The Pimlico Poisoning
In the early hours of New Year’s morning, 1886, Adelaide Blanche Bartlett roused her landlord in Pimlico, London with a few simple words: “come down, I think Mr Bartlett is dead”. During the following days, a postmortem was conducted and evidence found of a large quantity of Chloroform in the stomach of the deceased, however, there were no signs of how it had been ingested. In the words of the Attorney General who oversaw the inquest: “How came the Chloroform there?”
The Pimlico Poisoning
In the early hours of New Year’s morning, 1886, Adelaide Blanche Bartlett roused her landlord in Pimlico, London with a few simple words: “come down, I think Mr Bartlett is dead”. She had awoke suddenly, sitting at the foot of her bed where she had dozed off earlier that night to find the feet of her husband. Thomas Edwin Bartlett, stone cold. During the following days, a postmortem was conducted and evidence found of a large quantity of Chloroform in the stomach of the deceased, however, there were no signs of how it had been ingested. There were no burns, nor were there any sores or other signs of irritation that would usually line the mouth and throat from drinking such a caustic poison.
In the words of Sir Charles Russell, the Attorney General who oversaw the inquest:
“How came the Chloroform there?”
This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Thomas Edwin Bartlett
Thomas Edwin Bartlett was born in London in 1845. He was the son of a builder and had built a small chain of grocery shops up around Herne Hill, South London. By the age of 29, he was the co-owner of six shops and lived a financially comfortable life. He was a strong and well built man with a relatively imposing physical frame.
In 1875, he met Adelaide De La Tremoille, a young 19 year old French woman who was staying at his younger brothers house and was immediately taken with her. He quickly made his intentions clear to her and without discussing with his family, the pair were married at the Parish Church of Croydon on April 9th, 1875.
Adelaide Blanche Bartlett
Adelaide Blanche Bartlett, born Adelaide De La Tremoille was born in Orleans, France in 1855. 11 years younger than her husband Edwin, she was 19 years old at the time of the marriage. It was heavily rumoured that her father was a man of great wealth and possibly even titled, Comte De Tours D’escury, essentially a count of Torraine. Many propose she was an illegitimate child with an English mother, which accounts for her having been sent to live with a family, presumed to be her aunt and uncle in England at a young age. Details of how or why she became acquainted with Edwin’s brother are not talked about in any of the cases materials, however, it was during her time there she met Edwin and seemingly agreed to marriage with no hesitation.
After the couple were married, Adelaide professed her will to gain a complete education, as her own had been fractured and had suffered due to her earlier upheaval from France to England. Edwin approved and she spent the first year of marriage attending a boarding school in Stoke Newington, visiting Edwin during the holidays. After the completion of schooling there, she then spent a further 18 months at a Convent school in Belgium, before returning to London to live as a family in 1877.
So begins a strange relationship between husband and wife. From the outset and for reasons never discussed, Edwin and Adelaide agreed that their marriage should be platonic.
After the death of his mother, Edwins father moved in with the couple above one of Edwins shops, however their cohabitation did not sail so smoothly. Edwins father had held a distrust of Adelaide from the outset and later, when asked about the couple’s marriage, he stated:
“I was not asked whether I thought she was suitable or not. I did not particularly disapprove of it. I certainly did not much approve of it, but I did not disapprove of it.”
And apparently this was not without reason, for he had accused Adelaide of having an affair with Edwins brother. Considering the circumstances the couple had met in, this might not have been so far off the mark, however Adelaide took so great offence she moved back to her Aunt’s house for a short period and finally, after much coercion from Edwin, his father apologised and retracted his statement in front of a solicitor before peace returned to the household. One can imagine that it was fragile however and by his own words, in a later statement, Edwins father said of the apology:
“I signed an apology, but I knew it to be false. I knew it to be the truth what I said at the time. When I signed it, it was to make peace with my son.”
Despite this however, they lived “mostly on friendly terms together”. In 1881, despite their marriage being platonic, Adelaide fell pregnant. She said that her willingness to have a baby outrode the importance of their platonic agreement and stated they had sex only once, so I guess you could call them pretty lucky in that department. Regardless, Adelaide fell pregnant and their nurse, Annie Walker moved in one month before the baby was born. Tragedy befell the family however, when upon giving birth, the baby was stillborn, something which greatly affected Adelaide, who swore to never have another child in her life. During the labour Annie Walker insisted she needed the aid of a doctor, however, Edwin insisted that he “didn’t want another man interfering with his wife” and disallowed it until the last minute, by which point it was already too late for the baby.
