SAN DIEGO — 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 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 she allegedly poisoned her husband with arsenic to get it.
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. The San Diego County district attorney’s office has not yet decided whether to seek it, prosecutor Laura Gunn said.
Sommer’s Florida attorney, Robert Gentile, did not return a message left seeking comment Wednesday. Her next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4 in Florida.
High arsenic levels
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 followed by death.
Following a lengthy investigation by military and civilian authorities, the San Diego County Medical Examiner concluded in October 2005 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 Cynthia Sommer’s arrest.
According to the statement, Todd 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.
It was a $5,400 surgery that her household income would not allow, according to Terwilliger’s statement. A credit check showed she had more than $23,000 in debt, Navy investigators found.
But Todd Sommer’s death left his widow a $250,000 lump-sum payment from his servicemember’s life insurance policy as well as a $6,000 death gratuity, according to Terwilliger. She also was entitled to receive $1,871 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Cindy’s excuse for the lifestyle she started living after (her husband) died was that he was very strict, he didn’t like for her to go out partying, staying out with friends,” said former Marine Brent Applebee, who told military investigators the widow showed him her still-taped up breasts.
“Todd also didn’t want her to get her breasts enlarged, so I think that she was living out the fantasy life she really wanted.”
Two weeks before her husband’s death, Cynthia Sommer paid $16.95 for an Internet dating service, authorities say.
During an 2001 investigation of child neglect-abuse, she allegedly told a North Carolina caseworker, “I have four kids. It isn’t like I could leave them and go anywhere. No one wants to baby-sit four kids.”
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