purchases after the fire, including a lake lot, a mobile home, and a boat.
A grand jury later reduced the charge against Poynor to criminal trespass. He was convicted on that charge and later released. In March 1990, the Palace of Wax was opened, replacing the Wax Museum of the Southwest (which had been destroyed in the fire).
In December 1990, a fire was deliberately set in the bathroom of a church youth center in Austin, Texas. Poynor was questioned about it but disappeared after giving investigators a false name. An arrest warrant was issued for him, charging him with arson and theft.
On April 13, 1991, an off-duty Dallas police officer was directing traffic at an intersection when he signaled Poynor to stop his car. But he did not stop. Instead, he struck the officer and continued driving with the officer still on the hood. The officer fired six shots through the windshield, killing Poynor. The officer was not seriously hurt. Poynor was twenty-five at the time of his death. He was never charged in Patsy or Lori Ann’s deaths, although the police considered him their “only suspect.”
Dear believes that Poynor was involved but was not the actual killer. He notes that one-way tickets from Mexico to Dallas were found in Poynor’s home. The police have also noted that Poynor had connections outside of the country that were “strange.” Dear believes Poynor worked with others to commit the deaths and the fire.
Leo Fikes was later ruled out as a suspect. In 2014, he passed away.
Robert Cox passed away on October 17, 2021.