Alleged Murder by Strychnine – 1863

Old British Murder

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper – Sunday 01 November 1863

The deaths of two children in Edgware London caused suspicion during proceedings in 1863.  The parents were separated – the father sometime before had ran off following an offence of which he was wanted, the mother had sold most of her possessions and had left the neighbourhood.  When an expert examined the stomach contents of one of the children it is possible that he had found very small traces of strychnine.  It was impossible in 1863 to positively identify the chemical as the quantity was so very small.  Suspicion also rose when it would appear that the mother had purchased some poison locally, although that could have been used for something around the house such as rat poison.  But there was no actual evidence to show that the two children had died as a result of poisoning.  The coroner left of the case open and recorded a verdict of “death by convulsions”.  Despite extensive research, so far, at the time of writing, no further archive has surfaced in relation to this case.  No further reports have been discovered in the press and therefore one would assume that in the fullness of time this case sadly was closed.

The Alleged Murder Of A Child By Strychnine.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Bird resumed at the Red Lion Tavern Kingsbury, near Edgware, the investigation into the circumstances of the death of Elizabeth Clarke, aged four years.

It will be remembered that the deceased died under every appearance of having been poisoned by strychnine.  The mother had sold her furniture, and left the neighbourhood.  The father had previously absconded, in consequence of being “wanted on a charge of stealing a carpet belonging to a surgeon, named Evans, who had been in attendance at another child of the Clarke’s.

Upon there resumption of the inquiry, the following additional evidence was taken: –

Police Constable Alfred Tuckwell, 31 S, said that on the 31st of October he made a strip search in the house on premises occupied by Mrs. Clarke.  He examined of the shed, garden, and under closet, but was unable to find any articles of linen.  He found two phials in the back parlour, and two others in the front parlour.  He found two other bottles.  He took them all to Mr. Blasson, who examined them, an identified two of them as having been supplied by himself.  Nothing could be found in the garden.

Mr Blasson, MRCS, said that one of the bottles labelled poison, and a second, had been sent by himself to the Clarkes.  One labelled poison contained a liniment, the other a syrup.  He could not tell what the contents of the other bottles were.  He thought one of them contained eye water.

Mr. W Crooks, 20, Mornington road, said that he was a fellow of the Royal Society, and of the Chemical Society.  He received from Mr Blasson to jars containing the stomach and contents of the deceased child and the kidneys.  He made an analysis and found in them a minute quantity of volatile base which had the characteristic odour, and as far as he had been enabled to test it, the Chemical Properties of the active principle of hemlock.  The contents of the stomach were about a teaspoonful, and the quantity of that which was obtained from it was so minute that he could not possibly test it’s action upon an animal.  From the peculiar nature of the poison, and at the time that had now elapsed, and also the favourable opportunity he already had of testing, he did not think a further analysis of portions of the same body (interests times and so on) would yield further evidence.  The quantity of poison which he found was certainly not sufficient to cause death.  It could not have poisoned or mouse.  –By the coroner: there might have been a greater quantity of poison in the stomach, but which have passed off after doing the mischief, by vomiting or by purging.  The poison was a vegetable one, and it was a difficult one to discover by tests after the lapse of time.  Hemlock was a strong narcotic, and might have produced the tetanic twitching described by one of the witnesses.  He could not say that what he found was actually hemlock.

The coroner then summed up.  He said it was to be regretted that there was no further evidence in the case.  He directed the jury to dismiss from their minds all they might have heard respecting the death of another child of the Clarkes, about rumours of foul play had been in circulation.  In the present case, however suspicious it might be, the evidence failed to show the death had actually resulted from poison, or that any individual had administered poison.  The chamber was in a most filthy state, and almost unfit to live in and that might have been the cause of the convulsions.  At all events, no poison or whatever had been found – there was only a suspicion that there was hemlock in the stomach.  By returning an open verdict, merely stating that death resulted from convulsions, but not as to how they arose, the case could be reopened at any time before the magistrates, if additional evidence should turn up.

The court was then cleared, and, after some deliberation, the foreman said: The jury regards the case as full of suspicion, and wish a verdict to be framed which will allow of its being reopened in further circumstances come to light.

The coroner then registered a verdict of “Death from convulsions,” and remarked that the circumstances of the deaths of the two children of the Clarkes were most suspicious.

The police have not yet been able to trace either of the Clarkes.  There was no truth in the statement that the body of the child the first died is to be exhumed.  The post mortem examination was made at the time of the death, and no poison was found.

Ian Waugh
Old British Murder

Ian Waugh