Shortly after the difficult problems with the stillborn birth of their child the couple moved out from the space above the shop to live apart from Edwins father and spent the some time hopping from house to house, living above another of Edwins shops for a time, a cottage and finally, in 1883, they moved to Merton Abbey, close by to Wimbledon, where they began attending a local church in Putney and met the Reverend George Dyson, a man who would gain quite an interesting relationship with the couple.
Reverend George Dyson
Reverend George Dyson was born in 1854 and had gained a BA degree at Dublin University before taking up residence as minister in a Wesleyan church, a branch of Protestant Christians that followed Wesleyan Theology, today, evolving through splinters and unifications, into the methodist church. The New York Times described him as
“A pale serious looking clergyman, with close cut little whiskers and a heavy black moustache”.
At 27 years old, he was only one year older than Adelaide and in his duties as minister, visited Edwin and Adelaide in their home on occasion. Edwin took an immediate liking to Dyson and so too did Adelaide. The trio appeared to develop something of an unusual relationship.
After their first few meetings, Edwin made a request to Dyson for him to visit more frequently, he asked if the Reverend, with his degree and Holy teachings, take Adelaide under his wing and tutor her in Latin, History, Geography and Mathematics. This however, was not all that was requested of the Reverend and early on in their relationship, Edwin apparently requested that if he should die, he expected the Reverend to Marry Adelaide, a bizarre request to make of anyone. Later, Dyson would admit to having kissed Adelaide in front of Edwin who “seemed to quite enjoy it” and Alice Fulcher, the couple’s maid, testified somewhat amusingly that she had several times walked in on Adelaide and the Reverend in “Positions unusual for tutor and pupil”.
Despite this, to all outside sources, including Edwins father, the couple appeared to live a happy life together as a married couple. Reverend George Dyson visited 2-3 days per week and when Edwin and Adelaide went on holiday for a month to Dover, he visited them twice, on both occasions all of his expenses were paid by Edwin himself.
In 1855, the couple moved to an apartment in Pimlico, a relatively well-to-do area in the City of Westminster, Central London and Edwin bought Dyson a season ticket for the train so that he could continue his “tutoring”. He also wrote Dyson a letter concerning their relationship, it read:
“Dear George – Permit me to say I feel great pleasure in this addressing you for the first time. To me it is a privilege to think that I am allowed to feel towards you as a brother and hope our friendship may ripen as time goes on, without anything arising to mar its future brightness. Would that I could find words to express thankfulness to you for the very beautiful, loving letter you sent Adelaide today. It would have done anyone good to see her overflowing with joy as she read it when walking along the street, and afterward as she read it to me. I felt my heart going out to you. I long to tell you how proud I feel at the thought that I should soon be able to clasp the hand of the man who could from his heart pen such noble thoughts. Who can help loving you? I feel I must say to you two words, “thank you”, and my desire to do so is my excuse for troubling you with this. Looking forward the future with joyfulness, I am yours affectionately, Edwin.”
I think most would agree, that this is a peculiar letter and it’s made none the less strange when considered that the letter sent to Adelaide and talked of by Edwin was a verse of poetry, written by Dyson, to Adelaide and was concentrating on his love for her.
Edwin had enquired with the Reverend on several occasions what the bibles position on Polygamy was and often spoke lightly of the concept of having two wives, one who would be a loving partner and one who would undertake the “duties of a wife”, Dyson however, chalked it up to Edwins eccentricities, as he was apparently quite a peculiar character. His own doctor had at one time considered him insane and pressed him on several subjects to determine whether or not he may be mentally ill. In his doctor’s words, Edwin was:
“One of the most extraordinary men I had ever dealt with – Though a very pleasent and nice man.”
Around the Autumn of 1885, Edwin re-drafted his will. Adelaide had been unhappy concerning a stipulation included within the original document that if he were to die, she should not remarry. This was a common caveat at the time and so was not unusual to have been included, however, upon re-writing the document, Edwin removed the clause and at the same time, named Dyson as his executor.
