FAMOUS CASES OF POISONING IN HISTORY
By Tim Lambert
There have been many infamous poisoners, both male and female. Below are some notorious cases of murder by poison.
Mary Blandy was born in 1720 at Henley-On-Thames in Oxfordshire. Her father Francis Blandy offered a dowry of £10,000 for anyone who would marry Mary. (A huge fortune in those days). However in reality he did not have so much money. Not surprisingly such a large dowry attracted many suitors. Francis Blandy vetted them and rejected them one by one until Captain William Cranstoun came on the scene. Cranstoun was the son of a Scottish noble. Francis Blandy was keen to marry his daughter to a man from such a background. So Cranstoun moved into the Blandy home. However there was a complication. He was already married. When he found out Francis Blandy told Cranstoun to leave and told Mary to forget him.
However Mary Blandy and Cranstoun wrote to each other. Cranstoun persuaded Mary to give her father powder, which he said would make her father more friendly towards him. In fact the powder was arsenic. Mary put it in her father's tea and soup and he fell ill. Francis Blandy duly died on 14 August 1751. Mary then tried to burn some powder in the fire. However a servant managed to retrieve it. Mary Blandy was arrested but Cranstoun fled to France. Mary went on trial on 3 March 1752. A Dr Anthony Addington convinced the jury that the powder rescued from the fire was indeed arsenic. As a result Mary Blandy was found guilty of murder. She was hanged on 6 April 1752.
Poisoners of the Early 19th Century
Gesche Gottfried was born in 1785. She poisoned at least fifteen people with arsenic in Germany between 1813 and 1827, including both her parents, her brother, two husbands and her three children. Gottfried was beheaded in Bremen on 21 April 1831.
Mary Ann Geering
Mary Ann was born in 1800. In 1818 she married a man named Richard Geering and in 1848 they were living in Guestling in East Sussex. First Mary Ann poisoned her husband. He fell ill and on 13 September 1848 he died of arsenic poisoning. He was 56. However at first his death was ascribed to natural causes. Mary Ann then poisoned her own son, 21 year old George. He died on 27 December 1848. She then poisoned another son, 26 year old James. He died on 6 March 1849.
Mary Ann Geering then attempted to kill her 18 year old son Benjamin, again with arsenic. Fortunately this time his mother was prevented from 'caring' for him. When Benjamin recovered it became obvious that his mother had poisoned him. The authorities then exhumed the bodies of her husband and two deceased sons and found they contained arsenic. Mary Ann was then charged with murder and attempted murder. Not surprisingly the jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to death. Afterwards she confessed to her crimes. Mary Ann Geering was hanged in front of a crowd of thousands in Lewes, Sussex on 21 August 1849.
Helene Jegado was born in France in 1803 and she became a servant. It is not known how many people she killed. It is believed she started killing people in 1833. She was finally arrested in July 1851.
At her trial in December 1851 Jegado was only charged with 3 murders. Jegado claimed she did not know anything about arsenic. The jury did not believe her and she was convicted and sentenced to death. Helene Jegado was guillotined on 26 February 1852.
John Tawell is famous because he was the first murderer caught with the aid of a new invention- the telegraph. John Tawell was born in Norfolk in 1784. Tawell became a Quaker, though he obviously failed to live up to their moral teachings. About 1804 Tawell moved to London. However in 1814 he was convicted of forging a £10 note, which was a capital offence. However the sentence was commuted to transportation. Howell was duly transported to Australia. He was given his freedom in 1820 but he chose to stay in Australia until 1831 when he returned to England. Tawell had 2 children by a woman named Sarah Hart.
John Tawell eventually decided to remove this financial burden by poisoning Sarah. Tawell was suffering from varicose veins and he used prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) as a remedy. He also used it to kill Sarah. On 1 January 1845 he caught the train from London to Slough to see Sarah. That afternoon a neighbour called Mary Ann Ashley heard a scream from Sarah's house. She went to investigate and she saw Tawell leaving the house. Ashley entered Sarah's house and found the woman seriously ill. By the time a doctor arrived Sarah was dead. The police were alerted and Ashley told them she saw a man dressed as a Quaker leave the house. (Quakers then wore distinctive dress). A clergyman named Edward Champneys realised that the murderer would try to leave the area as soon as possible. He hurried to Slough railway station where he saw a man in Quaker dress board a train for Paddington, London. The station master was informed and he sent a telegraph message to Paddington. (There was no code for the letter 'Q' at that time so the message said the murderer was dressed in 'Kwaker' garb.
