A Utah woman plead guilty to multiple charges after authorities say she bought a biological agent from the dark web to harm her former roommate.
Court documents state Janie Lynn Ridd faced charges of aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, a second-degree felony, attempted abuse of a vulnerable adult, a third-degree felony, and attempted possession of a biological agent, a second-degree felony.
Ridd bought Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is a strain of Staphylococcus that is resistant to the antibiotic called vancomycin. VRSA can cause illness from skin infections to severe invasive diseases. It can result in pneumonia and/or septicemia or even death, court documents state.
Authorities say Ridd went to the dark web to purchase VRSA. She claimed to be a biology teacher at a college preparatory school in Utah and said she needed the biologic agent for a science experiment on antibiotic resistance.
Authorities confirmed Ridd is not a biology teacher and does not “operate with any or have means to handle such biological substances” at her previous job.
“When the vendor advised the defendant that VRSA may be obtained for scientific research through more legitimate sources, the defendant continued to pursue the purchase from the vendor, offering to pay overnight shipping to obtain the VRSA faster,” court document states.
In December 2019, Ridd purchased VRSA from the vendor for $300 worth of bitcoin and provided her home address in Holladay for the shipping label.
Records indicate two other people lived at that same residence: the victim, Rachel, and her son.
According to a Salt Lake City police report, Ridd took care of her roommate, who was on disability while recovering from multiple surgeries.
“The defendant has control over roommate’s finances and personal documents,” court documents state. “The defendant earns wages as Roommate’s caretaker. Other state records indicate the defendant is respite/relief caregiver for the roommate’s minor son.”
Police say Ridd and Rachel’s “hostile” relationship forced the woman to file for a protective order against Ridd and gain temporary custody of her son. Three days later, the protective order was lifted, and Ridd regained custody of the boy.
Court documents state Ridd physically and emotionally abused her roommate and her son.
On Dec. 17, 2019, agents delivered a package with faux VRSA to Ridd at her mailbox. Ridd picked up the package the next day, drove to a parking lot where she idled in the car for a time, then drove to her work.
Agents reported seeing the package in Ridd’s car when she went into work, where they later made contact and asked her questions about the VRSA.
At first, Ridd said she ordered coffee from an online supply company for $300. Shortly after, she admitted to lying about the coffee and said the package contained a “biological which she had ordered online form the dark web to make beer at home in the basement,” court documents state.
Ridd then said she ordered a form of “staph” for “experimental purposes to satisfy a personal curiosity she had stemming from her roommate’s recent exposure to MRSA,” a similar biological agent.
Ridd claimed she wanted to store the staph in her garage, but did not have the proper equipment to experiment.
Court documents state Ridd admitted to ordering the VRSA from the dark web marketplace, as well as other items to conduct experiments.
She claimed to be “best friends” with Rachel for 25 years and she had custody Rachel’s son if she died. They also had life insurance policies, with each being the beneficiary for the other.
Ridd said she became upset in October 2019 when Rachel wanted her niece to become her son’s legal guardian.
At the end of the interview, Ridd was arrested and three pills were found in her pocket. Ridd said they belonged to her roommate, but didn’t say why she had them, court documents state.
Authorities served a search warrant at Ridd’s home and spoke with her roommate in December. Rachel said after her neck surgery in March 2019, an MRSA infection was discovered in the wound.
Rachel recalled an alarming conversation with Ridd to the agents. She said after watching a true crime television show in March, Ridd reportedly said she thought the best way to kill someone and get away with it would be to inject a person with insulin.
Three months later, Rachel had two separate episodes of “dangerous sugar levels.” She was transported to the hospital. Rachel is not a diabetic and does not take insulin, according to court documents.
Agents discovered Ridd purchased insulin in September 2019 from a vendor on the dark web.
While searching the Holladay home, agents found several hypodermic needles that did not belong to Rachel.
She said before one of her surgeries in October 2019, she and Ridd got into a fight about wanting to change her will. Ridd reportedly tried to find the document in the safe, but it was not there. While searching Ridd’s vehicle in December 2019, agents found a copy of Rachel’s will.
After her surgery in October 2019, Rachel developed three different golf ball-sized infections on the wound. One tested positive for E. coli. He surgeon told investigators that the infection did not come from the surgery and “must have been injected,” court documents state.
Attorney General Sean Reyes and Assistant Attorney General Michael Gadd recommended Monday that Ridd be sentenced to one to 15 years’ imprisonment and not be eligible for parole until Fall 2028, according to a sentencing memo filed in the Third District Court.