And so the strange trio’s relationship continued for several months, however, as the winter fell upon London, things moved from somewhat peculiar to darkly suspicious.
On the 8th of December 1855, Edwin left work early feeling ill. He later wrote to his partner to excuse himself from work the following day. Aside from his other peculiarities, Edwin was seemingly also something of a hypochondriac. The Reverend noted that as long as he had known Edwin, he had clutched at his side compulsively, as if in pain and he frequently complained of illness and ailments. He thought he was suffering from tapeworms, syphilis and also, as the days in December ticked by, an unnamed terminal illness, despite the doctors repeat insistence that he was suffering from nothing of which he could not recover fully. He also had had severe problems with rotting teeth in the past and had visited a dentist who decided the best course for action was to shear off the rotten teeth at the gumline and fit a denture. Now however, he suffered severe pain from the roots and had taken to rubbing them with chlorodyne to keep the infection and pain away.
Edwins long term Doctor, Alfred Leach diagnosed Edwin with Dysentery and Gastritis, though it also appeared as if he suffered depression and insomnia also. He took to sleeping on the couch in the drawing room and Adelaide, who nursed him throughout December, slept at his feet. Though she felt some concern as to how Edwins friends thought of her as a bad nurse, the doctor remarked that night after night she would sleep at the foot of the bed, despite her own welfare.
As Christmas came around, Edwins health improved. He visited a new dentist who had seen fit to remove his rotten teeth and his overall health benefitted for it. He was so much better in fact, that Doctor Leach saw fit to stop his frequent visits and suggested that the couple take a seaside break to gain some fresh sea air, a popular Victorian remedy.
Throughout his illness, just how fractured the relationship between Adelaide and Edwins father had become begun to show. She sent him a series of letters, essentially placing him at arm’s length and in not so many words, told him not to visit. They read:
“The doctor was very angry that I had permitted Edwin to see visitors last night, as it caused his head to be so bad; And he says no one is to be admitted unless he gives permission. Edwin is slightly better this morning. I will write to you every day and let you know how Edwin is. I can see myself how necessary it is that he should be kept calm.”
The second letter, sent two days later went on:
“Edwin is up; He seems to have stood his tooth drawing very well. Please do not come all this distance, it is not right to have visitors in a sick room, and I don’t feel it right to leave Edwin so long alone while I was downstairs talking to you. When he wishes to see you, I will write and let you know – Yours, Adelaide.
And a third states it quite plainly:
“I hear that you are a little disturbed because Edwin has been to ill to see you. I wish, if possible, to be friends with you, but you must place yourself on the same footing as other persons – that is to say, you are welcome here when I invite you, and at no other time. I wish you to understand that I have neither forgotten nor forgiven the past.”
This series of letters would be blunt already, but considering the time of year and that these were dated between the 24th and 27th December, Christmas time, we can see just how little love there existed between the pair.
On the night of 27th December, during one of his usual visits, Adelaide and the Reverend went for an evening walk. She asked him if he could buy her some Chloroform, the better to help Edwin sleep on occasion that he had trouble. She mentioned she had asked the doctor at first, however he had seemed reluctant on account that she was not an experienced chemist and cited that it would not be the first time a bottle of Chloroform would be knocked over in bed, gassing the couple. She claimed the nurse, Annie Walker had bought it before, however she had left for America and so could not rightly ask her anymore. The Reverend gave full statement concerning their conversation:
“She told me she wanted some chloroform, and that Annie Walker had brought the Chloroform to her before. She said she wanted it to to soothe her husband, to give him sleep, and asked me if I could get some for her. I told her I would and I did.”
The reverend casually bought four small bottles of Chloroform from four different chemists, all within walking distance from his church and from chemists which all attended his services and knew him well, telling them he needed ti to remove grease stains. He combined the bottles into one large bottle and on the 29th December, passed it to Adelaide.
On the 31st December, New Years Eve, Edwin returned home from the Dentist, he told Adelaide that the Dentist had diagnosed him with Necrosis of the gums, though despite this, in good spirits he sat down to eat dinner, made arrangements of a large Haddock to be cooked for his breakfast and retired to the drawing room to sleep. Adelaide joined him after talking with the maid until late into the night and sat at her usual spot at the foot of the bed. She awoke at around 4am with a pain in her arm from cramp and upon noticing that Edwins feet were cold and he was not moving, checked his vital signs for life. Edwin was dead.