When he arrived at Paddington the police followed Tawell but they did not arrest him till the next day. Tawell went on trial for murder on 12 March 1845 at Aylesbury. He was found guilty and he was sentenced to death. John Tawell was hanged in public in Aylesbury on 28 March 1845. A large crowd went to see the execution.
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 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 Palmer murdered a man named Leonard Bladen to who he owed money. By 1854 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.
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 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 Palmer to get a fair trial in the area. So the trial of William Palmer was held in London. The evidence was circumstantial. Nevertheless 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.
Madeleine Smith (?)
Madeleine Hamilton Smith was born in Glasgow on 29 March 1835. She was the daughter of a well-to-do architect named James Smith. In 1855 Madeleine Smith met a man named Pierre Emile L'Angelier in Glasgow. L'Angelier was born in Jersey. When he was 18 he moved to Glasgow and he worked as a clerk. He met Madeleine in 1855 and began a relationship with her but their different social positions made things difficult. Nevertheless for two years they met in secret and they exchanged love letters. However Madeleine became engaged to another man (from her own class) and she asked L'Angelier to return the love letters she had sent him. However he refused and threatened to show the letters to her father.
In February 1857 Madeleine obtained arsenic from a chemists shop and Emile fell ill. He died on 23 March 1857. Afterwards love letters from Madeleine were found in his home and she was arrested on 31 March. Madeleine was tried for murder but on 9 July 1857 the jury returned a verdict of not proven, which meant the prosecution had not proved its case but she was not necessarily innocent.
After her release Madeleine Smith moved to London where she married a man named George Wardle. However they separated in 1889. Madeleine moved to the USA where she married a man named Lena Sheehy. Madeleine Smith died on 12 April 1928. She was 93.
Poisoners of the Late 19th Century
Priscilla Biggadike and her husband Richard lived with their 3 children in a tiny two room cottage in the village of Stickney in Lincolnshire, England. They also shared their home with 2 lodgers. All of them shared the same bedroom. Richard Biggadike worked as a well sinker and he got up early in the morning to go to work. He began to suspect that one of the lodgers was joining his wife in her bed afterwards. That led to arguments. Then on 30 September 1868 Richard Biggadike came home from work and Priscilla gave him a cake. Afterwards Richard fell ill. A doctor was called but Richard died the next morning.
However a doctor was suspicious of the sudden death and an autopsy found traces of arsenic. Priscilla Biggadike was arrested on 3 October 1868. She claimed her husband had written a suicide note (in fact he could not read and write). When she was asked to produce the note Priscilla claimed she had burned it. She later said she saw one of the lodgers, Thomas Proctor putting a white powder in her husband's tea cup. He then added milk and she poured in tea. She also said she saw Proctor put some white powder into a bottle of medicine but she gave the medicine to her husband anyway.
Priscilla and Proctor were both arrested but at the trial the judge instructed the jury to dismiss the case against Proctor because of lack of evidence. But Priscilla was found guilty and she was sentenced to death. Priscilla Biggadike was hanged in Lincoln Castle on 28 December 1868.
Priscilla Biggadike has the distinction of being the first woman in Britain to be hanged in private. Previously men and women were hanged in public. Its said that on his deathbead in 1884 Proctor confessed that he did give arsenic to Richard Biggadike. Yet Priscilla saw him and she did nothing to stop him or warn her husband.
Catherine Wilson was a female poisoner. She was also the last woman to be hanged in public in London. Her poison of choice was colchicum, a kind of crocus. In small doses it was used as a medicine but in large doses it could kill. Wilson was born in 1822. She became a housekeeper to a man named Captain Peter Mawr. However Captain Mawr made the mistake of telling Wilson he had left something in his will for her. Captain Mawr suffered from gout and he took colchicum to treat it. Unfortunately he died from an overdose in 1854. At first it was believed it was accidental. Catherine Wilson then moved to London with her partner, a man named Dixon. Wilson worked for a woman named Maria Soames. However Dixon died in 1856, probably poisoned. (He was a heavy drinker and Wilson probably tired of him). Maria Soames then became ill and died.
