MADISON, Alabama — Four women work together in a small building in Madison. They begin to behave strangely, developing nosebleeds and coughs, complaining of constant exhaustion.
They appear to forget words, at times seeming to lose track mid-sentence.

They begin to blanket doctors’ offices. Three of the women have gall bladder surgery the same year. One of them, Sandra Payne, says she went to the doctor 26 times in her final year in the office. Two are eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“It was really weird, we all just kept getting sick,” Payne said recently. “It was constant.”

“Our tongues would be terribly coated in that office and we’d discuss that,” says Sallie Wagner.

“We were saying, ‘What is wrong with us?’ Every day I’d say that I feel like I was getting the flu,” said Payne. “On the weekend, we’d feel better.”

Sallie Wagner used to know people all over town. As director of the Chamber of Commerce, she spent 15 years selling the City of Madison. Payne was her assistant. “I loved my job,” said Wagner.

But their lives began to fall apart as a spiral of increasingly bizarre physical complaints would lead to marital separation, social isolation and job loss. In the end, the entire roster of Chamber employees would end up suing the small city they had worked to promote.

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