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´╗┐Title: She Stands Accused
Author: MacClure, Victor, 1887-1963
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Victor Macclure

Being a Series of Accounts of the Lives and Deeds of Notorious Women,
Murderesses, Cheats, Cozeners, on whom Justice was Executed, and of
others who, Accused of Crimes, were Acquitted at least in Law; Drawn
from Authenticated Sources




I had a thought to call this book Pale Hands or Fair Hands Imbrued--so
easy it is to fall into the ghastly error of facetiousness.

Apart, however, from the desire to avoid pedant or puerile humour,
re-examination of my material showed me how near I had been to crashing
into a pitfall of another sort. Of the ladies with whose encounters with
the law I propose to deal several were assoiled of the charges
against them. Their hands, then--unless the present ruddying of female
fingernails is the revival of an old fashion--were not pink-tipped,
save, perhaps, in the way of health; nor imbrued, except in soapsuds. My
proposed facetiousness put me in peril of libel.

Interest in the criminous doings of women is so alive and avid among
criminological writers that it is hard indeed to find material which has
not been dealt with to the point of exhaustion. Does one pick up in a
secondhand bookshop a pamphlet giving a verbatim report of a trial in
which a woman is the central figure, and does one flatter oneself that
the find is unique, and therefore providing of fresh fields, it is
almost inevitable that one will discover, or rediscover, that the case
has already been put to bed by Mr Roughead in his inimitable manner.
What a nose the man has! What noses all these rechauffeurs of crime
possess! To use a figure perhaps something unmannerly, the pigs of
Perigord, which, one hears, are trained to hunt truffles, have snouts no

Suppose, again, that one proposes to deal with the peccancy of women
from the earliest times, it is hard to find a lady, even one whose name
has hitherto gleamed lurid in history, to whom some modern writer has
not contrived by chapter and verse to apply a coat of whitewash.

Locusta, the poisoner whom Agrippina, wanting to kill the Emperor
Claudius by slow degrees, called into service, and whose technique Nero
admired so much that he was fain to put her on his pension list, barely
escapes the deodorant. Messalina comes up in memory. And then one
finds M. Paul Moinet, in his historical essays En Marge de l'histoire,
gracefully pleading for the lady as Messaline la calomniee--yes, and
making out a good case for her. The Empress Theodora under the pen of
a psychological expert becomes nothing more dire than a clever little
whore disguised in imperial purple.

On the mention of poison Lucretia Borgia springs to mind. This is the
lady of whom Gibbon writes with the following ponderous falsity:

In the next generation the house of Este was sullied by a sanguinary and
incestuous race in the nuptials of Alfonso I with Lucretia, a bastard of
Alexander VI, the Tiberius of Christian Rome. This modern Lucretia might
have assumed with more propriety the name of Messalina, since the woman
who can be guilty, who can even be accused, of a criminal intercourse
with a father and two brothers must be abandoned to all the
licentiousness of a venal love.

That, if the phrase may be pardoned, is swatting a butterfly with a
sledge-hammer! Poor little Lucretia, described by the excellent M.
Moinet as a "bon petit coeur," is enveloped in the political ordure
slung by venal pamphleteers at the masterful men of her race. My friend
Rafael Sabatini, than whom no man living has dug deeper into Borgia
history, explains the calumniation of Lucretia in this fashion: Adultery
and promiscuous intercourse were the fashion in Rome at the time of
Alexander VI. Nobody thought anything of them. And to have accused the
Borgia girl, or her relatives, of such inconsiderable lapses would have
been to evoke mere shrugging. But incest, of course, was horrible. The
writers paid by the party antagonistic to the Borgia growth in power
therefore slung the more scurrile accusation. But there is, in truth,
just about as much foundation for the charge as there is for the other,
that Lucretia was a poisoner. The answer to the latter accusation, says
my same authority, may take the form of a question: WHOM DID LUCRETIA
POISON? As far as history goes, even that written by the Borgia enemies,
the reply is, NOBODY!

Were one content, like Gibbon, to take one's history like snuff there
would be to hand a mass of caliginous detail with which to cause
shuddering in the unsuspecting reader. But in mere honesty, if in
nothing else, it behoves the conscientious writer to examine the
sources of his information. The sources may be--they too frequently
are--contaminated by political rancour and bias, and calumnious
accusation against historical figures too often is founded on mere envy.
And then the rechauffeurs, especially where rechauffage is made from
one language to another, have been apt (with a mercenary desire to
give their readers as strong a brew as possible) to attach the darkest
meanings to the words they translate. In this regard, and still apropos
the Borgias, I draw once again on Rafael Sabatini for an example of what
I mean. Touching the festivities celebrating Lucretia's wedding in the
Vatican, the one eyewitness whose writing remains, Gianandrea Boccaccio,
Ferrarese ambassador, in a letter to his master says that amid singing
and dancing, as an interlude, a "worthy" comedy was performed. The
diarist Infessura, who was not there, takes it upon himself to describe
the comedy as "lascivious." Lascivious the comedies of the time commonly
were, but later writers, instead of drawing their ideas from the
eyewitness, prefer the dark hints of Infessura, and are persuaded that
the comedy, the whole festivity, was "obscene." Hence arises the
notion, so popular, that the second Borgia Pope delighted in shows which
anticipated those of the Folies Bergere, or which surpassed the danse du
ventre in lust-excitation.

A statue was made by Guglielmo della Porta of Julia Farnese, Alexander's
beautiful second mistress. It was placed on the tomb of her brother
Alessandro (Pope Paul III). A Pope at a later date provided the lady,
portrayed in 'a state of nature,' with a silver robe--because, say
the gossips, the statue was indecent. Not at all: it was to prevent
recurrence of an incident in which the sculptured Julia took a static
part with a German student afflicted with sex-mania.

I become, however, a trifle excursive, I think. If I do the blame lies
on those partisan writers to whom I have alluded. They have a way of
leading their incautious latter-day brethren up the garden. They hint at
flesh-eating lilies by the pond at the path's end, and you find nothing
more prone to sarcophagy than harmless primulas. In other words, the
beetle-browed Lucretia, with the handy poison-ring, whom they promise
you turns out to be a blue-eyed, fair-haired, rather yielding little
darling, ultimately an excellent wife and mother, given to piety and
good works, used in her earlier years as a political instrument by
father and brother, and these two no worse than masterful and ambitious
men employing the political technique common to their day and age.


Messalina, Locusta, Lucretia, Theodora, they step aside in this
particular review of peccant women. Cleopatra, supposed to have poisoned
slaves in the spirit of scientific research, or perhaps as punishment
for having handed her the wrong lipstick, also is set aside. It were
supererogatory to attempt dealing with the ladies mentioned in the Bible
and the Apocrypha, such as Jael, who drove the nail into the head of
Sisera, or Judith, who cut off the head of Holofernes. Their stories are
plainly and excellently told in the Scriptural manner, and the adding
of detail would be mere fictional exercise. Something, perhaps, might
be done for them by way of deducing their characters and physical
shortcomings through examination of their deeds and motives--but this
may be left to psychiatrists. There is room here merely for a soupcon of
psychology--just as much, in fact, as may afford the writer an easy turn
from one plain narrative to another. You will have no more of it than
amounts, say, to the pinch of fennel that should go into the sauce for

Toffana, who in Italy supplied poison to wives aweary of their husbands
and to ladies beginning to find their lovers inconvenient, and who thus
at second hand murdered some six hundred persons, has her attractions
for the criminological writer. The bother is that so many of them have
found it out. The scanty material regarding her has been turned over so
often that it has become somewhat tattered, and has worn rather thin
for refashioning. The same may be said for Hieronyma Spara, a direct
poisoner and Toffana's contemporary.

The fashion they set passed to the Marquise de Brinvilliers, and she,
with La Vigoureux and La Voisin, has been written up so often that the
task of finding something new to say of her and her associates looks far
too formidable for a man as lethargic as myself.

In the abundance of material that criminal history provides about women
choice becomes difficult. There is, for example, a plethora of women
poisoners. Wherever a woman alone turns to murder it is a hundred to one
that she will select poison as a medium. This at first sight may seem a
curious fact, but there is for it a perfectly logical explanation, upon
which I hope later to touch briefly. The concern of this book, however,
is not purely with murder by women, though murder will bulk largely.
Swindling will be dealt with, and casual allusion made to other crimes.

But take for the moment the women accused or convicted of poisoning.
What an array they make! What monsters of iniquity many of them
appear! Perhaps the record, apart from those set up by Toffana and the
Brinvilliers contingent, is held by the Van der Linden woman of Leyden,
who between 1869 and 1885 attempted to dispose of 102 persons, succeeded
with no less than twenty-seven, and rendered at least forty-five
seriously ill. Then comes Helene Jegado, of France, who, according to
one account, with two more working years (eighteen instead of sixteen),
contrived to envenom twenty-six people, and attempted the lives of
twelve more. On this calculation she fails by one to reach the der
Linden record, but, even reckoning the two extra years she had to work
in, since she made only a third of the other's essays, her bowling
average may be said to be incomparably better.

Our own Mary Ann Cotton, at work between 1852 and 1873, comes in third,
with twenty-four deaths, at least known, as her bag. Mary Ann operated
on a system of her own, and many of her victims were her own children.
She is well worth the lengthier consideration which will be given her in
later pages.

Anna Zwanziger, the earlier 'monster' of Bavaria, arrested in 1809, was
an amateur compared with those three.

Mrs Susannah Holroyd, of Ashton-under-Lyne, charged in September of 1816
at the Lancashire Assizes with the murder by poison of her husband,
her own son, and the infant child of Anna Newton, a lodger of hers, was
nurse to illegitimate children. She was generally suspected of having
murdered several of her charges, but no evidence, as far as I can learn,
was brought forward to give weight to the suspicion at her trial. Then
there were Mesdames Flanagan and Higgins, found guilty, at Liverpool
Assizes in February 1884, of poisoning Thomas Higgins, husband of the
latter of the accused, by the administration of arsenic. The ladies
were sisters, living together in Liverpool. With them in the house in
Skirvington Street were Flanagan's son John, Thomas Higgins and his
daughter Mary, Patrick Jennings and his daughter Margaret.

John Flanagan died in December 1880. His mother drew the insurance
money. Next year Thomas Higgins married the younger of the sisters, and
in the year following Mary Higgins, his daughter, died. Her stepmother
drew the insurance money. The year after that Margaret Jennings,
daughter of the lodger, died. Once again insurance money was drawn, this
time by both sisters.

Thomas Higgins passed away that same year in a house to which what
remained of the menage had removed. He was on the point of being buried,
as having died of dysentery due to alcoholism, when the suspicions of
his brother led the coroner to stop the funeral. The brother had heard
word of insurance on the life of Thomas. A post-mortem revealed the fact
that Thomas had actually died of arsenic poisoning; upon which discovery
the bodies of John Flanagan, Mary Higgins, and Margaret Jennings were
exhumed for autopsy, which revealed arsenic poisoning in each case. The
prisoners alone had attended the deceased in the last illnesses. Theory
went that the poison had been obtained by soaking fly-papers. Mesdames
Flanagan and Higgins were executed at Kirkdale Gaol in March of 1884.

Now, these are two cases which, if only minor in the wholesale
poisoning line when compared with the Van der Linden, Jegado, and Cotton
envenomings, yet have their points of interest. In both cases the guilty
were so far able to banish "all trivial fond records" as to dispose of
kindred who might have been dear to them: Mrs Holroyd of husband and
son, with lodger's daughter as makeweight; the Liverpool pair of nephew,
husband, stepdaughter (or son, brother-in-law, and stepniece, according
to how you look at it), with again the unfortunate daughter of a
lodger thrown in. If they "do things better on the Continent"--speaking
generally and ignoring our own Mary Ann--there is yet temptation to
examine the lesser native products at length, but space and the scheme
of this book prevent. In the matter of the Liverpool Locustas there is
an engaging speculation. It was brought to my notice by Mr Alan Brock,
author of By Misadventure and Further Evidence. Just how far did the use
of flypapers by Flanagan and Higgins for the obtaining of arsenic serve
as an example to Mrs Maybrick, convicted of the murder of her husband in
the same city five years later?

The list of women poisoners in England alone would stretch interminably.
If one were to confine oneself merely to those employing arsenic the
list would still be formidable. Mary Blandy, who callously slew her
father with arsenic supplied her by her lover at Henley-on-Thames in
1751, has been a subject for many criminological essayists. That she has
attracted so much attention is probably due to the double fact that she
was a girl in a very comfortable way of life, heiress to a fortune of
L10,000, and that contemporary records are full and accessible. But
there is nothing essentially interesting about her case to make it
stand out from others that have attracted less notice in a literary way.
Another Mary, of a later date, Edith Mary Carew, who in 1892 was found
guilty by the Consular Court, Yokohama, of the murder of her husband
with arsenic and sugar of lead, was an Englishwoman who might have given
Mary Blandy points in several directions.

When we leave the arsenical-minded and seek for cases where other
poisons were employed there is still no lack of material. There is, for
example, the case of Sarah Pearson and the woman Black, who were tried
at Armagh in June 1905 for the murder of the old mother of the latter.
The old woman, Alice Pearson (Sarah was her daughter-in-law), was
in possession of small savings, some forty pounds, which aroused the
cupidity of the younger women. Their first attempt at murder was with
metallic mercury. It rather failed, and the trick was turned by means of
three-pennyworth of strychnine, bought by Sarah and mixed with the old
lady's food. The murder might not have been discovered but for the fact
that Sarah, who had gone to Canada, was arrested in Montreal for some
other offence, and made a confession which implicated her husband and
Black. A notable point about the case is the amount of metallic mercury
found in the old woman's body: 296 grains--a record.

Having regard to the condition of life in which these Irishwomen lived,
there is nothing, to my mind, in the fact that they murdered for forty
pounds to make their crime more sordid than that of Mary Blandy.

Take, again, the case of Mary Ansell, the domestic servant, who, at
Hertford Assizes in June 1899, was found guilty of the murder of her
sister, Caroline, by the administration of phosphorus contained in a
cake. Here the motive for the murder was the insurance made by Ansell
upon the life of her sister, a young woman of weak intellect confined
in Leavesden Asylum, Watford. The sum assured was only L22 10s. If Mary
Blandy poisoned her father in order to be at liberty to marry her lover,
Cranstoun, and to secure the fortune Cranstoun wanted with her, wherein
does she shine above Mary Ansell, a murderess who not only poisoned her
sister, but nearly murdered several of her sister's fellow-inmates of
the asylum, and all for twenty odd pounds? Certainly not in being less
sordid, certainly not in being more 'romantic.'

There is, at root, no case of murder proved and accepted as such which
does not contain its points of interest for the criminological writer.
There is, indeed, many a case, not only of murder but of lesser
crime, that has failed to attract a lot of attention, but that yet,
in affording matter for the student of crime and criminal psychology,
surpasses others which, very often because there has been nothing of
greater public moment at the time, were boomed by the Press into the
prominence of causes celebres.

There is no need then, after all, for any crime writer who wants to
fry a modest basket of fish to mourn because Mr Roughead, Mr. Beaufroy
Barry, Mr Guy Logan, Miss Tennyson Jesse, Mr Leonard R. Gribble, and
others of his estimable fellows seem to have swiped all the sole and
salmon. It may be a matter for envy that Mr Roughead, with his uncanny
skill and his gift in piquant sauces, can turn out the haddock and hake
with all the delectability of sole a la Normande. The sigh of envy will
merge into an exhalation of joy over the artistry of it. And one may
turn, wholeheartedly and inspired, to see what can be made of one's own
catch of gudgeon.


Kipling's line about the female of the species has been quoted,
particularly as a text for dissertation on the female criminal, perhaps
rather too often. There is always a temptation to use the easy gambit.

It is quite probable that there are moments in a woman's life when she
does become more deadly than the male. The probability is one which no
man of age and experience will lack instance for making a fact. Without
seeking to become profound in the matter I will say this: it is but
lightly as compared with a man that one need scratch a woman to come on
the natural creature.

Now, your natural creature, not inhibited by reason, lives by theft,
murder, and dissimulation. It lives, even as regards the male, but for
one purpose: to continue its species. Enrage a woman, then, or frighten
her into the natural creature, and she will discard all those petty
rules invented by the human male for his advantage over, and his safety
from, the less disciplined members of the species. All that stuff about
'honour,' 'Queensberry rules,' 'playing the game,' and what not will go
by the board. And she will fight you with tooth and talon, with lies,
with blows below the belt--metaphorically, of course.

It may well be that you have done nothing more than hurt her pride--the
civilized part of her. But instinctively she will fight you as the
mother animal, either potentially or in being. It will not occur to her
that she is doing so. Nor will it occur to you. But the fact that she is
fighting at all will bring it about, for fighting to any female animal
means defence of her young. She may not have any young in being. That
does not affect the case. She will fight for the ova she carries, for
the ova she has yet to develop. Beyond all reason, deep, instinct deep,
within her she is the carrier of the race. This instinct is so profound
that she will have no recollection in a crisis of the myriads of her
like, but will think of herself as the race's one chance to persist.
Dangerous? Of course she's dangerous--as dangerous as Nature! Just as
dangerous, just as self-centred, as in its small way is that vegetative
organism the volvox, which, when food is scarce and the race is
threatened, against possible need of insemination, creates separate
husband cells to starve in clusters, while 'she' hogs all the
food-supply for the production of eggs.

This small flight into biology is made merely for the dim light it may
cast on the Kipling half-truth. It is not made to explain why women
criminals are more deadly, more cruel, more deeply lost in turpitude,
than their male colleagues. But it may help to explain why so many
crime-writers, following Lombroso, THINK the female more deadly.

There is something so deeply shocking in the idea of a woman being other
than kind and good, something so antagonistic to the smug conception
of Eve as the "minist'ring angel, thou," that leaps to extremes in
expression are easy.

A drunken woman, however, and for example, is not essentially more
degraded than a drunken man. This in spite of popular belief. A
nymphomaniac is not essentially more degraded than a brothel-haunting
male. It may be true that moral sense decays more quickly in a woman
than in a man, that the sex-ridden or drink-avid woman touches the deeps
of degradation more quickly, but the reasons for this are patent. They
are economic reasons usually, and physical, and not adherent to any
inevitably weaker moral fibre in the woman.

Women as a rule have less command of money than men. If they earn what
they spend they generally have to seek their satisfactions cheaply; and,
of course, since their powers of resistance to the debilitating effects
of alcohol are commonly less than those of men, they more readily lose
physical tone. With loss of health goes loss of earning power, loss of
caste. The descent, in general, must be quicker. It is much the same in
nymphomania. Unless the sex-avid woman has a decent income, such as
will provide her with those means whereby women preserve the effect of
attractiveness, she must seek assuagement of her sex-torment with men
less and less fastidious.

But it is useless and canting to say that peccant women are worse than
men. If we are kind we say so merely because we are more apprehensive
for them. Safe women, with but rare exceptions, are notably callous
about their sisters astray, and the "we" I have used must be taken
generally to signify men. We see the danger for erring women, danger
economic and physical. Thinking in terms of the phrase that "a woman's
place is the home," we wonder what will become of them. We wonder
anxiously what man, braver or less fastidious than ourselves, will
accept the burden of rescuing them, give them the sanctuary of a home.
We see them as helpless, pitiable beings. We are shocked to see them
fall so low.

There is something of this rather maudlin mentality, generally speaking,
in our way of regarding women criminals. To think, we say, that a WOMAN
should do such things!

But why should we be more shocked by the commission of a crime by a
woman than by a man--even the cruellest of crimes? Take the male and
female in feral creation, and there is nothing to choose between them in
the matter of cruelty. The lion and the lioness both live by murder, and
until gravidity makes her slow for the chase the breeding female is by
all accounts the more dangerous. The she-bear will just as readily eat
up a colony of grubs or despoil the husbandry of the bees as will her
mate. If, then, the human animal drops the restraints imposed by law,
reverting thereby to the theft, murder, and cunning of savagery,
why should it be shocking that the female should equal the male in
callousness? Why should it be shocking should she even surpass the male?
It is quite possible that, since for physiological reasons she is nearer
to instinctive motivation than the male, she cannot help being more
ruthless once deterrent inhibition has been sloughed. But is she in fact
more dangerous, more deadly as a criminal, than the male?

Lombroso--vide Mr Philip Beaufroy Barry in his essay on Anna
Zwanziger--tells us that some of the methods of torture employed by
criminal women are so horrible that they cannot be described without
outraging the laws of decency. Less squeamish than Lombroso or Mr
Barry, I gather aloud that the tortures have to do with the organs of
generation. But male savages in African and American Indian tribes have
a punishment for adulterous women which will match anything in that
line women have ever achieved, and men in England itself have wreaked
perverted vengeance on women in ways indescribable too. Though it may
be granted that pain inflicted through the genitals is particularly
sickening, pain is pain all over the body, and must reach what might be
called saturation-point wherever inflicted. And as regards the invention
of sickening punishment we need go no farther afield in search for
ingenuity than the list of English kings. Dirty Jamie the Sixth of
Scotland and First of England, under mask of retributive justice, could
exercise a vein of cruelty that might have turned a Red Indian green
with envy. Moreover, doesn't our word expressing cruelty for cruelty's
sake derive from the name of a man--the Marquis de Sade?

I am persuaded that the reason why so many women murderers have made
use of poison in their killings is primarily a simple one, a matter of
physique. The average murderess, determined on the elimination of, for
example, a husband, must be aware that in physical encounter she would
have no chance. Then, again, there is in women an almost inborn aversion
to the use of weapons. Once in a way, where the murderess was of
Amazonian type, physical means have been employed for the slaying.

In this regard Kate Webster, who in 1879 at Richmond murdered and
dismembered Mrs Julia Thomas, springs to mind. She was, from all
accounts, an exceedingly virile young woman, strong as a pony, and with
a devil of a temper. Mr Elliot O'Donnell, dealing with her in his essay
in the "Notable British Trials" series, seems to be rather at a
loss, considering her lack of physical beauty, to account for her
attractiveness to men and to her own sex. But there is no need to
account for it. Such a thing is no phenomenon.

I myself, sitting in a taberna in a small Spanish port, was once
pestered by a couple of British seamen to interpret for them in their
approaches to the daughter of the house. This woman, who had a voice
like a raven, seemed able to give quick and snappy answers to the chaff
by frequenters of the taberna. Few people in the day-time, either men
or women, would pass the house if 'Fina happened to be showing without
stopping to have a word with her. She was not at all gentle in manner,
but children ran to her. And yet, without being enormously fat, 'Fina
must have weighed close on fifteen stone. She had forearms and biceps
like a coal-heaver's. She was black-haired, heavy-browed, squish-nosed,
moled, and swarthy, and she had a beard and moustache far beyond the
stage of incipiency. Yet those two British seamen, fairly decent men,
neither drunk nor brutish, could not have been more attracted had 'Fina
had the beauty of the Mona Lisa herself. I may add that there were other
women handy and that the seamen knew of them.

This in parenthesis, I hope not inappropriately.

Where the selected victim, or victims, is, or are, feeble-bodied you
will frequently find the murderess using physical means to her end.
Sarah Malcolm, whose case will form one of the chief features of this
volume, is an instance in point. Marguerite Diblanc, who strangled
Mme Reil in the latter's house in Park Lane on a day in April 1871,
is another. Amelia Dyer, the baby-farmer, also strangled her charges.
Elizabeth Brownrigg (1767) beat the feeble Mary Clifford to death. I do
not know that great physical difference existed to the advantage of the
murderess between her and her older victim, Mrs Phoebe Hogg, who, with
her baby, was done to death by Mrs Pearcy in October 1890, but the fact
that Mrs Hogg had been battered about the head, and that the head had
been almost severed from the body, would seem to indicate that the
murderess was the stronger of the two women. The case of Belle Gunness
(treated by Mr George Dilnot in his Rogues March[1]) might be cited.
Fat, gross-featured, far from attractive though she was, her victims
were all men who had married or had wanted to marry her. Mr Dilnot
says these victims "almost certainly numbered more than a hundred." She
murdered for money, using chloral to stupefy, and an axe for the actual
killing. She herself was slain and burned, with her three children, by
a male accomplice whom she was planning to dispose of, he having arrived
at the point of knowing too much. 1907 was the date of her death at La
Porte, U.S.A.

It occurs when the female killer happens to be dramatical-minded that
she will use a pistol. Mme Weissmann-Bessarabo, who, with her daughter,
shot her husband in Paris (August 1920), is of this kind. She and the
daughter, Paule-Jacques, seem to have seen themselves as wild, wild
women from the Mexico where they had sometime lived, and were always
flourishing revolvers.

I would say that the use of poison so much by women murderers has
reason, first, in the lack of physique for violent methods, but I would
put alongside that reason this other, that women poisoners usually have
had a handy proximity to their victims. They have had contact with their
victims in an attendant capacity. I have a suspicion, moreover, that a
good number of women poisoners actually chose the medium as THE KINDEST
WAY. Women, and I might add not a few men, who would be terribly shocked
by sight or news of a quick but violent death, can contemplate with
relative placidity a lingering and painful fatal illness. Propose to a
woman the destruction of a mangy stray cat or of an incurably diseased
dog by means of a clean, well-placed shot, and the chances are that she
will shudder. But--no lethal chamber being available--suggest poison,
albeit unspecified, and the method will more readily commend itself.
This among women with no murderous instincts whatever.

I have a fancy also that in some cases of murder by poison, not only by
women, the murderer has been able to dramatize herself or himself ahead
as a tender, noble, and self-sacrificing attendant upon the victim.
No need here, I think, to number the cases where the ministrations of
murderers to their victims have aroused the almost tearful admiration of

I shall say nothing of the secrecy of the poison method, of the chance
which still exists, in spite of modern diagnosis, that the illness
induced by it will pass for one arising from natural causes. This is
ground traversed so often that its features are as familiar as those of
one's own house door. Nor shall I say anything of the ease with which,
even in these days, the favourite poison of the woman murderer, arsenic,
can be obtained in one form or another.

One hears and reads, however, a great deal about the sense of power
which gradually steals upon the poisoner. It is a speculation upon
which I am not ready to argue. There is, indeed, chapter and verse for
believing that poisoners have arrived at a sense of omnipotence. But if
Anna Zwanziger (here I quote from Mr Philip Beaufroy Barry's essay on
her in his Twenty Human Monsters), "a day or two before the execution,
smiled and said it was a fortunate thing for many people that she was to
die, for had she lived she would have continued to poison men and women
indiscriminately"; if, still according to the same writer, "when the
arsenic was found on her person after the arrest, she seized the packet
and gloated over the powder, looking at it, the chronicler assures us,
as a woman looks at her lover"; and if, "when the attendants asked her
how she could have brought herself calmly to kill people with whom she
was living--whose meals and amusements she shared--she replied that
their faces were so stupidly healthy and happy that she desired to see
them change into faces of pain and despair," I will say this in no way
goes to prove the woman criminal to be more deadly than the male. This
ghoulish satisfaction, with the conjectured feeling of omnipotence, is
not peculiar to the woman poisoner. Neill Cream had it. Armstrong had
it. Wainewright, with his reason for poisoning Helen Abercrombie--"Upon
my soul I don't know, unless it was that her legs were too thick"--is
quite on a par with Anna Zwanziger. The supposed sense of power does not
even belong exclusively to the poisoner. Jack the Ripper manifestly had
something of the same idea about his use of the knife.

As a monster in mass murder against Mary Ann Cotton I will set you
the Baron Gilles de Rais, with his forty flogged, outraged, obscenely
mutilated and slain children in one of his castles alone--his total
of over two hundred children thus foully done to death. I will set you
Gilles against anything that can be brought forward as a monster in
cruelty among women.

Against the hypocrisy of Helene Jegado I will set you the sanctimonious
Dr Pritchard, with the nauseating entry in his diary (quoted by Mr
Roughead) recording the death of the wife he so cruelly murdered:

March 1865, 18, Saturday. Died here at 1 A.M. Mary Jane, my own beloved
wife, aged thirty-eight years. No torment surrounded her bedside [the
foul liar!]--but like a calm peaceful lamb of God passed Minnie away.
May God and Jesus, Holy Ghost, one in three, welcome Minnie! Prayer on
prayer till mine be o'er; everlasting love. Save us, Lord, for Thy dear

Against the mean murders of Flanagan and Higgins I will set you Mr
Seddon and Mr Smith of the "brides in the bath."


I am conscious that in arguing against the "more deadly than the male"
conception of the woman criminal I am perhaps doing my book no great
service. It might work for its greater popularity if I argued the
other way, making out that the subjects I have chosen were monsters
of brutality, with arms up to the shoulders in blood, that they were
prodigies of iniquity and cunning, without bowels, steeped in hypocrisy,
facinorous to a degree never surpassed or even equalled by evil men.
It may seem that, being concerned to strip female crime of the lurid
preeminence so commonly given it, I have contrived beforehand to rob
the ensuing pages of any richer savour they might have had. But I don't,
myself, think so.

If these women, some of them, are not greater monsters than their male
analogues, monsters they still remain. If they are not, others of them,
greater rogues and cheats than males of like criminal persuasion, cheats
and rogues they are beyond cavil. The truth of the matter is that I
loathe the use of superlatives in serious works on crime. I will read, I
promise you, anything decently written in a fictional way about 'master'
crooks, 'master' killers, kings, queens, princes, and a whole peerage of
crime, knowing very well that never yet has a 'master' criminal had
any cleverness but what a novelist gave him. But in works on crime that
pretend to seriousness I would eschew, pace Mr Leonard R. Gribble, all
'queens' and other honorifics in application to the lost men and women
with whom such works must treat. There is no romance in crime. Romance
is life gilded, life idealized. Crime is never anything but a sordid
business, demonstrably poor in reward to its practitioners.

But, sordid or not, crime has its human interest. Its practitioners are
still part of life, human beings, different from law-abiding humanity by
God-alone-knows-what freak of heredity or kink in brain convolution. I
will not ask the reader, as an excuse for my book, to view the criminal
with the thought attributed to John Knox:

"There, but for the Grace of God, goes ----" Because the phrase might as
well be used in contemplation of John D. Rockefeller or Augustus John or
Charlie Chaplin or a man with a wooden leg. I do not ask that you should
pity these women with whom I have to deal, still less that you should
contemn them. Something between the two will serve. I write the book
because I am interested in crime myself, and in the hope that you'll
like the reading as much as I like the writing of it.


In her long history there can have been few mornings upon which
Edinburgh had more to offer her burghers in the way of gossip and rumour
than on that of the 1st of July, 1600. In this 'gate' and that 'gate,'
as one may imagine, the douce citizens must have clustered and broke
and clustered, like eddied foam on a spated burn. By conjecture, as they
have always been a people apt to take to the streets upon small occasion
as on large, it is not unlikely that the news which was to drift into
the city some thirty-five days later--namely, that an attempt on the
life of his Sacred Majesty, the High and Mighty (and Rachitic) Prince,
James the Sixth of Scotland, had been made by the brothers Ruthven in
their castle of Gowrie--it is not unlikely that the first buzz of the
Gowrie affair caused no more stir, for the time being at any rate, than
the word which had come to those Edinburgh folk that fine morning of
the first day in July. The busier of the bodies would trot from knot
to knot, anxious to learn and retail the latest item of fact and fancy
regarding the tidings which had set tongues going since the early hours.
Murder, no less.

If the contemporary juridical records, even what is left of them, be
a criterion, homicide in all its oddly named forms must have been a
commonplace to those couthie lieges of his Slobberiness, King Jamie. It
is hard to believe that murder, qua murder, could have been of much more
interest to them than the fineness of the weather. We have it, however,
on reasonable authority, that the murder of the Laird of Warriston did
set the people of "Auld Reekie" finely agog.

John Kincaid, of Warriston, was by way of being one of Edinburgh's
notables. Even at that time his family was considered to be old. He
derived from the Kincaids of Kincaid, in Stirlingshire, a family then
in possession of large estates in that county and here and there about
Lothian. His own property of Warriston lay on the outskirts of Edinburgh
itself, just above a mile from Holyroodhouse. Notable among his
possessions was one which he should, from all accounts, dearly have
prized, but which there are indications he treated with some contumely.
This was his wife, Jean Livingstone, a singularly beautiful girl, no
more than twenty-one years of age at the time when this story opens.
Jean, like her husband, was a person of good station indeed. She was a
daughter of the Laird of Dunipace, John Livingstone, and related through
him and her mother to people of high consideration in the kingdom.

News of the violent death of John Kincaid, which had taken place soon
after midnight, came quickly to the capital. Officers were at once
dispatched. Small wonder that the burghers found exercise for their
clacking tongues from the dawning, for the lovely Jean was taken by the
officers 'red-hand,' as the phrase was, for the murder of her husband.
With her to Edinburgh, under arrest, were brought her nurse and two
other serving-women.

To Pitcairn, compiler of Criminal Trials in Scotland, from indications
in whose account of the murder I have been set on the hunt for material
concerning it, I am indebted for the information that Jean and her women
were taken red-hand. But I confess being at a loss to understand it.
Warriston, as indicated, stood a good mile from Edinburgh. The informant
bringing word of the deed to town, even if he or she covered the
distance on horseback, must have taken some time in getting the proper
authorities to move. Then time would elapse in quantity before the
officers dispatched could be at the house. They themselves could hardly
have taken the Lady Warriston red-hand, because in the meantime the
actual perpetrator of the murder, a horse-boy named Robert Weir, in the
employ of Jean's father, had made good his escape. As a fact, he was
not apprehended until some time afterwards, and it would seem, from the
records given in the Pitcairn Trials, that it was not until four years
later that he was brought to trial.

A person taken red-hand, it would be imagined, would be one found in
such circumstances relating to a murder as would leave no doubt as to
his or her having "airt and pairt" in the crime. Since it must have
taken the officers some time to reach the house, one of two things must
have happened. Either some officious person or persons, roused by the
killing, which, as we shall see, was done with no little noise, must
have come upon Jean and her women immediately upon the escape of Weir,
and have detained all four until the arrival of the officers, or else
Jean and her women must have remained by the dead man in terror,
and have blurted out the truth of their complicity when the officers

Available records are irritatingly uninformative upon the arrest of the
Lady Warriston. Pitcairn himself, in 1830, talks of his many "fruitless
searches" through the Criminal Records of the city of Edinburgh, the
greater part of which are lost, and confesses his failure to come on any
trace of the actual proceedings in this case, or in the case of Robert
Weir. For this reason the same authority is at a loss to know whether
the prisoners were immediately put to the knowledge of an assize, being
taken "red-hand," without the formality of being served a "dittay"
(as who should say an indictment), as in ordinary cases, before the
magistrates of Edinburgh, or else sent for trial before the baron
bailie of the regality of Broughton, in whose jurisdiction Warriston was

It would perhaps heighten the drama of the story if it could be learned
what Jean and her women did between the time of the murder and the
arrest. It would seem, however, that the Lady Warriston had some
intention of taking flight with Weir. One is divided between an idea
that the horse-boy did not want to be hampered and that he was ready for
self-sacrifice. "You shall tarry still," we read that he said; "and if
this matter come not to light you shall say, 'He died in the gallery,'
and I shall return to my master's service. But if it be known I shall
fly, and take the crime on me, and none dare pursue you!"

It was distinctly a determined affair of murder. The loveliness of Jean
Livingstone has been so insisted upon in many Scottish ballads,[2] and
her conduct before her execution was so saintly, that one cannot help
wishing, even now, that she could have escaped the scaffold. But there
is no doubt that, incited by the nurse, Janet Murdo, she set about
having her husband killed with a rancour which was very grim indeed.

   "She has twa weel-made feet;
   Far better is her hand;
   She's jimp about the middle
   As ony willy wand."

The reason for Jean's hatred of her husband appears in the dittay
against Robert Weir. "Forasmuch," it runs, translated to modern terms,

as whilom Jean Livingstone, Goodwife of Warriston, having conceived
a deadly rancour, hatred, and malice against whilom John Kincaid, of
Warriston, for the alleged biting of her in the arm, and striking her
divers times, the said Jean, in the month of June, One Thousand Six
Hundred Years, directed Janet Murdo, her nurse, to the said Robert
[Weir], to the abbey of Holyroodhouse, where he was for the time,
desiring him to come down to Warriston, and speak with her, anent the
cruel and unnatural taking away of her said husband's life.

And there you have it. If the allegation against John Kincaid was true
it does not seem that he valued his lovely wife as he ought to have
done. The striking her "divers times" may have been an exaggeration.
It probably was. Jean and her women would want to show there had been
provocation. (In a ballad he is accused of having thrown a plate at
dinner in her face.) But there is a naivete, a circumstantial air, about
the "biting of her in the arm" which gives it a sort of genuine ring.
How one would like to come upon a contemporary writing which would throw
light on the character of John Kincaid! Growing sympathy for Jean makes
one wish it could be found that Kincaid deserved all he got.

Here and there in the material at hand indications are to be found that
the Lady of Warriston had an idea she might not come so badly off on
trial. But even if the King's Majesty had been of clement disposition,
which he never was, or if her judges had been likely to be moved by her
youth and beauty, there was evidence of such premeditation, such fixity
of purpose, as would no doubt harden the assize against her.

Robert Weir was in service, as I have said, with Jean Livingstone's
father, the Laird of Dunipace. It may have been that he knew Jean before
her marriage. He seems, at any rate, to have been extremely willing to
stand by her. He was fetched by the nurse several times from Holyrood to
Warriston, but failed to have speech with the lady. On the 30th of June,
however, the Lady Warriston having sent the nurse for him once again, he
did contrive to see Jean in the afternoon, and, according to the dittay,
"conferred with her, concerning the cruel, unnatural, and abominable
murdering of the said whilom John Kincaid."

The upshot of the conference was that Weir was secretly led to a "laigh"
cellar in the house of Warriston, to await the appointed time for the
execution of the murder.

Weir remained in the cellar until midnight. Jean came for him at that
hour and led him up into the hall. Thence the pair proceeded to the room
in which John Kincaid was lying asleep. It would appear that they took
no great pains to be quiet in their progress, for on entering the room
they found Kincaid awakened "be thair dyn."

I cannot do better at this point than leave description of the murder as
it is given in the dittay against Weir. The editor of Pitcairn's Trials
remarks in a footnote to the dittay that "the quaintness of the ancient
style even aggravates the horror of the scene." As, however, the ancient
style may aggravate the reader unacquainted with Scots, I shall English
it, and give the original rendering in a footnote:

And having entered within the said chamber, perceiving the said whilom
John to be wakened out of his sleep by their din, and to pry over his
bed-stock, the said Robert came then running to him, and most cruelly,
with clenched fists, gave him a deadly and cruel stroke on the jugular
vein, wherewith he cast the said whilom John to the ground, from out his
bed; and thereafter struck him on his belly with his feet; whereupon he
gave a great cry. And the said Robert, fearing the cry should have been
heard, he thereafter, most tyrannously and barbarously, with his hand,
gripped him by the throat, or weasand, which he held fast a long time,
while [or until] he strangled him; during the which time the said John
Kincaid lay struggling and fighting in the pains of death under him.
And so the said whilom John was cruelly murdered and slain by the said

It will be seen that Robert Weir evolved a murder technique which,
as Pitcairn points out, was to be adopted over two centuries later in
Edinburgh at the Westport by Messrs Burke and Hare.