The unusual death of Thomas Edwin Bartlett
Adelaides first instinct upon discovering Edwin lying lifeless on the couch was to attempt to rouse him using Brandy, she poured almost a half-pint of brandy down his throat and when that failed to gain any reaction from her husband, she sent for Doctor Leach and then rushed upstairs to the landlord of the house. Mr Frederick Horace Doggett, who also happened to be the district’s registrar for Birth and Deaths. She knocked at his door and told him “Come down, I think Mr Bartlett is dead.”
Upon entering the room, both Doctor Leach and Doggett took note of the surroundings. There was an unlabelled bottle upside down in a glass tumbler on the mantelpiece alongside a wine glass with dark fluid, assumed to be brandy and a small tincture of Chlorodyne, which Adelaide had told the Doctor Edwin had used on his gums earlier that night. They gave the time of death to have been three hours prior, however, they could not find anything wrong with the body to immediately give away a cause of death and when a second doctor, John Gardner Dudley arrived, he remarked”
“He has no business being there, a strong man like that.”
The doctors first thought was that he had possibly taken some sort of poison and enquired to Adelaide upon this being a possibility. She replied that she thought it to be impossible, stating:
“I could not suppose he had got hold of any poison; That he had no poison and could not have got it, or had it, without my knowledge.”
The possibility of poison had not seemed far from the mark of Edwins father also, who, upon his arrival, immediately walked over to his son and:
“leaned over him and kissed him passionately, and smelled his corpse for Prussic Acid.”
Due to its colourlessness and highly poisonous properties, Prussic Acid, or Hydrogen Cyanide, was a common instrument used in a number of poisonings throughout the 1800’s. Later it was tested by the US as a chemical weapon during the first world war and was a key component of Zyklon B, which should I hope, need no introduction for it’s horrific use in the Nazi concentration camps. On this occasion however, Mr Bartlett smelt nothing, though ever suspicious of Adelaide, he was careful to state that he had kissed his son’s forehead, not his mouth, so there was still a possibility.
The doctors conferred that a post mortem should take place to gain some idea on to the cause of death and scheduled it for the following day, the 2nd of January. Adelaide was aghast and pleaded with the doctors to get on with the job immediately, but for the doctors to be present that Dr Leach wished for, it would have to wait.
The postmortem took place the following day on the 2nd of January by four doctors. No natural cause of death could be found and the heart, liver and lungs all seemed to be healthy. In fact, there was little to be found by the doctors at all. That is until, upon opening his stomach, a strong odour of Chloroform filled the room. It was so strong that the doctors remarked it was if opening a fresh bottle of the poison. They also found slight irritation of the tissue and drops of liquid Chloroform both in his stomach and lower intestine, suggesting a large quantity of the poison had been ingested. Furthermore, it was noted that there was a slight inflammation on the lower part of the stomach, which would only have occurred if the drinker had been lying on his back to allow the irritant to have rested on that particular area of the stomach. Doctor Leach also found that when he had discovered the body, there was a peculiar whitening of the tongue, however by the time of the postmortem, the whitening had passed and it had returned to a normal colour. Later the mad bastard would drink Chloroform himself to “test a hypothesis” and found that drinking Chloroform did indeed have the very same effect on his own tongue, which passed after a few hours.
After the postmortem, the doctors reported to Edwins family that they could find no immediate cause of death, however the contents of the stomach were suspicious and had been preserved for further examination. Nothing of the specifics concerning Chloroform were mentioned.
In the early days of January, Doctor Leach himself felt that Edwin may have possibly ingested the Chlorodyne rather than simply rubbed it on his gums and spoke of it several times during his visits to Adelaide, though on each occasion, she insisted that Edwin did not drink the Chlorodyne, only used it to rub onto his gums. Nevertheless, her possession of the bottle of Chloroform appears to have weighed heavy on her mind, since on the 6th of January, the first day she was permitted to collect her things from the scene and the day before the inquest, she took a train and discarded the bottle out of the window.
