THE CASE OF DR WILLIAM PALMER
By Tim Lambert
William Palmer was a notorious poisoner of the mid 19th century. Palmer was born on 6 August 1824 in Rugeley in Staffordshire, England. William was apprenticed to a pharmacist but he was sacked when he was 17 for stealing money. He then trained to be a doctor. In 1846 Dr Palmer began practicing in Rugeley but he was an inveterate gambler.
In October 1847 William Palmer married Anne Thornton. They had 5 children but four of them died in infancy, possibly poisoned by Palmer. Then in May 1850 Dr Palmer murdered a man named Leonard Bladen to who he owed money. By 1854 William Palmer was in debt and he insured his wife for a large sum of money. Mrs Palmer died in September 1854. Her death was ascribed to cholera though in reality William poisoned her. William Palmer then took out a life insurance policy on his brother Walter. Predictably Walter Palmer died soon afterwards in August 1855.
William Palmer next murdered a man named John Parsons Cook. The unfortunate Mr Cook went to a horse race with Palmer and he won a great deal of money. That, of course did not escape Dr Palmer's attention. John Cook soon fell ill and he died a few days later. Cook's stepfather insisted on a post mortem. No evidence of poison was found in the body. However it was found that William Palmer had bought strychnine shortly before the death of Cook and he was arrested for murder on 15 December 1855. It was decided that local feeling made it impossible for Dr Palmer to get a fair trial in the area. So the trial of William Palmer was held in London. The evidence was circumstantial. Nevertheless Dr Palmer was found guilty of murder and he was sentenced to death. William Palmer was hanged in public outside Stafford prison on 14 June 1856.