Lady Warriston was found guilty, and four days after the murder, on the
5th of July, was taken to the Girth Cross of Holyrood, at the foot
of the Canongate, and there decapitated by that machine which rather
anticipated the inventiveness of Dr Guillotin--"the Maiden." At the same
time, four o'clock in the morning, Janet Murdo, the nurse, and one of
the serving-women accused with her as accomplices were burned on the
Castle Hill of the city.

There is something odd about the early hour at which the executions took
place. The usual time for these affairs was much later in the day, and
it is probable that the sentence against Jean ran that she should be
executed towards dusk on the 4th of the month. The family of Dunipace,
however, having exerted no influence towards saving the daughter of the
house from her fate, did everything they could to have her disposed of
as secretly and as expeditiously as possible. In their zeal to have done
with the hapless girl who, they conceived, had blotted the family honour
indelibly they were in the prison with the magistrates soon after three
o'clock, quite indecent in their haste to see her on her way to the
scaffold. In the first place they had applied to have her executed at
nine o'clock on the evening of the 3rd, another unusual hour, but the
application was turned down. The main idea with them was to have Jean
done away with at some hour when the populace would not be expecting the
execution. Part of the plan for privacy is revealed in the fact of the
burning of the nurse and the "hyred woman" at four o'clock at the Castle
Hill, nearly a mile away from the Girth Cross, so--as the Pitcairn
Trials footnote says-"that the populace, who might be so early astir,
should have their attentions distracted at two opposite stations... and
thus, in some measure, lessen the disgrace of the public execution."

If Jean had any reason to thank her family it was for securing, probably
as much on their own behalf as hers, that the usual way of execution
for women murderers should be altered in her case to beheading by "the
Maiden." Had she been of lesser rank she would certainly have been
burned, after being strangled at a stake, as were her nurse and the
serving-woman. This was the appalling fate reserved for convicted
women[4] in such cases, and on conviction even of smaller crimes.
The process was even crueller in instances where the crime had been
particularly atrocious. "The criminal," says the Pitcairn account of
such punishment, "was 'brunt quick'!"

Altogether, the Dunipace family do not exactly shine with a good light
as concerns their treatment of the condemned girl. Her father stood
coldly aside. The quoted footnote remarks:

It is recorded that the Laird of Dunipace behaved with much apathy
towards his daughter, whom he would not so much as see previous to her
execution; nor yet would he intercede for her, through whose delinquency
he reckoned his blood to be for ever dishonoured.

Jean herself was in no mind to be hurried to the scaffold as early as
her relatives would have had her conveyed. She wanted (poor girl!) to
see the sunrise, and to begin with the magistrates granted her request.
It would appear, however, that Jean's blood-relations opposed the
concession so strongly that it was almost immediately rescinded. The
culprit had to die in the grey dark of the morning, before anyone was
likely to be astir.

In certain directions there was not a little heart-burning about the
untimely hour at which it was manoeuvred the execution should be carried
out. The writer of a Memorial, from which this piece of information is
drawn, refrains very cautiously from mentioning the objectors by name.
But it is not difficult, from the colour of their objections, to decide
that these people belonged to the type still known in Scotland as the
'unco guid.' They saw in the execution of this fair malefactor a moral
lesson and a solemn warning which would have a salutary and uplifting
effect upon the spectators.

"Will you," they asked the presiding dignitaries, and the
blood-relations of the hapless Jean, "deprive God's people of that
comfort which they might have in that poor woman's death? And will you
obstruct the honour of it by putting her away before the people rise out
of their beds? You do wrong in so doing; for the more public the death
be, the more profitable it shall be to many; and the more glorious, in
the sight of all who shall see it."

But perhaps one does those worthies an injustice in attributing cant
motives to their desire that as many people as possible should see Jean
die. It had probably reached them that the Lady Warriston's repentance
had been complete, and that after conviction of her sin had come to her
her conduct had been sweet and seemly. They were of their day and
age, those people, accustomed almost daily to beheadings, stranglings,
burnings, hangings, and dismemberings. With that dour, bitter,
fire-and-brimstone religious conception which they had through Knox from
Calvin, they were probably quite sincere in their belief that the public
repentance Jean Livingstone was due to make from the scaffold would
be for the "comfort of God's people." It was not so often that justice
exacted the extreme penalty from a young woman of rank and beauty. With
"dreadful objects so familiar" in the way of public executions, it was
likely enough that pity in the commonalty was "choked with custom
of fell deeds." Something out of the way in the nature of a dreadful
object-lesson might stir the hearts of the populace and make them
conscious of the Wrath to Come.

And Jean Livingstone did die a good death.

The Memorial[5] which I have mentioned is upon Jean's 'conversion' in
prison. It is written by one "who was both a seer and hearer of what
was spoken [by the Lady Warriston]." The editor of the Pitcairn Trials
believes, from internal evidence, that it was written by Mr James
Balfour, colleague of Mr Robert Bruce, that minister of the Kirk who
was so contumacious about preaching what was practically a plea of the
King's innocence in the matter of the Gowrie mystery. It tells how Jean,
from being completely apathetic and callous with regard to religion or
to the dreadful situation in which she found herself through her crime,
under the patient and tender ministrations of her spiritual advisers,
arrived at complete resignation to her fate and genuine repentance for
her misdeeds.

Her confession, as filleted from the Memorial by the Pitcairn Trials, is
as follows:

I think I shall hear presently the pitiful and fearful cries which
he gave when he was strangled! And that vile sin which I committed
in murdering my own husband is yet before me. When that horrible and
fearful sin was done I desired the unhappy man who did it (for my own
part, the Lord knoweth I laid never my hands upon him to do him evil;
but as soon as that man gripped him and began his evil turn, so soon as
my husband cried so fearfully, I leapt out over my bed and went to the
Hall, where I sat all the time, till that unhappy man came to me and
reported that mine husband was dead), I desired him, I say, to take me
away with him; for I feared trial; albeit flesh and blood made me think
my father's moen [interest] at Court would have saved me!

Well, we know what the Laird of Dunipace did about it.

"As to these women who was challenged with me," the confession goes on,

I will also tell my mind concerning them. God forgive the nurse, for
she helped me too well in mine evil purpose; for when I told her I was
minded to do so she consented to the doing of it; and upon Tuesday, when
the turn was done, when I sent her to seek the man who would do it,
she said, "I shall go and seek him; and if I get him not I shall seek
another! And if I get none I shall do it myself!"

Here the writer of the Memorial interpolates the remark, "This the nurse
also confessed, being asked of it before her death." It is a misfortune,
equalling that of the lack of information regarding the character of
Jean's husband, that there is so little about the character of the
nurse. She was, it is to be presumed, an older woman than her mistress,
probably nurse to Jean in her infancy. One can imagine her (the stupid
creature!) up in arms against Kincaid for his treatment of her "bonny
lamb," without the sense to see whither she was urging her young
mistress; blind to the consequences, but "nursing her wrath" and
striding purposefully from Warriston to Holyroodhouse on her strong
plebeian legs, not once but several times, in search of Weir! What is
known in Scotland as a 'limmer,' obviously.

"As for the two other women," Jean continues,

I request that you neither put them to death nor any torture, because I
testify they are both innocent, and knew nothing of this deed before it
was done, and the mean time of doing it; and that they knew they durst
not tell, for fear; for I compelled them to dissemble. As for mine own
part, I thank my God a thousand times that I am so touched with the
sense of that sin now: for I confess this also to you, that when that
horrible murder was committed first, that I might seem to be innocent, I
laboured to counterfeit weeping; but, do what I could, I could not find
a tear.

Of the whole confession that last is the most revealing touch. It is
hardly just to fall into pity for Jean simply because she was young and
lovely. Her crime was a bad one, much more deliberate than many that, in
the same age, took women of lower rank in life than Jean to the crueller
end of the stake. In the several days during which she was sending for
Weir, but failing to have speech with him, she had time to review her
intention of having her husband murdered. If the nurse was the prime
mover in the plot Jean was an unrelenting abettor. It may have been
in her calculations before, as well as after, the deed itself that the
interest of her father and family at Court would save her, should the
deed have come to light as murder. Even in these days, when justice is
so much more seasoned with mercy to women murderers, a woman in Jean's
case, with such strong evidence of premeditation against her, would
only narrowly escape the hangman, if she escaped him at all. But that
confession of trying to pretend weeping and being unable to find tears
is a revelation. I can think of nothing more indicative of terror and
misery in a woman than that she should want to cry and be unable to.
Your genuinely hypocritical murderer, male as well as female, can always
work up self-pity easily and induce the streaming eye.

It is from internal evidences such as this that one may conclude the
repentance of Jean Livingstone, as shown in her confession, to have been
sincere. There was, we are informed by the memorialist, nothing maudlin
in her conduct after condemnation. Once she got over her first obduracy,
induced, one would imagine, by the shock of seeing the realization of
what she had planned but never pictured, the murder itself, and probably
by the desertion of her by her father and kindred, her repentance was
"cheerful" and "unfeigned." They were tough-minded men, those Scots
divines who ministered to her at the last, too stern in their theology
to be misled by any pretence at finding grace. And no pretty ways of
Jean's would have deceived them. The constancy of behaviour which is
vouched for, not only by the memorialist but by other writers, stayed
with her until the axe fell.


"She was but a woman and a bairn, being the age of twenty-one years,"
says the Memorial. But, "in the whole way, as she went to the place of
execution, she behaved herself so cheerfully as if she had been going
to her wedding, and not to her death. When she came to the scaffold, and
was carried up upon it, she looked up to 'the Maiden' with two longsome
looks, for she had never seen it before."

The minister-memorialist, who attended her on the scaffold, says that
all who saw Jean would bear record with himself that her countenance
alone would have aroused emotion, even if she had never spoken a word.
"For there appeared such majesty in her countenance and visage, and
such a heavenly courage in her gesture, that many said, 'That woman is
ravished by a higher spirit than a man or woman's!'"

As for the Declaration and Confession which, according to custom, Jean
made from the four corners of the scaffold, the memorialist does not
pretend to give it verbatim. It was, he says, almost in a form of words,
and he gives the sum of it thus:

The occasion of my coming here is to show that I am, and have been, a
great sinner, and hath offended the Lord's Majesty; especially, of the
cruel murdering of mine own husband, which, albeit I did not with mine
own hands, for I never laid mine hands upon him all the time that he was
murdering, yet I was the deviser of it, and so the committer. But my
God hath been always merciful to me, and hath given me repentance for
my sins; and I hope for mercy and grace at his Majesty's hands, for his
dear son Jesus Christ's sake. And the Lord hath brought me hither to
be an example to you, that you may not fall into the like sin as I have
done. And I pray God, for his mercy, to keep all his faithful people
from falling into the like inconvenient as I have done! And therefore I
desire you all to pray to God for me, that he would be merciful to me!

One wonders just how much of Jean's own words the minister-memorialist
got into this, his sum of her confession. Her speech would be coloured
inevitably by the phrasing she had caught from her spiritual advisers,
and the sum of it would almost unavoidably have something of the
memorialist's own fashion of thought. I would give a good deal to know
if Jean did actually refer to the Almighty as "the Lord's Majesty,"
and hope for "grace at his Majesty's hands." I do not think I am being
oversubtle when I fancy that, if Jean did use those words, I see an
element of confusion in her scaffold confession--the trembling confusion
remaining from a lost hope. As a Scot, I have no recollection of ever
hearing the Almighty referred to as "the Lord's Majesty" or as "his
Majesty." It does not ring naturally to my ear. Nor, at the long
distance from which I recollect reading works of early Scottish divines,
can I think of these forms being used in such a context. I may be--I
very probably am--all wrong, but I have a feeling that up to the last
Jean Livingstone believed royal clemency would be shown to her, and that
this belief appears in the use of these unwonted phrases.

However that may be, Jean's conduct seems to have been heroic and
unfaltering. She prayed, and one of her relations or friends brought "a
clean cloath" to tie over her eyes. Jean herself had prepared for this
operation, for she took a pin out of her mouth and gave it into the
friend's hand to help the fastening. The minister-memorialist, having
taken farewell of her for the last time, could not bear the prospect of
what was about to happen. He descended from the scaffold and went away.
"But she," he says, as a constant saint of God, humbled herself on her
knees, and offered her neck to the axe, laying her neck, sweetly and
graciously, in the place appointed, moving to and fro, till she got a
rest for her neck to lay in. When her head was now made fast to "the
Maiden" the executioner came behind her and pulled out her feet, that
her neck might be stretched out longer, and so made more meet for the
stroke of the axe; but she, as it was reported to me by him who saw
it and held her by the hands at this time, drew her legs twice to her
again, labouring to sit on her knees, till she should give up her spirit
to the Lord! During this time, which was long, for the axe was but
slowly loosed, and fell not down hastily, after laying of her head, her
tongue was not idle, but she continued crying to the Lord, and uttered
with a loud voice those her wonted words, "Lord Jesus, receive my
spirit! O Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, have
mercy upon me! Into thy hand, Lord, I commend my soul!" When she came to
the middle of this last sentence, and had said, "Into thy hand, Lord,"
at the pronouncing of the word "Lord" the axe fell; which was diligently
marked by one of her friends, who still held her by the hand, and
reported this to me.


On the 26th of June, 1604, Robert Weir, "sumtyme servande to the Laird
of Dynniepace," was brought to knowledge of an assize. He was "Dilaitit
of airt and pairt of the crewall Murthour of umqle Johnne Kincaid of
Wariestoune; committit the first of Julij, 1600 yeiris."

Verdict. The Assyse, all in ane voce, be the mouth of the said Thomas
Galloway, chanceller, chosen be thame, ffand, pronouncet and declairit
the said Robert Weir to be ffylit, culpable and convict of the crymes
above specifiet, mentionat in the said Dittay; and that in respect of
his Confessioun maid thairof, in Judgement.

Sentence. The said Justice-depute, be the mouth of James Sterling,
dempster of the Court, decernit and ordainit the said Robert Weir to be
tane to ane skaffold to be fixt beside the Croce of Edinburgh, and there
to be brokin upoune ane Row,[6] quhill he be deid; and to ly thairat,
during the space of xxiiij houris. And thaireftir, his body to be tane
upon the said Row, and set up, in ane publict place, betwix the place
of Wariestoune and the toun of Leyth; and to remain thairupoune, ay and
quhill command be gevin for the buriall thairof. Quhilk was pronouncet
for dome.


The Memorial before mentioned is, in the original, a manuscript
belonging to the Advocates' Library of Edinburgh. A printed copy was
made in 1828, under the editorship of J. Sharpe, in the same city.
This edition contains, among other more relative matter, a reprint of
a newspaper account of an execution by strangling and burning at the
stake. The woman concerned was not the last victim in Britain of
this form of execution. The honour, I believe, belongs to one Anne
Cruttenden. The account is full of gruesome and graphic detail, but the
observer preserves quite an air of detachment:

IVELCHESTER: 9th May, 1765. Yesterday Mary Norwood, for poisoning her
husband, Joseph Norwood, of Axbridge, in this county [Somerset], was
burnt here pursuant to her sentence. She was brought out of the prison
about three o'clock in the afternoon, barefoot; she was covered with a
tarred cloth, made like a shift, and a tarred bonnet over her head;
and her legs, feet, and arms had likewise tar on them; the heat of
the weather melting the tar, it ran over her face, so that she made a
shocking appearance. She was put on a hurdle, and drawn on a sledge to
the place of execution, which was very near the gallows. After spending
some time in prayer, and singing a hymn, the executioner placed her on a
tar barrel, about three feet high; a rope (which was in a pulley through
the stake) was fixed about her neck, she placing it properly with her
hands; this rope being drawn extremely tight with the pulley, the tar
barrel was then pushed away, and three irons were then fastened around
her body, to confine it to the stake, that it might not drop when the
rope should be burnt. As soon as this was done the fire was immediately
kindled; but in all probability she was quite dead before the fire
reached her, as the executioner pulled her body several times whilst
the irons were fixing, which was about five minutes. There being a good
quantity of tar, and the wood in the pile being quite dry, the fire
burnt with amazing fury; notwithstanding which great part of her could
be discerned for near half an hour. Nothing could be more affecting than
to behold, after her bowels fell out, the fire flaming between her
ribs, issuing out of her ears, mouth, eyeholes, etc. In short, it was so
terrible a sight that great numbers turned their backs and screamed out,
not being able to look at it.


It is hardly likely when that comely but penniless young Scot Robert
Carr, of Ferniehurst, fell from his horse and broke his leg that any of
the spectators of the accident foresaw how far-reaching it would be
in its consequences. It was an accident, none the less, which in its
ultimate results was to put several of the necks craned to see it in
peril of the hangman's noose.

That divinely appointed monarch King James the Sixth of Scotland and
First of England had an eye for manly beauty. Though he could contrive
the direst of cruelties to be committed out of his sight, the actual
spectacle of physical suffering in the human made him squeamish. Add
the two facts of the King's nature together and it may be understood
how Robert Carr, in falling from his horse that September day in the
tilt-yard of Whitehall, fell straight into his Majesty's favour. King
James himself gave orders for the disposition of the sufferer, found
lodgings for him, sent his own surgeon, and was constant in his visits
to the convalescent. Thereafter the rise of Robert Carr was meteoric.
Knighted, he became Viscount Rochester, a member of the Privy Council,
then Earl of Somerset, Knight of the Garter, all in a very few years. It
was in 1607 that he fell from his horse, under the King's nose. In 1613
he was at the height of his power in England.

Return we for a moment, however, to that day in the Whitehall tilt-yard.
It is related that one woman whose life and fate were to be bound with
Carr's was in the ladies' gallery. It is very probable that a second
woman, whose association with the first did much to seal Carr's doom,
was also a spectator. If Frances Howard, as we read, showed distress
over the painful mishap to the handsome Scots youth it is almost certain
that Anne Turner, with the quick eye she had for male comeliness and
her less need for Court-bred restraint, would exhibit a sympathetic

Frances Howard was the daughter of that famous Elizabethan seaman Thomas
Howard, Earl of Suffolk. On that day in September she would be just over
fifteen years of age. It is said that she was singularly lovely. At that
early age she was already a wife, victim of a political marriage which,
in the exercise of the ponderous cunning he called kingcraft, King James
had been at some pains to arrange. At the age of thirteen Frances had
been married to Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex, then but a year
older than herself. The young couple had been parted at the altar, the
groom being sent travelling to complete his growth and education, and
Frances being returned to her mother and the semi-seclusion of the
Suffolk mansion at Audley End.

Of the two women, so closely linked in fate, the second is perhaps
the more interesting study. Anne Turner was something older than the
Countess of Essex. In the various records of the strange piece of
history which is here to be dealt with there are many allusions to a
long association between the two. Almost a foster-sister relationship
seems to be implied, but actual detail is irritatingly absent. Nor is
it clear whether Mrs Turner at the time of the tilt-yard incident
had embarked on the business activities which were to make her a much
sought-after person in King James's Court. It is not to be ascertained
whether she was not already a widow at that time. We can only judge from
circumstantial evidence brought forward later.

In 1610, at all events, Mrs Turner was well known about the Court, and
was quite certainly a widow. Her husband had been a well-known medical
man, one George Turner, a graduate of St John's College, Cambridge. He
had been a protege of Queen Elizabeth. Dying, this elderly husband of
Mistress Turner had left her but little in the way of worldly goods,
but that little the fair young widow had all the wit to turn to good
account. There was a house in Paternoster Row and a series of notebooks.
Like many another physician of his time, George Turner had been a
dabbler in more arts than that of medicine, an investigator in sciences
other than pathology. His notebooks would appear to have contained more
than remedial prescriptions for agues, fevers, and rheums. There was,
for example, a recipe for a yellow starch which, says Rafael Sabatini,
in his fine romance The Minion,[7] "she dispensed as her own invention.
This had become so widely fashionable for ruffs and pickadills that of
itself it had rendered her famous." One may believe, also, that most
of the recipes for those "perfumes, cosmetics, unguents and mysterious
powders, liniments and lotions asserted to preserve beauty where it
existed, and even to summon it where it was lacking," were derived from
the same sources.

There is a temptation to write of Mistress Turner as forerunner of
that notorious Mme Rachel of whom, in his volume Bad Companions,[8] Mr
Roughead has said the final and pawky word. Mme Rachel, in the middle of
the nineteenth century, founded her fortunes as a beauty specialist (?)
on a prescription for a hair-restorer given her by a kindly doctor.
She also 'invented' many a lotion and unguent for the preservation and
creation of beauty. But at about this point analogy stops. Both Rachel
and her forerunner, Anne Turner, were scamps, and both got into serious
trouble--Anne into deeper and deadlier hot water than Rachel--but
between the two women there is only superficial comparison. Rachel was a
botcher and a bungler, a very cobbler, beside Anne Turner.

Anne, there is every cause for assurance, was in herself the best
advertisement for her wares. Rachel was a fat old hag. Anne, prettily
fair, little-boned, and deliciously fleshed, was neat and elegant.
The impression one gets of her from all the records, even the most
prejudiced against her, is that she was a very cuddlesome morsel indeed.
She was, in addition, demonstrably clever. Such a man of talent as Inigo
Jones supported the decoration of many of the masques he set on the
stage with costumes of Anne's design and confection. Rachel could
neither read nor write.

It is highly probable that Anne Turner made coin out of the notes which
her late husband, so inquisitive of mind, had left on matters much more
occult than the manufacture of yellow starch and skin lotions. "It was
also rumoured," says Mr Sabatini, "that she amassed gold in another and
less licit manner: that she dabbled in fortune-telling and the arts of
divination." We shall see, as the story develops, that the rumour had
some foundation. The inquiring mind of the late Dr Turner had led him
into strange company, and his legacy to Anne included connexions more
sombre than those in the extravagantly luxurious Court of King James.

In 1610 the elegant little widow was flourishing enough to be able to
maintain a lover in good style. This was Sir Arthur Mainwaring, member
of a Cheshire family of good repute but of no great wealth. By him she
had three children. Mainwaring was attached in some fashion to the suite
of the Prince of Wales, Prince Henry. And while the Prince's court at St
James's Palace was something more modest, as it was more refined, than
that of the King at Whitehall, position in it was not to be retained at
ease without considerable expenditure. It may be gauged, therefore, at
what expense Anne's attachment to Mainwaring would keep her, and to what
exercise of her talent and ambition her pride in it would drive her. And
her pride was absolute. It would, says a contemporary diarist, "make her
fly at any pitch rather than fall into the jaws of want."[9]


In his romance The Minion, Rafael Sabatini makes the first meeting of
Anne Turner and the Countess of Essex occur in 1610 or 1611. With this
date Judge A. E. Parry, in his book The Overbury Mystery,[10] seems to
agree in part. There is, however, warrant enough for believing that the
two women had met long before that time. Anne Turner herself, pleading
at her trial for mercy from Sir Edward Coke, the Lord Chief Justice, put
forward the plea that she had been "ever brought up with the Countess of
Essex, and had been a long time her servant."[11] She also made the like
extenuative plea on the scaffold.[12] Judge Parry seems to follow some
of the contemporary writers in assuming that Anne was a spy in the pay
of the Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Northampton. If this was so there
is further ground for believing that Anne and Lady Essex had earlier
contacts, for Northampton was Lady Essex's great-uncle. The longer
association would go far in explaining the terrible conspiracy into
which, from soon after that time, the two women so readily fell
together--a criminal conspiracy, in which the reader may see something
of the "false nurse" in Anne Turner and something of Jean Livingstone in
Frances Howard, Lady Essex.

It was about this time, 1610-1611, that Lady Essex began to find herself
interested in the handsome Robert Carr, then Viscount Rochester. Having
reached the mature age of eighteen, the lovely Frances had been brought
by her mother, the Countess of Suffolk, to Court. Highest in the King's
favour, and so, with his remarkably good looks, his charm, and the
elegant taste in attire and personal appointment which his new wealth
allowed him lavishly to indulge, Rochester was by far the most brilliant
figure there. Frances fell in love with the King's minion.

Rochester, it would appear, did not immediately respond to the lady's
advances. They were probably too shy, too tentative, to attract
Rochester's attention. It is probable, also, that there were plenty of
beautiful women about the Court, more mature, more practised in the arts
of coquetry than Frances, and very likely not at all 'blate'--as Carr
and his master would put it--in showing themselves ready for conquest by
the King's handsome favourite.

Whether the acquaintance of Lady Essex with Mrs Turner was of long
standing or not, it was to the versatile Anne that her ladyship turned
as confidante. The hint regarding Anne's skill in divination will be
remembered. Having regard to the period, and to the alchemistic nature
of the goods that composed so much of Anne's stock-in-trade at the sign
of the Golden Distaff, in Paternoster Row, it may be conjectured that
the love-lorn Frances had thoughts of a philtre.

With an expensive lover and children to maintain, to say nothing of her
own luxurious habits, Anne Turner would see in the Countess's appeal a
chance to turn more than one penny into the family exchequer. She was
too much the opportunist to let any consideration of old acquaintance
interfere with working such a potential gold-mine as now seemed to lie
open to her pretty but prehensile fingers. Lady Essex was rich. She
was also ardent in her desire. The game was too big for Anne to play
single-handed. A real expert in cozening, a master of guile, was wanted
to exploit the opportunity to its limit.

It is a curious phenomenon, and one that constantly recurs in the
history of cozenage, how people who live by spoof fall victims so
readily to spoofery. Anne Turner had brains. There is no doubt of it.
Apart from that genuine and honest talent in costume-design which made
her work acceptable to such an outstanding genius as Inigo Jones, she
lived by guile. But I have now to invite you to see her at the feet of
one of the silliest charlatans who ever lived. There is, of course, the
possibility that Anne sat at the feet of this silly charlatan for what
she might learn for the extension of her own technique. Or, again, it
may have been that the wizard of Lambeth, whom she consulted in the Lady
Essex affair, could provide a more impressive setting for spoof than she
had handy, or that they were simply rogues together. My trouble is to
understand why, by the time that the Lady Essex came to her with her
problem, Anne had not exhausted all the gambits in flummery that were at
the command of the preposterous Dr Forman.

The connexion with Dr Forman was part of the legacy left Anne by Dr
Turner. Her husband had been the friend and patron of Forman, so that
by the time Anne had taken Mainwaring for her lover, and had borne him
three children, she must have had ample opportunity for seeing through
the old charlatan.

Antony Weldon, the contemporary writer already quoted, is something
too scurrilous and too apparently biased to be altogether a trustworthy
authority. He seems to have been the type of gossip (still to be met in
London clubs) who can always tell with circumstance how the duchess came
to have a black baby, and the exact composition of the party at which
Midas played at 'strip poker.' But he was, like many of his kind, an
amusing enough companion for the idle moment, and his description of Dr
Forman is probably fairly close to the truth.

"This Forman," he says,

was a silly fellow who dwelt in Lambeth, a very silly fellow, yet had
wit enough to cheat the ladies and other women, by pretending skill in
telling their fortunes, as whether they should bury their husbands, and
what second husbands they should have, and whether they should enjoy
their loves, or whether maids should get husbands, or enjoy their
servants to themselves without corrivals: but before he would tell them
anything they must write their names in his alphabetical book with
their own handwriting. By this trick he kept them in awe, if they should
complain of his abusing them, as in truth he did nothing else. Besides,
it was believed, some meetings were at his house, wherein the art of the
bawd was more beneficial to him than that of a conjurer, and that he was
a better artist in the one than in the other: and that you may know his
skill, he was himself a cuckold, having a very pretty wench to his wife,
which would say, she did it to try his skill, but it fared with him as
with astrologers that cannot foresee their own destiny.

And here comes an addendum, the point of which finds confirmation
elsewhere. It has reference to the trial of Anne Turner, to which we
shall come later.

"I well remember there was much mirth made in the Court upon the showing
of the book, for, it was reported, the first leaf my lord Cook [Coke,
the Lord Chief Justice] lighted on he found his own wife's name."

Whatever Anne's reason for doing so, it was to this scortatory old scab
that she turned for help in cozening the fair young Countess. The devil
knows to what obscene ritual the girl was introduced. There is evidence
that the thaumaturgy practised by Forman did not want for lewdness--as
magic of the sort does not to this day--and in this regard Master Weldon
cannot be far astray when he makes our pretty Anne out to be the veriest

Magic or no magic, philtre or no philtre, it was not long before Lady
Essex had her wish. The Viscount Rochester fell as desperately in love
with her as she was with him.

There was, you may be sure, no small amount of scandalous chatter in the
Court over the quickly obvious attachment the one to the other of this
handsome couple. So much of this scandalous chatter has found record by
the pens of contemporary and later gossip-writers that it is hard indeed
to extract the truth. It is certain, however, that had the love between
Robert Carr and Frances Howard been as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,
jealousy would still have done its worst in besmirching. It was not, if
the Rabelaisian trend in so much of Jacobean writing be any indication,
a particularly moral age. Few ages in history are. It was not, with
a reputed pervert as the fount of honour, a particularly moral Court.
Since the emergence of the lovely young Countess from tutelage at Audley
End there had been no lack of suitors for her favour. And when Frances
so openly exhibited her preference for the King's minion there would be
some among those disappointed suitors who would whisper, greenly, that
Rochester had been granted that prisage which was the right of the
absent Essex, a right which they themselves had been quite ready to
usurp. It is hardly likely that there would be complete abnegation of
salty gossip among the ladies of the Court, their Apollo being snatched
by a mere chit of a girl.

What relative happiness there may have been for the pair in their
loving--it could not, in the hindrance there was to their free mating,
have been an absolute happiness--was shattered after some time by the
return to England of the young husband. The Earl of Essex, now almost
come to man's estate, arrived to take up the position which his rank
entitled him to expect in the Court, and to assume the responsibilities
and rights which, he fancied, belonged to him as a married man. In
respect of the latter part of his intention he immediately found himself
balked. His wife, perhaps all the deeper in love with Rochester for this
threat to their happiness, declared that she had no mind to be held by
the marriage forced on her in infancy, and begged her husband to agree
to its annulment.

It had been better for young Essex to have agreed at once. He would
have spared himself, ultimately, a great deal of humiliation through
ridicule. But he tried to enforce his rights as a husband, a proceeding
than which there is none more absurd should the wife prove obdurate. And
prove obdurate his wife did. She was to be moved neither by threat nor
by pleading. It was, you will notice, a comedy situation; husband
not perhaps amorous so much as the thwarted possessor of the
unpossessable--wife frigid and a maid, as far, at least, as the husband
was concerned, and her weeping eyes turned yearningly elsewhere. A
comedy situation, yes, and at this distance almost farcical--but for
certain elements in it approaching tragedy.

Badgered, not only by her husband but by her own relatives, scared no
doubt, certainly unhappy, unable for politic reasons to appeal freely
to her beloved Robin, to whom might Frances turn but the helpful Turner?
And to whom, having turned to pretty Anne, was she likely to be led but
again to the wizard of Lambeth?

Dr Forman had a heart for beauty in distress, but dissipating the
ardency of an exigent husband was a difficult matter compared with
attracting that of a negligent lover. It was also much more costly. A
powder there was, indeed, which, administered secretly by small regular
doses in the husband's food or drink, would soon cool his ardour,
but the process of manufacture and the ingredients were enormously
expensive. Frances got her powder.

The first dose was administered to Lord Essex just before his departure
from a visit to his wife at Audley End. On his arrival back in London he
was taken violently ill, so ill that in the weeks he lay in bed his life
was despaired of. Only the intervention of the King's own physician, one
Sir Theodore Mayerne, would appear to have saved him.

Her husband slowly convalescing, Lady Essex was summoned by her family
back to London. In London, while Lord Essex mended in health, she was
much in the company of her "sweet Turner." In addition to the house
in Paternoster Row the little widow had a pretty riverside cottage at
Hammersmith, and both were at the disposal of Lady Essex and her lover
for stolen meetings. Those meetings were put a stop to by the recovery
of Lord Essex, and with his recovery his lordship exhibited a new mood
of determination. Backed by her ladyship's family, he ordered her to
accompany him to their country place of Chartley. Her ladyship had to

The stages of the journey were marked by the nightly illness of his
lordship. By the time they arrived at Chartley itself he was in a
condition little if at all less dangerous than that from which he had
been rescued by the King's physician. His illness lasted for weeks, and
during this time her ladyship wrote many a letter to Anne Turner and to
Dr Forman. She was afraid his lordship would live. She was afraid his
lordship would die. She was afraid she would lose the love of Rochester.
She begged Anne Turner and Forman to work their best magic for her aid.
She was afraid that if his lordship recovered the spells might prove
useless, that his attempts to assert his rights as a husband would begin
again, and that there, in the heart of the country and so far from any
refuge, they might take a form she would be unable to resist.

His lordship did recover. His attempts to assert his rights as a husband
did begin again. The struggle between them, Frances constant in her
obduracy, lasted several months. Her obstinacy wore down his. At long
last he let her go.


If the fate that overtook Frances Howard and Rochester, and with them
Anne Turner and many another, is to be properly understood, a brief word
on the political situation in England at this time will be needed--or,
rather, a word on the political personages, with their antagonisms.

Next in closeness to the King's ear after Rochester, and perhaps more
trusted as a counsellor by that "wise fool," there had been Robert
Cecil, Lord Salisbury, for a long time First Secretary of State. But
about the time when Lady Essex finally parted with her husband Cecil
died, depriving England of her keenest brain and the staunchest heart
in her causes. If there had been no Rochester the likeliest man in the
kingdom to succeed to the power and offices of Cecil would have been the
Earl of Northampton, uncle of Lord Suffolk, who was the father of Lady
Essex. Northampton, as stated, held the office of Lord Privy Seal.

The Howard family had done the State great service in the past. Its
present representatives, Northampton and Suffolk, were anxious to do
the State great service, as they conceived it, in the future. They were,
however, Catholics in all but open acknowledgment, and as such were
opposed by the Protestants, who had at their head Prince Henry. This was
an opposition that they might have stomached. It was one that they might
even have got over, for the Prince and his father, the King, were not
the best of friends. The obstacle to their ambitions, and one they found
hard to stomach, was the upstart Rochester. And even Rochester would
hardly have stood in their way had his power in the Council depended on
his own ability. The brain that directed Robert Carr belonged to another
man. This was Sir Thomas Overbury.

On the death of Cecil the real contenders for the vacant office of First
Secretary of State--the highest office in the land--were not the wily
Northampton and the relatively unintelligent Rochester, but the subtle
Northampton and the quite as subtle, and perhaps more spacious-minded,
Thomas Overbury. There was, it will be apprehended, a possible weakness
on the Overbury side. The gemel-chain, like that of many links, is
merely as strong as its weakest member. Overbury had no approach to the
King save through the King's favourite. Rochester could have no real
weight with the King, at least in affairs of State, except what he
borrowed from Overbury. Divided, the two were powerless. No, more than
that, there had to be no flaw in their linking.

The wily Northampton, one may be certain, was fully aware of this
possible weakness in the combination opposed to his advancement. He
would be fully aware, that is, that it was there potentially; but when
he began, as his activities would indicate, to work for the creation
of that flaw in the relationship between Rochester and Overbury it is
unlikely that he knew the flaw had already begun to develop. Unknown to
him, circumstance already had begun to operate in his favour.

Overbury was Rochester's tutor in more than appertained to affairs of
State. It is more than likely that in Carr's wooing of Lady Essex he
had held the role of Cyrano de Bergerac, writing those gracefully turned
letters and composing those accomplished verses which did so much to
augment and give constancy to her ladyship's love for Rochester. It is
certain, at any rate, that Overbury was privy to all the correspondence
passing between the pair, and that even such events as the supplying by
Forman and Mrs Turner of that magic powder, and the Countess's use of it
upon her husband, were well within his knowledge.

While the affair between his alter ego and the Lady Essex might be
looked upon as mere dalliance, a passionate episode likely to wither
with a speed equal to that of its growth, Overbury, it is probable,
found cynical amusement in helping it on. But when, as time went on,
the lady and her husband separated permanently, and from mere talk of a
petition for annulment of the Essex marriage that petition was presented
in actual form to the King, Overbury saw danger. Northampton was
backing the petition. If it succeeded Lady Essex would be free to marry
Rochester. And the marriage, since Northampton was not the man to give
except in the expectation of plenty, would plant the unwary Rochester
on the hearth of his own and Overbury's enemies. With Rochester in the
Howard camp there would be short shrift for Thomas Overbury. There would
be, though Rochester in his infatuation seemed blind to the fact, as
short a shrift as the Howards could contrive for the King's minion.

In that march of inevitability which marks all real tragedy the road
that is followed forks ever and again with an 'if.' And we who, across
the distance of time, watch with a sort of Jovian pity the tragic
puppets in their folly miss this fork and that fork on their road
of destiny select, each according to our particular temperaments, a
particular 'if' over which to shake our heads. For me, in this story of
Rochester, Overbury, Frances Howard, and the rest, the point of tragedy,
the most poignant of the issues, is the betrayal by Robert Carr of
Overbury's friendship. Though this story is essentially, or should be,
that of the two women who were linked in fate with Rochester and his
coadjutor, I am constrained to linger for a moment on that point.

Overbury's counsel had made Carr great. With nothing but his good looks
and his personal charm, his only real attributes, Carr had been no more
than King James's creature. James, with all the pedantry, the laboured
cunning, the sleezy weaknesses of character that make him so detestable,
was yet too shrewd to have put power in the hands of the mere minion
that Carr would have been without the brain of Overbury to guide him.
Of himself Carr was the 'toom tabard' of earlier parlance in his native
country, the 'stuffed shirt' of a later and more remote generation. But
beyond the coalition for mutual help that existed between Overbury
and Carr, an arrangement which might have thrived on a basis merely
material, there was a deep and splendid friendship. 'Stuffed shirt' or
not, Robert Carr was greatly loved by Overbury. Whatever Overbury may
have thought of Carr's mental attainments, he had the greatest faith in
his loyalty as a friend. And here lies the terrible pity in that 'if' of
my choice. The love between the two men was great enough to have saved
them both. It broke on the weakness of Carr.

Overbury was aware that, honestly presented, the petition by Lady Essex
for the annulment of her marriage had little chance of success. But for
the obstinacy of Essex it might have been granted readily enough. He
had, however, as we have seen, forced her to live with him as his wife,
in appearance at least, for several months in the country. There now
would be difficulty in putting forward the petition on the ground of
non-consummation of the marriage.