On January the 26th, Doctor Leach visited Adelaide to tell her that the coroner was ready to create it’s report on the findings of the stomach and told her that it was good news, that she had appeared worried in the uncertainty and that they would be announcing the case for Chloroform. This was good news, as far as Doctor Leach was concerned in that it was likely to remove Adelaide from suspicion. He told her:
“that should put your mind at rest; but had it been one of the secret poisons given in small amounts, and which could be administered without the patient knowing it, you would have most certainly been very seriously accused of having poisoned him by some people.”
However, to the contrary, Adelaide merely replied:
“I am afraid doctor, it is too true. I wish anything but Chloroform had been found.”
Adelaide then went on to give the Doctor a full rundown of her married life with Edwin, that from the outset they had agreed a platonic relationship and that Edwin had been a kind man and they saw to each other with utmost affection. She then explained Edwins strange insistence that she meet other men and often invited men to their house:
“He thought me clever, he wished to make me more clever, and the more admiration and I gained from these male acquaintances the more delighted did he appear. Their attention to me seemed to give him pleasure.”
“We became acquainted with Mr Dyson, my husband threw us together. He requested us, in his presence, to kiss and he seemed to enjoy it. He had given me to Mr Dyson.”
She claimed however, that in December, as his health improved, so too did his libido and he now wished to resume his “marital rights” as they delicately and chauvinistically put it in the 1800s. Adelaide had taken disagreement to this, due to her already being practically fiancee’d with The Reverend Dyson and this, apparently was the true reason she wanted for the Chloroform. She planned to use it to put off her husband’s sexual advances and furthermore, she explained this to Edwin on the night of his death, actually showing him the bottle of Chloroform and explaining her intention to use it if he were to make any sexual advances. The doctor asked her “Was not your husband very cross with you, or alarmed?” To which she replied:
“No, he was not cross; we talked amicably and seriously and he turned round on his side and pretended to sleep.”
That was their final conversation, when she woke next, Edwin was dead.
In February, the coroner’s inquest began, Dyson gave testimony of having bought the Chloroform for Adelaide, who was arrested under suspicion of wilful murder, whilst Dyson himself was arrested as accessory to murder.
The trial gained no small amount of public attention and on it’s opening day on the 13th April, 1886, the first of six days of trial began surrounded by much media fanfare. At this stage, probably accounting to her foreigner status more than any other, Adelaide was not looked on well by the public and everyone presumed that she would be found guilty with no shadow of doubt.
At the trial, Adelaide was not permitted to give sworn evidence on her own behalf, as by law, defendants were not given the choice of testifying until much later, with the Civil Evidence Act of 1898. Instead, Adelaides defence lawyer, Edward Clarke, who was a leading member of the bar and had recently gained huge notoriety defending high profile prisoners in court, maintained on her behalf that Edwin had committed suicide and highlighted evidence that would suggest said verdict.
The Crown Prosecution on the other hand, put forward three possibilities to the jury, that of suicide, murder and accidental death.
In the first act, the jury was asked to excuse Dyson from guilt by the prosecution, which they presently did so. This was unusual, however it gave the prosecutors advantage, as it now allowed Dyson himself to testify against Adelaide.
Dyson promptly gave testimony that throughout January, the pair had had many conversations concerning the Chloroform he had purchased and expressed that he had wanted to give his full account of the purchase to the police at the time, however had not done so due to Adelaides insistence to keep quiet. He originally asked her what she had done with the Chloroform before any suspicion of the chemical had been aroused, and she replied:
“I have never used it, the bottle lies there full and uncorked. This is a very critical time for me, and you mustn’t worry me with questions. Put away from your mind the fact that you ever gave me Chloroform.”
The Reverend was clearly troubled by it, however, and two days later, asked her again, whereby she apparently seemed very frustrated, stamped her foot and shouted to him “Oh damn the Chloroform!” insisting that if he did not incriminate himself, she would not incriminate him. He stopped questioning her after a final outburst, when she yelled at him:
“Why don’t you charge me outright for administering Chloroform to my husband?”
Naturally, the very next thing the Reverend did was exactly the opposite to avoid incrimination. He took it upon himself to discard of the four small empty bottles that he had originally purchased by throwing them into a ditch in Wandsworth Common on his way to church one morning.
