Well this collection of thirteen poisoners was a good way to round off a year that has seen me fascinated with the poisoner. Adrian Vincent has found a selection of those who chose poison as a way of getting rid of unwanted people in the UK and the US. This book was originally published in 1993 but has recently been republished by Endeavour Press.
Many of my favourites, including Florence Maybrick are included along with some that I hadn’t come across before. Each murderer, or more accurately suspected murderer is given a short chapter that goes into varying amounts of detail of their crime and punishment.
In order of appearance the poisoners featured are:
Frederick Seddon (1912)
Tillie Gburek (1921 USA)
Everitt Applegate and Mary Creighton (1936 USA)
Mrs Florence Maybrick (1889)
Jean Pierre Vaquier (1924)
Graham Young (1972)
Adeline Bartlett (1886)
Roland Molineux (1889 USA)
Harold Greenwood (1929)
Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen (1910)
Mary Ann Cotton (1873)
Madeline Smith (1857)
Nurse Waddingham (1936)
The author mentions famous expert witnesses, my favourite Bernard Spilsbury appears three of the trials and he also lists the crown prosecutor, the defence counsel and the judge in many of the trials. Sometimes an attorney who appears as junior counsel in one trial is promoted to become chief counsel at a later date, all of which a poisoner nerd like myself found fascinating. It’s like following these men through their careers as an aside to the individual crimes most of which were committed for love or money.
The author has a somewhat off-hand but insightful tone which I have to confess made me smile more than once, as illustration I am using his insight into Jean Pierre Vaquier, a new-to-me poisoner who struck in 1924 in Byfleet Surrey at the local tavern, the Blue Anchor.
Jean Pierre visits a chemist in London for strychnine which he claimed was for his wireless experiments:
‘But you will have to sign the poison book’
Vaquier signed the book J. Wanker, an odd choice for a false name. But it raised no eyebrows from Mr Bland, who gave Vaquier the strychnine without further comment.
Poor Mr Jones was found to have died of strychnine poisoning and Dr Carle informed the police. Our esteemed author summed up the questioning of Vaquier:
At this stage did Vaquier become alarmed by the questioning the police were taking? Not in the slightest. Finding himself in the limelight, Vaquier blossomed like a well-watered flower, happily posing for the photographers when he left the police station.
Adrian Vincent informs us that Vaquier practically took over his own defence when he came to the dock seemingly oblivious to Justice Avory’s pained looks and sums up:
It says much for British justice that all this nonsense was listened to in silence, rather than being greeted with howls of derision, as it might well have been elsewhere.
For these asides alone, I loved the book. No death is so tragic that Adrian Vincent can’t add a little quip about some aspect that brings some levity to the proceedings.
The only downside to such an array of poisoners is that although we have an outline of the cases, there is no deep analysis or thread that examines causes, details the forensic breakthroughs or examines changes in the law that has more or less consigned this method of murder to the history books. Nothing links the cases involved beyond the fact that all those featured either chose to, or were accused of, bumping someone off with poison, the top choice being good old arsenic.
I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this book by the publishers Endeavour Press. This review is my thanks to them and the author for a jolly romp through the poisoners that formerly walked the earth.