It was, nevertheless, on this ground that the petition was brought
forward. But the non-consummation was not attributed, as it might have
been, to the continued separation that had begun at the altar; the
reason given was the impotence of the husband. Just what persuasion
Northampton and the Howards used on Essex to make him accept this
humiliating implication it is hard to imagine, but by the time the
coarse wits of the period had done with him Essex was amply punished in
ridicule for his primary obstinacy.

Sir Thomas Overbury, well informed though he usually was, must have been
a good deal in the dark regarding the negotiations which had brought the
nullity suit to this forward state. He had warned Rochester so frankly
of the danger into which the scheme was likely to lead him that they had
quarrelled and parted. If Rochester had been frank with his friend, if,
on the ground of their friendship, he had appealed to him to set aside
his prejudice, it might well have been that the tragedy which ensued
would have been averted. Enough evidence remains to this day of
Overbury's kindness for Robert Carr, there is enough proof of the man's
abounding resource and wit, to give warrant for belief that he would
have had the will, as he certainly had the ability, to help his
friend. Overbury was one of the brightest intelligences of his age. Had
Rochester confessed the extent of his commitment with Northampton there
is little doubt that Overbury could and would have found a way whereby
Rochester could have attained his object (of marriage with Frances
Howard), and this without jeopardizing their mutual power to the Howard

In denying the man who had made him great the complete confidence which
their friendship demanded Rochester took the tragically wrong path
on his road of destiny. But the truth is that when he quarrelled with
Overbury he had already betrayed the friendship. He had already embarked
on the perilous experiment of straddling between two opposed camps. It
was an experiment that he, least of all men, had the adroitness to bring
off. He was never in such need of Overbury's brain as when he aligned
himself in secret with Overbury's enemies.

It is entirely probable that in linking up with Northampton Rochester
had no mind to injure his friend. The bait was the woman he loved.
Without Northampton's aid the nullity suit could not be put forward, and
without the annulment there could be no marriage for him with Frances
Howard. But he had no sooner joined with Northampton than the very
processes against which Overbury had warned him were begun. Rochester
was trapped, and with him Overbury.

For the success of the suit, in Northampton's view, Overbury knew too
much. It was a view to which Rochester was readily persuaded; or it was
one which he was easily frightened into accepting. From that to joining
in a plot for being rid of Overbury was but a step. Grateful, perhaps,
for the undoubted services that Overbury had rendered him, Rochester
would be eager enough to find his quondam friend employment. If that
employment happened to take Overbury out of the country so much the
better. At one time the King, jealous as a woman of the friendship
existing between his favourite and Overbury, had tried to shift the
latter out of the way by an offer of the embassy in Paris. It was an
offer Rochester thought, that he might cause to be repeated. The idea
was broached to Overbury. That shrewd individual, of course, saw through
the suggestion to the intention behind it, but he was at a loss for an
outlet for his talents, having left Rochester's employ, and he believed
without immodesty that he could do useful work as ambassador in Paris.

Overbury was offered an embassy--but in Muscovy. He had no mind to bury
himself in Russia, and he refused the offer on the ground of ill-health.
By doing this he walked into the trap prepared for him. Northampton had
foreseen the refusal when he promoted the offer on its rearranged terms.
The King, already incensed against Overbury for some hints at knowledge
of facts liable to upset the Essex nullity suit, pretended indignation
at the refusal. Overbury unwarily repeated it before the Privy Council.
That was what Northampton wanted. The refusal was high contempt of the
King's majesty. Sir Thomas Overbury was committed to the Tower. He might
have talked in Paris, or have written from Muscovy. He might safely do
either in the Tower--where gags and bonds were so readily at hand.

Did Rochester know of the springe set to catch Overbury? The answer
to the question, whether yes or no, hardly matters. Since he was gull
enough to discard the man whose brain had lifted him from a condition in
which he was hardly better than the King's lap-dog, he was gull enough
to be fooled by Northampton. Since he valued the friendship of that
honest man so little as to consort in secret with his enemies, he was
knave enough to have been party to the betrayal. Knave or fool--what
does it matter? He was so much of both that, in dread of what Sir Thomas
might say or do to thwart the nullity suit, he let his friend rot in the
Tower for months on end, let him sicken and nearly die several times,
without a move to free him. He did this to the man who had trusted him
implicitly, a man that--to adapt Overbury's own words from his last
poignant letter to Rochester--he had "more cause to love... yea, perish
for.. . rather than see perish."

It is not given to every man to have that greater love which will make
him lay down his life for a friend, but it is the sheer poltroon and
craven who will watch a friend linger and expire in agony without
lifting a finger to save him. Knave or fool--what does it matter when
either is submerged in the coward?


Overbury lay in the Tower five months. The commission appointed to
examine into the Essex nullity suit went into session three weeks after
he was imprisoned. There happened to be one man in the commission who
cared more to be honest than to humour the King. This was the Archbishop
Abbot. The King himself had prepared the petition. It was a task that
delighted his pedantry, and his petition was designed for immediate
acceptance. But such was Abbot's opposition that in two or three months
the commission ended with divided findings.

Meantime Overbury in the Tower had been writing letters. He had been
talking to visitors. As time went on, and Rochester did nothing to bring
about his enlargement, his writings and sayings became more threatening
Rochester's attitude was that patience was needed. In time he would
bring the King to a more clement view of Sir Thomas's offending, and
he had no doubt that in the end he would be able to secure the prisoner
both freedom and honourable employment.

Overbury had been consigned to the Tower in April. In June he complained
of illness. Rochester wrote to him in sympathetic terms, sending him a
powder that he himself had found beneficial, and made his own physician
visit the prisoner.

But the threats which Overbury, indignant at his betrayal by Rochester,
made by speech and writing were becoming common property in the city
and at Court One of Overbury's visitors who had made public mention of
Overbury's knowledge of facts likely to blow upon the Essex suit was
arrested on the orders of Northampton. In the absence of the King and
Rochester from London the old Earl was acting as Chief Secretary of
State--thus proving Overbury to have been a true prophet. Northampton
issued orders to the Tower that Overbury was to be closely confined,
that his man Davies was to be dismissed, and that he was to be denied
all visitors. The then Lieutenant of the Tower, one Sir William Wade,
was deprived of his position on the thinnest of pretexts, and, on the
recommendation of Sir Thomas Monson, Master of the Armoury, an elderly
gentleman from Lincolnshire, Sir Gervase Elwes, was put in his place.

From that moment Sir Thomas Overbury was permitted no communication with
the outer world, save by letter to Lord Rochester and for food that was
brought him, as we shall presently see, at the instance of Mrs Turner.

In place of his own servant Davies Sir Thomas was allowed the services
of an under-keeper named Weston, appointed at the same time as Sir
Gervase Elwes. This man, it is perhaps important to note, had at one
time been servant to Mrs Turner.

The alteration in the personnel of the Tower was almost immediately
followed by severe illness on the part of the prisoner. The close
confinement to which he was subjected, with the lack of exercise, could
hardly have been the cause of such a violent sickness. It looked more as
if it had been brought about by something he had eaten or drunk. By this
time the conviction he had tried to resist, that Rochester was meanly
sacrificing him, became definite. Overbury is hardly to be blamed if he
came to a resolution to be revenged on his one-time friend by bringing
him to utter ruin. King James had been so busy in the Essex nullity
suit, had gone to such lengths to carry it through, that if it could
be wrecked by the production of the true facts he would be bound to
sacrifice Rochester to save his own face. Sir Thomas had an accurate
knowledge of the King's character. He knew the scramble James was
capable of making in a difficulty that involved his kingly dignity, and
what little reck he had of the faces he trod on in climbing from a pit
of his own digging. By a trick Overbury contrived to smuggle a letter
through to the honest Archbishop Abbot, in which he declared his
possession of facts that would non-suit the nullity action, and begged
to be summoned before the commission.

Overbury was getting better of the sickness which had attacked him when
suddenly it came upon him again. This time he made no bones about saying
that he had been poisoned.

Even at the last Overbury had taken care to give Rochester a chance to
prove his fidelity. He contrived that the delivery of the letter to the
Archbishop of Canterbury should be delayed until just before the nullity
commission, now augmented by members certain to vote according to the
King's desire, was due to sit again. The Archbishop carried Overbury's
letter to James, and insisted that Overbury should be heard. The King,
outward stickler that he was for the letter of the law, had to agree.

On the Thursday of the week during which the commission was sitting
Overbury was due to be called. He was ill, but not so ill as he had
been. On the Tuesday he was visited by the King's physician. On the
Wednesday he was dead.

Now, before we come to examine those evidences regarding Overbury's
death that were to be brought forward in the series of trials of
later date, that series which was to be known as "the Great Oyer of
Poisoning," it may be well to consider what effect upon the Essex
nullity suit Overbury's appearance before the commission might have had.
It may be well to consider what reason Rochester had for keeping his
friend in close confinement in the Tower, what reason there was for
permitting Northampton to impose such cruelly rigorous conditions of

The nullity suit succeeded. A jury of matrons was impanelled, and made
an examination of the lady appellant. Its evidence was that she was
virgo intacta. Seven out of the twelve members of the packed commission
voted in favour of the sentence of nullity.

The kernel of the situation lies in the verdict of the jury of matrons.
Her ladyship was declared to be a maid. If in the finding gossips and
scandal-mongers found reason for laughter, and decent enough people
cause for wonderment, they are hardly to be blamed. If Frances Howard
was a virgin, what reason was there for fearing anything Overbury might
have said? What knowledge had he against the suit that put Rochester
and the Howards in such fear of him that they had to confine him in the
Tower under such miserable conditions? In what was he so dangerous that
he had to be deprived of his faithful Davies, that he had to be put in
the care of a Tower Lieutenant specially appointed? The evidence given
before the commission can still be read in almost verbatim report. It is
completely in favour of the plea of Lady Essex. Sir Thomas Overbury's,
had he given evidence, would have been the sole voice against the suit.
If he had said that in his belief the association of her ladyship with
Rochester had been adulterous there was the physical fact adduced by the
jury of matrons to confute him. And being confuted in that, what might
he have said that would not be attributed to rancour on his part? That
her ladyship, with the help of Mrs Turner and the wizard of Lambeth, had
practised magic upon her husband, giving him powders that went near to
killing him? That she had lived in seclusion for several months with her
husband at Chartley, and that the non-consummation of the marriage
was due, not to the impotence of the husband, but to refusal to him of
marital rights on the part of the wife because of her guilty love for
Rochester? His lordship of Essex was still alive, and there was abundant
evidence before the court that there had been attempt to consummate
the marriage. Whatever Sir Thomas might have said would have smashed as
evidence on that one fact. Her ladyship was a virgin.

What did Sir Thomas Overbury know that made every one whose interest
it was to further the nullity suit so scared of him--Rochester, her
ladyship, Northampton, the Howards, the King himself?

Sir Thomas Overbury was much too cool-minded, too intelligent, to
indulge in threats unless he was certain of the grounds, and solid upon
them, upon which he made those threats. He had too great a knowledge of
affairs not to know that the commission would be a packed one, too great
an acquaintance with the strategy of James to believe that his lonely
evidence, unless of bombshell nature, would have a chance of carrying
weight in a court of his Majesty's picking. And, then, he was of too big
a mind to put forward evidence which would have no effect but that of
affording gossip for the scandal-mongers, and the giving of which would
make him appear to be actuated by petty spite. He had too great a sense
of his own dignity to give himself anything but an heroic role. Samson
he might play, pulling the pillars of the temple together to involve
his enemies, with himself, in magnificent and dramatic ruin. But

In the welter of evidence conflicting with apparent fact which was given
before the commission and in the trials of the Great Oyer, in the
mass of writing both contemporary and of later days round the Overbury
mystery, it is hard indeed to land upon the truth. Feasible solution
is to be come upon only by accepting a not too pretty story which
is retailed by Antony Weldon. He says that the girl whom the jury of
matrons declared to be virgo intacta was so heavily veiled as to be
unidentifiable through the whole proceedings, and that she was not Lady
Essex at all, but the youthful daughter of Sir Thomas Monson.

Mrs Turner, we do know, was very much a favourite with the ladies of
Sir Thomas Monson's family. Gossip Weldon has a funny, if lewd, story
to tell of high jinks indulged in by the Monson women and Mrs Turner in
which Symon, Monson's servant, played an odd part. This Symon was also
employed by Mrs Turner to carry food to Overbury in the Tower. If the
substitution story has any truth in it it might well have been a Monson
girl who played the part of the Countess. But, of course, a Monson girl
may have been chosen by the inventors to give verisimilitude to the
substitution story, simply because the family was friendly with Turner,
and the tale of the lewd high jinks with Symon added to make it seem
more likely that old Lady Monson would lend herself to such a plot.

If there was such a plot it is not at all unlikely that Overbury knew of
it. If there was need of such a scheme to bolster the nullity
petition it would have had to be evolved while the petition was being
planned--that is, a month or two before the commission went first into
session. At that time Overbury was still Rochester's secretary, still
Rochester's confidant; and if such a scheme had been evolved for getting
over an obstacle so fatal to the petition's success it was not in
Rochester's nature to have concealed it from Overbury, the two men still
being fast friends. Indeed, it may have been Overbury who pointed
out the need there would be for the Countess to undergo physical
examination, and it may have been on the certainty that her ladyship
could not do so that Overbury rested so securely--as he most apparently
did, beyond the point of safety--in the idea that the suit was bound to
fail. It is legitimate enough to suppose, along this hypothesis,
that this substitution plot was the very matter on which the two men

That Overbury had knowledge of some such essential secret as this is
manifest in the enmity towards the man which Lady Essex exhibited, even
when he lay, out of the way of doing harm, in the Tower. It is hard
to believe that an innocent girl of twenty, conscious of her virgin
chastity, in mere fear of scandal which she knew would be baseless,
could pursue the life of a man with the venom that, as we shall
presently see, Frances Howard used towards Overbury through Mrs Turner.


As a preliminary to his marriage with Frances Howard, Rochester was
created Earl of Somerset, and had the barony of Brancepeth bestowed
on him by the King. Overbury was three months in his grave when the
marriage was celebrated in the midst of the most extravagant show and

The new Earl's power in the kingdom was never so high as at this time.
It was, indeed, at its zenith. Decline was soon to set in. It will not
serve here to follow the whole process of decay in the King's favour
that Somerset was now to experience. There was poetic justice in his
downfall. With hands all about him itching to bring him to the ground,
he had not the brain for the giddy heights. If behind him there had been
the man whose guidance had made him sure-footed in the climb he might
have survived, flourishing. But the man he had consigned to death had
been more than half of him, had been, indeed, his substance. Alone,
with the power Overbury's talents had brought him, Somerset was bound to
fail. The irony of it is that his downfall was contrived by a creature
of his own raising.

Somerset had appointed Sir Ralph Winwood to the office of First
Secretary of State. In that office word came to Winwood from Brussels
that new light had been thrown on the mysterious death of Sir Thomas
Overbury. Winwood investigated in secret. An English lad, one Reeves,
an apothecary's assistant, thinking himself dying, had confessed at
Flushing that Overbury had been poisoned by an injection of corrosive
sublimate. Reeves himself had given the injection on the orders of his
master, Loubel, the apothecary who had attended Overbury on the day
before his death. Winwood sought out Loubel, and from him went to Sir
Gervase Elwes. The story he was able to make from what he had from the
two men he took to the King. From this beginning rose up the Great
Oyer of Poisoning. The matter was put into the hands of the Lord Chief
Justice, Sir Edward Coke.

The lad Reeves, whose confession had started the matter, was either dead
or dying abroad, and was so out of Coke's reach. But the man who had
helped the lad to administer the poisoned clyster, the under-keeper
Weston, was at hand. Weston was arrested, and examined by Coke.
The statement Coke's bullying drew from the man made mention of one
Franklin, another apothecary, as having supplied a phial which Sir
Gervase Elwes had taken and thrown away. Weston had also received
another phial by Franklin's son from Lady Essex. This also Sir Gervase
had taken and destroyed. Then there had been tarts and jellies supplied
by Mrs Turner.

Coke had Mrs Turner and Franklin arrested, and after that Sir Gervase
was taken as an accessory, and on his statement that he had employed
Weston on Sir Thomas Monson's recommendation Sir Thomas also was roped
in. He maintained that he had been told to recommend Weston by Lady
Essex and the Earl of Northampton.

The next person to be examined by Coke was the apothecary Loubel, he
who had attended Overbury on the day before his death. Though in his
confession the lad Reeves said that he had been given money and sent
abroad by Loubel, this was a matter that Coke did not probe. Loubel told
Coke that he had given Overbury nothing but the physic prescribed by Sir
Theodore Mayerne, the King's physician, and that in his opinion Overbury
had died of consumption. With this evidence Coke was very strangely
content--or, at least, content as far as Loubel was concerned, for this
witness was not summoned again.

Other persons were examined by Coke, notably Overbury's servant
Davies and his secretary Payton. Their statements served to throw some
suspicion on the Earl of Somerset.

But if all the detail of these examinations were gone into we should
never be done. Our concern is with the two women involved, Anne Turner
and the Countess of Somerset, as we must now call her. I am going to
quote, however, two paragraphs from Rafael Sabatini's romance The Minion
that I think may explain why it is so difficult to come to the truth of
the Overbury mystery. They indicate how it was smothered by the way in
which Coke rough-handled justice throughout the whole series of trials.

On October 19th, at the Guildhall, began the Great Oyer of Poisoning, as
Coke described it, with the trial of Richard Weston.

Thus at the very outset the dishonesty of the proceedings is apparent.
Weston was an accessory. Both on his own evidence and that of Sir
Gervase Elwes, besides the apothecary's boy in Flushing, Sir Thomas
Overbury had died following upon an injection prepared by Loubel.
Therefore Loubel was the principal, and only after Loubel's conviction
could the field have been extended to include Weston and the others. But
Loubel was tried neither then nor subsequently, a circumstance regarded
by many as the most mysterious part of what is known as the Overbury
mystery, whereas, in fact, it is the clue to it. Nor was the evidence of
the coroner put in, so that there was no real preliminary formal proof
that Overbury had been poisoned at all.

Here Mr Sabatini is concerned to develop one of the underlying arguments
of his story--namely, that it was King James himself who had ultimately
engineered the death of Sir Thomas Overbury. It is an argument which I
would not attempt to refute. I do not think that Mr Sabatini's acumen
has failed him in the least. But the point for me in the paragraphs is
the indication they give of how much Coke did to suppress all evidence
that did not suit his purpose.

Weston's trial is curious in that at first he refused to plead. It is
the first instance I have met with in history of a prisoner standing
'mute of malice.' Coke read him a lecture on the subject, pointing out
that by his obstinacy he was making himself liable to peine forte et
dure, which meant that order could be given for his exposure in an open
place near the prison, extended naked, and to have weights laid upon
him in increasing amount, he being kept alive with the "coarsest bread
obtainable and water from the nearest sink or puddle to the place of
execution, that day he had water having no bread, and that day he had
bread having no water." One may imagine with what grim satisfaction Coke
ladled this out. It had its effect on Weston.

He confessed that Mrs Turner had promised to give him a reward if he
would poison Sir Thomas Overbury. In May she had sent him a phial of
"rosalgar," and he had received from her tarts poisoned with mercury
sublimate. He was charged with having, at Mrs Turner's instance, joined
with an apothecary's boy in administering an injection of corrosive
sublimate to Sir Thomas Overbury, from which the latter died. Coke's
conduct of the case obscures just how much Weston admitted, but, since
it convinced the jury of Weston's guilt, the conviction served finely
for accusation against Mrs Turner.

Two days after conviction Weston was executed at Tyburn.

The trial of Anne Turner began in the first week of November. It would
be easy to make a pathetic figure of the comely little widow as she
stood trembling under Coke's bullying, but she was, in actual fact,
hardly deserving of pity. It is far from enlivening to read of Coke's
handling of the trial, and it is certain that Mrs Turner was condemned
on an indictment and process which to-day would not have a ghost of
a chance of surviving appeal, but it is perfectly plain that Anne was
party to one of the most vicious poisoning plots ever engineered.

We have, however, to consider this point in extenuation for her. It is
almost certain that in moving to bring about the death of Overbury she
had sanction, if only tacit, from the Earl of Northampton. By the time
that the Great Oyer began Northampton was dead. Two years had elapsed
from the death of Overbury. It would be quite clear to Anne that, in
the view of the powerful Howard faction, the elimination of Overbury was
politically desirable. It should be remembered, too, that she lived in
a period when assassination, secret or by subverted process of justice,
was a commonplace political weapon. Public executions by methods cruel
and even obscene taught the people to hold human life at small value,
and hardened them to cruelties that made poisoning seem a mercy. It is
not at all unlikely that, though her main object may have been to help
forward the plans of her friend the Countess, Anne considered herself a
plotter in high affairs of State.

The indictment against her was that she had comforted, aided, and
abetted Weston--that is to say, she was made an accessory. If, however,
as was accused, she procured Weston and Reeves to administer the
poisonous injection she was certainly a principal, and as such should
have been tried first or at the same time as Weston. But Weston was
already hanged, and so could not be questioned. His various statements
were used against her unchallenged, or, at least, when challenging them
was useless.

The indictment made no mention of her practices against the Earl of
Essex, but from the account given in the State Trials it would seem
that evidence on this score was used to build the case against her. Her
relations with Dr Forman, now safely dead, were made much of. She and
the Countess of Essex had visited the charlatan and had addressed him as
"Father." Their reason for visiting, it was said, was that "by force
of magick he should procure the then Viscount of Rochester to love the
Countess and Sir Arthur Mainwaring to love Mrs Turner, by whom she had
three children." Letters from the Countess to Turner were read. They
revealed the use on Lord Essex of those powders her ladyship had been
given by Forman. The letters had been found by Forman's wife in a packet
among Forman's possessions after his death. These, with others and with
several curious objects exhibited in court, had been demanded by Mrs
Turner after Forman's demise. Mrs Turner had kept them, and they were
found in her house.

As indicating the type of magic practised by Forman these objects are
of interest. Among other figures, probably nothing more than dolls of
French make, there was a leaden model of a man and woman in the act of
copulation, with the brass mould from which it had been cast. There
was a black scarf ornamented with white crosses, papers with cabalistic
signs, and sundry other exhibits which appear to have created
superstitious fear in the crowd about the court. It is amusing to note
that while those exhibits were being examined one of the scaffolds
erected for seating gave way or cracked ominously, giving the crowd a
thorough scare. It was thought that the devil himself, raised by
the power of those uncanny objects, had got into the Guildhall.
Consternation reigned for quite a quarter of an hour.

There was also exhibited Forman's famous book of signatures, in which
Coke is supposed to have encountered his own wife's name on the first

Franklin, apothecary, druggist, necromancer, wizard, and born liar, had
confessed to supplying the poisons intended for use upon Overbury. He
declared that Mrs Turner had come to him from the Countess and asked him
to get the strongest poisons procurable. He "accordingly bought seven:
viz., aqua fortis, white arsenic, mercury, powder of diamonds, lapis
costitus, great spiders, cantharides." Franklin's evidence is a palpable
tissue of lies, full of statements that contradict each other, but it is
likely enough, judging from facts elicited elsewhere, that his list
of poisons is accurate. Enough poison passed from hand to hand to have
slain an army.

Mention is made by Weldon of the evidence given by Symon, servant to Sir
Thomas Monson, who had been employed by Mrs Turner to carry a jelly and
a tart to the Tower. Symon appears to have been a witty fellow. He was,
"for his pleasant answer," dismissed by Coke.

My lord told him: "Symon, you have had a hand in this poisoning

"No, my good lord, I had but a finger in it, which almost cost me my
life, and, at the best, cost me all my hair and nails." For the truth
was that Symon was somewhat liquorish, and finding the syrup swim from
the top of the tart as he carried it, he did with his finger skim it
off: and it was believed, had he known what it had been, he would not
have been his taster at so dear a rate.

Coke, with his bullying methods and his way of acting both as judge
and chief prosecutor, lacks little as prototype for the later Judge
Jeffreys. Even before the jury retired he was at pains to inform Mrs
Turner that she had the seven deadly sins: viz., "a whore, a bawd, a
sorcerer, a witch, a papist, a felon, and a murderer, the daughter
of the devil Forman."[13] And having given such a Christian example
throughout the trial, he besought her "to repent, and to become the
servant of Jesus Christ, and to pray Him to cast out the seven devils."
It was upon this that Anne begged the Lord Chief Justice to be merciful
to her, putting forward the plea of having been brought up with the
Countess of Essex, and of having been "a long time her servant." She
declared that she had not known of poison in the things that were sent
to Sir Thomas Overbury.

The jury's retirement was not long-drawn. They found her guilty.

Says Weldon:

The Wednesday following she was brought from the sheriff's in a coach to
Newgate and there was put into a cart, and casting money often among the
people as she was carried to Tyburn, where she was executed, and whither
many men and women of fashion followed her in coaches to see her die.

Her speeches before execution were pious, like most speeches of the
sort, and "moved the spectators to great pity and grief for her." She
again related "her breeding with the Countess of Somerset," and pleaded
further of "having had no other means to maintain her and her children
but what came from the Countess." This last, of course, was less than
the truth. Anne was not so indigent that she needed to take to poisoning
as a means of supporting her family. She also said "that when her hand
was once in this business she knew the revealing of it would be her

In more than one account written later of her execution she is said to
have worn a ruff and cuffs dressed with the yellow starch which she had
made so fashionable, and it is maintained that this association made the
starch thereafter unpopular. It is forgotten that with Anne the recipe
for the yellow starch probably was lost. Moreover, the elaborate ruff
was then being put out of fashion by the introduction of the much more
comfortable lace collar. In any case, "There is no truth," writes Judge
Parry, in the old story[14] that Coke ordered her to be executed in the
yellow ruff she had made the fashion and so proudly worn in Court. What
did happen, according to Sir Simonds d'Ewes, was that the hangman, a
coarse ruffian with a distorted sense of humour, dressed himself in
bands and cuffs of yellow colour, but no one heeded his ribaldry; only
in after days none of either sex used the yellow starch, and the fashion
grew generally to be detested.

Pretty much, I should think, as the tall 'choker' became detested within
the time of many of us. After Mrs Turner Sir Gervase Elwes was brought
to trial as an accessory. The only evidence against him was that of the
liar Franklin, who asserted that Sir Gervase had been in league with the
Countess. It was plain, however, both from Weston's statements and from
Sir Gervase's own, that the Lieutenant of the Tower had done his very
best to defeat the Turner-Essex-Northampton plot for the poisoning of
Overbury, throwing away the "rosalgar" and later draughts, as well
as substituting food from his own kitchen for that sent in by Turner.
"Although it must have been clear that if any of what was alleged
against him had been true Overbury's poisoning would never have taken
five months to accomplish, he was sentenced and hanged."[15]

This, of course, was a glaring piece of injustice, but Coke no doubt had
his instructions. Weston, Mrs Turner, Elwes, and, later, Franklin had
to be got out of the way, so that they could not be confronted with the
chief figure against whom the Great Oyer was directed, and whom it was
designed to pull down, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset--and with him his
wife. Just as much of the statements and confessions of the prisoners in
the four preliminary trials was used by Coke as suited his purpose. It
is pointed out by Amos, in his Great Oyer of Poisoning, that a large
number of the documents appertaining to the Somerset trial show
corrections and apparent glosses in Coke's own handwriting, and that
even the confessions on the scaffold of some of the convicted are
holographs by Coke. As a sample of the suppression of which Coke was
guilty I may put forward the fact that Somerset's note to his own
physician, Craig, asking him to visit Overbury, was not produced.
Yet great play was made by Coke of this visit against Somerset. Wrote
Somerset to Craig, "I pray you let him have your best help, and as much
of your company as he shall require."

It was never proved that it was Anne Turner and Lady Essex who corrupted
the lad Reeves, who with Weston administered the poisoned clyster that
murdered Overbury. Nothing was done at all to absolve the apothecary
Loubel, Reeves's master, of having prepared the poisonous injection, nor
Sir Theodore Mayerne, the King's physician, of having been party to its
preparation. Yet it was demonstrably the injection that killed Overbury
if he was killed by poison at all. It is certain that the poisons sent
to the Tower by Turner and the Countess did not save in early instances,
get to Overbury at all--Elwes saw to that--or Overbury must have died
months before he did die.

According to Weldon, who may be supposed to have witnessed the trials,
Franklin confessed "that Overbury was smothered to death, not poisoned
to death, though he had poison given him." And Weldon goes on to make
this curious comment:

Here was Coke glad, how to cast about to bring both ends together, Mrs
Turner and Weston being already hanged for killing Overbury with poison;
but he, being the very quintessence of the law, presently informs the
jury that if a man be done to death with pistols, poniards, swords,
halter, poison, etc., so he be done to death, the indictment is good if
he be but indicted for any of those ways. But the good lawyers of those
times were not of that opinion, but did believe that Mrs Turner was
directly murthered by my lord Coke's law as Overbury was without any

Though you will look in vain through the reports given in the State
Trials for any speech of Coke to the jury in exactly these terms, it
might be just as well to remember that the transcriptions from which
the Trials are printed were prepared UNDER Coke's SUPERVISION, and that
they, like the confessions of the convicted, are very often in his own

At all events, even on the bowdlerized evidence that exists, it is plain
that Anne Turner should have been charged only with attempted murder.
Of that she was manifestly guilty and, according to the justice of the
time, thoroughly deserved to be hanged. The indictment against her was
faulty, and the case against her as full of holes as a colander. Her
trial was 'cooked' in more senses than one.

It was some seven months after the execution of Anne Turner that the
Countess of Essex was brought to trial. This was in May. In December,
while virtually a prisoner under the charge of Sir William Smith at Lord
Aubigny's house in Blackfriars, she had given birth to a daughter. In
March she had been conveyed to the Tower, her baby being handed over to
the care of her mother, the Countess of Suffolk. Since the autumn of
the previous year she had not been permitted any communication with her
husband, nor he with her. He was already lodged in the Tower when she
arrived there.

On a day towards the end of May she was conveyed by water from the Tower
to Westminster Hall. The hall was packed to suffocation, seats being
paid for at prices which would turn a modern promoter of a world's
heavyweight-boxing-championship fight green with envy. Her judges were
twenty-two peers of the realm, with the Lord High Steward, the Lord
Chief Justice, and seven judges at law. It was a pageant of colour,
in the midst of which the woman on trial, in her careful toilette,
consisting of a black stammel gown, a cypress chaperon or black crepe
hood in the French fashion, relieved by touches of white in the cuffs
and ruff of cobweb lawn, struck a funereal note. Preceded by the
headsman carrying his axe with its edge turned away from her, she was
conducted to the bar by the Lieutenant of the Tower. The indictment was
read to her, and at its end came the question: "Frances Howard, Countess
of Somerset, how sayest thou? Art thou guilty of this felony and murder
or not guilty?"

There was a hushed pause for a moment; then came the low-voiced answer:

Sir Francis Bacon, the Attorney-General--himself to appear in the same
place not long after to answer charges of bribery and corruption--now
addressed the judges. His eloquent address was a commendation of the
Countess's confession, and it hinted at royal clemency.

In answer to the formal demand of the Clerk of Arraigns if she had
anything to say why judgment of death should not be given against
her the Countess made a barely audible plea for mercy, begging their
lordships to intercede for her with the King. Then the Lord High
Steward, expressing belief that the King would be moved to mercy,
delivered judgment. She was to be taken thence to the Tower of London,
thence to the place of execution, where she was to be hanged by the neck
until she was dead--and might the Lord have mercy on her soul.

The attendant women hastened to the side of the swaying woman. And now
the halbardiers formed escort about her, the headsman in front, with the
edge of his axe turned towards her in token of her conviction, and she
was led away.


It is perfectly clear that the Countess of Somerset was led to confess
on the promise of the King's mercy. It is equally clear that she did not
know what she was confessing to. Whatever might have been her conspiracy
with Anne Turner it is a practical certainty that it did not result in
the death of Thomas Overbury. There is no record of her being allowed
any legal advice in the seven months that had elapsed since she
had first been made a virtual prisoner. She had been permitted no
communication with her husband. For all she knew, Overbury might indeed
have died from the poison which she had caused to be sent to the Tower
in such quantity and variety. And she went to trial at Westminster
guilty in conscience, her one idea being to take the blame for having
brought about the murder of Overbury, thinking by that to absolve her
husband of any share in the plot. She could not have known that her plea
of guilty would weaken Somerset's defence. The woman who could go to
such lengths in order to win her husband was unlikely to have done
anything that might put him in jeopardy. One can well imagine with what
fierceness she would have fought her case had she thought that by doing
so she could have helped the man she loved.

But Frances Howard, no less than her accomplice Anne Turner, was the
victim of a gross subversion of justice. That she was guilty of a cruel
and determined attempt to poison Overbury is beyond question, and, being
guilty of that, she was thoroughly deserving of the fate that overcame
Anne Turner, but that at the last she was allowed to escape. Her
confession, however, shackled Somerset at his trial. It put her at the
King's mercy. Without endangering her life Somerset dared not come to
the crux of his defence, which would have been to demand why Loubel had
been allowed to go free, and why the King's physician, Mayerne, had not
been examined. To prevent Somerset from asking those questions, which
must have given the public a sufficient hint of King James's share in
the murder of Overbury, two men stood behind the Earl all through his
trial with cloaks over their arms, ready to muffle him. But, whatever
may be said of Somerset, the prospect of the cloaks would not have
stopped him from attempting those questions. He had sent word to King
James that he was "neither Gowrie nor Balmerino," those two earlier
victims of James's treachery. The thing that muffled him was the threat
to withdraw the promised mercy to his Countess. And so he kept silent,
to be condemned to death as his wife had been, and to join her in the

Five weary years were the couple to eat their hearts out there, their
death sentences remitted, before their ultimate banishment far from the
Court to a life of impoverished obscurity in the country. Better for
them, one would think, if they had died on Tower Green. It is hard to
imagine that the dozen years or so which they were to spend together
could contain anything of happiness for them--she the confessed would-be
poisoner, and he haunted by the memory of that betrayal of friendship
which had begun the process of their double ruin. Frances Howard died
in 1632, her husband twenty-three years later. The longer lease of life
could have been no blessing to the fallen favourite.

There is a portrait of Frances Howard in the National Portrait Gallery
by an unknown artist. It is an odd little face which appears above
the elaborate filigree of the stiff lace ruff and under the
carefully dressed bush of dark brown hair. With her gay jacket of red
gold-embroidered, and her gold-ornamented grey gown, cut low to show the
valley between her young breasts, she looks like a child dressed up. If
there is no great indication of the beauty which so many poets shed ink
over there is less promise of the dire determination which was to pursue
a man's life with cruel poisons over several months. It is, however, a
narrow little face, and there is a tight-liddedness about the eyes which
in an older woman might indicate the bigot. Bigot she proved herself
to be, if it be bigotry in a woman to love a man with an intensity that
will not stop at murder in order to win him. That is the one thing that
may be said for Frances Howard. She did love Robert Carr. She loved him
to his ruin.


On a Sunday, the 5th of February, 1733, there came toddling into that
narrow passage of the Temple known as Tanfield Court an elderly lady by
the name of Mrs Love. It was just after one o'clock of the afternoon.
The giants of St Dunstan's behind her had only a minute before rapped
out the hour with their clubs.

Mrs Love's business was at once charitable and social. She was going,
by appointment made on the previous Friday night, to eat dinner with
a frail old lady named Mrs Duncomb, who lived in chambers on the third
floor of one of the buildings that had entry from the court. Mrs Duncomb
was the widow of a law stationer of the City. She had been a widow for a
good number of years. The deceased law stationer, if he had not left her
rich, at least had left her in fairly comfortable circumstances. It
was said about the environs that she had some property, and this fact,
combined with the other that she was obviously nearing the end of life's
journey, made her an object of melancholy interest to the womenkind of
the neighbourhood.

Mrs Duncomb was looked after by a couple of servants. One of them, Betty
Harrison, had been the old lady's companion for a lifetime. Mrs
Duncomb, described as "old," was only sixty.[16] Her weakness and bodily
condition seem to have made her appear much older. Betty, then, also
described as "old," may have been of an age with her mistress, or even
older. She was, at all events, not by much less frail. The other servant
was a comparatively new addition to the establishment, a fresh little
girl of about seventeen, Ann (or Nanny) Price by name.

Mrs Love climbed the three flights of stairs to the top landing. It
surprised her, or disturbed her, but little that she found no signs of
life on the various floors, because it was, as we have seen, a Sunday.
The occupants of the chambers of the staircase, mostly gentlemen
connected in one way or another with the law, would be, she knew abroad
for the eating of their Sunday dinners, either at their favourite
taverns or at commons in the Temple itself. What did rather disturb
kindly Mrs Love was the fact that she found Mrs Duncomb's outer door
closed--an unwonted fact--and it faintly surprised her that no odour of
cooking greeted her nostrils.

Mrs Love knocked. There was no reply. She knocked, indeed, at intervals
over a period of some fifteen minutes, still obtaining no response. The
disturbed sense of something being wrong became stronger and stronger in
the mind of Mrs Love.

On the night of the previous Friday she had been calling upon Mrs
Duncomb, and she had found the old lady very weak, very nervous, and
very low in spirits. It had not been a very cheerful visit all round,
because the old maidservant, Betty Harrison, had also been far from
well. There had been a good deal of talk between the old women of dying,
a subject to which their minds had been very prone to revert. Besides
Mrs Love there were two other visitors, but they too failed to cheer the
old couple up. One of the visitors, a laundress of the Temple called
Mrs Oliphant, had done her best, poohpoohing such melancholy talk, and
attributing the low spirits in which the old women found themselves
to the bleakness of the February weather, and promising them that they
would find a new lease of life with the advent of spring. But Mrs Betty
especially had been hard to console.

"My mistress," she had said to cheerful Mrs Oliphant, "will talk of
dying. And she would have me die with her."

As she stood in considerable perturbation of mind on the cheerless
third-floor landing that Sunday afternoon Mrs Love found small matter
for comfort in her memory of the Friday evening. She remembered that old
Mrs Duncomb had spoken complainingly of the lonesomeness which had
come upon her floor by the vacation of the chambers opposite her on
the landing. The tenant had gone a day or two before, leaving the rooms
empty of furniture, and the key with a Mr Twysden.

Mrs. Love, turning to view the door opposite to that on which she had
been rapping so long and so ineffectively, had a shuddery feeling that
she was alone on the top of the world.

She remembered how she had left Mrs Duncomb on the Friday night. Mrs
Oliphant had departed first, accompanied by the second visitor, one
Sarah Malcolm, a charwoman who had worked for Mrs Duncomb up to the
previous Christmas, and who had called in to see how her former employer
was faring. An odd, silent sort of young woman this Sarah, good-looking
in a hardfeatured sort of way, she had taken but a very small part in
the conversation, but had sat staring rather sullenly into the fire by
the side of Betty Harrison, or else casting a flickering glance about
the room. Mrs Love, before following the other two women downstairs, had
helped the ailing Betty to get Mrs Duncomb settled for the night. In the
dim candle-light and the faint glow of the fire that scarce illumined
the wainscoted room the high tester-bed of the old lady, with its
curtains, had seemed like a shadowed catafalque, an illusion nothing
lessened by the frail old figure under the bedclothing.