Appearing to nail the coffin home, Annie Walker, the nurse who Adelaide had told Reverend Dyson had purchased her Chloroform on occasion before and who was apparently now in America testified that she had never brought Chloroform, nor had she ever visited America, in fact, she had never left England in her life.
Despite all this looking very damning for Adelaide, the doctors testified as to the difficulty of killing someone with Chloroform. Doctor Leach also gave testimony to their relationship, stating that throughout Edwins illness, Adelaide had been incredibly helpful in nursing him:
“She was most affectionate – In fact, I could not wish for a better nurse.”
Their relationship was also described in detail, including the bizarre peculiarities of the odd love triangle, however at the same time, it was insisted that their relationship was not damaged at all by these circumstances:
“As far as the evidence which we have to offer to you on the part of the crown, and of course we shall put before you all the evidence we have, whether it makes for or against the prisoner at the bar, does not point to the existence of any quarrel between husband and wife. They seemed to have lived, so far as ordinary observers could see and judge, upon fairly good terms.”
As if Edwin was not already eccentric enough, Doctor Leach also testified to the court that towards the end of December, he had had a conversation with Edwin concerning “mesmerism”. Edwin, in the presence of Adelaide had asked the doctor if he thought such things could be possible and if he could offer any advice. He told the doctor:
“I am doing such strange things, against my common sense; In fact both my wife and I are both doing so!”
Despite the doctor finding the conversation more than a little strange and Adelaides chafing, Leach probed Edwin on the matter, concerned for his rationality and mental well-being and asked him if he found the idea of being under control of another to be troubling, however, on the contrary, Edwin simply replied that he liked it and Adelaide chimed in that “He was a dear friend to both of us.” which would strongly suggest that Edwin might have been having a change of heart towards his dear friend George Dyson and their complicated agreement between himself, The Reverend and Adelaide.
All four doctors further testified to the difficulty of killing someone with Chloroform. The defence called no witnesses, however, at the end of the trial, Edward Clarke gave a six hour long closing speech, highlighting suicide and drawing particular attention to a lack of motive within the case.
The jury were out for only a short time and when court reconvened to hear the verdict, it was given as such:
“Although we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner, we do not think there is sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered.”
Adelaide was found Not Guilty.
As a case that is grounded in normality, the theories behind the death of Thomas Edwin Bartlett are quite simple, that of murder, accident or suicide. It is the individual motives for each where speculation is able to run rampant. No single theory answers all the questions and many simply demand more.
By many, murder has always been the first and foremost line of suspicion. Adelaide herself had remarked to Doctor Leach earlier in December, before Edwins death:
“If Mr Bartlett doesn’t get better soon his friends will accuse me of poisoning him.”
Indeed, there is much to be suspicious of. Why had she thrown away the bottle of Chloroform if it really had been unused and unopened? And why had she seemed so highly strung when it was mentioned by the Reverend?
The Reverend also seemed to suffer an element of guilt, suggesting that perhaps he also suspected Adelaide to a degree. In January, their relationship appeared strained and at this time, he returned a watch to Adelaide that Edwin had left to him along with a reasonable chunk of money that had been given to him for expenses for visiting Adelaide by Edwin.
On the other hand however, she appeared to co-operate in many aspects of the case. As we heard during the trial, the Doctor remarked how she had cared most affectionately for Edwin throughout his illness and to all outside onlookers, their relationship was perfectly stable. Furthermore, all of the doctors testified as to the difficulty of using Chloroform for murder, stating that only about 30% of subjects die from ingesting the liquid poison and though in these cases, all were receiving medical care at the time, most deaths had taken between 48 hours to a week to die. It had only been observed that only in a very small portion of cases, the subjects had died quickly.
It was also remarked to the amount that would be needed to kill, suggesting around Three quarters of an ounce might be enough. Though Adelaide certainly had enough of the poison, how then had she managed to coerce Edwin into ingesting it? And how exactly had she done so without leaving any burns around the mouth?
The main theory suggests that she would have had to first use the Chloroform on a handkerchief or similar to lull Edwin into an anaesthetised stupor, before pouring it down his throat. Doctor Murray, one of the doctors who undertok the postmortem testified at the trial that:
If the insensibility was profound, there would be no difficulty that I can see. It could be poured down.”
