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The Pimlico Poisoning Mystery

Sir {{w|James Paget}}, 1st Baronet, British su...

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It might be a combination of attractive residential streets and interesting metropolitan life today, but in 1886, Pimlico was the backdrop for a sensational murder mystery that’s still unsolved today.

30 year old Adelaide Bartlett stood trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of her husband – assisted by her clergyman lover. Edwin Bartlett, the owner of a chain of grocery stores, had been found dead by his wife after a short illness – during which she had said to their phyisican, “if Mr Bartlett does not get better soon his friends and relations will accuse me of poisoning him”. Prophetic words indeed.

Edwin and Adelaide’s marriage had been a strange one. She was, probably, the illegitimate daughter of a French count, and was 11 years younger than her husband. On their marriage, he sent the Anglo-French beauty to boarding school for two years to remedy the gaps in her education caused by her French upbringing. When she finally moved in with her husband, his father accused her of having an affair with her brother in law – an accusation Edwin forced him to retract before a solicitor.

In 1885, the Bartletts met George Dyson, a young Methodist minister. Edwin appears to have encouraged a close friendship between Adelaide and George, even going to far as to stipulate that if he died, he expected them to marry.

In August, the Bartletts moved to Cleverton Street, Pimlico – and Edwin bought George a railway season ticket so that he could visit to continue Adelaide’s school lessons in Latin and maths. Their landlord’s maid later testified that she several times come upon George and Adelaide in “positions unusual for tutor and pupil” – once discovering them on the floor together.

And then Edwin became ill. He had a long-standing dental problem, where an inexpert dentist had sheered decayed teeth off at the gumline. He had also convinced himself he had syphilis – though he didn’t – and was taking the poison mercury to treat that disease. And he seems to have suffered from depression which kept him an invalid despite medical attention. It was at this point that Adelaide made her unfortunate observation about accusations of poisoning.

At the end of December 1885, Adelaide asked George Dyson to buy her some chloroform. She told him it was to treat Edwin, and also mentioned to their landlady that she regularly gave her husband chloroform sleeping drops. George told the two chemists from whom he purchased the chloroform that it was for use as a stain remover.

On New Year’s Day 1886, Adelaide woke their landlord saying “Come down, I think Mr Bartlett is dead”. The landlord, a Mr Doggett, was suspicious; he refused to register the death until a postmortem had been conducted. The PM found no natural cause of death, but did discover chloroform in Edwin’s stomach, which, it concluded, had killed him. Adelaide was arrested – and so was George, accused of being an accessory before the fact.

Adelaide’s trial was sensational. The prosecution immediately dropped all charges against George Dyson, asking the jury to find him not guilty. He was then called as a witness for the prosecution, but ended up more help to the defence. He testified that Edwin Bartlett believed himself to be terminally ill, and that Adelaide had not asked him to conceal the purchase of the chloroform – which made the defence’s case for Edwin having administered the chloroform himself so much the stronger. Medical experts then testified as to the difficulties of using liquid chloroform for murder: there was no evidence of chloroform in Edwin’s windpipe, as there should have been if it had been administered by someone else.

Adelaide was found not guilty, but only just. On delivering the verdict, the foreman said “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.”

Theories abounded. The Bartlett’s own physician later wrote in the Lancet that Edwin had taken the poison maliciously to distress his wife with his symptoms – presumably, he had taken more than he’d intended, and died by accident. Or perhaps Edwin had mistaken the bottle for another medicine, and drunk it before he could realise his mistake. Or perhaps Adelaide really had murdered him, believing maybe that she would then be free to marry George Dyson: this is borne out by brandy found in his bedroom, which she said had been used to try to revive him, but could have been used to disguise the taste of the chloroform.

Sir James Paget of Bart’s Hospital said, after the acquittal, that Adelaide “should tell us in the interests of science how she did it.” But she never did, and the truth about what really happened in that Pimlico boarding house will now never be known.


James Davis - Upad

James Davis - Upad

A guest post by James Davis, the CEO of Upad.co.uk, the UK’s leading online lettings agent. Upad lists your rental property on 100+ sites and portals – including Rightmove – for just £59: tenant guaranteed. Follow the Upad blog and on Twitter for rental industry news and tips for landlords on making the most of your properties

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One Response to “The Pimlico Poisoning Mystery”

  1. Keith T says:

    Of course, the evidence against Adelaide was pretty thin on the ground at the time, and thus she was found not guilty, as much as the prosecution would have loved to have convicted her of murder. In fact, it is unlikely that a murder took place at all. Adelaide’s father-in-law did not like her from the start, her real (unknown) father kept in the shadows, and her French family had disowned her. Here is a woman who was quite mentally abused by the men in her life and I do believe she could have been happy with Edward. Alas, he became paranoid about his health, imagining all sorts of illnesses, even having his teeth cut back to the gum, rather than having them pulled. He was later diagnosed with Necrosis. My belief is that he began using chloroform as analgesia and had fairly large traces of anaesthetic already in his stomach. My theory is that he awoke during the night in pain and found Adelaide asleep. He couldn’t wake her and saw the glass on the mantelpiece that he had used earlier alongside this was the chloroform bottle. He managed to get some in the glass, rinsed his sore gums with enough of the stuff, and being quite accustomed to it, overdosed. He put the glass back on the mantelpiece and fell into a deep sleep from which he did not wake from. When Adelaide woke she realised what he had done, found the bottle by his side, but did not consider that he had used the glass. She hid the bottle and later disposed of it for fear she would be accused of his murder (which later she was anyway), or that it would have been thought that Edward had committed suicide. In my view it was accidental death. I think if Adelaide was as clever and as hard as people made her out to be, she would have waited for him to die natural causes. He wasn’t long for the world anyway by all accounts.

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