It came to the mind of Mrs Love that the illness manifesting itself in
Betty on the Friday night had worsened. Nanny, she imagined, must have
gone abroad on some errand. The old servant, she thought, was too ill to
come to the door, and her voice would be too weak to convey an answer to
the knocking. Mrs Love, not without a shudder for the chill feeling of
that top landing, betook herself downstairs again to make what inquiry
she might. It happened that she met one of her fellow-visitors of the
Friday night, Mrs Oliphant.

Mrs Oliphant was sympathetic, but could not give any information. She
had seen no member of the old lady's establishment that day. She could
only advise Mrs Love to go upstairs again and knock louder.

This Mrs Love did, but again got no reply. She then evolved the theory
that Betty had died during the night, and that Nanny, Mrs Duncomb being
confined to bed, had gone to look for help, possibly from her sister,
and to find a woman who would lay out the body of the old servant. With
this in her mind Mrs Love descended the stairs once more, and went to
look for another friend of Mrs Duncomb's, a Mrs Rhymer.

Mrs Rhymer was a friend of the old lady's of some thirty years'
standing. She was, indeed, named as executrix in Mrs Duncomb's will. Mrs
Love finding her and explaining the situation as she saw it, Mrs Rhymer
at once returned with Mrs Love to Tanfield Court.

The two women ascended the stairs, and tried pushing the old lady's
door. It refused to yield to their efforts. Then Mrs Love went to the
staircase window that overlooked the court, and gazed around to see if
there was anyone about who might help. Some distance away, at the door,
we are told, "of my Lord Bishop of Bangor," was the third of Friday
night's visitors to Mrs Duncomb, the charwoman named Sarah Malcolm. Mrs
Love hailed her.

"Prithee, Sarah," begged Mrs Love, "go and fetch a smith to open Mrs
Duncomb's door."

"I will go at all speed," Sarah assured her, with ready willingness, and
off she sped. Mrs Love and Mrs Rhymer waited some time. Sarah came back
with Mrs Oliphant in tow, but had been unable to secure the services of
a locksmith. This was probably due to the fact that it was a Sunday.

By now both Mrs Love and Mrs Rhymer had become deeply apprehensive, and
the former appealed to Mrs Oliphant. "I do believe they are all dead,
and the smith is not come!" cried Mrs Love. "What shall we do, Mrs

Mrs Oliphant, much younger than the others, seems to have been a woman
of resource. She had from Mr Twysden, she said, the key of the vacant
chambers opposite to Mrs Duncomb's. "Now let me see," she continued, "if
I cannot get out of the back chamber window into the gutter, and so into
Mrs Duncomb's apartment."

The other women urged her to try.[17] Mrs Oliphant set off, her heels
echoing in the empty rooms. Presently the waiting women heard a
pane snap, and they guessed that Mrs Oliphant had broken through Mrs
Duncomb's casement to get at the handle. They heard, through the door,
the noise of furniture being moved as she got through the window. Then
came a shriek, the scuffle of feet. The outer door of Mrs Duncomb's
chambers was flung open. Mrs Oliphant, ashen-faced, appeared on the
landing. "God! Oh, gracious God!" she cried. "They're all murdered!"


All four women pressed into the chambers. All three of the women
occupying them had been murdered. In the passage or lobby little Nanny
Price lay in her bed in a welter of blood, her throat savagely cut. Her
hair was loose and over her eyes, her clenched hands all bloodied about
her throat. It was apparent that she had struggled desperately for
life. Next door, in the dining-room, old Betty Harrison lay across the
press-bed in which she usually slept. Being in the habit of keeping her
gown on for warmth, as it was said, she was partially dressed. She had
been strangled, it seemed, "with an apron-string or a pack-thread," for
there was a deep crease about her neck and the bruised indentations as
of knuckles. In her bedroom, also across her bed, lay the dead body of
old Mrs Duncomb. There had been here also an attempt to strangle, an
unnecessary attempt it appeared, for the crease about the neck was very
faint. Frail as the old lady had been, the mere weight of the murderer's
body, it was conjectured, had been enough to kill her.

These pathological details were established on the arrival later of
Mr Bigg, the surgeon, fetched from the Rainbow Coffee-house near by by
Fairlow, one of the Temple porters. But the four women could see enough
for themselves, without the help of Mr Bigg, to understand how death
had been dealt in all three cases. They could see quite clearly also
for what motive the crime had been committed. A black strong-box, with
papers scattered about it, lay beside Mrs Duncomb's bed, its lid forced
open. It was in this box that the old lady had been accustomed to keep
her money.

If any witness had been needed to say what the black box had contained
there was Mrs Rhymer, executrix under the old lady's will. And if Mrs.
Rhymer had been at any need to refresh her memory regarding the contents
opportunity had been given her no farther back than the afternoon of the
previous Thursday. On that day she had called upon Mrs Duncomb to take
tea and to talk affairs. Three or four years before, with her rapidly
increasing frailness, the old lady's memory had begun to fail. Mrs
Rhymer acted for her as a sort of unofficial curator bonis, receiving
her money and depositing it in the black box, of which she kept the key.

On the Thursday, old Betty and young Nanny being sent from the room, the
old lady had told Mrs Rhymer that she needed some money--a guinea. Mrs
Rhymer had gone through the solemn process of opening the black box,
and, one must suppose--old ladies nearing their end being what they
are--had been at need to tell over the contents of the box for the
hundredth time, just to reassure Mrs Duncomb that she thoroughly
understood the duties she had agreed to undertake as executrix

At the top of the box was a silver tankard. It had belonged to Mrs
Duncomb's husband. In the tankard was a hundred pounds. Beside the
tankard lay a bag containing guinea pieces to the number of twenty or
so. This was the bag that Mrs Rhymer had carried over to the old lady's
chair by the fire, in order to take from it the needed guinea.

There were some half-dozen packets of money in the box, each sealed
with black wax and set aside for particular purposes after Mrs Duncomb's
death. Other sums, greater in quantity than those contained in the
packets, were earmarked in the same way. There was, for example, twenty
guineas set aside for the old lady's burial, eighteen moidores to meet
unforeseen contingencies, and in a green purse some thirty or forty
shillings, which were to be distributed among poor people of Mrs
Duncomb's acquaintance. The ritual of telling over the box contents, if
something ghostly, had had its usual effect of comforting the old lady's
mind. It consoled her to know that all arrangements were in order for
her passing in genteel fashion to her long home, that all the decorums
of respectable demise would be observed, and that "the greatest of
these" would not be forgotten. The ritual over, the black box was closed
and locked, and on her departure Mrs Rhymer had taken away the key as

The motive for the crime, as said, was plain. The black box had been
forced, and there was no sign of tankard, packets, green purse, or bag
of guineas.

The horror and distress of the old lady's friends that Sunday afternoon
may better be imagined than described. Loudest of the four, we are told,
was Sarah Malcolm. It is also said that she was, however, the coolest,
keen to point out the various methods by which the murderers (for the
crime to her did not look like a single-handed effort) could have got
into the chambers. She drew attention to the wideness of the kitchen
chimney and to the weakness of the lock in the door to the vacant rooms
on the other side of the landing. She also pointed out that, since the
bolt of the spring-lock of the outer door to Mrs Duncomb's rooms had
been engaged when they arrived, the miscreants could not have used that

This last piece of deduction on Sarah's part, however, was made rather
negligible by experiments presently carried out by the porter, Fairlow,
with the aid of a piece of string. He showed that a person outside the
shut door could quite easily pull the bolt to on the inside.

The news of the triple murder quickly spread, and it was not long before
a crowd had collected in Tanfield Court, up the stairs to Mrs. Duncomb's
landing, and round about the door of Mrs Duncomb's chambers. It did not
disperse until the officers had made their investigations and the bodies
of the three victims had been removed. And even then, one may be sure,
there would still be a few of those odd sort of people hanging about
who, in those times as in these, must linger on the scene of a crime
long after the last drop of interest has evaporated.


Two further actors now come upon the scene. And for the proper grasping
of events we must go back an hour or two in time to notice their

They are a Mr Gehagan, a young Irish barrister, and a friend of his
named Kerrel.[18] These young men occupy chambers on opposite sides
of the same landing, the third floor, over the Alienation Office in
Tanfield Court.

Mr Gehagan was one of Sarah Malcolm's employers. That Sunday morning at
nine she had appeared in his rooms to do them up and to light the fire.
While Gehagan was talking to Sarah he was joined by his friend Kerrel,
who offered to stand him some tea. Sarah was given a shilling and sent
out to buy tea. She returned and made the brew, then remained about
the chambers until the horn blew, as was then the Temple custom, for
commons. The two young men departed. After commons they walked for a
while in the Temple Gardens, then returned to Tanfield Court.

By this time the crowd attracted by the murder was blocking up the
court, and Gehagan asked what was the matter. He was told of the murder,
and he remarked to Kerrel that the old lady had been their charwoman's

The two friends then made their way to a coffee-house in Covent Garden.
There was some talk there of the murder, and the theory was advanced by
some one that it could have been done only by some laundress who knew
the chambers and how to get in and out of them. From Covent Garden,
towards night, Gehagan and Kerrel went to a tavern in Essex Street, and
there they stayed carousing until one o'clock in the morning, when they
left for the Temple. They were not a little astonished on reaching their
common landing to find Kerrel's door open, a fire burning in the
grate of his room, and a candle on the table. By the fire, with a dark
riding-hood about her head, was Sarah Malcolm. To Kerrel's natural
question of what she was doing there at such an unearthly hour she
muttered something about having things to collect. Kerrel then,
reminding her that Mrs Duncomb had been her acquaintance, asked her if
anyone had been "taken up" for the murder.

"That Mr Knight," Sarah replied, "who has chambers under her, has been
absent two or three days. He is suspected."

"Well," said Kerrel, remembering the theory put forward in the
coffee-house, and made suspicious by her presence at that strange hour,
"nobody that was acquainted with Mrs Duncomb is wanted here until the
murderer is discovered. Look out your things, therefore, and begone!"

Kerrel's suspicion thickened, and he asked his friend to run downstairs
and call up the watch. Gehagan ran down, but found difficulty in opening
the door below, and had to return. Kerrel himself went down then, and
came back with two watchmen. They found Sarah in the bedroom at a chest
of drawers, in which she was turning over some linen that she claimed
to be hers. The now completely suspicious Kerrel went to his closet, and
noticed that two or three waistcoats were missing from a portmanteau.
He asked Sarah where they were; upon which Sarah, with an eye to the
watchmen and to Gehagan, begged to be allowed to speak with him alone.

Kerrel refused, saying he could have no business with her that was

Sarah then confessed that she had pawned the missing waistcoats for two
guineas, and begged him not to be angry. Kerrel asked her why she had
not asked him for money. He could readily forgive her for pawning the
waistcoats, but, having heard her talk of Mrs Lydia Duncomb, he was
afraid she was concerned with the murder. A pair of earrings were found
in the drawers, and these Sarah claimed, putting them in her corsage. An
odd-looking bundle in the closet then attracted Kerrel's attention, and
he kicked it, and asked Sarah what it was. She said it was merely dirty
linen wrapped up in an old gown. She did not wish it exposed. Kerrel
made further search, and found that other things were missing. He told
the watch to take the woman and hold her strictly.

Sarah was led away. Kerrel, now thoroughly roused, continued his search,
and he found underneath his bed another bundle. He also came upon some
bloodstained linen in another place, and in a close-stool a silver
tankard, upon the handle of which was a lot of dried blood.

Kerrel's excitement passed to Gehagan, and the two of them went at
speed downstairs yelling for the watch. After a little the two watchmen
reappeared, but without Sarah. They had let her go, they said, because
they had found nothing on her, and, besides, she had not been charged
before a constable.

One here comes upon a recital by the watchmen which reveals the
extraordinary slackness in dealing with suspect persons that
characterized the guardians of the peace in London in those times. They
had let the woman go, but she had come back. Her home was in Shoreditch,
she said, and rather than walk all that way on a cold and boisterous
night she had wanted to sit up in the watch-house. The watchmen refused
to let her do this, but ordered her to "go about her business," advising
her sternly at the same time to turn up again by ten o'clock in the
morning. Sarah had given her word, and had gone away.

On hearing this story Kerrel became very angry, threatening the two
watchmen, Hughes and Mastreter, with Newgate if they did not pick her
up again immediately. Upon this the watchmen scurried off as quickly as
their age and the cumbrous nature of their clothing would let them.
They found Sarah in the company of two other watchmen at the gate of
the Temple. Hughes, as a means of persuading her to go with them more
easily, told her that Kerrel wanted to speak with her, and that he was
not angry any longer. Presently, in Tanfield Court, they came on the two
young men carrying the tankard and the bloodied linen. This time it was
Gehagan who did the talking. He accused Sarah furiously, showing her the
tankard. Sarah attempted to wipe the blood off the tankard handle with
her apron. Gehagan stopped her.

Sarah said the tankard was her own. Her mother had given it her, and she
had had it for five years. It was to get the tankard out of pawn that
she had taken Kerrel's waistcoats, needing thirty shillings. The blood
on the handle was due to her having pricked a finger.

With this began the series of lies Sarah Malcolm put up in her defence.
She was hauled into the watchman's box and more thoroughly searched. A
green silk purse containing twenty-one guineas was found in the bosom of
her dress. This purse Sarah declared she had found in the street, and as
an excuse for its cleanliness, unlikely with the streets as foul as they
were at that age and time of year, said she had washed it. Both bundles
of linen were bloodstained. There was some doubt as to the identity of
the green purse. Mrs Rhymer, who, as we have seen, was likelier than
anyone to recognize it, would not swear it was the green purse that had
been in Mrs Duncomb's black box. There was, however, no doubt at all
about the tankard. It had the initials "C. D." engraved upon it, and
was at once identified as Mrs Duncomb's. The linen which Sarah had
been handling in Mr Kerrel's drawer was said to be darned in a way
recognizable as Mrs Duncomb's. It had lain beside the tankard and the
money in the black box.


There was, it will be seen, but very little doubt of Sarah Malcolm's
guilt. According to the reports of her trial, however, she fought
fiercely for her life, questioning the witnesses closely. Some of them,
such as could remember small points against her, but who failed in
recollection of the colour of her dress or of the exact number of the
coins said to be lost, she vehemently denounced.

One of the Newgate turnkeys told how some of the missing money was
discovered. Being brought from the Compter to Newgate, Sarah happened to
see a room in which debtors were confined. She asked the turnkey, Roger
Johnson, if she could be kept there. Johnson replied that it would cost
her a guinea, but that from her appearance it did not look to him as if
she could afford so much. Sarah seems to have bragged then, saying that
if the charge was twice or thrice as much she could send for a friend
who would pay it. Her attitude probably made the turnkey suspicious.
At any rate, after Sarah had mixed for some time with the felons in the
prison taproom, Johnson called her out and, lighting the way by use of a
link, led her to an empty room.

"Child," he said, "there is reason to suspect that you are guilty of
this murder, and therefore I have orders to search you." He had, he
admitted, no such orders. He felt under her arms; whereupon she started
and threw back her head. Johnson clapped his hand on her head and felt
something hard. He pulled off her cap, and found a bag of money in her

"I asked her," Johnson said in the witness-box, "how she came by it,
and she said it was some of Mrs Duncomb's money. 'But, Mr Johnson,' says
she, 'I'll make you a present of it if you will keep it to yourself, and
let nobody know anything of the matter. The other things against me
are nothing but circumstances, and I shall come well enough off. And
therefore I only desire you to let me have threepence or sixpence a
day till the sessions be over; then I shall be at liberty to shift for

To the best of his knowledge, said this turnkey, having told the money
over, there were twenty moidores, eighteen guineas, five broad pieces,
a half-broad piece, five crowns, and two or three shillings. He
thought there was also a twenty-five-shilling piece and some others,
twenty-three-shilling pieces. He had sealed them up in the bag, and
there they were (producing the bag in court).

The court asked how she said she had come by the money.

Johnson's answer was that she had said she took the money and the bag
from Mrs Duncomb, and that she had begged him to keep it secret. "My
dear," said this virtuous gaoler, "I would not secrete the money for the

"She told me, too," runs Johnson's recorded testimony, "that she had
hired three men to swear the tankard was her grandmother's, but could
not depend on them: that the name of one was William Denny, another was
Smith, and I have forgot the third. After I had taken the money away she
put a piece of mattress in her hair, that it might appear of the same
bulk as before. Then I locked her up and sent to Mr Alstone, and told
him the story. 'And,' says I, 'do you stand in a dark place to be
witness of what she says, and I'll go and examine her again."'

Sarah interrupted: "I tied my handkerchief over my hair to hide the
money, but Buck,[19] happening to see my hair fall down, he told
Johnson; upon which Johnson came to see me and said, 'I find the cole's
planted in your hair. Let me keep it for you and let Buck know nothing
about it.' So I gave Johnson five broad pieces and twenty-two guineas,
not gratis, but only to keep for me, for I expected it to be returned
when sessions was over. As to the money, I never said I took it from
Mrs Duncomb; but he asked me what they had to rap against me. I told him
only a tankard. He asked me if it was Mrs Duncomb's, and I said yes."

The Court: "Johnson, were those her words: 'This is the money and bag
that I took'?"

Johnson: "Yes, and she desired me to make away with the bag."

Johnson's evidence was confirmed in part by Alstone, another officer of
the prison. He said he told Johnson to get the bag from the prisoner, as
it might have something about it whereby it could be identified. Johnson
called the girl, while Alstone watched from a dark corner. He saw Sarah
give Johnson the bag, and heard her ask him to burn it. Alstone also
deposed that Sarah told him (Alstone) part of the money found on her was
Mrs Duncomb's.

There is no need here to enlarge upon the oddly slack and casual
conditions of the prison life of the time as revealed in this evidence.
It will be no news to anyone who has studied contemporary criminal
history. There is a point, however, that may be considered here, and
that is the familiarity it suggests on the part of Sarah with prison
conditions and with the cant terms employed by criminals and the people
handling them.

Sarah, though still in her earliest twenties,[20] was known already--if
not in the Temple--to have a bad reputation. It is said that her closest
friends were thieves of the worst sort. She was the daughter of an
Englishman, at one time a public official in a small way in Dublin. Her
father had come to London with his wife and daughter, but on the death
of the mother had gone back to Ireland. He had left his daughter behind
him, servant in an ale-house called the Black Horse.

Sarah was a fairly well-educated girl. At the ale-house, however, she
formed an acquaintance with a woman named Mary Tracey, a dissolute
character, and with two thieves called Alexander. Of these three
disreputable people we shall be hearing presently, for Sarah tried to
implicate them in this crime which she certainly committed alone. It is
said that the Newgate officers recognized Sarah on her arrival. She had
often been to the prison to visit an Irish thief, convicted for stealing
the pack of a Scots pedlar.

It will be seen from Sarah's own defence how she tried to implicate
Tracey and the two Alexanders:

"I freely own that my crimes deserve death; I own that I was accessory
to the robbery, but I was innocent of the murder, and will give an
account of the whole affair.

"I lived with Mrs Lydia Duncomb about three months before she was
murdered. The robbery was contrived by Mary Tracey, who is now in
confinement, and myself, my own vicious inclinations agreeing with hers.
We likewise proposed to rob Mr Oakes in Thames Street. She came to me at
my master's, Mr Kerrel's chambers, on the Sunday before the murder
was committed; he not being then at home, we talked about robbing Mrs
Duncomb. I told her I could not pretend to do it by myself, for I should
be found out. 'No,' says she, 'there are the two Alexanders will help
us.' Next day I had seventeen pounds sent me out of the country, which
I left in Mr Kerrel's drawers. I met them all in Cheapside the following
Friday, and we agreed on the next night, and so parted.

"Next day, being Saturday, I went between seven and eight in the evening
to see Mrs Duncomb's maid, Elizabeth Harrison, who was very bad. I
stayed a little while with her, and went down, and Mary Tracey and the
two Alexanders came to me about ten o'clock, according to appointment."

On this statement the whole implication of Tracey and the Alexanders by
Sarah stands or falls. It falls for the reason that the Temple porter
had seen no stranger pass the gate that night, nobody but Templars going
to their chambers. The one fact riddles the rest of Sarah's statement in
defence, but, as it is somewhat of a masterpiece in lying invention,
I shall continue to quote it. "Mary Tracey would have gone about the
robbery just then, but I said it was too soon. Between ten and eleven
she said, 'We can do it now.' I told her I would go and see, and so went
upstairs, and they followed me. I met the young maid on the stairs with
a blue mug; she was going for some milk to make a sack posset. She asked
me who were those that came after me. I told her they were people going
to Mr Knight's below. As soon as she was gone I said to Mary Tracey,
'Now do you and Tom Alexander go down. I know the door is ajar, because
the old maid is ill, and can't get up to let the young maid in when she
comes back.' Upon that, James Alexander, by my order, went in and hid
himself under the bed; and as I was going down myself I met the young
maid coming up again. She asked me if I spoke to Mrs Betty. I told her
no; though I should have told her otherwise, but only that I was afraid
she might say something to Mrs Betty about me, and Mrs Betty might tell
her I had not been there, and so they might have a suspicion of me."

There is a possibility that this part of her confession, the tale of
having met the young maid, Nanny, may be true.[21] And here may the
truth of the murder be hidden away. Very likely it is, indeed, that
Sarah encountered the girl going out with the blue mug for milk to make
a sack posset, and she may have slipped in by the open door to hide
under the bed until the moment was ripe for her terrible intention. On
the other hand, if there is truth in the tale of her encountering the
girl again as she returned with the milk--and her cunning in answering
"no" to the maid's query if she had seen Mrs Betty has the real
ring--other ways of getting an entry were open to her. We know that the
lock of the vacant chambers opposite Mrs Duncomb's would have yielded
to small manipulation. It is not at all unlikely that Sarah, having been
charwoman to the old lady, and with the propensities picked up from her
Shoreditch acquaintances, had made herself familiar with the locks on
the landing. So that she may have waited her hour in the empty rooms,
and have got into Mrs Duncomb's by the same method used by Mrs Oliphant
after the murder. She may even have slipped back the spring-catch of the
outer door. One account of the murder suggests that she may have
asked Ann Price, on one pretext or other, to let her share her bed. It
certainly was not beyond the callousness of Sarah Malcolm to have chosen
this method, murdering the girl in her sleep, and then going on to
finish off the two helpless old women.

The truth, as I have said, lies hidden in this extraordinarily
mendacious confection. Liars of Sarah's quality are apt to base their
fabrications on a structure, however slight, of truth. I continue with
the confession, then, for what the reader may get out of it.

"I passed her [Nanny Price] and went down, and spoke with Tracey and
Alexander, and then went to my master's chambers, and stirred up the
fire. I stayed about a quarter of an hour, and when I came back I saw
Tracey and Tom Alexander sitting on Mrs Duncomb's stairs, and I sat down
with them. At twelve o'clock we heard some people walking, and by and by
Mr Knight came home, went to his room, and shut the door. It was a very
stormy night; there was hardly anybody stirring abroad, and the watchmen
kept up close, except just when they cried the hour. At two o'clock
another gentleman came, and called the watch to light his candle, upon
which I went farther upstairs, and soon after this I heard Mrs Duncomb's
door open; James Alexander came out, and said, 'Now is the time.' Then
Mary Tracey and Thomas Alexander went in, but I stayed upon the stair
to watch. I had told them where Mrs Duncomb's box stood. They came out
between four and five, and one of them called to me softly, and said,
'Hip! How shall I shut the door?' Says I, ''Tis a spring-lock; pull it
to, and it will be fast.' And so one of them did. They would have shared
the money and goods upon the stairs, but I told them we had better go
down; so we went under the arch by Fig-tree Court, where there was a
lamp. I asked them how much they had got. They said they had found fifty
guineas and some silver in the maid's purse, about one hundred pounds
in the chest of drawers, besides the silver tankard and the money in the
box and several other things; so that in all they had got to the value
of about three hundred pounds in money and goods. They told me that they
had been forced to gag the people. They gave me the tankard with what
was in it and some linen for my share, and they had a silver spoon and
a ring and the rest of the money among themselves. They advised me to be
cunning and plant the money and goods underground, and not to be seen to
be flush. Then we appointed to meet at Greenwich, but we did not go.[22]

"I was taken in the manner the witnesses have sworn, and carried to the
watch-house, from whence I was sent to the Compter, and so to Newgate.
I own that I said the tankard was mine, and that it was left me by my
mother: several witnesses have swore what account I gave of the tankard
being bloody; I had hurt my finger, and that was the occasion of it. I
am sure of death, and therefore have no occasion to speak anything but
the truth. When I was in the Compter I happened to see a young man[23]
whom I knew, with a fetter on. I told him I was sorry to see him there,
and I gave him a shilling, and called for half a quartern of rum to make
him drink. I afterwards went into my room, and heard a voice call
me, and perceived something poking behind the curtain. I was a little
surprised, and looking to see what it was, I found a hole in the wall,
through which the young man I had given the shilling to spoke to me, and
asked me if I had sent for my friends. I told him no. He said he would
do what he could for me, and so went away; and some time after he called
to me again, and said, 'Here is a friend.'

"I looked through, and saw Will Gibbs come in. Says he, 'Who is there
to swear against you?' I told him my two masters would be the chief
witnesses. 'And what can they charge you with?' says he. I told him the
tankard was the only thing, for there was nothing else that I thought
could hurt me. 'Never fear, then,' says he; 'we'll do well enough. We
will get them that will rap the tankard was your grandmother's, and that
you was in Shoreditch the night the act was committed; and we'll have
two men that shall shoot your masters. But,' said he, 'one of the
witnesses is a woman, and she won't swear under four guineas; but the
men will swear for two guineas apiece,' and he brought a woman and three
men. I gave them ten guineas, and they promised to wait for me at the
Bull Head in Broad Street. But when I called for them, when I was going
before Sir Richard Brocas, they were not there. Then I found I should
be sent to Newgate, and I was full of anxious thoughts; but a young man
told me I had better go to the Whit than to the Compter.

"When I came to Newgate I had but eighteenpence in silver, besides the
money in my hair, and I gave eighteenpence for my garnish. I was ordered
to a high place in the gaol. Buck, as I said before, having seen my hair
loose, told Johnson of it, and Johnson asked me if I had got any cole
planted there. He searched and found the bag, and there was in
it thirty-six moidores, eighteen guineas, five crown pieces, two
half-crowns, two broad pieces of twenty-five shillings, four of
twenty-three shillings, and one half-broad piece. He told me I must be
cunning, and not to be seen to be flush of money. Says I, 'What would
you advise me to do with it?' 'Why,' says he, 'you might have thrown it
down the sink, or have burnt it, but give it to me, and I'll take care
of it.' And so I gave it to him. Mr Alstone then brought me to the
condemned hold and examined me. I denied all till I found he had
heard of the money, and then I knew my life was gone. And therefore I
confessed all that I knew. I gave him the same account of the robbers as
I have given you. I told him I heard my masters were to be shot, and
I desired him to send them word. I described Tracey and the two
Alexanders, and when they were first taken they denied that they knew Mr
Oakes, whom they and I had agreed to rob.

"All that I have now declared is fact, and I have no occasion to murder
three persons on a false accusation; for I know I am a condemned woman.
I know I must suffer an ignominious death which my crimes deserve, and I
shall suffer willingly. I thank God He has given me time to repent, when
I might have been snatched off in the midst of my crimes, and without
having an opportunity of preparing myself for another world." There is
a glibness and an occasional turn of phrase in this confession which
suggests some touching up from the pen of a pamphleteer, but one may
take it that it is, in substance, a fairly accurate report. In spite of
the pleading which threads it that she should be regarded as accessory
only in the robbery, the jury took something less than a quarter of
an hour to come back with their verdict of "Guilty of murder." Sarah
Malcolm was sentenced to death in due form.


Having regard to the period in which this confession was made, and
considering the not too savoury reputations of Mary Tracey and the
brothers Alexander, we can believe that those three may well have
thought themselves lucky to escape from the mesh of lies Sarah tried to
weave about them.[24] It was not to be doubted on all the evidence that
she alone committed that cruel triple murder, and that she alone stole
the money which was found hidden in her hair. The bulk of the stolen
clothing was found in her possession, bloodstained. A white-handled
case-knife, presumably that used to cut Nanny Price's throat, was seen
on a table by the three women who, with Sarah herself, were first on the
scene of the murder. It disappeared later, and it is to be surmised that
Sarah Malcolm managed to get it out of the room unseen. But to the last
moment possible Sarah tried to get her three friends involved with her.
Say, which is not at all unlikely, that Tracey and the Alexanders may
have first suggested the robbery to her, and her vindictive maneouvring
may be understood.

It is said that when she heard that Tracey and the Alexanders had been
taken she was highly pleased. She smiled, and said that she could now
die happy, since the real murderers had been seized. Even when the three
were brought face to face with her for identification she did not lack
brazenness. "Ay," she said, "these are the persons who committed the
murder." "You know this to be true," she said to Tracey. "See, Mary,
what you have brought me to. It is through you and the two Alexanders
that I am brought to this shame, and must die for it. You all promised
me you would do no murder, but, to my great surprise, I found the

She was, you will perceive, a determined liar. Condemned, she behaved
with no fortitude. "I am a dead woman!" she cried, when brought back to
Newgate. She wept and prayed, lied still more, pretended illness, and
had fits of hysteria. They put her in the old condemned hold with a
constant guard over her, for fear that she would attempt suicide.

The idlers of the town crowded to the prison to see her, for in the time
of his Blessed Majesty King George II Newgate, with the condemned hold
and its content, composed one of the fashionable spectacles. Young
Mr Hogarth, the painter, was one of those who found occasion to visit
Newgate to view the notorious murderess. He even painted her portrait.
It is said that Sarah dressed specially for him in a red dress, but that
copy--one which belonged to Horace Walpole--which is now in the National
Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, shows her in a grey gown, with a white
cap and apron. Seated to the left, she leans her folded hands on a table
on which a rosary and a crucifix lie. Behind her is a dark grey wall,
with a heavy grating over a dark door to the right. There are varied
mezzotints of this picture by Hogarth himself still extant, and there is
a pen-and-wash drawing of Sarah by Samuel Wale in the British Museum.

The stories regarding the last days in life of Sarah Malcolm would
occupy more pages than this book can afford to spend on them. To the
last she hoped for a reprieve. After the "dead warrant" had arrived, to
account for a paroxysm of terror that seized her, she said that it was
from shame at the idea that, instead of going to Tyburn, she was to be
hanged in Fleet Street among all the people that knew her, she having
just heard the news in chapel. This too was one of her lies. She had
heard the news hours before. A turnkey, pointing out the lie to her,
urged her to confess for the easing of her mind.

One account I have of the Tanfield Court murders speaks of the custom
there was at this time of the bellman of St Sepulchre's appearing
outside the gratings of the condemned hold just after midnight on the
morning of executions.[25] This performance was provided for by bequest
from one Robert Dove, or Dow, a merchant-tailor. Having rung his bell
to draw the attention of the condemned (who, it may be gathered, were
not supposed to be at all in want of sleep), the bellman recited these

  All you that in the condemned hold do lie,
  Prepare you, for to-morrow you shall die.
  Watch all and pray; the hour is drawing near
  That you before th' Almighty must appear.

  Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
  That you may not t'eternal flames be sent:
  And when St 'Pulchre's bell to-morrow tolls,
  The Lord above have mercy on your souls!
          Past twelve o'clock![26]

A fellow-prisoner or a keeper bade Sarah Malcolm heed what the bellman
said, urging her to take it to heart. Sarah said she did, and threw the
bellman down a shilling with which to buy himself a pint of wine.

Sarah, as we have seen, was denied the honour of procession to Tyburn.
Her sentence was that she was to be hanged in Fleet Street, opposite the
Mitre Court, on the 7th of March, 1733. And hanged she was accordingly.
She fainted in the tumbril, and took some time to recover. Her last
words were exemplary in their piety, but in the face of her vindictive
lying, unretracted to the last, it were hardly exemplary to repeat them.

She was buried in the churchyard of St Sepulchre's.


Born (probably illegitimately) in a fisherman's cottage, reared in a
workhouse, employed in a brothel, won at cards by a royal duke, mistress
of that duke, married to a baron, received at Court by three kings
(though not much in the way of kings), accused of cozenage and
tacitly of murder, died full of piety, 'cutting up' for close on
L150,000--there, as it were in a nutshell, you have the life of Sophie
Dawes, Baronne de Feucheres.

In the introduction to her exhaustive and accomplished biography of
Sophie Dawes,[28] from which a part of the matter for this resume is
drawn, Mme Violette Montagu, speaking of the period in which Sophie
lived, says that "Paris, with its fabulous wealth and luxury, seems to
have been looked upon as a sort of Mecca by handsome Englishwomen with
ambition and, what is absolutely necessary if they wish to be really
successful, plenty of brains."

It is because Sophie had plenty of brains of a sort, besides the
attributes of good looks, health, and by much a disproportionate share
of determination, and because, with all that she attained to, she died
quite ostracized by the people with whom it had been her life's ambition
to mix, and was thus in a sense a failure--it is because of these things
that it is worth while going into details of her career, expanding the
precis with which this chapter begins.

Among the women selected as subjects for this book Sophie Dawes as a
personality wins 'hands down.' Whether she was a criminal or not is a
question even now in dispute. Unscrupulous she certainly was, and a good
deal of a rogue. That modern American product the 'gold-digger' is
what she herself would call a 'piker' compared with the subject of
this chapter. The blonde bombshell, with her 'sugar daddy,' her alimony
'racket,' and the hundred hard-boiled dodges wherewith she chisels
money and goods from her prey, is, again in her own crude phraseology,
'knocked for a row of ash-cans' by Sophie Dawes. As, I think, you will
presently see.

Sophie was born at St Helens, Isle of Wight--according to herself in
1792. There is controversy on the matter. Mme Montagu in her book says
that some of Sophie's biographers put the date at 1790, or even 1785.
But Mme Montagu herself reproduces the list of wearing apparel with
which Sophie was furnished when she left the 'house of industry' (the
workhouse). It is dated 1805. In those days children were not maintained
in poor institutions to the mature ages of fifteen or twenty. They were
supposed to be armed against life's troubles at twelve or even younger.
Sophie, then, could hardly have been born before 1792, but is quite
likely to have been born later.

The name of Sophie's father is given as "Daw." Like many another
celebrity, as, for example, Walter Raleigh and Shakespeare, Sophie
spelled her name variously, though ultimately she fixed on "Dawes."
Richard, or Dickey, Daw was a fisherman for appearance sake and a
smuggler for preference. The question of Sophie's legitimacy anses from
the fact that her mother, Jane Callaway, was registered at death as "a
spinster." Sophie was one of ten children. Dickey Daw drank his family
into the poorhouse, an institution which sent Sophie to fend for herself
in 1805, procuring her a place as servant at a farm on the island.

Service on a farm does not appear to have appealed to Sophie. She
escaped to Portsmouth, where she found a job as hotel chambermaid.
Tiring of that, she went to London and became a milliner's assistant.
A little affair we hear, in which a mere water-carrier was an equal
participant, lost Sophie her place. We next have word of her imitating
Nell Gwynn, both in selling oranges to playgoers and in becoming an
actress--not, however, at Old Drury, but at the other patent theatre,
Covent Garden. Save that as a comedian she never took London by storm,
and that she lacked Nell's unfailing good humour, Sophie in her career
matches Nell in more than superficial particulars. Between selling
oranges and appearing on the stage Sophie seems to have touched bottom
for a time in poverty. But her charms as an actress captivated an
officer by and by, and she was established as his mistress in a house
at Turnham Green. Tiring of her after a time--Sophie, it is probable,
became exigeant with increased comfort--her protector left her with an
annuity of L50.

The annuity does not appear to have done Sophie much good. We next
hear of her as servant-maid in a Piccadilly brothel, a lupanar
much patronized by wealthy emigres from France, among whom was
Louis-Henri-Joseph, Duc de Bourbon and later Prince de Conde, a man at
that time of about fifty-four.

The Duc's attention was directed to the good looks of Sophie by a
manservant of his. Mme Montagu says of Sophie at this time that "her
face had already lost the first bloom of youth and innocence." Now, one
wonders if that really was so, or if Mme Montagu is making a shot at a
hazard. She describes Sophie a little earlier than this as having
developed into a fine young woman, not exactly pretty or handsome, but
she held her head gracefully, and her regular features were illumined
by a pair of remarkably bright and intelligent eyes. She was tall and
squarely built, with legs and arms which might have served as models
for a statue of Hercules. Her muscular force was extraordinary. Her lips
were rather thin, and she had an ugly habit of contracting them when she
was angry. Her intelligence was above the average, and she had a good
share of wit.

At the time when the Duc de Bourbon came upon her in the Piccadilly
stew the girl was probably no more than eighteen. If one may judge
her character from the events of her subsequent career there was an
outstanding resiliency and a resoluteness as main ingredients of her
make-up, qualities which would go a long way to obviating any marks that
might otherwise have been left on her by the ups and downs of a mere
five years in the world. If, moreover, Mme Montagu's description of her
is a true one it is clear that Sophie's good looks were not of the sort
to make an all-round appeal. The ways in which attractiveness goes,
both in men and in women, are infinite in their variety. The reader may
recall, in this respect, what was said in the introductory chapter about
Kate Webster and the instance of the bewhiskered 'Fina of the Spanish
tavern. And since a look of innocence and the bloom of youth may, and
very often do, appear on the faces of individuals who are far from being
innocent or even young, it may well be that Sophie in 1810, servant-maid
in a brothel though she was, still kept a look of country freshness and
health, unjaded enough to whet the dulled appetence of a bagnio-haunting
old rip. The odds are, at all events, that Sophie was much less
artificial in her charms than the practised ladies of complacency upon
whom she attended. With her odd good looks she very likely had just that
subacid leaven for which, in the alchemy of attraction, the Duc was in

The Duc, however, was not the only one to whom Sophie looked desirable.
Two English peers had an eye on her--the Earl of Winchilsea and the Duke
of Kent. This is where the card affair comes in. The Duc either played
whist with the two noblemen for sole rights in Sophie or, what is more
likely, cut cards with them during a game. The Duc won. Whether his win
may be regarded as lucky or not can be reckoned, according to the taste
and fancy of the reader, from the sequelae of some twenty years.


With the placing of Sophie dans ses meubles by the Duc de Bourbon there
began one of the most remarkable turns in her career. In 1811 he took a
house for her in Gloucester Street, Queen's Square, with her mother as
duenna, and arranged for the completion of her education.