However, in order for this to have been effective, the condition of Edwin would have had to have maintained a fine balance between stupor and his ability to retain muscle reactions, allowing him to swallow. Chloroform being a rather volatile substance, this was no easy task, even for anaesthetists of the time. Chloroform was routinely used as shampoo throughout the Victorian era and clients were told to eat well before visiting the salon and would be seen to by an open window, such was the unpredictability of it’s efficiency.
On the subject of motive, most presume that despite outward appearances, Adelaide was unhappy with the current situation and would simply have been happier with Edwin “out of the picture” so to speak, where she would be free to marry the Reverend. Whether or not that was enough is a matter of mystery.
The second theory concerning Edwins death is that of Suicide. The defense pushed the line hard throughout the trial and in Edward Clarke’s six hour long closing speech. Most of it emphasised Edwins lack of grasp on reality with his own health, and chiefly that he seemed to be somewhat obsessed with the ideas he was suffering from a terminal illness. Edward Clarke stated that Edwin, afraid he was dying and having knowledge of the Chloroform, filled the wine glass full of the poison, drank it whilst Adelaide was not in the room and Adelaide had used the same glass to fill with brandy upon finding him dead, thus disguising the smell.
If this were truly the case however, why then had Edwin ordered breakfast? He was also apparently in good spirits and his health had been steadily returning throughout the end of December. If we are to believe Adelaides words, he had even renewed his sexual advances towards her. Though some say that her outright disallowing of said advances could also have been motive enough for him to kill himself.
We can also look at his conversation with the Doctor concerning Mesmerism with renewed suspicion in the light of a suicide. Was Edwin now regretting an earlier decision to include the Reverend so deeply within his marriage?
There is one other line of thought concerning the Death of Edwin, that of accidental death, though even at the time, it was considered as only an outside possibility. It is posited by some that Edwin, after waking and in a drowsy state, could have reached for the bottle of Chloroform on the mantelpiece thinking it some other medicine and drank it mistakenly. However, would he not have realised his mistake quite quickly and if that was the case, why would he have quietly laid back down and died? It seems quite unlikely that Edwin would not have woken Adelaide, either intentionally or through his sheer panic of having ingested a wine glass full of poison.
After the trial
After the trial was concluded and Adelaide was found not guilty, both herself and the Reverend George Dyson withdrew from the public eye. What became of the pair only exists in rumours, however most agree that the couple never met again.
Adelaide was heavily rumoured to have emigrated to the US, where she lived quietly until her death in 1933. There is little other details available as to her life, she simply vanished from trace.
The Reverend has been the subject of much more exciting rumours and one states that after the trial, he too emigrated to the US, taking up residence in New York City, where he married a wealthy young woman, who he promptly murdered for her estate. Given his character and all we know about him through the trial notes, this seems highly unlikely however.
Another rumour which seems much more probable, if a little less intriguing, suggests that he emigrated to Australia and took up position in a church there, living a quiet and peaceful life until his later death. This can be backed up to a certain extent through the church records, which show a British man named Dyson doing exactly that.
One statement which altogether makes the case more murky, was given by Doctor Leach when he was asked about Adelaides state upon finding her husband to be dead. He stated:
“She seemed not only grieved, but very much alarmed, very much scared.”
As for the Reverend, it seems apparent that he was naive in the extreme and there are many that presume he was manipulated by Adelaide into both buying the Chloroform and keeping quiet about it after the fact.
Edwins father certainly did not trust Adelaide, though it could be said they had a difficult past, he even questioned the veracity of the will and had the witnesses called upon in court to testify that Edwin himself had in fact signed the document.
Even if we are to discount theories and motives for a moment, the Pimlico Poisoning case still leaves us with it’s biggest mystery, chiefly, how on earth was the chloroform ingested without causing any traces of passing through his system? We are drawn back to the original question from the trial, “How came the Chloroform there?”. This is a question that could provide answers, but ultimately leaves us with only more speculation and guesswork, probably for the rest of time.
In the days after the trial, Sir James Paget, a renowned surgeon responsible for laying the foundations of scientific medical pathology, wrote publicly in a piece for a medical journal:
“Now that she has been acquitted for murder and cannot be tried again, she should tell us in the interest of science how she did it!”
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