On Saturday, January 18, 1992, in Athens, seven people were rushed to the hospital after a food poisoning case. They all had tasted the pancakes that Maria Sabanioti, 56, had prepared for them, but only four people survived from this deadly delicacy.
Maria Sabanioti lived with her husband and her two daughters in Peristeri, a neighborhood in Athens, Greece. Her baking skills were quite popular in the area and everyone wanted a bite from her infamous tiganopsoma (a Greek treat that tastes a little bit like pancakes), which later, became the murder weapon against two families: the Moustopouloses and the Klimatsas. According to police sources, Sabanioti wanted to marry her daughter to the sons of the two families Kostas Moustopoulos and Antonis Klimatsas, but when they did not agree, she decided that it was time to get them out of her way.
Sabanioti denied every single accusation talking to the interrogator when authorities arrested her at the morning of January 23, 1992:
“I never wanted to hurt anyone. Someone else must had put poison in my flour when I was out shopping. My daughter told me that we had to go shopping, but I forgot it some minutes later. That’s why I began mixing the ingredients to make some yeast, and after a while, I went to the supermarket to buy some more ingredients leaving the door open behind. When I came back home, my daughter reminded me that we had to go and I gave Eleni Moustopoulos, a friend of mine, the yeast because I did not want it to spoil. I gave the rest of it to Irini Klimatsa to bake some bread too.”
Also, Maria Sabanioti claimed that she had no reason to kill the two families since both Moustopoulou and Klimatsa were good friends of hers and she insisted on supporting her theory that someone else had put poison in her flour. Actually, she said that her neighbor, Agapi Koasidou, who was in Korinthos -a town some miles out of Athens- that day, may have been the one who put the “secret ingredient” in her flour. After Koasidou’s alibi, Sabanioti pointed the finger at Koasidou’s daughter, Elisavet, but no one believed her.
The very next day, Greek reporters visited Eleni Moustopoulos at the Saint Pantaleon Hospital where she hospitalized out of danger. The 57-year-old woman described her family’s relationship with Sabanioti:
“We came from Russia to Greece 10 months ago. Maria (Sabanioti) visited my house every day, and she used to tell me that she wanted my son and her daughter married. I told her it was too early to talk about marriage. That day she visited me to check on a sweater I was knitting for her daughter. She gave me the yeast to make pancakes for my kids and my son had two friends from Russia, Sultan and Yiannis, visiting. We sat down to eat at 4 pm and at around 5 pm we started losing our senses”.
Some hours later, Eleni Moustopoulos’ husband passed away. On May 6, 1992, Irini Klimatsa also died and one month later, her 24-year-old son, Antonis, was dead. The deceased victims were now three.
Maria Sabanioti was found guilty and she was sentenced to three life sentences (one for each life she took), and 25 extra years in prison for four attempted homicides. Hearing the penalty, Sabanioti asked for a lie detector test, but she never got heard.
The tests on the yeast, performed by the Toxicology Laboratory of the University of Athens, discovered phosphate ester in the flour. Phosphate ester is used in agricultural fertilizers and insecticides, and they contain parathion, which was one of the substances found in the victims’ blood. On the contrary, both the flour that Sabanioti’s father had sent to her and the bread she had baked using it turned out 100 percent clean.
Maria Sabanioti never changed her testimony. She always shouted to authorities and the press that she was innocent, but no one would believe her.
“I did nothing wrong. Whoever put that parathion in my flour wanted to hurt me and my family. I was the target, not my neighbors.”
In January 2011, Sabanioti was released due to good behavior and the work she had done in prison, helping released prisoners blend in the society. Now, she is back to her neighborhood but not in the same house she used to live.