As a light on her character hardly too much can be made of this stage in
her development. It is more than likely that the teaching was begun at
Sophie's own demand, and by the use she made of the opportunities given
her you may measure the strength of her ambition. Here was no rich
man's doxy lazily seeking a veneer of culture, enough to gloss the rough
patches of speech and idea betraying humble origin. This fisherman's
child, workhouse girl, ancilla of the bordels, with the thin smattering
of the three R's she had acquired in the poor institution, set herself,
with a wholehearted concentration which a Newnham 'swot' might envy,
to master modern languages, with Greek, Latin, and music. At the end of
three years she was a good linguist, could play and sing well enough to
entertain and not bore the most intelligent in the company the Duc
kept, and to pass in that company--the French emigre set in London--as
a person of equal education. If, as it is said, Sophie, while she could
read and write French faultlessly, never could speak it without an
English accent, it is to be remembered that the flexibility of tongue
and mind needed for native-sounding speech in French (or any other
language) is so exceptional as to be practically non-existent among her
compatriots to this day. The fault scarcely belittles her achievement.
As well blame a one-legged man for hopping when trying to run.
Consider the life Sophie had led, the sort of people with whom she had
associated, and that temptation towards laissez-faire which conquers all
but the rarest woman in the mode of life in which she was existing,
and judge of the constancy of purpose that kept that little nose so
steadfastly in Plutarch and Xenophon.

If in the year 1812 the Duc began to allow his little Sophie about
L800 a year in francs as pin-money he was no more generous than Sophie
deserved. The Duc was very rich, despite the fact that his father, the
old Prince de Conde, was still alive, and so, of course, was enjoying
the income from the family estates.

There is no room here to follow more than the barest outline of the Duc
de Bourbon's history. Fully stated, it would be the history of France.
He was a son of the Prince de Conde who collected that futile army
beyond the borders of France in the royalist cause in the Revolution.
Louis-Henri was wounded in the left arm while serving there, so badly
wounded that the hand was practically useless. He came to England,
where he lived until 1814, when he went back to France to make his
unsuccessful attempt to raise the Vendee. Then he went to Spain.

At this time he intended breaking with Sophie, but when he got back to
Paris in 1815 he found the lady waiting for him. It took Sophie some
eighteen months to bring his Highness up to scratch again. During this
time the Duc had another English fancy, a Miss Harris, whose reign in
favour, however, did not withstand the manoeuvring of Sophie.

Sophie as a mistress in England was one thing, but Sophie unattached as
a mistress in France was another. One wonders why the Duc should have
been squeamish on this point. Perhaps it was that he thought it would
look vulgar to take up a former mistress after so long. At all events,
he was ready enough to resume the old relationship with Sophie, provided
she could change her name by marriage. Sophie was nothing loth. The idea
fell in with her plans. She let it get about that she was the natural
daughter of the Duc, and soon had in tow one Adrien-Victor de Feucheres.
He was an officer of the Royal Guard. Without enlarging on the all-round
tawdriness of this contract it will suffice here to say that Sophie and
Adrien were married in London in August of 1818, the Duc presenting
the bride with a dowry of about L5600 in francs. Next year de Feucheres
became a baron, and was made aide-de-camp to the Duc.

Incredible as it may seem, de Feucheres took four years to realize what
was the real relationship between his wife and the Prince de Conde. The
aide-de-camp and his wife had a suite of rooms in the Prince's favourite
chateau at Chantilly, and the ambition which Sophie had foreseen would
be furthered by the marriage was realized. She was received as La
Baronne de Feucheres at the Court of Louis XVIII. She was happy--up to a
point. Some unpretty traits in her character began to develop: a violent
temper, a tendency to hysterics if crossed, and, it is said, a leaning
towards avaricious ways. At the end of four years the Baron de Feucheres
woke up to the fact that Sophie was deceiving him. It does not appear,
however, that he had seen through her main deception, because it was
Sophie herself, we are told, who informed him he was a fool--that she
was not the Prince's daughter, but his mistress.

Having waked up thus belatedly, or having been woken up by Sophie in her
ungoverned ill-temper, de Feucheres acted with considerable dignity. He
begged to resign his position as aide to the Prince, and returned his
wife's dowry. The departure of Sophie's hitherto complacent husband
rather embarrassed the Prince. He needed Sophie but felt he could not
keep her unattached under his roof and he sent her away--but only for a
few days. Sophie soon was back again in Chantilly.

The Prince made some attempt to get de Feucheres to return, but without
success. De Feucheres applied for a post in the Army of Spain, an
application which was granted at once. It took the poor man seven years
to secure a judicial separation from his wife.

The scandal of this change in the menage of Chantilly--it happened in
1822--reached the ears of the King, and the Baronne de Feucheres was
forbidden to appear at Court. All Sophie's energies from then on were
concentrated on getting the ban removed. She explored all possible
avenues of influence to this end, and, incidentally drove her old lover
nearly frantic with her complaints giving him no peace. Even a rebuff
from the Duchesse de Berry, widow of the son of that prince who was
afterwards Charles X, did not put her off. She turned up one day at the
Tuileries, to be informed by an usher that she could not be admitted.

This desire to be reinstated in royal favour is at the back of all
Sophie's subsequent actions--this and her intention of feathering her
own nest out of the estate of her protector. It explains why she worked
so hard to have the Prince de Conde assume friendly relations with a
family whose very name he hated: that of the Duc d'Orleans. It is a clue
to the mysterious death, eight years later, of the Prince de Conde, last
of the Condes, in circumstances which were made to pass as suicide, but
which in unhampered inquiry would almost certainly have been found to
indicate murder.


Louis-Henri-Joseph, Duc de Bourbon and Prince de Conde, seems to have
been rather a simple old man: a useless old sinner, true enough,
but relatively harmless in his sinning, relatively venial in his
uselessness. It were futile to seek for the morality of a later age in a
man of his day and rank and country, just as it were obtuse to look for
greatness in one so much at the mercy of circumstance. As far as bravery
went he had shown himself a worthy descendant of "the Great Conde." But,
surrounded by the vapid jealousies of the most useless people who had
ever tried to rule a country, he, no more than his father, had
the faintest chance to show the Conde quality in war. Adrift as a
comparatively young man, his world about his ears, with no occupation,
small wonder that in idleness he fell into the pursuit of satisfactions
for his baser appetites. He would have been, there is good reason to
believe, a happy man and a busy one in a camp. There is this to be
said for him: that alone among the spineless crowd of royalists feebly
waiting for the miracle which would restore their privilege he attempted
a blow for the lost cause. But where in all that bed of disintegrating
chalk was the flint from which he might have evoked a spark?

The great grief of the Prince's life was the loss of his son, the young
Duc d'Enghien, shamefully destroyed by Bonaparte. It is possible that
much of the Prince's inertia was due to this blow. He had married, at
the early age of fourteen, Louise-Marie-Therese-Mathilde d'Orleans,
daughter of Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orleans and the Duchesse de Chartres,
the bride being six years older than her husband. Such a marriage could
not last. It merely sustained the honeymoon and the birth of that only
son. The couple were apart in eighteen months, and after ten years they
never even saw each other again. About the time when Sophie's husband
found her out and departed the Princesse died. The Prince was advised
to marry again, on the chance that an heir might be born to the large
fortune he possessed. But Sophie by then had become a habit with
the Prince--a bad one--and the old man was content to be left to his
continual hunting, and not to bother over the fact that he was the last
of his ancient line.

It may be easily believed that the Prince's disinclination to marry
again contented Sophie very well. And the fact that he had no direct
heir was one in which she saw possibilities advantageous to herself.

The Prince was then sixty-six years old. In the course of nature he was
almost bound to predecease her. His wealth was enormous, and out of
it Sophie wanted as much by bequest as she could get. She was much too
shrewd, however, to imagine that, even if she did contrive to be made
his sole heir, the influential families who had an eye upon the great
possessions of the Prince, and who through relationship had some right
to expect inheritance, would allow such a will to go uncontested. She
therefore looked about among the Prince's connexions for some one who
would accept coheirship with herself, and whose family would be strong
enough in position to carry through probate on such terms, but at the
same time would be grateful enough to her and venal enough to further
her aim of being reinstated at Court. Her choice in this matter shows
at once her political cunning, which would include knowledge of affairs,
and her ability as a judge of character.

It should be remembered that, in spite of his title of Duc de Bourbon,
Sophie's elderly protector was only distantly of that family. He was
descended in direct line from the Princes de Conde, whose connexion with
the royal house of France dated back to the sixteenth century. The other
line of 'royal' ducs in the country was that of Orleans, offshoot of
the royal house through Philippe, son of Louis XIII, and born in 1640.
Sophie's protector, Louis-Henri-Joseph, Prince de Conde, having married
Louise-Marie, daughter of the great-grandson of this Philippe, was thus
the brother-in-law of that Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, who in
the Revolution was known as "Egalite." This was a man whom, for his
political opinion and for his failure to stand by the King, Louis XVI,
the Prince de Conde utterly detested in memory. As much, moreover, as he
had hated the father did the Prince de Conde detest Egalite's son. But
it was out of this man's family that Sophie selected, though ultimately,
her coheir.

Before she arrived at this point, however, Sophie had been at pains to
do some not very savoury manoeuvring.

By a dancer at the Opera, called Mimi, the Prince de Conde had an
illegitimate daughter, whom he had caused to be educated and whom he had
married to the Comte de Rully. The Comtesse de Rully and her husband had
a suite at Chantilly. This was an arrangement which Sophie, as reigning
Queen of Chantilly, did not like at all. While the Rully woman remained
at Chantilly Sophie could not think that her sway over the Prince was
quite as absolute as she wished. It took her six years of badgering her
protector, from 1819 to 1825, to bring about the eviction.

But meantime (for Sophie's machinations must be taken as concurrent with
events as they transpire) the Baronne de Feucheres had approached
the son of Philippe-Egalite, suggesting that the last-born of his
six children, the Duc d'Aumale, should have the Prince de Conde
for godfather. If she could persuade her protector to this the Duc
d'Orleans, in return, was to use his influence for her reinstatement at
Court. And persuade the old man to this Sophie did, albeit after a great
deal of badgering on her part and a great deal of grumbling on the part
of the Prince.

The influence exerted at Court by the Duc d'Orleans does not seem to
have been very effective. The King who had dismissed her the Court,
Louis XVIII, died in 1824. His brother, the Comte d'Artois, ascended
the throne as Charles X, and continued by politically foolish recourses,
comparable in history to those of the English Stuarts, to alienate the
people by attempting to regain that anachronistic absolute power which
the Revolution had destroyed. He lasted a mere six years as king. The
revolution of 1830 sent him into exile. But up to the last month or so
of those six years he steadfastly refused to have anything to do with
the Baronne de Feucheres--not that Sophie ever gave up manoeuvring and
wheedling for a return to Court favour.

About 1826 Sophie had a secret proposition made to the King that she
should try to persuade the Prince de Conde to adopt as his heir one
of the brothers of the Duchesse de Berry, widow of the King's second
son--or would his Majesty mind if a son of the Duc d'Orleans was
adopted? The King did not care at all.

After that Sophie pinned her faith in the power possessed by the Duc
d'Orleans. She was not ready to pursue the course whereby her return to
Court might have been secured--namely, to abandon her equivocal position
in the Prince de Conde's household, and thus her power over the Prince.
She wanted first to make sure of her share of the fortune he would
leave. She knew her power over the old man. Already she had persuaded
him to buy and make over to her the estates of Saint-Leu and Boissy, as
well as to make her legacies to the amount of a million francs. Much as
she wanted to be received again at Court, she wanted more just as much
as she could grab from the Prince's estate. To make her inheritance
secure she needed the help of the Duc d'Orleans.

The Duc d'Orleans was nothing loth. He had the mind of a French
bourgeois, and all the bourgeois itch for money. He knew that the Prince
de Conde hated him, hated his politics, hated his very name. But during
the seven years it took Sophie to bring the Prince to the point of
signing the will she had in mind the son of Philippe-Egalite fawned
like a huckster on his elderly and, in more senses than one, distant
relative. The scheme was to have the Prince adopt the little Duc
d'Aumale, already his godchild, as his heir.

The ways by which Sophie went about the job of persuading her old lover
do not read pleasantly. She was a termagant. The Prince was stubborn. He
hated the very idea of making a will--it made him think of death. He
was old, ill, friendless. Sophie made his life a hell, but he had
become dependent upon her. She ill-used him, subjecting him to physical
violence, but yet he was afraid she might, as she often threatened,
leave him. Her way of persuading him reached the point, it is on
record, of putting a knife to his throat. Not once but several times
his servants found him scratched and bruised. But the old man could not
summon up the strength of mind to be quit of this succubine virago.

At last, on the 29th of August, 1829, Sophie's 'persuasions' succeeded.
The Prince consented to sign the will, and did so the following morning.
In its terms the Duc d'Aumale became residuary legatee, and 2,000,000
francs, free of death-duty, were bequeathed to the Prince's "faithful
companion, Mme la baronne de Feucheres," together with the chateaux
and estates of Saint-Leu-Taverny, Boissy, Enghien, Montmorency, and
Mortefontaine, and the pavilion in the Palais-Bourbon, besides all the
Prince's furniture, carriages, horses, and so on. Moreover, the estate
and chateau of Ecouen was also given her, on condition that she allowed
the latter to be used as an orphanage for the descendants of soldiers
who had served with the Armies of Conde and La Vendee. The cost
of running this establishment, however, was to be borne by the Duc

It might be thought that Sophie, having got her way, would have turned
to kindness in her treatment of her old lover. But no. All her mind
was now concentrated on working, through the Duc d'Orleans, for being
received again at Court. She ultimately succeeded in this. On the 7th
of February, 1830, she appeared in the presence of the King, the Dauphin
and Dauphine. In the business of preparing for this great day Chantilly
and the Prince de Conde were greatly neglected. The beggar on horseback
had to be about Paris.

But events were shaping in France at that time which were to be
important to the royal family, to Sophie and her supporters of the house
of Orleans, and fatal in consequence to the old man at Chantilly.

On the 27th of July revolution broke out in France. Charles X and
his family had to seek shelter in England, and Louis-Philippe, Duc
d'Orleans, became--not King of France, but "King of the French" by
election. This consummation had not been achieved without intrigue on
the part of Egalite's son. It was not an achievement calculated to abate
the Prince de Conde's hatred for him. Rather did it inflame that hatred.
In the matter of the famous will, moreover, as the King's son the little
Duc d'Aumale would be now in no need of the provision made for him
by his unwilling godfather, while members of the exiled royal
family--notably the grandson of Charles, the Duc de Bordeaux, certainly
cut out of the Prince's will by the intrigues of Sophie and family--were
in want of assistance. This is a point to be remembered in the light of
subsequent events.


While she had been looking after herself Sophie Dawes had not been
unmindful ofthe advancement of hangers-on of her own family. She had
about her a nephew and a niece. The latter, supposed by some to have a
closer relationship to Sophie than that of mere niece, she had contrived
to marry off to a marquis. The Marquise de Chabannes de la Palice need
not here concern us further. But notice must be taken of the nephew.
A few million francs, provided by the Prince de Conde, had secured for
this James Dawes the title of Baron de Flassans, from a domain also
bestowed upon him by Sophie's elderly lover. De Flassans, with some
minor post in the Prince's household, acted as his aunt's jackal.

If Sophie, after the election to kingship of Louis-Philippe, found
it necessary to be in Paris a great deal to worship at the throne her
nephew kept her well informed about the Prince de Conde's activities.
The old man, it appeared, had suddenly developed the habit of writing
letters. The Prince, then at the chateau of Saint-Leu expressed a desire
to remove to Chantilly. He was behaving very oddly all round, was glad
to have Sophie out of his sight, and seemed unwilling even to hear her
name. The projected move to Chantilly, as a fact, was merely a blind to
cover a flight out of Sophie's reach and influence. Rumour arose about
Saint-Leu and in Paris that the Prince had made another will--one in
which neither Sophie nor the Duc d'Aumale was mentioned. This was a move
of which Sophie had been afraid. She saw to it that the Prince did not
get away from Saint-Leu. Rumour and the Prince's conduct made Sophie
very anxious. She tried to get him to make over to her in his lifetime
those properties which he had left to her in his will, and it is
probable enough that she would have forced this request but for the fact
that, to raise the legal costs, the property of Saint-Leu would have had
to be sold.

This was the position of affairs about the middle of August 1830. It was
believed the Prince had already signed a will in favour of the exiled
little Duc de Bordeaux, but that he had kept the act secret from his

On the morning of the 11th of the month the Prince was met outside his
bedroom in his night attire. It was a young man called Obry who thus met
the Prince. He was the old man's godchild. The old man's left eye
was bleeding, and there was a scratch on his cheek as if made by a
fingernail. To Obry the Prince attributed these wounds to the spite of
the Baronne de Feucheres. Half an hour later he told his valet he had
hit his head against a night-table. Later again in the day he gave
another version still: he had fallen against the door to a secret
staircase from his bedroom while letting the Baronne de Feucheres
out, the secret staircase being in communication with Sophie's private

For the next ten days or so the Prince was engaged in contriving his
flight from the gentle Sophie, a second plan which again was spoiled by
Sophie's spies. There was something of a fete at Saint-Leu on the 26th,
the Prince's saint's day. There was a quarrel between Sophie and the
Prince on the morning of the 26th in the latter's bedroom. Sophie had
then been back in Saint-Leu for three days. At midnight on the 26th the
old man retired after playing a game or two at whist. He was to go on
the 30th to Chantilly. He was accompanied to his bedroom by his surgeon
and a valet, one Lecomte, and expressed a desire to be called at eight
o'clock. Lecomte found a paper in the Prince's trousers and gave it to
the old man, who placed it on the mantelshelf. Then the valet, as he
said later, locked the door of the Prince's dressing-room, thus--except
for the entrance from the secret staircase--locking the old man in his

The Prince's apartments were on the first floor of the chateau. His
bedroom was approached through the dressing-room from the main corridor.
Beyond the dressing-room was a passage, turning left from which was
the bedroom, and to the right in which was an entrance to an anteroom.
Facing the dressing-room door in this same passage was the entrance to
the secret staircase already mentioned. The staircase gave access to the
Baronne de Feucheres' apartments on the entrance floor. These, however,
were not immediately under the Prince's rooms. An entresol intervened,
and here the rooms were occupied by the Abbe Briant, a creature of
Sophie's and her secretary, the Widow Lachassine, Sophie's lady's-maid,
and a couple named Dupre. These last, also spies of Sophie's, had their
room direcdy below the Prince's bedroom, and it is recorded that the
floor was so thin that they could hear not only the old man's every
movement, but anything he said.

Adjacent to the Prince's room, and on the same floor, were the rooms
occupied by Lambot, the Prince's aide, and the valet Lecomte. Lambot was
a lover of Sophie's, and had been the great go-between in her intrigues
with the Orleans family over the will. Lecomte was in Sophie's pay.
Close to Sophie's apartments on the entrance floor were the rooms
occupied by her nephew and his wife, the de Flassans. It will be seen,
therefore, that the wing containing the Prince's rooms was otherwise
occupied almost completely by Sophie's creatures.

You have, then, the stage set for the tragedy which was about to ensue:
midnight; the last of the Condes peaceably in his bedroom for the night,
and locked in it (according to Lecomte). About him, on all sides, are
the creatures of his not too scrupulous mistress. All these people, with
the exception of the Baronne de Flassans, who sat up writing letters
until two, retire about the same time.

And at eight o'clock next morning, there being no answer to Lecomte's
knocking to arouse the Prince, the door is broken open at the orders of
the Baronne de Feucheres. The Prince is discovered dead in his bedroom,
suspended by the neck, by means of two of his own handkerchiefs knotted
together, from the fastening of one of the French windows.

The fastening was only about two and a half feet off the floor.
The handkerchief about the dead man's neck was loose enough to have
permitted insertion of all the fingers of a hand between it and the
neck. The second handkerchief was tied to the first, and its other end
was knotted to the window-fastening, and the dead man's right cheek was
pressed against the closed shutter. The knees were bent a little,
the feet were on the floor. None of the usual indications of death by
strangulation were present. The eyes were half closed. The face was pale
but not livid. The mouth was almost closed. There was no protrusion of
the tongue.

On the arrival of the civil functionaries, the Mayor of Saint-Leu and
a Justice of the Peace from Enghien, the body was taken down and put
on the bed. It was then found that the dead man's ankles were greatly
bruised and his legs scratched. On the left side of the throat, at a
point too low for it to have been done by the handkerchief, there was
some stripping of the skin. A large red bruise was found between the
Prince's shoulders.

The King, Louis-Philippe, heard about the death of the Prince de
Conde at half-past eleven that same day. He immediately sent his High
Chancellor, M. Pasquier, and his own aide-de-camp, M. de Rumigny, to
inquire into the matter. It is not stretching things too far to say
that the King's instructions to these gentlemen are revealed in phrases
occurring in the letters they sent his Majesty that same evening. Both
recommend that Drs. Marc and Marjolin should be sent to investigate
the Prince's tragic death. But M. Pasquier mentions that "not a single
document has been found, so a search has already been made." And M. de
Rumigny thinks "it is important that nobody should be accused who
is likely to benefit by the will." What document was expected to be
discovered in the search? Why, a second will that would invalidate
the first. Who was to benefit by the first will? Why, the little Duc
d'Aumale and Dame Sophie Dawes, Baronne de Feucheres!

The post-mortem examination was made by the King's own physicians.
During the examination the Prince's doctors, MM. Dubois and Gendrin,
his personal secretary, and the faithful one among his body-servants,
Manoury, were sent out of the room. The verdict was suicide. The
Prince's own doctors maintained that suicide by the handkerchiefs from
the window-fastening was impossible. Dr Dubois wrote his idea of how the
death had occurred:

The Prince very likely was asleep in his bed. The murderers must have
been given entrance to his bedroom--I have no wish to ask how or by
whom. They then threw themselves on the Prince, gripped him firmly,
and could easily pin him down on his bed; then the most desperate and
dexterous of the murderers suffocated him as he was thus held firmly
down; finally, in order to make it appear that he had committed suicide
and to hinder any judicial investigations which might have discovered
the identity of the assassins, they fastened a handkerchief about their
victim's neck, and hung him up by the espagnolette of the window.

And that, at all hazards, is about the truth of the death of the Duc de
Bourbon and Prince de Conde. There was some official display of rigour
in investigation by the Procureur; there was much play with some
mysterious papers found a good time after the first discovery
half-burned in the fireplace of the Prince's bedroom; there was a lot
put forward to support the idea of suicide; but the blunt truth of the
affair is that the Prince de Conde was murdered, and that the murder
was hushed up as much as possible. Not, however, with complete success.
There were few in France who gave any countenance to the theory of

The Prince, it will be remembered, had a practically disabled left arm.
It is said that he could not even remove his hat with his left hand. The
knots in the handkerchiefs used to tie him to the espagnolette were both
complicated and tightly made. Impossible for a one-handed man. His bed,
which at the time of his retiring to it stood close to the alcove
wall, was a good foot and a half away from that wall in the morning.
Impossible feat also for this one-handed man. It was the Prince's habit
to lie so much to one side of the bed that his servants had to prop the
outside edge up with folded blankets. On the morning when his death was
discovered it was seen that the edges still were high, while the centre
was very much pressed down. There was, in fact, a hollow in the bed's
middle such as might have been made by some one standing on it with
shoes on. It is significant that the bedclothes were neatly turned down.
If the Prince had got up on a sudden impulse to commit suicide he is
hardly likely, being a prince, to have attempted remaking his bed. He
must, moreover, since he could normally get from bed only by rolling on
his side, have pressed out that heightened edge. Manoury, the valet who
loved him, said that the bed in the morning looked more as if it had
been SMOOTHED OUT than remade. This would tend to support the theory of
Dr Dubois. The murderers, having suffocated the Prince, would be likely
to try effacing the effects of his struggling by the former method
rather than the latter.

But the important point of the affair, as far as this chapter on it is
concerned, is the relation of Sophie Dawes with it on the conclusion
of murder. How deeply was she implicated? Let us see how she acted
on hearing that there was no reply to Lecomte's knocking, and let us
examine her conduct from that moment on.

Note that the Baronne de Feucheres was the first person whom Lecomte and
the Prince's surgeon apprised of the Prince's silence. She rushed out of
her room and made for the Prince's, not by the secret staircase, but by
the main one. She knew, however, that the door to the secret staircase
from the Prince's room was not bolted that night. This knowledge was
admitted for her later by the Prince's surgeon, M. Bonnie. She had gone
up to the Prince's room by the main staircase in order to hide the fact,
an action which gives a touch of theatricality to her exhibited concern
about the Prince's silence.

The search for documents spoken of by M. Pasquier in his letter to
the King had been carried out by Sophie in person, with the aid of her
nephew de Flassans and the Abbe Briant. It was a thorough search, and a
piece of indecorousness which she excused on the ground of being afraid
the Prince's executors might find a will which made her the sole heir,
to the exclusion of the Duc d'Aumale.

Regarding the 'accident' which had happened to the Prince on the 11th of
August, she said it was explained by an earlier attempt on his part to
do away with himself. She tried to deny that she had been at Saint-Leu
at the time of the actual happening, when the fact was that she only
left for Paris some hours later.

When, some time later, the Prince's faithful valet Manoury made mention
of the fact that the Prince had wanted to put the width of the country
between himself and his mistress, Sophie first tried to put the fear
of Louis-Philippe into the man, then, finding he was not to be silenced
that way, tried to buy him with a promise of employment.

It is beyond question that the Prince de Conde was murdered. He was
murdered in a wing of the chateau in which he was hemmed in on all sides
by Sophie's creatures. It is impossible that Sophie was not privy, at
the least, to the deed. It is not beyond the bounds of probability that
she was an actual participator in the murder.

She was a violent woman, as violent and passionate as she was
determined. Not once but many times is it on record that she physically
ill-used her elderly lover. There was one occasion, it is said, when
the Prince suddenly came upon her in a very compromising position with
a younger man in the park of one of his chateaux. Sophie, before
the Prince could utter a protest, cut him across the face with her
riding-whip, and finished up by thrashing him with his own cane.

Here you have the stuff, at any rate, of which your murderesses of the
violent type are made. It is the metal out of which your Kate Websters,
your Sarah Malcolms, your Meteyards and Brownriggs fashion themselves.
It takes more than three years of scholastic self-discipline, such as
Sophie Dawes in her ambition subjected herself to, to eradicate the
inborn harridan. The very determination which was at the back of
Sophie's efforts at self-education, that will to have her own way, would
serve to heighten the sick rage with which she would discover that her
carefully wrought plans of seven years had come to pieces. What was
it that the Abbe Pelier de Lacroix had in "proof of the horrible
assassination" of the Prince de Conde, but that he was prevented from
placing before the lawyers in charge of the later investigation, if not
the fact that the Prince had made a later will than the one by which
Sophie inherited so greatly? The Abbe was the Prince's chaplain. He
published a pamphlet declaring that the Prince had made a will leaving
his entire fortune to the little Duc de Bordeaux, but that Sophie had
stolen this later will. Who likelier to be a witness to such a will than
the Prince's chaplain?

It needs no great feat of imagination to picture what the effect of
such a discovery would be on a woman of Sophie's violent temper, or to
conceive how little the matter of taking a life especially the life of
a feeble old man she was used to bullying and mishandling--would be
allowed to stand in the way of rescuing her large gains. Murder of the
Prince was her only chance. It had taken her seven years to bring him to
the point of signing that first will. He was seventy-four years of age,
enfeebled, obstinate, and she knew of his plans to flee from her. Even
supposing that she could prevent his flight, could she begin all over
again to another seven years of bullying and wheedling--always with
the prospect of the old man dying before she could get him to the point
again of doing as she wished? The very existence of the second will was
a menace. It only needed that the would-be heirs of the Prince should
hear of it, and there would be a swoop on their part to rescue the
testator from her clutches. In the balance against 2,000,000 francs and
some halfdozen castles with their estates the only wonder is that any
reasonable person, knowing the history of Sophie Dawes, should hesitate
about the value she was likely to place on the old man's life.

The inquiry begun in September of 1830 into the circumstances
surrounding the death of the Prince was cooked before it was dressed.
The honest man into whose hands it was placed at first, a M. de la
Hurpoie, proved himself too zealous. After a night visit from the
Procureur he was retired into private life. After that the investigators
were hand-picked. They concluded the investigation the following June,
with the declaration that the Prince had committed suicide, a verdict
which had its reward--in advancement for the judges.

In the winter of 1831-32 there was begun a lawsuit in which the Princes
de Rohan brought action against Sophie and the Duc d'Aumale for the
upsetting of the will under which the latter two had inherited the
Prince de Conde's fortune. The grounds for the action were the undue
influence exerted by Sophie. The Princes de Rohan lost.

Thus was Sophie twice 'legally' vindicated. But public opinion refused
her any coat of whitewash. Never popular in France, she became less and
less popular in the years that followed her legal triumphs. Having used
her for his own ends, Louis-Philippe gradually shut off from her the
light of his cod-like countenance.[29]

Sophie found little joy in her wide French possessions. She found
herself without friends before whom she could play the great lady in her
castles. She gradually got rid of her possessions, and returned to her
native land. She bought an estate near Christchurch, in Hampshire, and
took a house in Hyde Park Square, London. But she did not long enjoy
those English homes. While being treated for dropsy in 1840 she died
of angina. According to the famous surgeon who was at her bedside just
before her demise, she died "game."

It may almost be said that she lived game. There must have been a
fighting quality about Sophie to take her so far from such a bad start.
Violent as she was of temper, greedy, unscrupulous, she seems yet to
have had some instincts of kindness. The stories of her good deeds are
rather swamped by those of her bad ones. She did try to do some good
with the Prince's money round about Chantilly, took a definite and
lasting interest in the alms-houses built there by "the Great Conde,"
and a request in her own will was to the effect that if she had ever
done anything for the Orleans gang, the Prince de Conde's wishes
regarding the use of the chateau of Ecouen as an orphanage might be
fulfilled as a reward to her. The request never was fulfilled, but it
does show that Sophie had some affinity in kindness to Nell Gwynn.

How much farther--or how much better--would Sophie Dawes have fared had
her manners been less at the mercy of her temper? It is impossible
to say. That she had some quality of greatness is beyond doubt. The
resolution of character, the will to achieve, and even the viraginous
temper might have carried her far had she been a man some thirty years
earlier in the country of her greater activities. Under Napoleon, as
a man, Sophie might have climbed high on the way to glory. As a woman,
with those traits, there is almost tragic inevitability in the manner
in which we find her ranged with what Dickens called "Glory's bastard


On Tuesday, the 1st of July, in the year 1851, two gentlemen, sober
of face as of raiment, presented themselves at the office of the
Procureur-General in the City of Rennes. There was no need for them to
introduce themselves to that official. They were well-known medical
men of the city, Drs Pinault and Boudin. The former of the two acted as

Dr Pinault confessed to some distress of mind. He had been called in by
his colleague for consultation in the case of a girl, Rosalie Sarrazin,
servant to an eminent professor of law, M. Bidard. In spite of the
ministrations of himself and his colleague, Rosalie had died. The
symptoms of the illness had been very much the same as in the case of a
former servant of M. Bidard's, a girl named Rose Tessier, who had also
died. With this in mind they had persuaded the relatives of Rosalie to
permit an autopsy. They had to confess that they had found no trace of
poison in the body, but they were still convinced the girl had died of
poisoning. With his colleague backing him, Dr Pinault was able to put
such facts before the Procureur-General that that official almost at
once reached for his hat to accompany the two doctors to M. Bidard's.

The door of the Professor's house was opened to them by Helene Jegado,
another of M. Bidard's servants. She was a woman of forty odd, somewhat
scraggy of figure and, while not exactly ugly, not prepossessing of
countenance. Her habit of looking anywhere but into the face of anyone
addressing her gave her rather a furtive air.

Having ushered the three gentlemen into the presence of the Professor,
the servant-woman lingered by the door.

"We have come, M. Bidard," said the Procureur, "on a rather painful
mission. One of your servants died recently--it is suspected, of

"I am innocent!"

The three visitors wheeled to stare, with the Professor, at the
grey-faced woman in the doorway. It was she who had made the

"Innocent of what?" demanded the Law officer. "No one has accused you of

This incautious remark on the part of the servant, together with the
facts already put before him by the two doctors and the information
he obtained from her employer, led the Procureur-General to have her
arrested. Helene Jegado's past was inquired into, and a strange and
dreadful Odyssey the last twenty years of her life proved to be. It was
an Odyssey of death.

Helene was born at Plouhinec, department of Morbihan, on (according to
the official record) "28 prairial," in the eleventh year of the republic
(1803). Orphaned at the age of seven, she was sheltered by the cure of
Bubry, M. Raillau, with whom two of her aunts were servants. Sixteen
years later one of those aunts, Helene Liscouet, took Helene with her
into service with M. Conan, cure at Seglien, and it was here that Helene
Jegado's evil ways would appear first to become manifest. A girl looking
after the cure's sheep declared she had found grains of hemp in soup
prepared for her by Helene.

It was not, however, until 1833 that causing death is laid at her

In that year she entered the service of a priest in Guern, one Le Drogo.
In the space of little more than three months, from the 28th of June to
the 3rd of October, seven persons in the priest's household died. All
those people died after painful vomitings, and all of them had eaten
food prepared by Helene, who nursed each of them to the last. The
victims of this fatal outbreak of sickness included Helene's own sister
Anna (apparently on a visit to Guern from Bubry), the rector's father
and mother, and Le Drogo himself. This last, a strong and vigorous man,
was dead within thirty-two hours of the first onset of his illness.
Helene, it was said, showed the liveliest sorrow over each of the
deaths, but on the death of the rector was heard to say, "This won't be
the last!" Nor was it. Two deaths followed that of Le Drogo.

Such a fatal outbreak did not pass without suspicion. The body of
the rector was examined by Dr Galzain, who found indications of grave
disorder in the digestive tracts, with inflammation of the intestines.
His colleague, Dr Martel, had suspicions of poison, but the pious sorrow
of Helene lulled his mind as far as she was concerned.

We next find Helene returned to Bubry, replacing her sister Anna in the
service of the cure there. In three months three people died: Helene's
aunt Marie-Jeanne Liscouet and the cure's niece and sister. This last,
a healthy girl of about sixteen, was dead within four days, and it is to
be noted that during her brief illness she drank nothing but milk from
the hands of Helene. But here, as hitherto, Helene attended all the
sufferers. Her grief over their deaths impressed every one with whom she
came in contact.

From Bubry Helene went to Locmine. Her family connexion as servants with
the clergy found her room for three days in the rectory, after which
she became apprentice to a needlewoman of the town, one Marie-Jeanne
Leboucher, with whom she lived. The Widow Leboucher was stricken ill, as
also was one of her daughters. Both died. The son of the house, Pierre,
also fell ill. But, not liking Helene, he refused her ministrations, and
recovered. By this time Helene had become somewhat sensitive.

"I'm afraid," she said to a male relative of the deceased sempstress,
"that people will accuse me of all those deaths. Death follows me
wherever I go." She quitted the Leboucher establishment in distress.

A widow of the same town offered her house room. The widow died, having
eaten soup of Helene's preparing. On the day following the Widow Lorey's
death her niece, Veuve Cadic, arrived. The grief-stricken Helene threw
herself into the niece's arms.

"My poor girl!" exclaimed the Veuve Cadic.

"Ai--but I'm so unhappy!" Helene grieved. "Where-ever I go--Seglien,
Guern, Bubry, Veuve Laboucher's--people die!"

She had cause for grief, sure enough. In less than eighteen months
thirteen persons with whom she had been closely associated had died of
violent sickness. But more were to follow.

In May of 1835 Helene was in service with the Dame Toussaint, of
Locmine. Four more people died. They were the Dame's confidential maid,
Anne Eveno, M. Toussaint pere, a daughter of the house, Julie, and,
later, Mme Toussaint herself. They had eaten vegetable soup prepared by
Helene Jegado. Something tardily the son of the house, liking neither
Helene's face nor the deathly rumours that were rife about her,
dismissed her.

To one as burdened with sorrow as Helene Jegado appeared to be the life
conventual was bound to hold appeal. She betook herself to the pleasant
little town of Auray, which sits on a sea arm behind the nose of
Quiberon, and sought shelter in the convent of the Eternal Father there.
She was admitted as a pensionnaire. Her sojourn in the convent did not
last long, for queer disorders marked her stay. Linen in the convent
cupboards and the garments of the pupils were maliciously slashed.
Helene was suspect and was packed off.

Once again Helene became apprentice to a sempstress, this time an old
maid called Anne Lecouvrec, proprietress of the Bonnes-oeuvres in Auray.
The ancient lady, seventy-seven years of age, tried Helene's soup. She
died two days later. To a niece of the deceased Helene made moan: "Ah! I
carry sorrow. My masters die wherever I go!"

The realization, however, did not prevent Helene from seeking further
employment. She next got a job with a lady named Lefur in Ploermel,
and stayed for a month. During that time Helene's longing for the life
religious found frequent expression, and she ultimately departed to pay
a visit, so she said, to the good sisters of the Auray community. Some
time before her departure, however, she persuaded Anne Lefur to accept a
drink of her preparing, and Anne, hitherto a healthy woman, became very
ill indeed. In this case Helene did not show her usual solicitude. She
rather heartlessly abandoned the invalid--which would appear to have
been a good thing for the invalid, for, lacking Helene's ministrations,
she got better.

Helene meantime had found a place in Auray with a lady named Hetel. The
job lasted only a few days. Mme Hetel's son-in-law, M. Le Dore, having
heard why Helene was at need to leave the convent of the Eternal Father,
showed her the door of the house. That was hasty, but not hasty enough.
His mother-in-law, having already eaten meats cooked by Helene, was
in the throes of the usual violent sickness, and died the day after
Helene's departure.

Failing to secure another place in Auray, Helene went to Pontivy, and
got a position as cook in the household of the Sieur Jouanno. She had
been there some few months when the son of the house, a boy of fourteen,
died after a sickness of five days that was marked by vomiting and
convulsions. In this case an autopsy was immediately held. It revealed
an inflamed condition of the stomach and some corrosion of the
intestines. But the boy had been known to be a vinegar-drinker, and the
pathological conditions discovered by the doctor were attributed by him
to the habit.

Helene's next place was with a M. Kerallic in Hennebont. M. Kerallic was
recovering from a fever. After drinking a tisane prepared by Helene he
had a relapse, followed by repeated and fierce vomiting that destroyed
him in five days. This was in 1836. After that the trail of death which
had followed Helene's itineracy about the lower section of the Brittany
peninsula was broken for three years.

In 1839 we hear of her again, in the house of the Dame Veron, where
another death occurred, again with violent sickness.