Wilson next worked for a woman named Sarah Carnell. However she unwisely tried to poison the woman by giving her sulfuric acid to drink. Carnell spat it out and it burned the sheets. Wilson then fled but she was arrested and put on trial for attempted murder. Wilson claimed that a pharmacist had given her acid instead of medicine by mistake. The jury found her not guilty but as she left the courtroom Wilson was arrested again, this time for the murder of Marie Soames. This time she was found guilty. Catherine Wilson was hanged on 20 October 1862.
Mary Ann Cotton
Mary Ann Cotton was a notorious female poisoner. She was born in Sunderland in North East England in 1832. Her father was a coal miner but he died in an accident when Mary Ann was 8 years old. However her mother remarried. When she was 16 Mary Ann moved out of the house to work as a nursemaid. In 1852 aged 20 she married a man named William Mowbray, aged 26. The couple lived in Plymouth, Devon. They had four children there but all of them died in infancy. Their deaths were, at first believed to be due to natural causes. That might seem surprising today but infant mortality was very high in the mid 19th century and it was by no means unusual to lose several children. The couple moved back to the Northeast where 3 more children died. They were followed by William Mowbray. Mary Ann Cotton collected money from his life insurance policy.
Mary Ann worked as a nurse and in 1865 she married a former patient named George Ward. Predictably he died in 1866. Her third husband was James Robinson. They married in 1867. They had a daughter who died and a son who survived. Fortunately Robinson became suspicious when Mary Ann kept insisting he take out life insurance. He threw her out of the house.
Mary Ann married a man named Frederick Cotton in 1870. The unfortunate man died in December. His three sons then died. However shortly before the last boy, Charles Cotton died a Marry Ann asked an official named Thomas Riley if he could be sent to the workhouse to get rid of him. Mary Ann claimed the boy was a weakling but Riley thought he was perfectly healthy. When he heard of the boy's death Riley went to the police and they began to investigate. The body of Charles Cotton was found to contain arsenic.
Mary Ann Cotton was arrested for murder on 18 July 1872. She was pregnant and the law waited till she gave birth to a child in January 1873. She went on trial on 5 March 1873. Not surprisingly she was found guilty. Mary Ann Cotton was hanged in Durham County Jail on 24 March 1873.
Lydia Sherman poisoned a number of her relatives. She was born Lydia Banbury in New Jersey in 1824. When she was 17 she married a policeman named Edward Struck. The couple had 6 children. Lydia insured her husband and poisoned him. She then murdered her 6 children. In 1868 she married a farmer named Dennis Hurlbrut. The marriage did not last long as Lydia poisoned him. Then in 1871 she married a widower named Horatio Sherman. Lydia murdered his two children then murdered Horatio. However a doctor was suspicious and arsenic was found in his body. The bodies of the Sherman children and Dennis Hurlbrut were exhumed and also found to contain arsenic. Lydia Sherman was found guilty of second degree murder and she was sentenced to life imprisonment. She died in prison in 1878.
Maria Swanenburg was a Dutch poisoner. She was born in the Netherlands in 1839. It is not known exactly how many people she murdered but its believed to be at least 27 between 1880 and 1883 including her own father and mother. She poisoned many more people with arsenic but they survived albeit sometimes with serious health problems for the rest of their lives. Swanenburg helpfully 'looked after' children and sick people in Leiden where she lived. She gained the nickname Goede Mie (good me) for her thoughtfulness. The motive for the murders was greed. Swanenburg obtained money from life insurance policies of inheritances. However in 1883 she was caught trying to poison a family called Groothuizen. Maria Swanenburg was arrested on 15 December 1883 and on 25 April 1885 she was found guilty of three murders and she was sentenced to life imprisonment. She died in prison in 1915. Meanwhile the investigation into her crimes looked at 90 suspicious deaths and it lasted 18 years.
Thomas Neill Cream
Another famous poisoner was Thomas Neill Cream. His poison of choice was strychnine. Cream was born in Scotland in 1850 but his family moved to Canada when he was 4 years old. Cream studied medicine at Montreal and he left in 1876. In 1880 Cream moved to Chicago and he began an affair with a married woman named Julia Stott. Cream gave her husband, Daniel Stott medicine laced with strychnine. He duly died in June 1881. At first his death was ascribed to natural causes. Cream might have got away with murder but foolishly he wrote to the coroner saying he suspected murder. Cream told the coroner the pharmacist was responsible for the death. The body was exhumed and found to contain strychnine. Cream was tried for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. However he was released after only 10 years in prison on 31 July 1891.
