There Are New Developments in Joe Gilliam’s Poisoning, but the Mystery of Who Tried to Kill Him Remains

A polygraph test, a lawsuit and the involvement of the FBI are among the new elements of a tangled story.

A lot has happened since WW first reported on the poisoning of Joe Gilliam last November. The new developments include a lie detector test, a lawsuit, and the entry of the FBI into the case.

But the question of who twice tried to kill Gilliam with the heavy metal thallium remains a mystery.

Gilliam, once among the most influential men in the state Capitol, will turn 60 in three weeks. His friends and family say police appear to be no closer to making an arrest in his poisoning than they were when WW first reported on Gilliam’s plight last year (“Who Poisoned Joe Gilliam—Twice?” Nov. 3, 2021). Gilliam remains unable to speak or feed himself, a prisoner of his own body at a very expensive Clark County, Wash., long-term care facility.

The lack of progress has members of Gilliam’s inner circle pointing fingers at each other—and concerns for his safety have left Gilliam more isolated than ever.

“We’re all really frustrated with the pace of the investigation,” says Dan Floyd, a Gilliam protégé who is now chief operating officer of the Hood to Coast Relay.

For more than two decades, Gilliam, a Lake Oswego resident, led the Northwest Grocery Association, which represents the industry’s biggest players in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. He played a lead role in the privatization of Washington’s liquor sales a decade ago and occupied a central position in workers’ compensation and tax battles in Oregon.

But, in 2020, Gilliam, a hiker, golfer and bon vivant in the pink of health, abruptly and dramatically fell ill: In excruciating pain, he could not walk or digest food. He lost his eyesight at times and, most tellingly, his hair.

That hair loss provided one of the clues for doctors at the Mayo Clinic near Gilliam’s vacation home in Cave Creek, Ariz.: A person or persons unknown poisoned Gilliam twice with thallium, a rodent poison banned in the U.S. in 1965.

Initially, according to a search warrant served at Gilliam’s Cave Creek home in January 2021, police suspected Ron Smith, a longtime friend of Gilliam’s. Smith, a former lobbyist, had a felony conviction in Colorado for threatening an ex-wife, and he and Gilliam got into a dispute over money before Gilliam fell ill the first time. Smith lived in the guest house on Gilliam’s Arizona property.

But events in the past few months have muddied the suspect pool. Tim Mooney, a longtime friend of both Gilliam’s and Smith’s, says Smith is innocent. (Smith did not respond to a request for comment.)

“There’s no way in hell Ron did this. He had no motivation to do it,” says Mooney, an Arizona political consultant who did work for Gilliam in Oregon and encouraged him to buy the property in Cave Creek. “Ron and Joe were great friends for 30 years, and that friendship never died.”

For much of the past year, Christina Marini, Gilliam’s girlfriend, visited him several times a week at the care facility where he was admitted in early 2021 after being diagnosed with thallium poisoning.

But last November, Gilliam’s guardian, his older sister Felicia Capps, blocked Marini from visiting.

“The family told me I couldn’t see Joe, to protect the integrity of the investigation,” Marini says. “The detective in Arizona said I’m a ‘person of interest’ even though they’ve done nothing to solve the case.” (Gilliam traveled to Arizona before both poisonings.)

Marini says she talked to the Lake Oswego detective assigned to Gilliam’s case and he advised her to take a polygraph test. (Neither the Lake Oswego Police Department nor the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office would comment.)

Marini says she took the lie detector test, spending a few hours with a detective for the Oregon City police. She got the results in mid-December of last year. “I sent an email to Felicia saying, ‘I passed—when can I see Joe?’” Marini says.

The answer: She couldn’t.

Marini says Capps told her she could send Gilliam a greeting card or video, but Marini thought that might upset him. She also believed others were pointing fingers at her.

“I know Tim Mooney has sent Felicia letters saying that I did it,” Marini says. “And Olivia thinks I poisoned her, too. It’s totally ridiculous.”

Olivia Gilliam is Joe Gilliam’s daughter, now 22. She stayed with her father while home from college in June 2020. She says both she and her father got very ill after an evening with Marini.

This January, Gilliam says, FBI agents visited her in Dallas, where her mother lives. They had an unusual request, she says.

“Two agents came to my house with a forensics kit,” Gilliam says. “They took four strands of my hair and packed them up.” (Her mother, Lisa Gilliam, confirms the FBI’s visit, saying the agents showed their badges.)

The agents were looking for traces of thallium, which the body excretes over time. But if Olivia Gilliam and her father had been poisoned on the same June evening in 2020, her hair might still contain traces of thallium. Gilliam says she has heard nothing further from the agents. (Capps, Joe Gilliam’s guardian, says she gave the FBI permission to take a sample of her brother’s hair but wouldn’t say more.)

The FBI declined to comment.

Then, in February, another surprise: Ron Smith filed a lawsuit against Joe Gilliam in Maricopa County, seeking the return of $60,000 he had loaned to Gilliam to buy the house in Cave Creek.

The lawsuit is pending, but some of Gilliam’s friends are puzzled by Smith’s gambit. They speculate that if he were guilty, he probably wouldn’t want to call further attention to himself by going to court.

Marini says she still suspects Smith and that she’s done everything she can to help Gilliam. She says she’s considering walking into the FBI’s office and demanding that the bureau ramp up the investigation. “I just want justice for Joe,” Marini says.

Two people who have visited Gilliam recently, Olivia Gilliam and Floyd, came away with mixed reactions. Gilliam thought she detected improvement in her father. “It was incredibly emotional,” she says. “You are thinking, ‘I can’t believe someone did this to you,’ but the more you sit with him and talk to him, there are moments when you feel you are talking to the old Joe.”

Floyd visited Gilliam last month but wasn’t sure how much his friend comprehended. “The medical staff say he’s able to understand people, but I have my doubts,” Floyd says.

In a court filing April 1, Capps noted the cost of Gilliam’s room and board alone was $21,288 per month and that doctors had told her the damage that the thallium did to her brother “is likely irreversible, and the chances of recovery are minuscule.”

Olivia Gilliam says she just wants to be able to have a conversation with her father again. “The poisoning still doesn’t feel real—that somebody close to him handed him a drink and truly wanted him to die,” she says. “That still doesn’t feel real.”