Two years elapse. In 1841 Helene was in Lorient, domestic servant to a
middle-aged couple named Dupuyde-Lome, with whom lived their daughter
and her husband, a M. Breger. First the little daughter of the young
couple died, then all the members of the family were seized by illness,
its onset being on the day following the death of the child. No more
of the family died, but M. Dupuy and his daughter suffered from bodily
numbness for years afterwards, with partial paralysis and recurrent
pains in the extremities.

Helene seems to have made Lorient too hot for herself, and had to go
elsewhere. Port Louis is her next scene of action. A kinswoman of her
master in this town, one Duperron, happened to miss a sheet from
the household stock. Mlle Leblanc charged Helene with the theft, and
demanded the return of the stolen article. It is recorded that Helene
refused to give it up, and her answer is curious.

"I am going into retreat," she declared. "God has forgiven me my sins!"

There was perhaps something prophetic in the declaration. By the time
Helene was brought to trial, in 1854, her sins up to this point of
record were covered by the prescription legale, a sort of statute of
limitations in French law covering crime. Between 1833 and 1841 the
wanderings of Helene Jegado through those quiet Brittany towns had been
marked by twenty-three deaths, six illnesses, and numerous thefts.

There is surcease to Helene's death-dealing between the years of
1841 and 1849, but on the inquiries made after her arrest a myriad of
accusers sprang up to tell of thefts during that time. They were petty
thefts, but towards the end of the period they begin to indicate a
change in Helene's habits. She seems to have taken to drink, for her
thefts are mostly of wine and eau de vie.

In March 1848 Helene was in Rennes. On the 6th of November of the
following year, having been dismissed from several houses for theft,
she became sole domestic servant to a married couple called Rabot. Their
son, Albert, who was already ill, died in the end of December. He had
eaten a farina porridge cooked by Helene. In the following February,
having discovered Helene's depredations from the wine-cupboard, M. Rabot
gave her notice. This was on the 3rd of the month. (Helene was to leave
on the 13th.) The next day Mme Rabot and Rabot himself, having taken
soup of Helene's making, became very ill. Rabot's mother-in-law ate a
panade prepared by Helene. She too fell ill. They all recovered after
Helene had departed, but Rabot, like M. Dupuy-de-Lome, was partially
paralysed for months afterwards.

In Helene's next situation, with people called Ozanne, her way of
abstracting liquor again was noticed. She was chided for stealing eau
de vie. Soon after that the Ozannes' little son died suddenly, very
suddenly. The doctor called in thought it was from a croup fever.

On the day following the death of the little Ozanne Helene entered the
service of M. Roussell, proprietor of the Bout-du-Monde hotel in Rennes.
Some six weeks later Roussell's mother suddenly became ill. She had had
occasion to reproach Helene for sullen ill-manners or something of that
sort. She ate some potage which Helene had cooked. The illness that
ensued lasted a long time. Eighteen months later the old lady had hardly

In the hotel with Helene as fellow-servant there was a woman of thirty,
Perrotte Mace, very greatly relied upon by her masters, with whom she
had been five years. She was a strongly built woman who carried herself
finely. Perrotte openly agreed with the Veuve Roussell regarding
Helene's behaviour. This, with the confidence reposed in Perrotte by the
Roussells, might have been enough to set Helene against her. But there
was an additional cause for jealousy: Jean Andre, the hotel ostler, but
also described as a cabinet-maker, though friendly enough with Helene,
showed a marked preference for the younger, and comelier, Perrotte. The
Veuve Roussell fell ill in the middle of June. In August Perrotte was
seized by a similar malady, and, in spite of all her resistance, had to
take to her bed. Vomiting and purging marked the course of her illness,
pains in the stomach and limbs, distension of the abdomen, and swelling
of the feet. With her strong constitution she put up a hard fight for
her life, but succumbed on the 1st of September, 1850. The doctors
called in, MM. Vincent and Guyot, were extremely puzzled by the course
of the illness. At times the girl would seem to be on the mend, then
there would come a sudden relapse. After Perrotte's death they pressed
for an autopsy, but the peasant relatives of the girl showed the usual
repugnance of their class to the idea. Helene was taken red-handed
in the theft of wine, and was dismissed. Fifteen days later she took
service with the Bidards.

These are the salient facts of Helene's progression from 1833 to 1851 as
brought out by the investigations made by and for the Procureur-General
of Rennes. All possible channels were explored to discover where Helene
had procured the arsenic, but without success. Under examination by the
Juge d'instruction she stoutly denied all knowledge of the poison. "I
don't know anything about arsenic--don't know what it is," she repeated.
"No witness can say I ever had any." It was believed that she had
secured a large supply in her early days, and had carried it with her
through the years, but that at the first definite word of suspicion
against her had got rid of it. During her trial mention was made of
packets found in a chest she had used while at Locsine, the place where
seven deaths had occurred. But it was never clearly established that
these packets had contained arsenic. It was never clearly established,
though it could be inferred, that Helene ever had arsenic at all.


The first hearings of Helene's case were taken before the Juge
d'instruction in Rennes, and she was remanded to the assizes for
Ille-et-Vilaine, which took place, apparently, in the same city. The
charges against her were limited to eleven thefts, three murders by
poisoning, and three attempts at murder by the like means. Under the
prescription legale twenty-three poisonings, six attempts at poisoning,
and a number of thefts, all of which had taken place within the space of
ten years, had to be left out of the indictment. We shall see, however,
that, under the curious rules regarding permissible evidence which
prevail in French criminal law, the Assize Court concerned itself quite
largely with this prescribed matter.

The trial began on the 6th of December, 1851, at a time when France was
in a political uproar--or, more justly perhaps, was settling down from
political uproar. The famous coup d'etat of that year had happened four
days before. Maitre Dorange, defending Helene, asked for a remand to
a later session on the ground that some of his material witnesses were
unavailable owing to the political situation. An eminent doctor, M.
Baudin, had died "pour maintien des lois." There was some argument on
the matter, but the President ruled that all material witnesses were
present. Scientific experts could be called only to assist the court.

The business of this first day was taken up almost completely by
questions on the facts produced in investigation, and these mostly facts
covered by the prescription. The legal value of this run of questions
would seem doubtful in the Anglo-Saxon idea of justice, but it gives
an indication of the shiftiness in answer of the accused. It was a long
interrogation, but Helene faced it with notable self-possession. On
occasion she answered with vigour, but in general sombrely and with
lowered eyes. At times she broke into volubility. This did not serve to
remove the impression of shiftiness, for her answers were seldom to the

Wasn't it true, she was asked, that in Locmine she had been followed and
insulted with cries: "C'est la femme au foie blanc; elle porte la mort
avec elle!"? Nobody had ever said anything of the sort to her, was
her sullen answer. A useless denial. There were plenty of witnesses to
express their belief in her "white liver" and to tell of her reputation
of carrying death.

Asked why she had been dismissed from the convent at Auray, she answered
that she did not know. The Mother Superior had told her to go. She had
been too old to learn reading and writing. Pressed on the point of the
slashed garments of the pupils and the linen in the convent cupboards,
Helene retorted that somebody had cut her petticoats as well, and that,
anyhow, the sisters had never accused her of working the mischief.

This last answer was true in part. The evidence on which Helene had been
dismissed the convent was circumstantial. A sister from the community
described Helene's behaviour otherwise as edifying indeed.

After the merciless fashion of French judges, the President came back
time and again to attack Helene on the question of poison. If Perrotte
Mace did not get the poison from her--from whom, then?

"I don't know anything of poison," was the reply, with the pious
addendum, "and, God willing, I never will!"

This, with variations, was her constant answer.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est l'arsenic? Je n'en ai jamais vu d'arsenic, moi!"

The President had occasion later to take her up on these denials. The
curate of Seglien came to give evidence. He had been curate during the
time of M. Conan, in whose service Helene had been at that time. He
could swear that M. Conan had repeatedly told his servants to watch that
the domestic animals did not get at the poisoned bait prepared for the
rats. M. Conan's servants had complete access to the arsenic used.

Helene interposed at this point. "I know," she said, "that M. Conan had
asked for arsenic, but I wasn't there at the time. My aunt told me about

The President reminded her that in her interrogaion she had declared
she knew nothing of arsenic, nor had heard anyone speak of it. Helene
sullenly persisted in her first declaration, but modified it with the
admission that her aunt had told her the stuff was dangerous, and not to
be used save with the strictest precautions.

This evidence of the arsenic at Seglien was brought forward on the
second day of the trial, when witnesses began to be heard. Before
pursuing the point of where the accused might have obtained the poison I
should like to quote, as typical of the hypocritical piety exhibited by
Helene, one of her answers on the first day.

After reminding her that Rose Tessier's sickness had increased after
taking a tisane that Helene had prepared the President asked if it was
not the fact that she alone had looked after Rose.

"No," Helen replied. "Everybody was meddling. All I did was put
the tisane on to boil. I have suffered a great deal," she added
gratuitously. "The good God will give me grace to bear up to the end. If
I have not died of my sufferings in prison it is because God's hand has
guided and sustained me."

With that in parenthesis, let us return to the evidence of the witnesses
on the second day of the trial. A great deal of it had to do with
deaths on which, under the prescription, no charge could be made
against Helene, and with thefts that equally could not be the subject of

Dr Galzain, of Ponivy, who, eighteen years before, had performed the
autopsy on Le Drogo, cure of Guern, testified that though he had then
been puzzled by the pathological conditions, he was now prepared to say
they were consistent with arsenical poisoning.

Martel, a pharmacist, brother of the doctor who had attended Le Drogo,
spoke of his brother's suspicions, suspicions which had recurred on
meeting with the cases at Bubry. They had been diverted by the lavishly
affectionate attendance Helene had given to the sufferers.

Relatives of the victims of Locmine told of Helene's predictions of
death, and of her plaints that death followed her everywhere. They also
remarked on the very kind ministrations of Helene.

Dr Toussaint, doctor at Locmine, and son to the house in which Helene
had for a time been servant, told of his perplexity over the symptoms
in the cases of the Widow Lorey and the youth Leboucher. In 1835 he
had been called in to see Helene herself, who was suffering from an
intermittent fever. Next day the fever had disappeared. He was told that
she had been dosing herself, and he was shown a packet which had been
in her possession. It contained substances that looked like
kermes-mineral,[30] some saffron, and a white powder that amounted to
perhaps ten grammes. He had disliked Helene at first sight. She had not
been long in his mother's service when his mother's maid-companion (Anne
Eveno), who also had no liking for Helene, fell ill and died. His
father fell violently ill in turn, seemed to get better, and looked like
recovering. But inexplicable complications supervened, and his father
died suddenly of a haemorrhage of the intestinal canal. His sister
Julie, who had been the first to fall sick, also seemed to recover, but
after the death of the father had a relapse. In his idea Helene, having
cured herself, was able to drug the invalids in her care. The witness
ordered her to be kept completely away from the sufferers, but one night
she contrived to get the nurses out of the way. A confrere he called in
ordered bouillon to be given. Helene had charge of the kitchen, and it
was she who prepared the bouillon. It was she who administered it. Three
hours later his sister died in agony.

The witness suggested an autopsy. His family would not agree. The pious
behaviour of Helene put her beyond suspicion, but he took it on himself
to dismiss her. During the illness of his father, when Helene herself
was ill, he went reluctantly to see her, being told that she was dying.
Instead of finding her in bed he came upon her making some sort of white
sauce. As soon as he appeared she threw herself into bed and pretended
to be suffering intense pain. A little later he asked to see the sauce.
It had disappeared.

He had advised his niece to reserve his sister's evacuations. His niece
replied that Helene was so scrupulously tidy that such vessels were
never left about, but were taken away at once to be emptied and cleaned.
"I revised my opinion of the woman after she had gone," added the
witness. "I thought her very well behaved."

HELENE. I never had any drugs in my possession--never. When I had fever
I took the powders given me by the doctor, but I did not know what they

THE PRESIDENT. Why did you say yesterday that nothing was ever found in
your luggage?

HELENE. I didn't remember.

THE PRESIDENT. What were you doing with the saffron? Wasn't it in your
possession during the time you were in Seglien?

HELENE. I was taking it for my blood.

THE PRESIDENT. And the white powder--did it also come from Seglien?

HELENE [energetically]. Never have I had white powder in my luggage!
Never have I seen arsenic! Never has anyone spoken to me of arsenic!

Upon this the President rightly reminded her that she had said only that
morning that her aunt had talked to her of arsenic at Seglien, and had
warned her of its lethal qualities. "You deny the existence of that
white powder," said the President, "because you know it was poison. You
put it away from you with horror!"

The accused several times tried to answer this charge, but failed. Her
face was beaded with moisture.

THE PRESIDENT. Had you or had you not any white powder at Losmine?

HELENE. I can't say if I still had fever there.

THE PRESIDENT. What was that powder? When did you first have it?

HELENE. I had taken it at Locmine. Somebody gave it to me for two sous.

THE PRESIDENT. Why didn t you say so at the beginning, instead of
waiting until you are confounded by the witness? [To Dr Toussaint]
What would the powder be, monsieur? What powder would one prescribe for

DR TOUSSAINT. Sulphate of quinine; but that's not what it was.

Questioned by the advocate for the defence, the witness said he would
not affirm that the powder he saw was arsenic. His present opinion,
however, was that his father and sister had died from injections of
arsenic in small doses.

A witness from Locmine spoke of her sister's two children becoming ill
after taking chocolate prepared by the accused. The latter told her
that a mob had followed her in the street, accusing her of the deaths of
those she had been servant to.

Then came one of those curious samples of 'what the soldier said' that
are so often admitted in French criminal trials as evidence. Louise
Clocher said she had seen Helene on the road between Auray and Lorient
in the company of a soldier. When she told some one of it people said,
"That wasn't a soldier! It was the devil you saw following her!"

One rather sympathizes with Helene in her protest against this

From Ploermel, Auray, Lorient, and other places doctors and relatives
of the dead came to bear witness to Helene's cooking and nursing
activities, and to speak of the thefts she had been found committing.
Where any suspicion had touched Helene her piety and her tender care of
the sufferers had disarmed it. The astonishing thing is that, with all
those rumours of 'white livers' and so on, the woman could proceed from
place to place within a few miles of each other, and even from house to
house in the same towns, leaving death in her tracks, without once being
brought to bay. Take the evidence of M. Le Dore, son-in-law of that
Mme Hetel who died in Auray, His mother-in-law became ill just after
Helene's reputation was brought to his notice. The old lady died next

"The day following the revelation," said M. Le Dore, "I put Helene out.
She threw herself on the ground uttering fearsome yells. The day's meal
had been prepared. I had it thrown out, and put Helene herself to the
door with her luggage, INTO WHICH SHE HASTILY STOWED A PACKET. Mme Hetel
died next day in fearful agony."

I am responsible for the italicizing. It is hard to understand why M. Le
Dore did no more than put Helene to the door. He was suspicious enough
to throw out the meal prepared by Helene, and he saw her hastily stow a
packet in her luggage. But, though he was Mayor of Auray, he did nothing
more about his mother-in-law's death. It is to be remarked, however,
that the Hetels themselves were against the brusque dismissal of Helene.
She had "smothered the mother with care and attentions."

But one gets perhaps the real clue to Helene's long immunity from the
remark made in court by M. Breger, son-in-law of that Lorient couple, M.
and Mme Dupuyde-Lome. He had thought for a moment of suspecting Helene
of causing the child's death and the illness of the rest of the family,
but "there seemed small grounds. What interest had the girl in cutting
off their lives?"

It is a commonplace that murder without motive is the hardest to
detect. The deaths that Helene Jegado contrived between 1833 and 1841,
twenty-three in number, and the six attempts at murder which she made
in that length of time, are, without exception, crimes quite lacking in
discoverable motive. It is not at all on record that she had reason for
wishing to eliminate any one of those twenty-three persons. She seems to
have poisoned for the mere sake of poisoning. Save to the ignorant and
superstitious, such as followed her in the streets to accuse her
of having a "white liver" and a breath that meant death, she was an
unfortunate creature with an odd knack of finding herself in houses
where 'accidents' happened. Time and again you find her being taken in
by kindly people after such 'accidents,' and made an object of sympathy
for the dreadful coincidences that were making her so unhappy. It was
out of sympathy that the Widow Lorey, of Locmine, took Helene into
her house. On the widow's death the niece arrived. In court the niece
described the scene on her arrival. "Helene embraced me," she said.
"'Unhappy me!' she wept. 'Wherever I go everybody dies!' I pitied and
consoled her." She pitied and consoled Helene, though they were saying
in the town that the girl had a white liver and that her breath brought

Where Helene had neglected to combine her poisoning with detected
pilfering the people about her victims could see nothing wrong in
her conduct. Witness after witness--father, sister, husband, niece,
son-in-law, or relation in some sort to this or that victim of
Helene's--repeated in court, "The girl went away with nothing against
her." And even those who afterwards found articles missing from their
household goods: "At the same time I did not suspect her probity. She
went to Mass every morning and to the evening services. I was very
surprised to find some of my napkins among the stuff Helene was accused
of stealing."

"I did not know of Helene's thefts until I was shown the objects
stolen," said a lady of Vannes. "Without that proof I would never have
suspected the girl. Helene claimed affiliation with a religious
sisterhood, served very well, and was a worker."

It is perhaps of interest to note how Helene answered the testimony
regarding her thieving proclivities. Mme Lejoubioux, of Vannes, said her
furnishing bills went up considerably during the time Helene was in her
service. Helene had purloined two cloths.

Helene: "That was for vengeance. I was furious at being sent away."

Sieur Cesar le Clerc and Mme Gauthier swore to thefts from them by

Helene: "I stole nothing from Mme Gauthier except one bottle of wine. If
I commit a larceny it is from choler. WHEN I'M FURIOUS I STEAL!"

It was when Helene began to poison for vengeance that retribution fell
upon her. Her fondness for the bottle started to get her into trouble.
It made her touchy. Up to 1841 she had poisoned for the pleasure of it,
masking her secret turpitude with an outward show of piety, of being
helpful in time of trouble. By the time she arrived in Rennes, in 1848,
after seven years during which her murderous proclivities seem to
have slept, her character as a worker, if not as a Christian, had
deteriorated. Her piety, in the face of her fondness for alcohol and
her slovenly habits, and against her now frequently exhibited bursts of
temper and ill-will, appeared the hypocrisy it actually was. Her essays
in poisoning now had purpose and motive behind them. Nemesis, so long at
her heels, overtook her.


It is not clear in the accounts available to me just what particular
murders by poison, what attempts at poisoning, and what thefts Helene
was charged with in the indictment at Rennes. Twenty-three poisonings,
six attempts, and a number of thefts had been washed out, it may be
as well to repeat, by the prescription legale. But from her arrival in
Rennes, leaving the thefts out of account, her activities had accounted
for the following: In the Rabot household one death (Albert, the son)
and three illnesses (Rabot, Mme Rabot, the mother-in-law); in the Ozanne
establishment one death (that of the little son), in the hotel of the
Roussells one death (that of Perrotte Mace) and one illness (that of
the Veuve Roussell); at the Bidards two deaths (Rose Tessier and Rosalie
Sarrazin). In this last establishment there was also one attempt at
poisoning which I have not yet mentioned, that of a young servant, named
Francoise Huriaux, who for a short time had taken the place of Rose
Tessier. We thus have five deaths and five attempts in Rennes, all
of which could be indictable. But, as already stated, the indictment
covered three deaths and three attempts.

It is hard to say, from verbatim reports of the trial, where the matter
of the indictment begins to be handled. It would seem from the evidence
produced that proof was sought of all five deaths and all five attempts
that Helene was supposed to be guilty of in Rennes. The father of the
boy Ozanne was called before the Rabot witnesses, though the Rabot death
and illnesses occurred before the death of the Ozanne child. We may,
however, take the order of affairs as dealt with in the court. We
may see something of motive on Helene's part suggested in M. Ozanne's
evidence, and an indication of her method of covering her crime.

M. Ozanne said that Helene, in his house, drank eau de vie in secret,
and, to conceal her thefts, filled the bottle up with cider. He
discovered the trick, and reproached Helene for it. She denied the
accusation with vigour, and angrily announced her intention of leaving.
Mme Ozanne took pity on Helene, and told her she might remain several
days longer. On the Tuesday following the young child became ill. The
illness seemed to be a fleeting one, and the father and mother thought
he had recovered. On the Saturday, however, the boy was seized by
vomiting, and the parents wondered if they should send for the doctor.
"If the word was mine," said Helene, who had the boy on her knees, "and
the child as ill as he looks, I should not hesitate." The doctor was
sent for about noon on Sunday. He thought it only a slight illness.
Towards evening the child began to complain of pain all over his body.
His hands and feet were icy cold. His body grew taut. About six o'clock
the doctor came back. "My God!" he exclaimed. "It's the croup!" He tried
to apply leeches, but the boy died within a few minutes. Helene hastened
the little body into its shroud.

Helene, said Ozanne, always talked of poison if anyone left their food.
"Do you think I'm poisoning you?" she would ask.

A girl named Cambrai gave evidence that Helene, coming away from the
cemetery after the burial of the child, said to her, "I am not so sorry
about the child. Its parents have treated me shabbily." The witness
thought Helene too insensitive and reproached her.

"That's a lie!" the accused shouted. "I loved the child!"

The doctor, M. Brute, gave evidence next. He still believed the child
had died of a croup affection, the most violent he had ever seen. The
President questioned him closely on the symptoms he had seen in the
child, but the doctor stuck to his idea. He had seen nothing to make him
suspect poisoning.

The President: "It is strange that in all the cases we have under review
the doctors saw nothing at first that was serious. They admit illness
and prescribe mild remedies, and then, suddenly, the patients get worse
and die."

M. Victor Rabot was called next. To begin with, he said, Helene's
services were satisfactory. He had given her notice because he found her
stealing his wine. Upon this Helene showed the greatest discontent, and
it was then that Mme Rabot fell ill. A nurse was put in charge of her,
but Helene found a way to get rid of her. Helene had no love for his
child. The child had a horror of the servant, because she was dirty and
took snuff. In consequence Helene had a spite against the boy. Helene
had never been seen eating any of the dishes prepared for the family,
and even insisted on keeping certain of the kitchen dishes for her own

At the request of his father-in-law Helene had gone to get a bottle
of violet syrup from the pharmacist. The bottle was not capped. His
father-in-law thought the syrup had gone bad, because it was as red as
mulberry syrup, and refused to give it to his daughter (Mme Rabot). The
bottle was returned to the pharmacist, who remarked that the colour of
the syrup had changed, and that he did not recognize it as his own.

Mme Rabot having corroborated her husband's evidence, and told of
Helene's bad temper, thieving, and disorderliness, Dr Vincent Guyot, of
Rennes, was called.

Dr Guyot described the illness of the boy Albert and its result. He then
went on to describe the illness of Mme Rabot. He and his confreres had
attributed her sickness to the fact that she was enceinte, and to
the effect of her child's death upon her while in that condition. A
miscarriage of a distressing nature confirmed the first prognosis. But
later he and his confreres saw reason to change their minds. He believed
the boy had been poisoned, though he could not be certain. The mother,
he was convinced, had been the victim of an attempt at poisoning, an
opinion which found certainty in the case of Mme Briere. If Mme Rabot's
pregnancy went some way in explaining her illness there was nothing of
this in the illness of her mother. The explanation of everything was in
repeated dosing of an arsenical substance.

The witness had also attended Mme Roussell, of the Bout-du-Monde hotel.
It was remarkable that the violent sickness to which this lady was
subject for twenty days did not answer to treatment, but stopped only
when she gave up taking food prepared for her by Helene Jegado.

He had also looked after Perrotte Mace. Here also he had had doubts
of the nature of the malady; at one time he had suspected pregnancy, a
suspicion for which there were good grounds. But the symptoms that later
developed were not consistent with the first diagnosis. When Perrotte
died he and M. Revault, his confrere, thought the cause of death would
be seen as poison in an autopsy. But the post-mortem was rejected by the
parents. His feeling to-day was that Mme Roussell's paralysis was due
to arsenical dosage, and that Perrotte had died of poisoning. Helene,
speaking to him of Perrotte, had said, "She's a chest subject. She'll
never get better!" And she had used the same phrase, "never get better,"
with regard to little Rabot.

M. Morio, the pharmacist of Rennes from whom the violet syrup was
bought, said that Helene had often complained to him about Mme Roussell.
During the illness of the Rabot boy she had said that the child was
worse than anyone imagined, and that he would never recover. In the
matter of the violet syrup he agreed it had come back to him looking
red. The bottle had been put to one side, but its contents had been
thrown away, and he had therefore been unable to experiment with it.
He had found since, however, that arsenic in powder form did not turn
violet syrup red, though possibly arsenic in solution with boiling water
might produce the effect. The change seen in the syrup brought back from
M. Rabot's was not to be accounted for by such fermentation as the mere
warmth of the hand could bring about.

Several witnesses, interrupted by denials and explanations from the
accused, testified to having heard Helene say that neither the Rabot boy
nor his mother would recover.

The evidence of M. Roussell, of the Bout-du-Monde hotel, touched on
the illnesses of his mother and Perrotte. He knew nothing of the food
prepared by Helene; nor had the idea of poison occurred to him until her
arrest. Helene's detestable character, her quarrels with other servants,
and, above all, the thefts of wine he had found her out in were the sole
causes of her dismissal. He had noticed that Helene never ate with the
other domestics. She always found an excuse for not doing so. She said
she had stomach trouble and could not hold down her food.

The Veuve Roussell had to be helped into court by her son. She dealt
with her own illness and with the death of Perrotte. Her illness did not
come on until she had scolded Helene for her bad ways.

Dr Revault, confrere of Guyot, regretted the failure to perform a
post-mortem on the body of Perrotte. He had said to Roussell that if
Perrotte's illness was analogous to cholera it was, nevertheless, not
that disease. He believed it was due to a poison.

The President: "Chemical analysis has proved the presence of arsenic in
the viscera of Perrotte. Who administered that arsenic, the existence of
which was so shrewdly foreseen by the witness? Who gave her the arsenic?
[To Helene] Do you know? Was it not you that gave it her, Helene?"

At this Helene murmured something unintelligible, but, gathering her
voice, she protested, "I have never had arsenic in my hands, Monsieur le

Something of light relief was provided by Jean Andre, the cabinet-making
ostler of Saint-Gilles, he for whose attention Helene had been a rival
with Perrotte Mace.

"The service Helene gave was excellent. So was mine. She nursed Perrotte
perfectly, but said it was in vain, because the doctors were mishandling
the disease. She told me one day that she was tired of service, and that
her one wish was to retire."

"Did you attach a certain idea to the confidence about retiring?"

"No!" Andre replied energetically.

"You were in hospital. When you came back, did Helene take good care of

"She gave me bouillon every morning to build me up."

"The bouillon she gave you did you no harm?"

"On the contrary, it did me a lot of good."

"Wasn't the accused jealous of Perrotte--that good-looking girl who gave
you so much of her favour?"

"In her life Perrotte was a good girl. She never was out of sorts for a
moment--never rubbed one the wrong way."

"Didn't Helene say to you that Perrotte would never recover?"

"Yes, she said that. 'She's a lost woman,' she said; 'the doctors are
going the wrong way with the disease.'

"All the same," Andre went on, "Helene never ate with us. She worked
night and day, but ate in secret, I believe. Anyhow, a friend of mine
told me he'd once seen her eating a crust of bread, and chewing some
other sort of food at the same time. As for me--I don't know; but I
don't think you can live without eating."

"I couldn't keep down what I ate," Helene interposed. "I took some
bouillon here and there; sometimes a mouthful of bread--nothing in
secret. I never thought of Andre in marriage--not him more than another.
That was all a joke."

A number of witnesses, friends of Perrotte, who had seen her during her
illness, spoke of the extreme dislike the girl had shown for Helene
and for the liquids the latter prepared for her. Perrotte would say to
Helene, "But you're dirty, you ugly Bretonne!" Perrotte had a horror of
bouillon: "Ah--these vegetable soups! I've had enough of them! It was
what Helene gave me that night that made me ill!" The witnesses did not
understand all this, because the accused seemed to be very good to her
fellow-servant. At the bedside Helene cried, "Ah! What can I do that
will save you, my poor Perrotte?" When Perrotte was dying she wanted to
ask Helene's pardon. Embracing the dying girl, the accused replied,
"Ah! There's no need for that, my poor Perrotte. I know you didn't mean

A witness telling of soup Helene had made for Perrotte, which the
girl declared to have been poisoned, it was asked what happened to the
remainder of it. The President passed the question to Helene, who said
she had thrown it into the hearth.


The most complete and important testimony in the trial was given by M.
Theophile Bidard, professor to the law faculty of Rennes.

The facts he had to bring forward, he said, had taken no significance
in his mind until the last of them transpired. He would have to go back
into the past to trace them in their proper order.

He recalled the admission of Helene to his domestic staff and the good
recommendations on which he had engaged her. From the first Helene
proved herself to have plenty of intelligence, and he had believed that
her intelligence was combined with goodness of heart. This was because
he had heard that by her work she was supporting two small children, as
well as her poor old mother, who had no other means of sustenance.

(The reader will recollect that Helene was orphaned at the age of

Nevertheless, said M. Bidard, Helene was not long in his household
before her companion, Rose Tessier, began to suffer in plenty from the
real character of Helene Jegado.

Rose had had a fall, an accident which had left her with pains in her
back. There were no very grave symptoms but Helene prognosticated dire
results. One night, when the witness was absent in the country, Helene
rose from her bed, and, approaching her fellow-servant's room, called
several times in a sepulchral voice, "Rose, Rose!" That poor girl took
fright, and hid under the bedclothes, trembling.

Next day Rose complained to witness, who took his domestics to task.
Helene pretended it was the farm-boy who had perpetrated the bad joke.
She then declared that she herself had heard some one give a loud knock.
"I thought," she said, "that I was hearing the call for poor Rose."

On Sunday, the 3rd of November, 1850, M. Bidard, who had been in the
country, returned to Rennes. After dinner that day, a meal which she
had taken in common with Helene, Rose was seized with violent sickness.
Helene lavished on her the most motherly attention. She made tea, and
sat up the night with the invalid. In the morning, though she still
felt ill, Rose got up. Helene made tea for her again. Rose once more was
sick, violently, and her sickness endured until the witness himself had
administered copious draughts of tea prepared by himself. Rose passed a
fairly good night, and Dr Pinault, who was called in, saw nothing more
in the sickness than some nervous affection. But on the day of the 5th
the vomitings returned. Helene exclaimed, "The doctors do not understand
the disease. Rose is going to die!" The prediction seemed foolish as far
as immediate appearances were concemed, for Rose had an excellent pulse
and no trace of fever.

In the night between Tuesday and Wednesday the patient was calm, but on
the morning of Wednesday she had vomitings with intense stomach pains.
From this time on, said the witness, the life of Rose, which was to last
only thirty-six hours, was nothing but a long-drawn and heart-rending
cry of agony. She drew her last breath on the Thursday evening at
half-past five. During her whole illness, added M. Bidard, Rose was
attended by none save Helene and himself.

Rose's mother came. In Rose the poor woman had lost a beloved child and
her sole support. She was prostrated. Helene's grief seemed to equal
the mother's. Tears were ever in her eyes, and her voice trembled. Her
expressions of regret almost seemed to be exaggerated.

There was a moment when the witness had his doubts. It was on the way
back from the cemetery. For a fleeting instant he thought that the
shaking of Helene's body was more from glee than sorrow, and he
momentarily accused her in his mind of hypocrisy. But in the following
days Helene did nothing but talk of "that poor Rose," and M. Bidard,
before her persistence, could only believe he had been mistaken. "Ah!"
Helene said. "I loved her as I did that poor girl who died in the

The witness wanted to find some one to take Rose's place. Helene tried
to dissuade him. "Never mind another femme de chambre," she said. "I
will do everything." M. Bidard contented himself with engaging another
girl, Francoise Huriaux, strong neither in intelligence nor will, but
nevertheless a sweet little creature. Not many days passed before Helene
began to make the girl unhappy. "It's a lazy-bones," Helene told the
witness. "She does not earn her keep." ("Le pain qu'elle mange, elle le
vole.") M. Bidard shut her up. That was his affair, he said.

Francoise meantime conceived a fear of Helene. She was so scared of
the older woman that she obeyed all her orders without resistance. The
witness, going into the kitchen one day, found Helene eating her soup
at one end of the table, while Francoise dealt with hers at the other
extreme. He told Helene that in future she was to serve the repast in
common, on a tablecloth, and that it was to include dessert from his
table. This order seemed to vex Helene extremely. "That girl seems to
live without eating," she said, "and she never seems to sleep."

One day the witness noticed that the hands and face of Francoise were
puffy. He spoke to Helene about it, who became angry. She accused her
companion of getting up in the night to make tea, so wasting the sugar,
and she swore she would lock the sugar up. M. Bidard told her to do
nothing of the sort. He said if Francoise had need of sugar she was to
have it. "All right--I see," Helene replied sullenly, obviously put out.

The swelling M. Bidard had seen in the face and hands of Francoise
attacked her legs, and all service became impossible for the girl. The
witness was obliged to entrust Helene with the job of finding another
chambermaid. It was then that she brought Rosalie Sarrazin to him. "A
very good girl," she said. "If her dress is poor it is because she gives
everything to her mother."

The words, M. Bidard commented, were said by Helene with remarkable
sincerity. It was said that Helene had no moral sense. It seemed to
him, from her expressions regarding that poor girl, who, like herself,
devoted herself to her mother, that Helene was far from lacking in that

Engaging Rosalie, the witness said to his new domestic, "You will find
yourself dealing with a difficult companion. Do not let her be insolent
to you. You must assert yourself from the start. I do not want Helene to
rule you as she ruled Francoise." At the same time he repeated his order
regarding the service of the kitchen meals. Helene manifested a sullen
opposition. "Who ever heard of tablecloths for the servants?" she said.
"It is ridiculous!"

In the first days the tenderness between Helene and the new girl was
quite touching. But circumstance arose to end the harmony. Rosalie could
write. On the 23rd of May the witness told Helene that he would like her
to give him an account of expenses. The request made Helene angry, and
increased her spite against the more educated Rosalie. Helene attempting
to order Rosalie about, the latter laughingly told her, "M. Bidard pays
me to obey him. If I have to obey you also you'll have to pay me too."
From that time Helene conceived an aversion from the girl.

About the time when Helene began to be sour to Rosalie she herself was
seized by vomitings. She complained to Mlle Bidard, a cousin of the
witness, that Rosalie neglected her. But when the latter went up to her
room Helene yelled at her, "Get out, you ugly brute! In you I've brought
into the house a stick for my own back!"

This sort of quarrelling went on without ceasing. At the beginning of
June the witness said to Helene, "If this continues you'll have to look
for another place."

"That's it!" Helene yelled, in reply. "Because of that girl I'll have to

On the 10th of June M. Bidard gave Helene definite notice. It was to
take effect on St John's Day. At his evening meal he was served with a
roast and some green peas. These last he did not touch. In spite of his
prohibition against her serving at table, it was Helene who brought the
peas in. "How's this?" she said to him. "You haven't eaten your green
peas--and them so good!" Saying this, she snatched up the dish and
carried it to the kitchen. Rosalie ate some of the peas. No sooner had
she taken a few spoonfuls, however, than she grew sick, and presently
was seized by vomiting. Helene took no supper. She said she was out of
sorts and wanted none.

The witness did not hear of these facts until next day. He wanted to see
the remainder of the peas, but they could not be found. Rosalie still
kept being sick, and he bade her go and see his doctor, M. Boudin.
Helene, on a sudden amiable to Rosalie where she had been sulky, offered
to go with her. Dr Boudin prescribed an emetic, which produced good

On the 15th of June Rosalie seemed to have recovered. In the meantime
a cook presented herself at his house to be engaged in place of Helene.
The latter was acquainted with the new-comer. A vegetable soup had been
prescribed for Rosalie, and this Helene prepared. The convalescent ate
some, and at once fell prey to violent sickness. That same day Helene
came in search of the witness. "You're never going to dismiss me for
that young girl?" she demanded angrily. M. Bidard relented. He said that
if she would promise to keep the peace with Rosalie he would let her
stay on. Helene seemed to be satisfied, and behaved better to Rosalie,
who began to mend again.

M. Bidard went into the country on the 21st of June, taking Rosalie with
him. They returned on the 22nd. The witness himself went to the pharmacy
to get a final purgative of Epsom salts, which had been ordered for
Rosalie by the doctor. This the witness himself divided into three
portions, each of which he dissolved in separate glasses of whey
prepared by Helene. The witness administered the first dose. Helene gave
the last. The invalid vomited it. She was extremely ill on the night of
the 22nd-23rd, and Helene returned to misgivings about the skill of the
doctors. She kept repeating, "Ah! Rosalie will die! I tell you she will
die!" On the day of the 23rd she openly railed against them. M. Boudin
had prescribed leeches and blisters. "Look at that now, monsieur,"
Helene said to the witness. "To-morrow's Rosalie's name-day, and they're
going to put leeches on her!" Rather disturbed, M. Bidard wrote to Dr
Pinault, who came next day and gave the treatment his approval.

Dr Boudin had said the invalid might have gooseberry syrup with seltzer
water. Two glasses of the mixture given to Rosalie by her mother seemed
to do the girl good, but after the third glass she did not want any
more. Helene had given her this third glass. The invalid said to the
witness, "I don't know what Helene has put into my drink, but it burns
me like red-hot iron."

"Struck by those symptoms," added M. Bidard, "I questioned Helene
at once. It has not been given me more than twice in my life to see
Helene's eyes. I saw at that moment the look she flung at Rosalie. It
was the look of a wild beast, a tiger-cat. At that moment my impulse was
to go to my work-room for a cord, and to tie her up and drag her to the
justiciary. But one reflection stopped me. What was this I was about to
do--disgrace a woman on a mere suspicion? I hesitated. I did not know
whether I had before me a poisoner or a woman of admirable devotion."

The witness enlarged on the tortures of mind he experienced during the
night, but said he found reason to congratulate himself on not having
given way to his first impulse. On the morning of the 24th Helene came
running to him, all happiness, to say that Rosalie was better.

Three days later Rosalie seemed to be nearly well, so much so that M.
Bidard felt he might safely go into the country. Next day, however, he
was shocked by the news that Rosalie was as ill as ever. He hastened to
return to Rennes.

On the night of the 28th-29th the sickness continued with intensity.
Every two hours the invalid was given calming medicine prescribed by Dr
Boudin. Each time the sickness redoubled in violence. Believing it was
a case of worms, the witness got out of bed, and substituted for
the medicine a strong infusion of garlic. This stopped the sickness
temporarily. At six in the morning it began again.

The witness then ran to Dr Pinault's, but met the doctor in the street
with his confrere, Dr Guyot. To the two doctors M. Bidard expressed the
opinion that there were either worms in the intestines or else the
case was one of poisoning. "I have thought that," said Dr Pinault,
"remembering the case of the other girl." The doctors went back with
M. Bidard to his house. Magnesia was administered in a strong dose. The
vomiting stopped. But it was too late.