In October 1891 Cream moved to London and he began killing again. His next victim was a 19 year old prostitute named Nellie Donworth. On 13 October 1891 Cream killed the unfortunate woman with a poisoned drink. On 20 October 1891 Cream killed a 27 year old prostitute named Matilda Clover by giving her pills. Then on 11 April 1892 Cream murdered two more women, Alice Marsh aged 21 and Emma Shrivell aged 18. Before she died Marsh said they had gone out with a gentlemen who gave them 'long pills'.
Cream attempted to blackmail a man named Joseph Harper. Cream claimed he had proof that the man's son was the murderer and said he would not tell the police if Harper paid him a large sum of money. Harper informed the police. Furthermore Cream met a police sergeant named Patrick McIntyre. Cream talked about the murders and foolishly he revealed he had detailed knowledge of the case. The police were suspicious and put Cream under surveillance. Cream was arrested on 13 July 1892. His trial began on 17 October 1892. Thomas Neill Cream was found guilty of murder on 21 October 1892. Cream was hanged on 15 November 1892.
Poisoners of the Early 20th Century
George Chapman poisoned women with antimony. He was born in Poland on 14 December 1865 (his real name was Severin Klosowski). Chapman had some training as a surgeon in his native Poland. However he moved to Britain about 1888 and he worked as a barber. George Chapman married twice, the first time in Poland, the second time, bigamously, in Britain. However his second 'wife' left him in 1892. In 1893 George Chapman met a woman named Annie Chapman and he took her name.
In 1895 after the relationship between George Chapman and Annie had ended he met a woman called Mary Isabella Spink and the two began living together. George Chapman ran a barbers shop. In it Mary entertained the customers by playing the piano. Later George Chapman changed to managing pubs. Meanwhile he tired of Mary and he decided to murder her with antimony. Chapman purchased antimony from a chemist on 3 April 1897. As required by law he signed the poisons register. The unfortunate woman fell ill and she died on 25 December 1897.
After her death Chapman advertised for a barmaid and he employed a woman named Elizabeth Taylor, known as Bessie. They soon began a relationship. However Chapman eventually decided to kill Bessie. She fell ill and finally died on 14 February 1901. Her death was ascribed to 'exhaustion from vomiting and diarrhoea'. It is not clear why Chapman killed Bessie. Maybe he just grew tired of her.
The third victim of George Chapman was a young woman named Maud Marsh. Chapman employed her as a barmaid at his pub in August 1901 but soon started a relationship with her. However once again Chapman grew tired of the woman and decided to poison her. She fell ill. Meanwhile Maud confided in her sister that George Chapman beat her. Poor Maud died on 22 October 1902. Meanwhile the doctor who attended her, Dr Stoker was unable to explain her illness so Maud's mother asked her own doctor, Dr Grupel to examine her. Dr Grupel too was unable to explain it but after he returned home he sent a telegram to Dr Stoker saying he feared Maud was being poisoned. He was, of course, correct. When Maud died Dr Stoker refused to sign a death certificate. A post mortem showed her body contained a large amount of antimony. The bodies of Chapman's previous two victims were exhumed and were also found to contain antimony. Chapman was charged with three murders and went to trial. Nor surprisingly the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to death. George Chapman was hanged on 7 April 1903.
Hawley Harvey Crippen is infamous because he was the first murderer to be caught by radio. Dr Crippen was born in Michigan, USA in 1862. He married twice. His first wife died in 1890 but in 1892 he married a woman who called herself Cora Turner. Dr and Mrs Crippen moved to England in 1900 and in September 1905 they moved to 39 Hilldrop Crescent in Holloway, London, England. Mrs Crippen worked as a music hall entertainer using the name Belle Elmore. However the marriage was not happy. Cora had affairs while Dr Crippen started an affair with a typist named Ethel le Neve.
On 19 January 1910 Dr Crippen obtained 5 grains of hyoscine from a shop. Hyoscine is a drug that occurs naturally in several plants. In small doses it had medical uses but in a large dose it could kill.
On 31 January 1910 some friends visited the Crippens. They left at about 1.30 am on 1 February. Cora was never seen again. Then on 3 February 1910 Mrs Martinetti Secretary of the Music Hall Ladies Guild received letters saying that Cora Crippen had to go to the USA because a relative was seriously ill there. The letters were signed Cora Crippen but they were not in her handwriting.
