THE CASE OF ETHEL MAJOR, THE POISONER

By Tim Lambert

Ethel Major was hanged for the murder of her husband Arthur. Ethel Major was born in 1891. In 1914 she had a baby girl outside marriage (at a time when being an unmarried mother carried a stigma) and her parents brought the child up as if it was her own. She married Arthur Major on 1 June 1918. The couple had a son called Lawrence in 1920. In 1929 they moved to Kirby-on-Bain in Lincolnshire. However by 1934 Arthur Major found out that Ethel's 'sister' was actually her daughter and that put a strain on their marriage.

In 1934 Ethel Major accused Arthur of having an affair. She produced letters she claimed she had found from the other woman. (However its believed Ethel probably wrote them herself to incriminate Arthur). Arthur then put a notice in a local newspaper saying he would no longer be responsible for his wife's debts, which infuriated Ethel. On 22 May 1934 Arthur Major ate some corned beef. The unfortunate man fell severely ill and he died on 24 May. A neighbour's dog who ate some left over food also died. Nevertheless a doctor thought Arthur's death was due to natural causes and he issued a death certificate. Fortunately somebody sent an anonymous letter to the police suggesting that Arthur Major had been poisoned. The letter also mentioned the dog who died. The police began investigating and a pathologist found that both Arthur and the dog had died of strychnine poisoning. When she was questioned Ethel Major stupidly said: 'I never had any strychnine poison'. Chief Inspector Hugh Young replied 'I have never mentioned strychnine. How did you know your husband died from strychnine poisoning?' Ethel could only reply 'I must have made a mistake'. It certainly was a mistake. Ethel's father was a gamekeeper and he kept poisons in a locked box. The key had gone missing and he eventually had another one made. However the police found the missing key in Ethel's handbag.

Ethel Major went on trial for murder on 28 October 1934. On 2 November the jury took just over an hour to find her guilty. She was sentenced to death. Ethel Major was hanged in Hull prison on 19 December 1934.

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