Until that day the witness's orders that the ejected matter from the
invalid should be conserved had been ignored. The moment a vessel was
dirty Helene took it away and cleaned it. But now the witness took the
vessels himself, and locked them up in a cupboard for which he alone had
the key. His action seemed to disturb Helene Jegado. From this he judged
that she had intended destroying the poison she had administered.

From that time Rosalie was put into the care of her mother and a nurse.
Helene tried hard to be rid of the two women, accusing them of tippling
to the neglect of the invalid. "I will sit up with her," she said to the
witness. The witness did not want her to do so, but he could not prevent
her joining the mother.

In the meantime Rosalie suffered the most dreadful agonies. She
could neither sit up nor lie down, but threw herself about with great
violence. During this time Helene was constantly coming and going about
her victim. She had not the courage, however, to watch her victim die.
At five in the morning she went out to market, leaving the mother alone
with her child. The poor mother, worn out with her exertions, also went
out, to ask for help from friends. Rosalie died in the presence of
the witness at seven o'clock in the morning of the 1st of July. Helene
returned. "It is all over," said the witness. Helene's first move was
to look for the vessels containing the ejections of the invalid to throw
them out. These were green in hue. M. Bidard stopped her, and locked the
vessels up. That same day justice was invoked.

M. Bidard's deposition had held his hearers spellbound for over an hour
and a half. He had believed, he added finally, that, in spite of her
criminal conduct, Helene at least was a faithful servant. He had been
wrong. She had put his cellar to pillage, and in her chest they had
found many things belonging to him, besides a diamond belonging to his
daughter and her wedding-ring.

The President questioned Helene on the points of this important
deposition. Helene simply denied everything. It had not been she who
was jealous of Rosalie, but Rosalie who had been jealous of her. She
had given the two girls all the nursing she could, with no intention but
that of helping them to get better. To the observation of the President,
once again, that arsenic had been administered, and to his question,
what person other than she had a motive for poisoning the girls, or had
such opportunity for doing so, Helene answered defiantly, "You won't
redden my face by talking of arsenic. I defy anybody to say they saw me
give arsenic."

The Procureur-General invited M. Bidard to say what amount of
intelligence he had found in Helene. M. Bidard declared that he had
never seen in any of his servants an intelligence so acute or subtle. He
held her to be a phenomenon in hypocrisy. He put forward a fact which he
had neglected to mention in his deposition. It might throw light on the
character of the accused. Francoise had a dress hanging up to dry in
the mansard. Helene went up to the garret above this, made a hole in the
ceiling, and dropped oil of vitriol on her companion's dress to burn it.

Dr Pinault gave an account of Rosalie's illness, and spoke of the
suspicions he and his colleagues had had of poisoning. It was a crime,
however, for which there seemed to be no motive. The poisoner could
hardly be M. Bidard, and as far as suspicion might touch the cook, she
seemed to be lavish in her care of the patient. It was not until the
very last that he, with his colleagues, became convinced of poison.

Rosalie dead, the justiciary went to M. Bidard's. The cupboards were
searched carefully. The potion which Rosalie had thought to be mixed
with burning stuff was still there, just sampled. It was put into a
bottle and capped.

An autopsy could not now be avoided. It was held next day. M. Pinault
gave an account of the results. Most of the organs were in a normal
condition, and such slight alterations as could be seen in others would
not account for death. It was concluded that death had been occasioned
by poison. The autopsy on the exhumed body of Perrotte Mace was
inconclusive, owing to the condition of adipocere.

Dr Guyot spoke of the case of Francoise Huriaux, and was now sure she
had been given poison in small doses. Dr Boudin described the progress
of Rosalie's illness. He was in no doubt, like his colleagues, that she
had been poisoned.

The depositions of various witnesses followed. A laundress said that
Helene's conduct was to be explained by jealousy. She could not put up
with any supervision, but wanted full control ofthe household and ofthe

Francoise Huriaux said Helene was angry because M. Bidard would not have
her as sole domestic. She had resented Francoise's being engaged. The
witness noticed that she became ill whenever she ate food prepared for
her by Helene. When she did not eat Helene was angry but threw out the
food Francoise refused.

Several witnesses testified to the conduct of Helene towards
Rosalie Sarrazin during her fatal illness. Helene was constant,
self-sacrificing, in her attention to the invalid. One incident,
however, was described by a witness which might indicate that Helene's
solicitude was not altogether genuine. One morning, towards the end of
Rosalie's life, the patient, in her agony, escaped from the hold of her
mother, and fell into an awkward position against the wall. Rosalie's
mother asked Helene to place a pillow for her. "Ma foi!" Helene replied.
"You're beginning to weary me. You're her mother! Help her yourself!"

The testimony of a neighbour, one Francoise Louarne, a domestic servant,
supports the idea that Helene resented the presence of Rosalie in the
house. Helene said to this witness, "M. Bidard has gone into the country
with his housemaid. Everything SHE does is perfect. They leave me
here--to work if I want to, eat my bread dry: that's my reward. But
the housemaid will go before I do. Although M. Bidard has given me my
notice, he'll have to order me out before I'll go. Look!" Helene added.
"Here's the bed of the ugly housemaid--in a room not too far from the
master's. Me--they stick me up in the mansard!" Later, when Rosalie was
very ill, Helene pretended to be grieved. "You can't be so very sorry,"
the witness remarked; "you've said plenty that was bad about the girl."

Helene vigorously denounced the testimony as all lies. The woman had
never been near Bidard's house.

The pharmacist responsible for dispensing the medicines given to Rosalie
was able to show that arsenic could not have got into them by mistake on
his part.

At the hearing of the trial on the 12th of December Dr Pinault was asked
to tell what happened when the emissions of Rosalie Sarrazin were being
transferred for analysis.

DR PINAULT. As we were carrying out the operation Helene came in, and it
was plain that she was put out of countenance.

M. BIDARD [interposing]. We were in my daughter's room, where nobody
ever came. When Helene came to the door I was surprised. There was no
explanation for her appearance except that she was inquisitive.

DR PINAULT. She seemed to be disturbed at not finding the emissions by
the bed of the dead girl, and it was no doubt to find them that she came
to the room.

HELENE. I had been given a funnel to wash. I was bringing it back.

M. BIDARD. Helene, with her usual cleverness, is making the most of
a fact. She had already appeared when she was given the funnel. Her
presence disturbed me. And to get rid of her I said, "Here, Helene, take
this away and wash it."

The accused persisted in denying M. Bidard's version of the incident.


M. Malagutti, professor of chemistry to the faculty of sciences in
Rennes, who, with M. Sarzeau, had been asked to make a chemical analysis
of the reserved portions of the bodies of Rosalie, Perrotte Mace,
and Rose Tessier, gave the results of his and his colleague's
investigations. In the case of Rosalie they had also examined the
vomitings. The final test on the portions of Rosalie's body carried out
with hydrochloronitric acid--as best for the small quantities likely to
result in poisoning by small doses--gave a residue which was submitted
to the Marsh test. The tube showed a definite arsenic ring. Tests on the
vomit gave the same result.

The poisoning of Perrotte Mace had also been accomplished by small
doses. Arsenic was found after the strictest tests, which obviated all
possibility that the substance could have come from the ground in which
the body was interred.

In the case of Rose Tessier the tests yielded a huge amount of arsenic.
Rose had died after an illness of only four days. The large amount of
arsenic indicated a brutal and violent poisoning, in which the substance
could not be excreted in the usual way.

The President then addressed the accused on this evidence. She alone
had watched near all three of the victims, and against all three she had
motives of hate. Poisoning was established beyond all doubt. Who was the
poisoner if not she, Helene Jegado?

Helene: "Frankly, I have nothing to reproach myself with. I gave them
only what came from the pharmacies on the orders of the doctors."

After evidence of Helene's physical condition, by a doctor who had
seen her in prison (she had a scirrhous tumour on her left breast), the
speech for the defence was made.

M. Dorange was very eloquent, but he had a hopeless case. The defence
he put up was that Helene was irresponsible, but the major part of
the advocate's speech was taken up with a denouncement of capital
punishment. It was a barbarous anachronism, a survival which disgraced

The President summed up and addressed the jury:

"Cast a final scrutiny, gentlemen of the jury," he said, "at the
matter brought out by these debates. Consult yourselves in the calm and
stillness of your souls. If it is not proved to you that Helene Jegado
is responsible for her actions you will acquit her. If you think that,
without being devoid of free will and moral sense, she is not, according
to the evidence, as well gifted as the average in humanity, you will
give her the benefit of extenuating circumstance.

"But if you consider her culpable, if you cannot see in her either
debility of spirit or an absence or feebleness of moral sense, you will
do your duty with firmness. You will remember that for justice to be
done chastisement will not alone suffice, but that punishment must be in
proportion to the offence."

The President then read over his questions for the jury, and that body
retired. After deliberations which occupied an hour and a half the jury
came back with a verdict of guilty on all points. The Procureur asked
for the penalty of death.

THE PRESIDENT. Helene Jegado, have you anything to say upon the
application of the penalty?

HELENE. No, Monsieur le President, I am innocent. I am resigned to
everything. I would rather die innocent than live in guilt. You have
judged me, but God will judge you all. He will see then ... Monsieur
Bidard. All those false witnesses who have come here to destroy me...
they will see....

In a voice charged with emotion the President pronounced the sentence
condemning Helene Jegado to death.

An appeal was put forward on her behalf, but was rejected.

On the scaffold, a few moments before she passed into eternity, having
no witness but the recorder and the executioner, faithful to the habits
of her life, Helene Jegado accused a woman not named in any of the
processes of having urged her to her first crimes and of being her
accomplice. The two officials took no notice of this indirect confession
of her own guilt, and the sentence was carried out. The Procureur of
Rennes, hearing of this confession, took the trouble to search out the
woman named in it. She turned out to be a very old woman of such a
pious and kindly nature that the people about her talked of her as the

It were superfluous to embark on analysis of the character of Helene
Jegado. Earlier on, in comparing her with Van der Linden and the
Zwanziger woman, I have lessened her caliginosity as compared with that
of the Leyden poisoner, giving her credit for one less death than her
Dutch sister in crime. Having investigated Helene's activities rather
more closely, however, I find I have made mention of no less than
twenty-eight deaths attributed to Helene, which puts her one up on the
Dutchwoman. The only possible point at which I may have gone astray in
my calculations is in respect of the deaths at Guern. The accounts
I have of Helene's bag there insist on seven, but enumerate only
six--namely, her sister Anna, the cure, his father and mother, and two
more (unnamed) after these. The accounts, nevertheless, insist more than
once that between 1833 and 1841 Helene put away twenty-three persons.
If she managed only six at Guern, that total should be twenty-two. From
1849 she accounted for Albert Rabot, the infant Ozanne, Perrotte
Mace, Rose Tessier, and Rosalie Sarrazin--five. We need no chartered
accountant to certify our figures if we make the total twenty-eight.
Give her the benefit of the doubt in the case of Albert Rabot, who was
ill anyhow when Helene joined the household, and she still ties with Van
der Linden with twenty-seven deaths.

There is much concerning Helene Jegado, recorded incidents, that I might
have introduced into my account of her activities, and that might have
emphasized the outstanding feature of her dingy make-up--that is, her
hypocrisy. When Rosalie Sarrazin was fighting for her life, bewailing
the fact that she was dying at the age of nineteen, Helene Jegado took a
crucifix and made the girl kiss it, saying to her, "Here is the Saviour
Who died for you! Commend your soul to Him!" This, with the canting
piety of the various answers which she gave in court (and which, let me
say, I have transcribed with some reluctance), puts Helene Jegado almost
on a level with the sanctimonious Dr Pritchard--perhaps quite on a level
with that nauseating villain.

With her twenty-three murders all done without motive, and the five
others done for spite--with her twenty-eight murders, only five of which
were calculated to bring advantage, and that of the smallest value--it
is hard to avoid the conclusion that Helene Jegado was mad. In spite,
however, of evidence called in her defence--as, for example, that of Dr
Pitois, of Rennes, who was Helene's own doctor, and who said that "the
woman had a bizarre character, frequently complaining of stomach pains
and formications in the head"--in spite of this doctor's hints of
monomania in the accused, the jury, with every chance allowed them to
find her irresponsible, still saw nothing in her extenuation. And very
properly, since the law held the extreme penalty for such as she, Helene
went to the scaffold. Her judges might have taken the sentimental view
that she was abnormal, though not mad in the common acceptation of the
word. Appalled by the secret menace to human life that she had been
scared to think of the ease and the safety in which she had been allowed
over twenty odd years to carry agonizing death to so many of her kind,
and convinced from the inhuman nature of her practices that she was a
lusus naturae, her judges, following sentimental Anglo-Saxon example,
might have given her asylum and let her live for years at public
expense. But possibly they saw no social or Civic advantage in
preserving her, so anti-social as she was. They are a frugal nation, the


Having made you sup on horror a la Bretonne, or Continental fashion, I
am now to give you a savoury from England. This lest you imagine that
France, or the Continent, has a monopoly in wholesale poison. Let me
introduce you, as promised earlier, to Mary Ann Cotton aged forty-one,
found guilty of and sentenced to death for the murder of a child,
Charles Edward Cotton, by giving him arsenic.

Rainton, in Durham, was the place where, in 1832 Mary Ann found mortal
existence. At the age of fifteen or sixteen she began to earn her own
living as a nursemaid, an occupation which may appear to have given
her a distaste for infantile society. At the age of nineteen and at
Newcastle she married William Mowbray, a collier, and went with him to
live in Cornwall. Here the couple remained for some years.

It was a fruitful marriage. Mary bore William five children in Cornwall,
but, unfortunately, four of the children died--suddenly. With the
remaining child the pair moved to Mary's native county. They had hardly
settled down in their new home when the fifth child also died. It died,
curiously enough, of the ailment which had supposedly carried off the
other four children--gastric fever.

Not long after the death of this daughter the Mowbrays removed to
Hendon, Sunderland, and here a sixth child was born. It proved to be of
as vulnerable a constitution as its brothers and sisters, for it lasted
merely a year. Four months later, while suffering from an injured
foot, which kept him at home, William Mowbray fell ill, and died with a
suddenness comparable to that which had characterized the deaths of his
progeny. His widow found a job at the local infirmary, and there she
met George Ward. She married Mr Ward, but not for long. In a few months
after the nuptials George Ward followed his predecessor, Mowbray, from
an illness that in symptoms and speed of fatality closely resembled

We next hear of Mary as housekeeper to a widower named Robinson, whose
wife she soon became. Robinson had five children by his former wife.
They all died in the year that followed his marriage with Mary Ann, and
all of 'gastric fever.'

The second Mrs Robinson had two children by this third husband. Both of
these perished within a few weeks of their birth.

Mary Ann's mother fell ill, though not seriously. Mary Ann volunteered
to nurse the old lady. It must now be evident that Mary Ann was a
'carrier' of an obscure sort of intestinal fever, because soon after her
appearance in her mother's place the old lady died of that complaint.

On her return to her own home, or soon after it, Mary was accused by
her husband of robbing him. She thought it wise to disappear out of
Robinson's life, a deprivation which probably served to prolong it.

Under her old name of Mowbray, and by means of testimonials which on
later investigation proved spurious, Mary Ann got herself a housekeeping
job with a doctor in practice at Spennymore. Falling into error
regarding what was the doctor's and what was her own, and her errors
being too patent, she was dismissed.

Wallbottle is the scene of Mary Ann's next activities. Here she made the
acquaintance of a married man with a sick wife. His name was Frederick
Cotton. Soon after he had met Mary Ann his wife died. She died of
consumption, with no more trace of gastric fever than is usual in her
disease. But two of Cotton's children died of intestinal inflammation
not long after their mother, and their aunt, Cotton's sister, who kept
house for him, was not long in her turn to sicken and die in a like

The marriage which Mary Ann brought off with Frederick Cotton at
Newcastle anticipated the birth of a son by a mere three months. With
two of Cotton's children by his former marriage, and with the infant
son, the pair went to live at West Auckland. Here Cotton died--and the
three children--and a lodger by the curious name of Natrass.

Altogether Mary Ann, in the twenty years during which she had been
moving in Cornwall and about the northeastern counties, had, as it
ultimately transpired, done away with twenty-four persons. Nine of these
were the fruit of her own loins. One of them was the mother who gave
her birth. Retribution fell upon her through her twenty-fourth victim,
Charles Edward Cotton, her infant child. His death created suspicion.
The child, it was shown, was an obstacle to the marriage which she was
already contemplating--her fifth marriage, and, most likely, bigamous at
that. The doctor who had attended the child refused a death certificate.
In post-mortem examination arsenic was found in the child's body. Cotton
was arrested.

She was brought to trial in the early part of 1873 at Durham Assizes. As
said already, she was found guilty and sentenced to death, the sentence
being executed upon her in Durham Gaol in March of that year. Before
she died she made the following remarkable statement: "I have been a
poisoner, but not intentionally."

It is believed that she secured the poison from a vermicide in which
arsenic was mixed with soft soap. One finds it hard to believe that she
extracted the arsenic from the preparation (as she must have done
before administering it, or otherwise it must have been its own emetic)

What advantage Mary Ann Cotton derived from her poisonings can have been
but small, almost as small as that gained by Helene Jegado. Was it for
social advancement that she murdered husbands and children? Was she a
'climber' in that sphere of society in which she moved? One hesitates to
think that passion swayed her in being rid of the infant obstacle to the
fifth marriage of her contemplation. With her "all o'er-teeming loins,"
this woman, Hecuba in no other particular, must have been a very sow
were this her motive.

But I have come almost by accident on the word I need to compare Mary
Ann Cotton with Jegado. The Bretonne, creeping about her native province
leaving death in her track, with her piety, her hypocrisy, her enjoyment
of her own cruelty, is sinister and repellent. But Mary Ann, moving from
mate to mate and farrowing from each, then savaging both them and the
litter, has a musty sowishness that the Bretonne misses. Both foul, yes.
But we needn't, we islanders, do any Jingo business in setting Mary Ann
against Helene.


Twenty years separate the cases of these two women, the length of France
lies between the scenes in which they are placed: Mme Boursier, Paris,
1823; Mme Lacoste, Riguepeu, a small town in Gascony, 1844. I tie their
cases together for reasons which cannot be apparent until both their
stories are told--and which may not be so apparent even then. That is
not to say I claim those reasons to be profound, recondite, or settled
in the deeps of psychology. The matter is, I would not have you believe
that I join their cases because of similarities that are superficial.
My hope is that you will find, as I do, a linking which, while neither
profound nor superficial, is curious at least. As I cannot see that
the one case transcends the other in drama or interest, I take them
chronologically, and begin with the Veuve Boursier:

At the corner of Rue de la Paix and Rue Neuve Saint-Augustine in 1823
there stood a boutique d'epiceries. It was a flourishing establishment,
typical of the Paris of that time, and its proprietors were people
of decent standing among their neighbours. More than the prosperous
condition of their business, which was said to yield a profit of over
11,000 francs per annum, it was the happy and cheerful relationship
existing between les epoux Boursier that made them of such good
consideration in the district. The pair had been married for thirteen
years, and their union had been blessed by five children.

Boursier, a middle-aged man of average height, but very stout of build
and asthmatically short of neck, was recognized as a keen trader. He did
most of his trading away from the house in the Rue de la Paix, and paid
frequent visits, sometimes entire months in duration, to Le Havre and
Bordeaux. It is nowhere suggested that those visits were made on any
occasion other than that of business. M. Boursier spent his days away
from the house, and his evenings with friends.

It does not anywhere appear that Mme Boursier objected to her husband's
absenteeism. She was a capable woman, rather younger than her husband,
and of somewhat better birth and education. She seems to have been
content with, if she did not exclusively enjoy, having full charge of
the business in the shop. Dark, white of tooth, not particularly pretty,
this woman of thirty-six was, for her size, almost as stout as her
husband. It is said that her manner was a trifle imperious, but that
no doubt resulted from knowledge of her own capability, proved by
the successful way in which she handled her business and family

The household, apart from Mme and M. Boursier, and counting those
employed in the epicerie, consisted of the five children, Mme Boursier's
aunt (the Veuve Flamand), two porters (Delonges and Beranger), Mlle
Reine (the clerk), Halbout (the book-keeper), and the cook (Josephine

On the morning of the 28th of June, which would be a Sunday, Boursier
was called by the cook to take his usual dejeuner, consisting of chicken
broth with rice. He did not like the taste of it, but ate it. Within a
little time he was violently sick, and became so ill that he had to go
to bed. The doctor, who was called almost immediately, saw no cause for
alarm, but prescribed mild remedies. As the day went on, however, the
sickness increased in violence. Dr Bordot became anxious when he saw the
patient again in the evening. He applied leeches and mustard poultices.
Those ministrations failing to alleviate the sufferings ofthe invalid,
Dr Bordot brought a colleague into consultation, but neither the
new-comer, Dr Partra, nor himself could be positive in diagnosis.
Something gastric, it was evident. They did what they could, though
working, as it were, in the dark.

The patient was no better next day. As night came on he was worse than
ever. A medical student named Toupie was enlisted as nurse and watcher,
and sat with the sufferer through the night--but to no purpose. At four
o'clock in the morning of the Tuesday, the 30th, there came a crisis in
the illness of Boursier, and he died.

The grief exhibited by Mme Boursier, so suddenly widowed, was just
what might have been expected in the circumstances from a woman of her
station. She had lost a good-humoured companion, the father of her
five children, and the man whose genius in trading had done so much to
support her own activities for their mutual profit. The Veuve Boursier
grieved in adequate fashion for the loss of her husband, but, being
a capable woman and responsible for the direction of affairs, did not
allow her grief to overwhelm her. The dead epicier was buried without
much delay--the weather was hot, and he had been of gross habit--and the
business at the corner of Rue de la Paix went on as near to usual as the
loss of the 'outside' partner would allow.

Rumour, meantime, had got to work. There were circumstances about the
sudden death of Boursier which the busybodies of the environs felt
they might regard as suspicious. For some time before the death of the
epicier there had been hanging about the establishment a Greek called
Kostolo. He was a manservant out of employ, and not, even on the
surface, quite the sort of fellow that a respectable couple like the
Boursiers might be expected to accept as a family friend. But such, no
less, had been the Greek's position with the household. So much so that,
although Kostolo had no money and apparently no prospects, Boursier
himself had asked him to be godfather to a niece. The epicier found the
Greek amusing, and, on falling so suddenly ill, made no objection when
Kostolo took it on himself to act as nurse, and to help in the preparing
of drinks and medicines that were prescribed.

It is perhaps to the rather loud-mouthed habits of this Kostolo that the
birth of suspicion among the neighbours may be attributed. On the death
of Boursier he had remarked that the nails of the corpse were blue a
colour, he said, which was almost a certain indication of poisoning.
Now, the two doctors who had attended Boursier, having failed to account
for his illness, were inclined to suspect poisoning as the cause of
his death. For this reason they had suggested an autopsy, a suggestion
rejected by the widow. Her rejection of the idea aroused no immediate
suspicion of her in the minds of the doctors.

Kostolo, in addition to repeating outside the house his opinion
regarding the blueness of the dead Boursier's nails, began, several
days after the funeral, to brag to neighbours and friends of the warm
relationship existing between himself and the widow. He dropped hints of
a projected marriage. Upon this the neighbours took to remembering how
quickly Kostolo's friendship with the Boursier family had sprung up, and
how frequently he had visited the establishment. His nursing activities
were remembered also. And it was noticed that his visits to the Boursier
house still went on; it was whispered that he visited the Veuve Boursier
in her bedroom.

The circumstances in which Boursier had fallen ill were well known.
Nobody, least of all Mme Boursier or Kostolo, had taken any trouble to
conceal them. Anybody who liked to ask either Mme Boursier or the
Greek about the soup could have a detailed story at once. All the
neighbourhood knew it. And since the Veuve Boursier's story is
substantially the same as other versions it may as well be dealt with
here and now.

M. Boursier, said his widow, tasted his soup that Sunday morning. "What
a taste!" he said to the cook, Josephine. "This rice is poisoned."

"But, monsieur," Josephine protested, "that's amazing! The potage ought
to be better than usual this morning, because I made a liaison for it
with three egg-yolks!"

M. Boursier called his wife, and told her he couldn't eat his potage au
riz. It was poisoned. Mme Boursier took a spoonful of it herself, she
said, and saw nothing the matter with it. Whereupon her husband, saying
that if it was all right he ought to eat it, took several spoonfuls

"The poor man," said his widow, "always had a bad taste in his mouth,
and he could not face his soup." Then, she explained, he became very
sick, and brought up what little of the soup he had taken, together with
flots de bile.

All this chatter of poison, particularly by Kostolo and the widow,
together with the persistent rumours of an adulterous association
between the pair, gave colour to suspicions of a criminal complicity,
and these in process of time came to the ears of the officers of
justice. The two doctors were summoned by the Procureur-General, who
questioned them closely regarding Boursier's illness. To the mind of
the official everything pointed to suspicion of the widow. Word of the
growing suspicion against her reached Mme Boursier, and she now hastened
to ask the magistrates for an exhumation and a post-mortem examination.
This did not avert proceedings by the Procureur. It was already known
that she had refused the autopsy suggested by the two doctors, and it
was stated that she had hurried on the burial.

Kostolo and the Widow Boursier were called before the Juge


There is about the Greek Kostolo so much gaudy impudence and barefaced
roguery that, in spite of the fact that the main concern of these pages
is with women, I am constrained to add his portrait to the sketches I
have made in illustration. He is of the gallery in which are Jingle and
Montague Tigg, with this difference--that he is rather more sordid than

Brought before the Procureur du Roi, he impudently confessed that he had
been, and still was, Mme Boursier's lover. He told the judge that in
the lifetime of her husband Mme Boursier had visited him in his rooms
several times, and that she had given him money unknown to her husband.

Mme Boursier at first denied the adulterous intimacy with Kostolo, but
the evidence in the hands of the Procureur was too much for her. She had
partially to confess the truth of Kostolo's statement in this regard.
She emphatically denied, however, that she had ever even thought of, let
alone agreed to, marriage with the Greek. She swore that she had been
intimate with Kostolo only once, and that, as far as giving him money
was concerned, she had advanced him but one small sum on his IOU.

These confessions, together with the information which had come to
him from other investigations, served to increase the feeling of
the Procureur that Boursier's death called for probing. He issued an
exhumation order, and on the 31st of July an autopsy on the body of
Boursier was carried out by MM. Orfila and Gardy, doctors and professors
of the Paris faculty of medicine. Their finding was that no trace
existed of any disorders to which the death of Boursier might be
attributed--such, for example, as cerebral congestion, rupture of the
heart or of a larger vessel--but that, on the other hand, they had come
upon a sufficiency of arsenic in the intestines to have caused death.

On the 2nd of August the same two professors, aided by a third, M.
Barruel, carried out a further examination of the body. Their testimony
is highly technical. It is also rather revolting. I am conscious
that, dealing, as I have had to, with so much arsenical poisoning
(the favourite weapon of the woman murderer), a gastric odour has been
unavoidable in many of my pages--perhaps too many. For that reason
I shall refrain from quoting either in the original French or in
translation more than a small part of the professors' report. I shall,
however, make a lay shot on the evidence it supplies. Boursier's
interior generally was in foul condition, which is not to be explained
by any ingestion of arsenic, but which suggests chronic and morbid
pituitousness. The marvel is that the man's digestion functioned at all.
This insanitary condition, however, was taken by the professors, as
it were, in their stride. They concentrated on some slight traces of
intestinal inflammation.

"One observed," their report went on, about the end of the ileum some
grains of a whitish appearance and rather stubbornly attached. These
grains, being removed, showed all the characteristics of white arsenic
oxide. Put upon glowing charcoal they volatilized, giving off white
smoke and a garlic odour. Treated with water, they dissolved, and the
solution, when brought into contact with liquid hydrosulphuric acid,
precipitated yellow sulphur of arsenic, particularly when one heated it
and added a few drops of hydrochloric acid.

These facts (including, I suppose, the conditions I have hinted
at) allowed them to conclude (a) that the stomach showed traces of
inflammation, and (b) that the intestinal canal yielded a quantity of
arsenic oxide sufficient to have produced that inflammation and to have
caused death.

The question now was forward as to where the arsenic found in the body
had come from. Inquiry established the fact that on the 15th of May,
1823--that is to say, several weeks before his death--Boursier had
bought half a pound of arsenic for the purpose of destroying the rats in
his shop cellars. In addition, he had bought prepared rat-poison. Only a
part of those substances had been used. The remaining portions could not
be found about the shop, nor could Mme Boursier make any suggestions for
helping the search. She declared she had never seen any arsenic about
the house at all.

There was, however, sufficient gravity in the evidences on hand to
justify a definite indictment of Mme Boursier and Nicolas Kostolo, the
first of having poisoned her husband, and the second of being accessory
to the deed.

The pair were brought to trial on the 27th of November, 1823, before the
Seine Assize Court, M. Hardouin presiding. The prosecution was conducted
by the Avocat-General, M. de Broe. Maitre Couture defended Mme Boursier.
Maitre Theo. Perrin appeared for Kostolo.

The case created great excitement, not only in Paris, but throughout the
country. Another poisoning case had not long before this occupied the
minds of the public very greatly--that of the hypocritical Castaing for
the murder of Auguste Ballet. Indeed, there had been a lot of poisoning
going on in French society about this period. Political and religious
controversy, moreover, was rife. The populace were in a mood either to
praise extravagantly or just as extravagantly to condemn. It happened
that rumour convinced them of the guilt of the Veuve Boursier and
Kostolo, and the couple were condemned in advance. Such was the popular
spite against Mme Boursier and Kostolo that, it is said, Maitre Couture
at first refused the brief for the widow's defence. He had already made
a success of his defence of a Mme Lavaillaut, accused of poisoning, and
was much in demand in cases where women sought judicial separation from
their husbands. People were calling him "Providence for women." He did
not want to be nicknamed "Providence for poisoners." But Mme Boursier's
case being more clearly presented to him he took up the brief.

The accused were brought into court.

Kostolo was about thirty years of age. He was tall, distinctly
good-looking in an exotic sort of way, with his dark hair, complexion,
and flashing eyes. He carried himself grandly, and was elegantly clad
in a frac noir. Not quite, as Army men were supposed once to say, "the
clean potato," it was easy enough to see that women of a kind would
be his ready victims. It was plain, in the court, that Master Nicolas
thought himself the hero of the occasion.

There was none of this flamboyance about the Widow Boursier. She was
dressed in complete mourning, and covered her face with a handkerchief.
It was manifest that, in the phrase of the crime reporters, "she felt
her position keenly." The usual questions as to her name and condition
she answered almost inaudibly, her voice choked with sobs.

Kostolo, on the contrary, replied in organ tones. He said that he was
born in Constantinople, and that he had no estate.

The acte d'accusation was read. It set forth the facts of the adulterous
association of the two accused, of the money lent by Mme Boursier
to Kostolo, of their meetings, and all the suspicious circumstances
previous to the death of the epicier.

The cook-girl, Josephine Blin, had prepared the potage au riz in the
kitchen, using the small iron pan that it was her wont to employ. Having
made the soup, she conveyed it in its terrine to a small secretaire in
the dining-room. This secretaire stood within the stretch of an arm from
the door of the comptoir in which Mme Boursier usually worked. According
to custom, Josephine had divided the potage in two portions--one for
Boursier and the other for the youngest child. The youngster and she had
eaten the second portion between them, and neither had experienced any

Josephine told her master that the soup was ready. He came at her call,
but did not eat the soup at once, being otherwise occupied. The soup
stood on the secretaire for about fifteen minutes before Boursier
started to eat it.

According to the accused, the accusation went on, after Boursier's death
the two doctors asked that they might be allowed to perform an autopsy,
since they were at a loss to explain the sudden illness. This Mme
Boursier refused, in spite of the insistence of the doctors. She
refused, she said, in the interest of her children. She insisted,
indeed, on a quick burial, maintaining that, as her husband had been
tres replet, the body would rapidly putrefy, owing to the prevailing
heat, and that thus harm would be done to the delicate contents of the

Led by rumours of the bluish stains--almost certain indications of
a violent death--the authorities, said the accusation, ordered an
exhumation and autopsy. Arsenic was found in the body. It was clear that
Boursier, ignorant, as he was, of his wife's bad conduct, had not killed
himself. This was a point that the widow had vainly attempted, during
the process of instruction, to maintain. She declared that one Clap,
a friend of her late husband, had come to her one day to say that a
certain Charles, a manservant, had remarked to him, "Boursier poisoned
himself because he was tired of living." Called before the Juge
d'instruction, Henri Clap and Charles had concurred in denying this.

The accusation maintained that the whole attitude of Mme Boursier proved
her a poisoner. As soon as her husband became sick she had taken the
dish containing the remains of the rice soup, emptied it into a dirty
vessel, and passed water through the dish. Then she had ordered Blin to
clean it, which the latter did, scrubbing it out with sand and ashes.

Questioned about arsenic in the house, Mme Boursier said, to begin with,
that Boursier had never spoken to her about arsenic, but later admitted
that her husband had mentioned both arsenic and mort aux rats to her.

Asked regarding the people who frequented the house she had mentioned
all the friends of Boursier, but neglected to speak of Kostolo. Later
she had said she never had been intimate with the Greek. But Kostolo,
"barefaced enough for anything," had openly declared the nature of his
relations with her. Then Mme Boursier, after maintaining that she
had been no more than interested in Kostolo, finding pleasure in his
company, had been constrained to confess that she had misconducted
herself with the Greek in the dead man's room. She had given Kostolo the
run of her purse, the accusation declared, though she denied the fact,
insisting that what she had given him had been against his note. There
was only one conclusion, however. Mme Boursier, knowing the poverty of
her paramour, had paid him as her cicisbeo, squandering upon him her
children's patrimony.

The accusation then dealt with the supposed project of marriage, and
declared that in it there was sufficient motive for the crime. Kostolo
was Mme Boursier's accomplice beyond any doubt. He had acted as nurse to
the invalid, administering drinks and medicines to him. He had had full
opportunity for poisoning the grocer. Penniless, out of work, it would
be a good thing for him if Boursier was eliminated. He had been blatant
in his visits to Mme Boursier after the death of the husband.

Then followed the first questioning of the accused.

Mme Boursier said she had kept tryst with Kostolo in the Champs-Elysees.
She admitted having been to his lodgings once. On the mention of the
name of Mlle Riene, a mistress of Kostolo's, she said that the woman
was partly in their confidence. She had gone with Mlle Riene twice to
Kostolo's rooms. Once, she admitted, she had paid a visit to Versailles
with Kostolo unknown to her husband.

Asked if her husband had had any enemies, Mme Boursier said she knew of

The questioning of Kostolo drew from him the admission that he had had
a number of mistresses all at one time. He made no bones about his
relations with them, nor about his relations with Mme Boursier. He was
quite blatant about it, and seemed to enjoy the show he was putting up.
Having airily answered a question in a way that left him without any
reputation, he would sweep the court with his eyes, preening himself
like a peacock.

He was asked about a journey Boursier had proposed making. At what time
had Boursier intended making the trip?

"Before his death," Kostolo replied.

The answer was unintentionally funny, but the Greek took credit for the
amusement it created in court. He conceived himself a humorist, and the
fact coloured all his subsequent answers.

Kostolo said that he had called to see Boursier on the first day of his
illness at three in the afternoon. He himself had insisted on helping to
nurse the invalid. Mme Boursier had brought water, and he had given it
to the sick man.

After Boursier's death he had remarked on the blueness of the
fingernails. It was a condition he had seen before in his own country,
on the body of a prince who had died of poison, and the symptoms of
whose illness had been very like those in Boursier's. He had then
suspected that Boursier had died of poisoning.

The loud murmurs that arose in court upon his blunt confession of having
misconducted himself with Mme Boursier fifteen days after her husband's
death seemed to evoke nothing but surprise in Kostolo. He was then asked
if he had proposed marriage to Mme Boursier after Boursier's death.

"What!" he exclaimed, with a grin. "Ask a woman with five children to
marry me--a woman I don't love?"

Upon this answer Kostolo was taken to task by the President of the
court. M. Hardouin pointed out that Kostolo lived with a woman who kept
and fed him, giving him money, but that at the same time he was taking
money from Mme Boursier as her lover, protesting the while that he loved
her. What could the Greek say in justification of such conduct?

"Excuse me, please, everybody," Kostolo replied, unabashed. "I don't
know quite how to express myself, but surely what I have done is quite
the common thing? I had no means of living but from what Mme Boursier
gave me."

The murmurs evoked by the reply Kostolo treated with lofty disdain. He
seemed to find his audience somewhat prudish.

To further questioning he answered that he had never proposed marriage
to the Veuve Boursier. Possibly something might have been said in fun.
He knew, of course, that the late Boursier had made a lot of money.

The cook, Josephine Blin, was called. At one time she had been suspect.
Her version of the potage incidents, though generally in agreement with
that of the accused widow, differed from it in two essential points.
When she took Boursier's soup into the dining-room, she said, Mme
Boursier was in the comptoir, three or four paces away from the desk on
which she put the terrine. This Mme Boursier denied. She said she had
been in the same comptoir as her husband. Josephine declared that Mme
Boursier had ordered her to clean the soup-dish out with sand, but her
mistress maintained she had bade the girl do no more than clean it.
For the rest, Josephine thought about fifteen minutes elapsed before
Boursier came to take the soup. During that time she had seen Mme
Boursier writing and making up accounts.

Toupie, the medical student, said he had nursed Boursier during the
previous year. Boursier was then suffering much in the same way as
he had appeared to suffer during his fatal illness. He had heard Mme
Boursier consulting with friends about an autopsy, and her refusal had
been on their advice.

The doctors called were far from agreeing on the value of the
experiments they had made. Orfila, afterwards to intervene in the much
more universally notorious case of Mme Lafarge, stuck to his opinion of
death by arsenic. If his evidence in the Lafarge case is read it will
be seen that in the twenty years that had passed from the Boursier trial
his notions regarding the proper routine of analysis for arsenic in a
supposedly poisoned body had undergone quite a change. But by then the
Marsh technique had been evolved. Here, however, he based his opinion on
experiments properly described as "very equivocal;" and stuck to it. He
was supported by a colleague named Lesieur.

M. Gardy said he had observed that the greater part of the grains about
the ileum, noted on the 1st of August, had disappeared next day. The
analysis had been made with quantities too small. He now doubted greatly
if the substance taken to be arsenic oxide would account for death.

M. Barruel declared that from the glareous matter removed from the body
only a grain of the supposed arsenic had been extracted, and that with
difficulty. He had put the substance on glowing charcoal, but, in his
opinion, the experiment was VERY EQUIVOCAL. It was at first believed
that there was a big amount of arsenic, but he felt impelled to say that
the substance noted was nothing other than small clusters of fat. The
witness now refused to conclude, as he had concluded on the 1st of
August, that enough poison had been in the body to cause death.