Then on 24 March Mrs Martinetti received a telegram from Dr Crippen stating that Cora had died of an illness in the USA. However a Mr Nash, who knew Cora visited the USA and could find no record of her death. He was suspicious so he went to the police. Subsequently on 8 July 1910 Inspector Walter Dew went to see Dr Crippen. Dr Crippen admitted he lied about his wife's death. Instead he now said Cora left him for another man. Crippen claimed he lied to prevent a scandal.
The policeman left but on 11 July he returned to clarify a few points. However Dr Crippen and Ethel le Neve had fled, making their guilt obvious. The police thoroughly searched 39 Hilldrop Crescent and they found part of a torso wrapped in part of a pair of pyjamas buried under the cellar. The torso had a scar from abdominal surgery (Cora was known to have had such surgery) and it contained hyoscine.
The police raised the alarm and photos and descriptions of Crippen and le Neve published in the newspapers. Meanwhile the pair had fled to the continent. On 20 July Dr Crippen and Ethel le Neve sailed to Canada in a ship called the Montrose. Dr Crippen had shaved off his moustache and removed his glasses but it was not a very convincing disguise. Ethel le Neve was dressed as a boy but her clothes did not fit and her shape was obviously feminine. Dr Crippen gave his name as John Robinson and claimed le Neve was his son.
However the captain suspected the 'boy' was a woman and the pair was Dr Crippen and Ethel le Neve. The captain kept a close watch on them until he was convinced he was right. On 22 July he sent a radio message to Britain outlining his suspicions.
After receiving the message Inspector Walter Dew boarded a fast ship called the Laurentic, which arrived in Canada before the Montrose. Dew arrested Dr Crippen and Ethel le Neve when they arrived on 31 July and they were brought back to Britain to stand trial.
It was decided that Ethel le Neve should be tried separately from Dr Crippen. His trial began on 18 October 1910 and lasted 5 days. Dr Crippen denied all knowledge of human remains buried under his cellar. However a Dr Pepper testified that the torso had been buried 4 to 8 months before it was found. When asked if it could have been buried before September 1905 (i.e. before Dr Crippen moved into the house) he replied that was 'absolutely impossible'. He also testified that the torso had an abdominal scar, indicating it was Cora Crippen who was known to have undergone abdominal surgery. Dr Bernard Spilsbury also testified that it was a scar.
Finally a piece of some pajamas found with the torso bore the label Jones Bros. A representative of the firm testified that the material could not have been purchased before the end of 1908. (Therefore the pajamas and the torso must have been buried in the cellar after Dr Crippen moved in and only he could have buried them).
There was also the fact that Dr Crippen had purchased a large amount of hyoscine shortly before Cora disappeared and the poison was found in the torso.
Not surprisingly the jury did not believe Dr Crippen's tale that he did not know anything about the torso buried in his cellar and they took only 27 minutes to find him guilty. Dr Crippen was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London on 23 November 1910. However Ethel le Neve was found not guilty. Le Neve married in 1915 and she died in 1967 aged 84. Meanwhile 39 Hilldrop Crescent was destroyed by German bombs during the Second World War.
Amy Archer-Gilligan was born in Connecticut in 1868. She married James Archer in 1897. From 1907 to 1917 she ran a nursing home. However James Archer died in 1910 shortly after his wife insured him. Then, in 1913 Amy married Michael Gilligan. However he died in February 1914. Meanwhile some people who moved into the nursing home paid for their keep with a single lump sum. They often died shortly afterwards. Inevitably relatives became suspicious and eventually the police began to investigate. The bodies of Michael Gilligan and some of the former residents of the nursing home were exhumed and were found to contain arsenic. Nevertheless Amy was only convicted of one murder. At first she was sentenced to death but she appealed and was granted a second trial. This time she was found guilty of second degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Amy Archer-Gilligan died in April 1962.
Frederick Seddon poisoned his lodger, Eliza Barrow for her money. Frederick Seddon was born in 1870. As an adult Seddon worked as an insurance agent. He was married to a woman named Margaret and they had 5 children. In 1910 the couple moved into a large house in London. Frederick Seddon decided to rent the top floor of his house as a flat. So in July 1910 a 47 year old spinster named Eliza Barrow moved in. Eliza was quite a wealthy woman and she sought financial advice from Frederick Seddon. He persuaded her to transfer her property to him and in return he would give her a fixed sum for the rest of her life. It was perfectly free but if Eliza Barrow died Seddon would be freed from making any payments to her - an obvious motive for murder.
And so in September 1911 Eliza Barrow fell ill. Finally on 14 September 1911 she died. She was 49. The doctor signed a death certificate giving the cause of death as epidemic diarrhea. Frederick Seddon then hastily arranged a cheap funeral. However relatives of Eliza Barrow grew suspicious and finally they went to the police. On 15 November 1911 the body of Eliza Barrow was exhumed and it was found to contain a large amount of arsenic. Finally on 4 December 1911 Frederick Seddon was arrested for murder. His wife Margaret Seddon was arrested on 15 December 1911.
Frederick and Margaret Seddon went on trial at the Old Bailey in London in March 1912. Frederick Seddon was found guilty and he was sentenced to death on 15 March 1912. Margaret Seddon was acquitted. Frederick Seddon was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London on 18 April 1912.
Herbert Rowse Armstrong
Herbert Rowse Armstrong was a British solicitor. He practiced in Hay-on-Wye. Armstrong married Katherine in 1907. However she fell ill and died on 22 February 1921. At first her death was thought to be natural.
But on 26 October 1921 Armstrong invited another solicitor called Oswald Martin to tea. Afterwards Martin fell very ill. He suffered from vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains. However his father in law was a chemist. He remembered Armstrong had bought arsenic from his shop. Davies told his suspicions to a Dr Hincks who was treating Martin. Dr Hincks sent samples of Martin's urine for testing. Arsenic was found in it.
Herbert Rowse Armstrong was arrested for the attempted murder of Oswald Martin. The police now suspected that Armstrong had killed his wife Katharine and so her body was exhumed. The pathologist found arsenic in her body and Armstrong was charged with her murder.
Armstrong went on trial on 3 April 1922. The pathologist Bernard Spilsbury testified that Katharine Armstrong had been given large doses of arsenic in the last week of her life culminating in a large dose 24 hours before her death. Not surprisingly Herbert Rowse Armstrong was found guilty. He was hanged on 31 May 1922.
The Croydon Poisonings
In 1928-29 three people were poisoned with arsenic in the south London suburb of Croydon. On the evening of 26 April 1928 after a meal 59 year old Edmund Duff fell ill and he died the next day 27 April. His death was attributed to natural causes.
Then on 14 February 1929 Edmund Duff's sister-in-law Valerie Sidney fell ill. She died on 16 February 1929. The last victim was Violet Sidney, Valerie's mother. She fell ill and died on 5 March 1929.
Violet Sidney was buried but soon people became suspicious and her body and that of her daughter Valerie were exhumed on 22 March 1929. Both contained arsenic. The body of Edmund Duff was later exhumed and was also found to contain arsenic. The police investigated but nobody was ever charged.
Frederick Bryant was a corporal in the military police shortly after the First World War. He was stationed in Northern Ireland and he had the misfortune to meet Charlotte McHugh. They married in March 1921. Charlotte was only 19 while Fred Bryant was 25.
The 1920s was a decade of high unemployment in Britain but Fred Bryant managed to find work as a farm laborer in Somerset. The couple lived at Over Compton near Yeovil. Eventually Charlotte had five children. However she often had affairs. Yet Fred Bryant tolerated his wife's infidelity. In December 1933 a man named Leonard Parsons became a lodger in their cottage. In 1934 the threesome moved to the village of Coombe. However in May 1935 Fred Bryant became ill. The doctor diagnosed gastroenteritis but this time Fred recovered. He fell ill again in August 1935. Once again Fred was lucky and he recovered.
Fred Bryant fell ill again in December 1935. He was taken to hospital but he died on 22 December 1935. This time the doctor was suspicious and he refused to sign a death certificate. He also told the police about his suspicions. They began investigating. A large amount of arsenic was found in the body of poor Fred Bryant. The police searched his home and they found a can in the garden. It once held week killer. Eventually on 10 February 1936 Charlotte was arrested for the murder of her husband Fred. She went on trial at Dorchester on 27 May 1936. On 30 May 1936 Charlotte Bryant was found guilty and she was sentenced to death. Bryant was hanged in Exeter prison on 15 July 1936.
Tillie Klimek was a Polish American poisoner. She was born Otillie Gburek in Poland but when she was very young her family migrated to the USA. They lived in Chicago. In 1895 Tillie married her first husband John Mitkiewicz in 1895. However she poisoned him with arsenic in 1914 but at first his death was attributed to natural causes. Tillie obtained his life insurance money. Shortly afterwards she remarried, this time to a man named Joseph Ruskowski. He died a few months later. Again Tillie benefited financially from his death. Tillie married a man named Frank Kupczyk. He too died after a few months. Finally in 1921 she married a man named Joseph Klimek. He too fell ill. However this time doctors were suspicious and they found evidence of arsenic poisoning. Fortunately Joseph Klimek survived. Tillie Klimek was tried for the murder of her third husband (although she was suspected of poisoning other people). In 1923 she was found guilty of murder and she was sentenced to life imprisonment. She died in prison in 1936.
Marie Alexandrine Becker was a female Belgian poisoner. She was born in 1877. She married a man named Charles Becker in 1906. In 1932 Marie Becker met a man named Lambert Bayer and she began an affair with him. Marie Becker then decided to poison her husband. She killed him with digitalis. Becker used his life insurance money to open a dress shop. However she grew bored with Bayer and decided to kill him with the same poison. Bayer died in November 1934.
In July 1935 an old woman named Marie Castadot fell ill and Marie Becker offered to nurse her. The old lady promptly died. Becker then poisoned several elderly customers. However when a friend complained about her husband and said she wished he would die. Becker told her friend that if she really meant that she could supply a powder that would leave no trace. Fortunately in October 1936 the friend contacted the police. They arrested Becker and they found a bottle of digitalis in her purse. The bodies of her victims were exhumed and found to contain the same drug. Marie Becker was convicted of murder but since there was no death sentence in Belgium at that time she was sentenced to life imprisonment. Marie Becker died in jail during the Second World War.
Ethel Major was hanged for the murder of her husband Arthur. Ethel Brown 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 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 a 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.
Dorothea Waddingham was a poisoner of the 1930s. Her poison of choice was morphine. Waddingham was born near Nottingham in 1900. In 1925 she married a man named Thomas Leech but he died of cancer in 1930. Waddingham was dishonest and was convicted of fraud twice and theft twice. However after Leech's death she opened a nursing home with a man named Ronald Sullivan. In January 1935 they took two residents, an 89 year old woman named Louisa Baguley and her disabled daughter, Ada aged 50. In May 1935 Louisa changed her will. She left £1,600 (a considerable fortune in those days) to Dorothea Waddingham and Ronald Sullivan on condition they cared for her and her daughter for the rest of their lives. Louisa died a few days later but because she was very old her death did not cause suspicion. However in September Ada suddenly fell ill and died. But the doctor who cared for her was suspicious. He alerted the coroner, who ordered a post mortem. A large amount of morphine was found in the unfortunate woman's body. The body of her mother Lousia was exhumed and it too was found to contain morphine.
Dorothea Waddingham and Ronald Sullivan went on trial on 4 February 1936. However Sullivan was soon discharged because of a lack of evidence against him. Dorothea Waddingham was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death on 27 February 1936. She was hanged on 16 April 1936.
Nannie Doss used arsenic to murder her husbands. She was born Nancy Hazle in Alabama in 1905. In 1921 she married a man named Charles Braggs. The couple had 4 daughters but two of them died in 1927. Suspecting Nannie was responsible for the deaths Charles Braggs fled, taking one of the surviving daughters with him. The couple divorced in 1929. Shortly afterwards Nannie Doss married a man named Robert Harrelson. The unfortunate man survived for 16 years before he was poisoned in 1945.
In 1947 Nannie Doss married a man named Arlie Lanning. He survived for 5 years before she murdered him in 1952. Doss then married a man named Richard Morton. He died just 4 months after the wedding. In the summer of 1954 she married a man named Samuel Doss. He died in October 1954. However this time the doctor ordered an autopsy which found arsenic in his body. Nannie Doss was arrested on 26 November 1954. Eventually Doss confessed to murder and on 18 May 1955 she was sentenced to life imprisonment. She died of leukemia in prison in 1965.
Poisoners of the Late 20th Century
Graham Young was a poisoner of the late 20th century. Young was born in England on 7 September 1947 but his mother died when he was few months old. His father remarried in 1950. As a boy Graham showed a great interest in chemistry - and poison. When he was only 13 he managed to persuade a chemist to sell him poisons like antimony and belladonna. Graham then began poisoning his family. Graham poisoned hi sister Winifred with belladonna. Fortunately she survived. He poisoned his stepmother, Molly and she died on 21 April 1962. Graham then began poisoning his father, Fred Young. Fortunately when Fred was taken to hospital he was diagnosed with antimony poisoning and he survived. Graham's odd behaviour made people suspicious and he was sent to see a psychiatrist. He was so alarmed by Graham's fascination with poison he called the police. Afterwards Graham Young confessed to poisoning his sister and father. His stepmother had been cremated so he could not be convicted of her murder.
Young went on trial on 6 July 1962. He was detained under the Mental Health Act of 1959. Young was sent to Broadmoor (a secure mental hospital). However Young was released on 4 February 1971 in the mistaken belief that he was cured. However Graham Young got a job as a storeman in a laboratory in May 1971 and he soon began poisoning his colleagues (by adding poison to their tea). The foreman Bob Egle fell ill and he died on 7 July 1971. At first his death was deemed to be due to natural causes. Other employees of the firm kept falling ill and a man named Fred Biggs died on 9 November 1971. It was clear that something was wrong but Young attracted suspicion by asking the company doctor if he had considered heavy metal poisoning was responsible. Young had an amazing knowledge of poisons which made the doctor even mores suspicious and he contacted the police. A background search quickly revealed Graham Young's history of poisoning people. Police also found thallium (a poison) on Young's person. The body of Fred Biggs was exhumed and it was found to contain thallium. Bob Egle had been cremated but thallium was found in his ashes.
In 1972 Graham Young was found guilty of the murders of Egle and Biggs and the attempted murders of two other colleagues. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Young died in prison of natural causes on 1 August 1990. He was 42.
Velma Barfield was an arsenic poisoner. She is infamous not only for her crimes but because she was the first woman to be executed by lethal injections. Barfield was born in South Carolina on 23 October 1932. In she married a man named Thomas Burke in 1949. She had a son in 1951 and a daughter in 1953. But in the 1960s Velma became addicted to prescription drugs.
Then in 1969 her house burned down while she and the children were out. However her husband was inside and died of smoke inhalation. In 1970 Velma married a man named Jennings Barfield but he died less than a year later. Velma's mother, Lillian died in 1974. In 1976 Barfield got a job caring for an elderly couple, Montgomery and Dollie Edwards. Montgomery died in January and he was followed by Dollie in March. Barfield then cared for another elderly couple, John Henry and Record Lee. John Henry died in June 1977. Velma moved in with her boyfriend Stuart Taylor but he died in February 1978.
Barfield's sister called the police and told them that Velma was responsible for the death of Stuart Taylor and others. Barfield confessed to murdering her mother, Lillian, Montgomery and Dollie Edwards and John Henry Lee. However she was only convicted of the murder of Stuart Taylor. Velma Barfield was executed by lethal injection on 2 November 1984.
Judy Buenoano was an infamous poisoner. She was born Judias Welty on 4 April 1943. Buenoano had a son outside marriage in 1961. Then on 21 January 1962 she married James Goodyear. Judy murdered the unfortunate man and he died on 5 September 1971. In 1972 Buenoano moved in with a man named Bobby Joe Morris. He fell ill and died in 1978. Judy then changed her name to Buenoano, Spanish for Goodyear.
The next victim was her own son Michael. He fell ill in 1979 and was forced to wear heavy metal leg braces. On 13 May 1980 Judy took Michael canoeing. Unfortunately the canoe overturned. Michael was unable to swim and he drowned. Next Buenoano met a man named John Gentry. She attempted to murder him on 25 May 1983. This time she changed her murder weapon from poison to a bomb. When John Gentry started his car a bomb exploded. Fortunately he survived. The police found that Judy had persuaded him to take 'vitamin pills' which made him feel ill. The police recovered some pills and found they were arsenic. The bodies of James Goodyear, Bobby Joe Morris and Michael were exhumed and all were found to contain arsenic.
Judy Buenoano was tried separately for each murder. In 1984 she was found guilty of the murder of her son Michael and she was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1985 she was found guilty of the murder of Her first husband, James Goodyear. This time she was sentenced to death. (The authorities did not proceed with the charge of murder of Bobby Joe Morris as she was already under sentence of death). Buenoano spent the next 13 years on death row. Finally Buenoano was executed in the electric chair in Florida State Prison on 30 March 1998.
Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia
The Cleveland Torso Murders
John Wayne Gacy