It would almost seem that the medical evidence should have been enough
to destroy the case for the prosecution, but other witnesses were

Bailli, at one time a clerk to Boursier, said he had helped his patron
to distribute arsenic and rat-poison in the shop cellars. He was well
aware that the whole of the poison had not been used, but in the course
of his interrogation he had failed to remember where the residue of
the poisons had been put. He now recollected. The unused portion of the
arsenic had been put in a niche of a bottle-rack.

In view of evidence given by a subsequent witness Bailli's rather sudden
recovery of memory might have been thought odd if a friend of his
had not been able to corroborate his statement. The friend was one
Rousselot, another grocer. He testified that he and Bailli had searched
together. Bailli had then cudgelled that dull ass, his brain, to some
effect, for they had ultimately come upon the residue of the arsenic
bought by Boursier lying with the remainder of the mort aux rats. Both
the poisons had been placed at the bottom of a bottle-rack, and a plank
had been nailed over them.

Rousselot, asked why he had not mentioned this fact before, answered
stupidly, "I thought you knew it!"

The subsequent witness above referred to was an employee in the
Ministere du Roi, a man named Donzelle. In a stammering and rather
confused fashion he attempted to explain that the vacillations of the
witness Bailli had aroused his suspicions. He said that Bailli, who at
first had been vociferous in his condemnation of the Widow Boursier, had
later been rather more vociferous in her defence. The witness (Donzelle)
had it from a third party that Mme Boursier's sister-in-law had
corrupted other witnesses with gifts of money. Bailli, for example,
could have been seen carrying bags of ecus under his arm, coming out of
the house of the advocate briefed to defend Mme Boursier.

Bailli, recalled, offered to prove that if he had been to Maitre
Couture's house he had come out of it in the same fashion as he had gone
in--that was, with a bag of bay salt under each arm.

Maitre Couture, highly indignant, rose to protest against the
insinuation of the witness Donzelle, but the President of the court
and the Avocat-General hastened to say that the eminent and honourable
advocate was at no need to justify himself. The President sternly
reprimanded Donzelle and sent him back to his seat.


The Avocat-General, M. de Broe, stated the case for the prosecution. He
made, as probably was his duty, as much as he could of the arsenic said
to have been found in the body (that precipitated as yellow sulphur of
arsenic), and of the adultery of Mme Boursier with Kostolo. He dwelt on
the cleaning of the soup-dish, and pointed out that while the soup stood
on the desk Mme Boursier had been here and there near it, never out of
arm's reach. In regard to Kostolo, the Greek was a low scallywag, but
not culpable.

The prosecution, you observe, rested on the poison's being administered
in the soup.

In his speech for the defence the eloquent Maitre Couture began by
condemning the gossip and the popular rumour on which the case had
been begun. He denounced the action of the magistrates in instituting
proceedings as deplorably unconsidered and hasty.

Mme Boursier, he pointed out, had everything to lose through the loss of
her husband. Why should she murder a fine merchant like Boursier for a
doubtful quantity like Kostolo? He spoke of the happy relationship that
had existed between husband and wife, and, in proof of their kindness
for each other, told of a comedy interlude which had taken place on the
Sunday morning.

Boursier, he said, had to get up before his wife that morning, rising at
six o'clock. His rising did not wake his wife, and, perhaps humorously
resenting her lazy torpor, he found a piece of charcoal and decorated
her countenance with a black moustache. It was true that Mme Boursier
showed some petulance over her husband's prank when she got down
at eight o'clock, but her ill-humour did not last long. Her husband
caressed and petted her, and before long the wife joined her
merry-minded husband in laughing over the joke against her. That, said
Maitre Couture, that mutual laughter and kindness, seemed a strange
preliminary to the supposed poisoning episode of two hours or so later.

The truth of the matter was that Boursier carried the germ of death in
his own body. What enemy had he made? What vengeance had he incurred?
Maitre Couture reminded the jury of Boursier's poor physical condition,
of his stoutness, of the shortness of his neck. He brought forward
Toupie's evidence of Boursier's illness of the previous year, alike in
symptoms and in the sufferings of the invalid to that which proved fatal
on Tuesday the 30th of June. Then Maitre Couture proceeded to tear the
medical evidence to pieces, and returned to the point that Mme Boursier
had been sleeping so profoundly, so serenely, on the morning of her
supposed contemplated murder that the prank played on her by her
intended victim had not disturbed her.

The President's address then followed. The jury retired, and returned
with a verdict of "Not guilty."

On this M. Hardouin discharged the accused, improving the occasion with
a homily which, considering the ordeal that Mme Boursier had had to
endure through so many months, and that might have been considered
punishment enough, may be quoted merely as a fine specimen of salting
the wound:

"Veuve Boursier," said he, "you are about to recover that liberty which
suspicions of the gravest nature have caused you to lose. The jury
declares you not guilty of the crime imputed to you. It is to be
hoped that you will find a like absolution in the court of your own
conscience. But do not ever forget that the cause of your unhappiness
and of the dishonour which, it may be, covers your name was the disorder
of your ways and the violation of the most sacred obligations. It is to
be hoped that your conduct to come may efface the shame of your conduct
in the past, and that repentance may restore the honour you have lost."


Now we come, as the gentleman with the crimson handkerchief coyly
showing between dress waistcoat and shirt might have said, waving
his pointer as the canvas of the diorama rumbled on its rollers, to

Some twenty years have elapsed since the Veuve Boursier stumbled from
the stand of the accused in the Assize Court of the Seine, acquitted of
the poisoning of her grocer husband, but convicted of a moral flaw which
may (or may not) have rather diminished thereafter the turnover of the
epicerie in the Rue de la Paix. One hopes that her punishment finished
with her acquittal, and that the mood of the mob, as apt as a flying
straw to veer for a zephyr as for a whirlwind, swung to her favour from
mere revulsion on her escape from the scaffold. The one thing is as
likely as the other. Didn't the heavy man of the fit-up show, eighteen
months after his conviction for rape (the lapse of time being occupied
in paying the penalty), return as an actor to the scene of his
delinquency to find himself, not, as he expected, pelted with dead cats
and decaying vegetables, but cheered to the echo? So may it have been
with the Veuve Boursier.

Though in 1844, the year in which the poison trial at Auch was opened,
four years had passed since the conviction of Mme Lafarge at Tulle,
controversy on the latter case still was rife throughout France. The two
cases were linked, not only in the minds of the lay public, but
through close analogy in the idea of lawyers and experts in medical
jurisprudence. From her prison cell Marie Lafarge watched the progress
of the trial in Gascony. And when its result was published one may be
sure she shed a tear or two.

But to Riguepeu...

You will not find it on anything but the biggest-scale maps. It is
an inconsiderable town a few miles from Vic-Fezensac, a town not much
bigger than itself and some twenty kilometres from Auch, which is the
capital of the department of Gers. You may take it that Riguepeu lies in
the heart of the Armagnac district.

Some little distance from Riguepeu itself, on the top of a rise, stood
the Chateau Philibert, a one-floored house with red tiles and green
shutters. Not much of a chateau, it was also called locally La Maison de
Madame. It belonged in 1843 to Henri Lacoste, together with considerable
land about it. It was reckoned that Lacoste, with the land and other
belongings, was worth anything between 600,000 and 700,000 francs.

Henri had become rich late in life. The house and the domain had been
left him by his brother Philibert, and another brother's death had also
been of some benefit to him. Becoming rich, Henri Lacoste thought it
his duty to marry, and in 1839, though already sixty-six years of age,
picked on a girl young enough to have been his granddaughter.

Euphemie Verges was, in fact, his grand-niece. She lived with her
parents at Mazeyrolles, a small village in the foothills of the
Pyrenees. Compared with Lacoste, the Verges were said to be poor.
Lacoste took it on himself to look after the girl's education, having
her sent at his charges to a convent at Tarbes. In 1841, on the 2nd of
May, the marriage took place.

If this marriage of youth with crabbed age resulted in any unhappiness
the neighbours saw little of it. Though it was rumoured that for her
old and rich husband Euphemie had given up a young man of her fancy in
Tarbes, her conduct during the two years she lived with Lacoste seemed
to be irreproachable. Lacoste was rather a nasty old fellow from all
accounts. He was niggardly, coarse, and a womanizer. Euphemie's position
in the house was little better than that of head domestic servant, but
in this her lot was the common one for wives of her station in this part
of France. She appeared to be contented enough with it.

About two years after the marriage, on the 16th of May, 1843, to be
exact, after a trip with his wife to the fair at Riguepeu, old Lacoste
was taken suddenly ill, ultimately becoming violently sick. Eight days
later he died.

By a will which Henri had made two months after his marriage his wife
was his sole beneficiary, and this will was no sooner proved than the
widow betook herself to Tarbes, where she speedily began to make full
use of her fortune. Milliners and dressmakers were called into service,
and the widow blossomed forth as a lady of fashion. She next set up her
own carriage. If these proceedings had not been enough to excite envy
among her female neighbours the frequent visits paid to her in her
genteel apartments by a young man did the trick. The young man came on
the scene less than two months after the death of the old man. It was
said that his visits to the widow were prolonged until midnight. Scandal
resulted, and out of the scandal rumour regarding the death of Henri
Lacoste. It began to be said that the old man had died of poison.

It was in December, six months after the death of Lacoste, that the
rumours came to the ears of the magistrates. Nor was there lack of
anonymous letters. It was the Widow Lacoste herself, however, who
demanded an exhumation and autopsy on the body of her late husband--this
as a preliminary to suing her traducers. Note, in passing, how her
action matches that of Veuve Boursier.

On the orders of the Juge d'instruction an autopsy was begun on the 18th
of December. The body of Lacoste was exhumed, the internal organs
were extracted, and these, with portions of the muscular tissue, were
submitted to analysis by a doctor of Auch, M. Bouton, and two chemists
of the same city, MM. Lidange and Pons, who at the same time examined
samples of the soil in which the body had been interred. The finding was
that the body of Lacoste contained some arsenical preparation.

The matter now appearing to be grave, additional scientific assurance
was sought. Three of the most distinguished chemists in Paris were
called into service for a further analysis. They were MM. Devergie,
Pelouze, and Flandin. Their report ran in part:

The portion of the liver on which we have experimented proved to contain
a notable quantity of arsenic, amounting to more than five milligrammes;
the portions of the intestines and tissue examined also contained
appreciable traces which, though in smaller proportion than contained by
the liver, accord with the known features of arsenical poisoning. There
is no appearance of the toxic element in the earth taken from the grave
or in the material of the coffin.

As soon as Mme Lacoste was apprised of the findings of the autopsy she
got into her carriage and was driven to Auch, where she visited a friend
of her late husband and of herself. To him she announced her intention
of surrendering herself to the Procureur du Roi. The friend strongly
advised her against doing any such thing, advice which Mme Lacoste
accepted with reluctance.

On the 5th of January a summons to appear was issued for Mme Lacoste.
She was seen that day in Auch, walking the streets on the arm of a
friend. She even went to the post-office, but the police agents failed
to find her. She stopped the night in the town. Next day she was at
Riguepeu. She was getting out of her carriage when a servant pointed
out gendarmes coming up the hill with the Mayor. When those officials
arrived Euphemie was well away. Search was made through the house and
outbuildings, but without result. "Don't bother yourself looking any
further, Monsieur le Maire," said one of the servants. "The mistress
isn't far away, but she's in a place where I could hide a couple of oxen
without you finding them."

From then on Mme Lacoste was hunted for everywhere. The roads to Tarbes,
Toulouse, and Vic-Fezensac were patrolled by brigades of gendarmes day
and night, but there was no sign of the fugitive. It was rumoured that
she had got away to Spain, that she was cached in a barrel at Riguepeu,
that she was in the fields disguised as a shepherd, that she had taken
the veil.

In the meantime the process against her went forward. Evidence was
to hand which seemed to inculpate with Mme Lacoste a poor and old
schoolmaster of Riguepeu named Joseph Meilhan. The latter, arrested,
stoutly denied not only his own part in the supposed crime, but also
the guilt of Mme Lacoste. "Why doesn't she come forward?" he asked. "She
knows perfectly well she has nothing to fear--no more than I have."

From the 'information' laid by the court of first instance at Auch a
warrant was issued for the appearance of Mme Lacoste and Meilhan before
the Assize of Gers. Mme Lacoste was apparently well instructed by her
friends. She did not come into the open until the last possible moment.
She gave herself up at the Auch prison on the 4th of July.

Her health seemed to have suffered little from the vicissitudes of her
flight. It was noticed that her hair was short, a fact which seemed to
point to her having disguised herself. But, it is said, she exhibited a
serenity of mind which consorted ill with the idea of guilt. She faced
an interrogation lasting three hours without faltering.

On the 10th of July she appeared before the Gers Assize Court, held at
Auch. The President was M. Donnoderie. Counsel for the prosecution,
as it were, was the Procureur du Roi, M. Cassagnol. Mme Lacoste was
defended by Maitre Alem-Rousseau, leader of the bar of Auch.

The case aroused the liveliest interest, people flocking to the town
from as far away as Paris itself--so much so that at 6.30 in the morning
the one-time palace of the Archbishops of Auch, in the hall of which the
court was held, was packed.

The accused were called. First to appear was Joseph Meilhan. He was
a stout little old boy of sixty-six, rosy and bright-eyed, with short
white hair and heavy black eyebrows. He was calm and smiling, completely
master of himself.

Mme Lacoste then appeared on the arm of her advocate. She was dressed
in full widow's weeds. A little creature, slender but not rounded of
figure, she is described as more agreeable-looking than actually pretty.

After the accused had answered with their names and descriptions the
acte d'accusation was read. It was a long document. It recalled the
circumstances of the Lacoste marriage and of the death of the old man,
with the autopsy and the finding of traces of arsenic. It spoke of the
lowly household tasks that Mme Lacoste had performed with such goodwill
from the beginning, and of the reward for her diligence which came to
her by the making of a holograph will in which her husband made her his
sole heir.

But the understanding between husband and wife did not last long, the
acte went on. Lacoste ardently desired a son and heir, and his wife
appeared to be barren. He confided his grief to an old friend, one
Lespere. Lespere pointed out that Euphemie was not only Lacoste's wife,
but his kinswoman as well. To this Lacoste replied that the fact did
not content him. "I tell you on the quiet," he said to his friend, "I've
made my arrangements. If SHE knew--she's capable of poisoning me to get
herself a younger man." Lespere told him not to talk rubbish, in effect,
but Lacoste was stubborn on his notion.

This was but a year after the marriage. It seemed that Lacoste had a
melancholy presentiment of the fate which was to be his.

It was made out that Euphemie suffered from the avarice and jealousy of
her old husband. She was given no money, was hardly allowed out of the
house, and was not permitted even to go to Vespers alone. And then, said
the accusation, she discovered that her husband wanted an heir. She
had reason to fear that he would go about getting one by an illicit

In the middle of 1842 she overheard her husband bargaining with one of
the domestics. The girl was asking for 100 pistoles (say, L85), while
her husband did not want to give more than 600 francs (say, L24).
"Euphemie Verges had no doubt," ran the accusation, "that this was the
price of an adulterous contract, and she insisted on Marie Dupuys' being
sent from the house. This was the cause of disagreement between the
married pair, which did not conclude with the departure of the servant."

Later another servant, named Jacquette Larrieux, told Mme Lacoste in
confidence that the master was trying to seduce her by the offer of a
pension of 2000 francs or a lump sum of 20,000.

Euphemie Verges, said the accusation, thus thought herself exposed
daily, by the infidelity of her husband, to the loss of all her hopes.
Also, talking to a Mme Bordes about the two servants some days after
Lacoste's death, she said, "I had a bad time with those two girls! If my
husband had lived longer I might have had nothing, because he wanted a
child that he could leave everything to."

The acte d'accusation enlarged on the situation, then went on to bring
in Joseph Meilhan as Euphemie's accomplice. It made him out to be a bad
old man indeed. He had seduced, it was said, a young girl named Lescure,
who became enceinte, afterwards dying from an abortion which Meilhan was
accused of having procured. It might be thought that the society of such
a bad old man would have disgusted a young woman, but Euphemie Verges
admitted him to intimacy. He was, it was said, the confidant for
her domestic troubles, and it was further rumoured that he acted as
intermediary in a secret correspondence that she kept up with a young
man of Tarbes who had been courting her before her marriage. The
counsels of such a man were not calculated to help Mme Lacoste in her
quarrels with her unfaithful and unlovable husband.

Meanwhile M. Lacoste was letting new complaints be heard regarding his
wife. Again Lespere was his confidant. His wife was bad and sulky. He
was very inclined to undo what he had done for her. This was in March of

Towards the end of April he made a like complaint to another old
friend, one Dupouy, who accused him of neglecting old friends through
uxoriousness. Lacoste said he found little pleasure in his young wife.
He was, on the contrary, a martyr. He was on the point of disinheriting

And so, with the usual amount of on dit and disait-on, the acte
d'accusation came to the point of Lacoste at the Riguepeu fair. He set
out in his usual health, but, several hours later, said to one Laffon,
"I have the shivers, cramps in the stomach. After being made to drink by
that ---- Meilhan I felt ill."

Departing from the fair alone, he met up with Jean Durieux, to whom he
said, "That ---- of a Meilhan asked me to have a drink, and afterwards I
had colic, and wanted to vomit."

Arrived home, Lacoste said to Pierre Cournet that he had been seized by
a colic which made him ill all over, plaguing him, giving him a desire
to vomit which he could not satisfy. Cournet noticed that Lacoste was as
white as a sheet. He advised going to bed and taking hot water. Lacoste
took the advice. During the night he was copiously sick. The old man was
in bed in an alcove near the kitchen, but next night he was put into a
room out of the way of noise.

Euphemie looked after her husband alone, preparing his drinks and
admitting nobody to see him. She let three days pass without calling a
doctor. Lacoste, it was true, had said he did not want a doctor, but,
said the accusation, "there is no proof that he persisted in that wish."

On the fourth day she sent a summary of the illness to Dr Boubee, asking
for written advice. On the fifth day a surgeon was called, M. Lasmolles,
who was told that Lacoste had eaten a meal of onions, garlic stems, and
beans. But the story of this meal was a lie, a premeditated lie. On the
eve of the fair Mme Lacoste was already speaking of such a meal, saying
that that sort of thing always made her husband ill.

According to the accusation, the considerable amount of poison found in
the body established that the arsenic had been administered on several
occasions, on the first by Meilhan and on the others by Mme Lacoste.

When Henri Lacoste had drawn his last breath his wife shed a few tears.
But presently her grief gave place to other preoccupations. She herself
looked out the sheet for wrapping the corpse, and thereafter she began
to search in the desk for the will which made her her husband's sole

Next day Meilhan, who had not once looked in on Lacoste during his
illness, hastened to visit the widow. The widow invited him to dinner.
The day after that he dined with her again, and they were seen walking
together. Their intimacy seemed to grow daily. But the friendship of
Mme Lacoste for Meilhan did not end there. Not very many days after
the death of Lacoste Meilhan met the Mayor of Riguepeu, M. Sabazan, and
conducted him in a mysterious manner into his schoolroom. Telling the
Mayor that he knew him to be a man of discretion, he confided in him
that the Veuve Lacoste intended giving him (Meilhan) a bill on one
Castera. Did the Mayor know Castera to be all right? The Mayor replied
that a bill on Castera was as good as gold itself. Meilhan said that Mme
Lacoste had assured him this was but the beginning of what she meant to
do for him.

Meilhan wrote to Castera, who called on him. The schoolmaster told
Castera that in return for 2000 francs which she had borrowed from him
Mme Lacoste had given him a note for 1772 francs, which was due from
Castera to Henri Lacoste as part inheritance from a brother. Meilhan
showed Castera the original note, which was to be renewed in Meilhan's
favour. The accusation dwelt on the different versions regarding his
possession of the note given by Meilhan to the Mayor and to Castera.
Meilhan was demonstrably lying to conceal Mme Lacoste's liberality.

Some little time after this Meilhan invited the Mayor a second time into
the schoolroom, and told him that Mme Lacoste meant to assure him of a
life annuity of 400 francs, and had asked him to prepare the necessary
document for her to sign. But there was another proposition. If Meilhan
would return the note for 1772 francs owing by Castera she would make
the annuity up to 500. What, asked Meilhan, would M. le Maire do in
his place? The Mayor replied that in Meilhan's place he would keep the
Castera note and be content with the 400 annuity. Then Meilhan asked
the Mayor to draw up for him a specimen of the document necessary for
creating the annuity. This M. Sabazan did at once, and gave the draft to

Some days later still Meilhan told M. Sabazan that Mme Lacoste did not
wish to use the form of document suggested by the Mayor, but had written
one herself. Meilhan showed the Mayor the widow's document, and begged
him to read it to see if it was in proper form. Sabazan read the
document. It created an annuity of 400 francs, payable yearly in the
month of August. The Mayor did not know actually if the deed was in
the writing of Mme Lacoste. He did not know her fist. But he could be
certain that it was not in Meilhan's hand.

This deed was later shown by Meilhan to the cure of Riguepeu, who saw
at least that the deed was not in Meilhan's writing. He noticed that it
showed some mistakes, and that the signature of the Widow Lacoste began
with the word "Euphemie."

In the month of August Meilhan was met coming out of Mme Lacoste's by
the Mayor. Jingling money in his pocket, the schoolmaster told the
Mayor he had just drawn the first payment of his annuity. Later Meilhan
bragged to the cure of Basais that he was made for life. He took a
handful of louis from his pocket, and told the priest that this was his
daily allowance.

"Whence," demanded the acte d'accusation, "came all those riches, if
they were not the price of his share in the crime?"

But the good offices of Mme Lacoste towards Meilhan did not end with
the giving of money. In the month of August Meilhan was chased from his
lodgings by his landlord, Lescure, on suspicion of having had intimate
relations with the landlord's wife. The intervention of the Mayor was
ineffective in bringing about a reconciliation between Meilhan and
Lescure. Meilhan begged Mme Lacoste to intercede, and where the Mayor
had failed she succeeded.

While Mme Lacoste was thus smothering Meilhan with kindnesses she was
longing herself to make the most of the fortune which had come to her.
From the first days of her widowhood she was constantly writing letters
which Mme Lescure carried for her. Euphemie had already begun to talk of
remarriage. Her choice was already made. "If I marry again," she said, a
few days after the death of Lacoste, "I won't take anybody but M. Henri
Berens, of Tarbes. He was my first love."

The accusation told of Euphemie's departure for Tarbes, where almost
her first caller was this M. Henri Berens. The next day she gave up
the lodgings rented by her late husband, to establish herself in rich
apartments owned by one Fourcade, which she furnished sumptuously. The
accusation dwelt on her purchase of horses and a carriage and on her
luxurious way of living. It also brought forward some small incidents
illustrative of her distaste for the memory of her late husband. It
dealt with information supplied by her landlord which indicated that her
conscience was troubled. Twice M. Fourcade found her trembling, as with
fear. On his asking her what was the matter she replied, "I was thinking
of my husband--if he saw me in a place furnished like this!"

(It need hardly be pointed out, considering the sour and avaricious
ways of her late husband, that Euphemie need not have been
conscience-stricken with his murder to have trembled over her lavish
expenditure of his fortune. But the point is typical of the trivialities
with which the acte d'accusation was padded out.)

The accusation claimed that a young man had several times been seen
leaving Euphemie's apartments at midnight, and spoke of protests made by
Mme Fourcade. Euphemie declared herself indifferent to public opinion.

Public opinion, however, beginning to rise against her, Euphemie had
need to resort to lying in order to explain her husband's death. To some
she repeated the story of the onion-garlic-and-beans meal, adding that,
in spite of his indigestion, he had eaten gluttonously later in the day.
To others she attributed his illness to two indigestible repasts made at
the fair. To others again she said Lacoste had died of a hernia, forced
out by his efforts to vomit. She was even accused of saying that
the doctor had attributed the death to this cause. This, said the
indictment, was a lie. Dr Lasmolles declared that he had questioned
Lacoste about the supposed hernia, and that the old man denied having
any such thing.

What had brought about Lacoste's fatal illness was the wine Meilhan had
made him drink at Rigeupeu fair.

With the rise of suspicion against her and her accomplice, Mme Lacoste
put up a brave front. She wrote to the Procureur du Roi, demanding an
exhumation, with the belief, no doubt, that time would have effaced the
poison. At the same time she sent the bailiff Labadie to Riguepeu, to
find out the names of those who were traducing her, and to say that she
intended to prosecute her calumniators with the utmost rigour of the
law. This, said the accusation, was nothing but a move to frighten the
witnesses against her into silence. Instead of making good her threats
the Widow Lacoste disappeared.

On the arrest of Meilhan search of his lodgings resulted in the finding
of the note on Castera for 1772 francs, and of a sum of 800 francs in
gold and silver. But of the deed creating the annuity of 400 francs
there was no trace.

Meilhan denied everything. In respect of the wine he was said to have
given Lacoste he said he had passed the whole of the 16th of May in the
company of a friend called Mothe, and that Mothe could therefore prove
Meilhan had never had a drink with Lacoste. Mothe, however, declared he
had left Meilhan that day at three o'clock in the afternoon, and it was
just at this time that Meilhan had taken Lacoste into the auberge where
he lived to give him the poisoned drink. It was between three and four
that Lacoste first showed signs of being ill.

Asked to explain the note for 1772 francs, Meilhan said that, about two
months after Lacoste's death, the widow complained of not having any
ready money. She had the Castera note, and he offered to discount it
for her. This was a palpable lie, said the accusation. It was only a
few days after Lacoste's death that Meilhan spoke to the Mayor about
the Castera note. Meilhan's statement was full of discrepancies. He told
Castera that he held the note against 2000 francs previously lent to
the widow. He now said that he had discounted the note on sight. But
the fact was that since Meilhan had come to live in Riguepeu he had been
without resources. He had stripped himself in order to establish his son
in a pharmacy at Vic-Fezensac. His profession of schoolmaster scarcely
brought him in enough for living expenses. How, then, could he possibly
be in a position to lend Mme Lacoste 2000 francs? And how had he managed
to collect the 800 odd francs that were found in his lodgings? The
real explanation lay in the story he had twice given to the Mayor, M.
Sabazan: he was in possession of the Castera note through the generosity
of his accomplice.

Meilhan was in still greater difficulty to explain the document which
had settled on him an annuity of 400 francs, and which had been seen in
his hands. Denial was useless, since he had asked the Mayor to make a
draft for him, and since he had shown that functionary the deed signed
by Mme Lacoste. Here, word for word, is the explanation given by the
rubicund Joseph:

"My son," he said, "kept asking me to contribute to the upkeep of one of
his boys who is in the seminary of Vic-Fezensac. I consistently refused
to do so, because I wanted to save what little I might against the time
when I should be unable to work any longer. Six months ago my son wrote
to the cure, begging him to speak to me. The cure, not wishing to do
so, sent on the letter to the Mayor, who communicated with me. I replied
that I did not wish to do anything, adding that I intended investing my
savings in a life annuity. At the same time I begged M. Sabazan to make
me a draft in the name of Mme Lacoste. She knew nothing about it. M.
Sabazan sent me on the draft. It seemed to me well drawn up. I rewrote
it, and showed it to M. Sabazan. At the foot of the deed I put the words
'Veuve Lacoste,' but I had been at pains to disguise my handwriting.
I did all this with the intention of making my son believe, when my
infirmities obliged me to retire to his household, that my income came
from a life annuity some one had given me; and to hide from him where
I had put my capital I wanted to persuade M. Sabazan that the deed
actually existed, so that he could bear witness to the fact to my son."
Here, said the accusation, Meilhan was trying to make out that it was on
the occasion of a letter from his son that he had spoken to the Mayor of
the annuity.

The cure of Riguepeu, however, while admitting that he had received
such a letter from Meilhan's son, declared that this was long before
the death of Henri Lacoste. The Mayor also said that he had spoken
to Meilhan of his son's letter well before the time when the accused
mentioned the annuity to him and asked for a draft of the assignment.

The accusation ridiculed Meilhan's explanation, dubbing it just
another of the schoolmaster's lies. It brought forward a contradictory
explanation given by Meilhan to one Thener, a surgeon, whom he knew to
be in frequent contact with the son whom the document was intended to
deceive. Meilhan informed Thener that he had fabricated the deed, and
had shown it round, in order to inspire such confidence in him as would
secure him refuge when he had to give up schoolmastering.

These contradictory and unbelievable explanations were the fruit of
Meilhan's efforts to cover the fact that the annuity was the price paid
him by the Widow Lacoste for his part in the murder of her husband. It
was to be remembered that M. Sabazan, whose testimony was impeccable,
had seen Meilhan come from the house of Mme Lacoste, and that Meilhan
had jingled money, saying he had just drawn the first payment of his

The accusation, in sum, concentrated on the suspicious relationship
between Meilhan and the Widow Lacoste. It was a long document, but
something lacking in weight of proof--proof of the actual murder, that
is, if not of circumstance.


The process in a French criminal court was--and still is--somewhat
long-winded. The Procureur du Roi had to go over the accusation in
detail, making the most of Mme Lacoste's intimacy with the ill-reputed
old fellow. That parishioner, far from being made indignant by the
animadversions of M. Cassagnol, listened to the recital of his misdeeds
with a faint smile. He was perhaps a little astonished at some of the
points made against him, but, it is said, contented himself with
a gesture of denial to the jury, and listened generally as if with
pleasure at hearing himself so well spoken of.

He was the first of the accused to be questioned.

It was brought out that he had been a soldier under the Republic, and
then for a time had studied pharmacy. He had been a corn-merchant in a
small way, and then had started schoolmaster.

Endeavour was made to get him to admit guilty knowledge of the death of
the Lescure girl. He had never even heard of an abortion. The girl had
a stomach-ache. This line failing, he was interrogated on the matter of
being chased from his lodgings by the landlord-father, it would seem, of
the aforementioned girl. (It may be noted that Meilhan lived on in the
auberge after her death.) Meilhan had an innocent explanation of the
incident. It was all a mistake on the part of Lescure. And he hadn't
been chased out of the auberge. He had simply gone out with his coat
slung about his shoulders. Mme Lacoste went with him to patch the matter

He had not given Lacoste a drink, hadn't even spoken with him, at the
Riguepeu fair, but had passed the day with M. Mothe. Cournet had told
him of Lacoste's having a headache, but had said nothing of vomitings.
He had not seen Lacoste during the latter's illness, because Lacoste was
seeing nobody.

This business of the annuity had got rather entangled, but he would
explain. He had lodged 1772 francs with Mme Lacoste, and she had given
him a bill on Castera. Whether he had given the money before or after
getting the bill he could not be sure. He thought afterwards. He had
forgotten the circumstances while in prison.

Meilhan stuck pretty firmly to his story that it was to deceive his son
that he had fabricated the deed of annuity. He couldn't help it if the
story sounded thin. It was the fact.

How had he contrived to save, as he said, 3000 francs? His yearly income
during his six years at Riguepeu had been only 500 francs. The court had
reason to be surprised.

"Ah! You're surprised!" exclaimed Meilhan, rather put out. But at
Breuzeville, where he was before Riguepeu, he had bed and board free. In
Riguepeu he had nothing off the spit for days on end. He spent only 130
francs a year, he said, giving details. And then he did a little trade
in corn.

He had destroyed the annuity deed only because it was worthless. As for
what he had said to the Mayor about drawing his first payment of the
pension, he had done it because he was a bit conscience-stricken over
fabricating the deed. He had been bragging--that was all.

The President, having already chidden Meilhan for being prolix in his
answers, now scolded him for anticipating the questions. But the fact
was that Meilhan was not to be pinned down.

The first questions put to Mme Lacoste were with regard to her marriage
and her relations with her husband. She admitted, incidentally, having
begun to receive a young man some six weeks after her husband's death,
but she had not known him before marriage. Meilhan had carried no
letters between them. She had married Lacoste of her own free will.
Lacoste had not asked any attentions from her that were not ordinarily
sought by a husband, and her care of him had been spontaneous. It was
true he was jealous, but he had not formally forbidden her pleasures.
She had renounced them, knowing he was easily upset. It was true that
she had seldom gone out, but she had never wanted to. Lacoste was no
more avaricious than most, and it was untrue that he had denied her any

Taken to the events of the fair day, Tuesday, the 16th of May, Mme
Lacoste maintained that her husband, on his return, complained only of
a headache. He had gone to bed early, but he usually did. That night he
slept in the same alcove as herself, but next night they separated.
In spite of the contrary evidence of witnesses, of which the President
reminded her, Mme Lacoste firmly maintained that it was not until the
Wednesday-Thursday night that Lacoste started to vomit. It was not until
that night that she began to attend to him. She had given him lemonade,
washed him, and so on.

The President was saying that nobody had been allowed near him, and that
a doctor was not called, when the accused broke in with a lively denial.
Anybody who wanted to could see him, and a doctor was called. This was
towards the last, the President pointed out. Mme Lacoste's advocate
intervened here, saying that it was the husband who did not wish a
doctor called, for reasons of his own. The President begged to be
allowed to hear the accused's own answers. He pointed out that the
ministrations of the accused had effected no betterment, but that the
illness had rapidly got worse. The delay in calling a doctor seemed to
lend a strange significance to the events.

Mme Lacoste answered in lively fashion, accenting her phrases with the
use of her hands: "But, monsieur, you do not take into account that it
was not until the night of Wednesday and the Thursday that my husband
began to vomit, and that it was two days after that he--he succumbed."

The President said a way remained of fixing the dates and clearing up
the point. He had a letter written by M. Lacoste to the doctor in which
he himself explained the state of his illness. It was pointed out to
him that the letter had been written by Mme Lacoste at her husband's

The letter was dated the 19th (Friday). It was directed to M. Boubee,
doctor of medicine, in Vic-Fezensac. Perhaps it would be better to give
it in the original language. It is something frank in detail:

Depuis quelque temps j'avais perdu l'appetit et m'endormais de suite
quand j'etais assis. Mercredi il me vint un secours de nature par un
vomissement extraordinaire. Ces vomissements m'ont dure pendant un jour
et une nuit; je ne rendais que de la bile. La nuit passee, je n'en ai
pas rendu; dans ce moment, j'en rends encore. Vous sentez combien ces
efforts reiteres m'ont fatigue; ces grands efforts m'ont fait partir de
la bile par en bas; je vous demanderai, monsieur, si vous ne trouveriez
pas a propos que je prisse une medecine d'huile de ricin ou autre,
celle que vous jugerez a propos. Je vous demanderai aussi si je pourrais
prendre quelques bains. [signe]


Je rends beaucoup de vents par en bas. Pour la boisson, je ne bois que
de l'eau chaude et de l'eau sucree. (Il n'y a pas eu de fievre encore.)

The Procureur du Roi maintained that this letter showed the invalid had
already been taken with vomiting before it was considered necessary to
call in a doctor. But Mme Lacoste's advocate pointed out that the
letter was written by her, when she had overcome Lacoste's distaste for

The President made much of the fact that Mme Lacoste had undertaken even
the lowliest of the attentions necessary in a sick-room, when other,
more mercenary, hands could have been engaged in them. The accusation
from this was that she did these things from a desire to destroy
incriminating evidences. Mme Lacoste replied that she had done
everything out of affection for her husband.

Asked by the court why she had not thought to give Dr Boubee any
explanations of the illness, she replied that she knew her husband was
always ill, but that he hid his maladies and was ashamed of them. He
had, it appeared, hernias, tetters, and other maladies besides. It was
easy for her to gather as much, in spite of the mystery Lacoste made of
them; she had seen him rubbing his limbs at times with medicaments, and
at others she had seen him taking medicines internally. He was always
vexed when she found him at it. She did not know what doctor prescribed
the medicaments, nor the pharmacist who supplied them. Her husband
thought he knew more than the doctors, and usually dealt with quacks.

Mme Lacoste was questioned regarding her husband's will, and on his
longing to have an heir of his own blood. She knew of the will, but did
not hear any word of his desire to alter it until after his death. With
regard to Lacoste's attempts to seduce the servants, she declared this
was a vague affair, and she had found the first girl in question a place

Her letter to the Procureur du Roi demanding an exhumation and justice
against her slanderers was read. Then a second one, in which she excused
her absence, saying that she would give herself up for judgment at
the right time, and begged him to add her letter to the papers of the

The President then returned to the question of her husband's attempts
to seduce the servants. She denied that this was the cause of quarrels.
There had been no quarrels. She did not know that her husband was
complaining outside about her.

She denied all knowledge of the arsenic found in Lacoste's body, but
suggested that it might have come from one or other of the medicines he

Questioned with regard to her intimacy with Meilhan, she declared that
she knew nothing of his morals. She had intervened in the Lescure affair
at the request of Mme Lescure, who came to deny the accusation made by
Lescure. This woman had never acted as intermediary between herself and
Meilhan. Meilhan had not been her confidant. She looked after her late
husband's affairs herself. She had handed over the Castera note to
Meilhan against his loan of 2000 francs, but she had never given him
money as a present. Nor had she ever spoken to Meilhan of an annuity.
But Meilhan, it was objected, had been showing a deed signed "Euphemie
Lacoste." The accused quickly replied that she never signed herself
"Euphemie," but as "Veuve Lacoste." Upon this the President called for
several letters written by the accused. It was found that they were all
signed "Veuve Lacoste."

The evidence of the Fourcades regarding her conduct in their house at
Tarbes was biased, she said. She had refused to take up some people
recommended by her landlady. The young man who had visited her never
remained longer than after ten o'clock or half-past, and she saw nothing
singular in that.

The examination-in-chief of Mme Lacoste ended with her firm declaration
that she knew nothing of the poisoning of her husband, and that she
had spoken the truth through all her interrogations. Some supplementary
questions were answered by her to the effect that she knew, during
her marriage, that her husband had at one time suffered from venereal
disease; and that latterly there had been recrudescences of the
affection, together with the hernia already mentioned, for which her
husband took numerous medicaments.

Throughout this long examination Mme Lacoste showed complete
self-possession, save that at times she exhibited a Gascon impatience in
answering what she conceived to be stupid questions.


The experts responsible for the analysis of Lacoste's remains were now
called. All three of those gentlemen from Paris, MM. Pelouze, Devergie,
and Flandin, agreed in their findings. Two vessels were exhibited, on
which there glittered blobs of some metallic substance. This substance,
the experts deposed, was arsenic obtained by the Marsh technique from
the entrails and the muscular tissue from Lacoste's body. They could be
sure that the substances used as reagents in the experiments were pure,
and that the earth about the body was free from arsenic.

M. Devergie said that science did not admit the presence of arsenic as
a normal thing in the human body. What was not made clear by the expert
was whether the amount of arsenic found in the body of Lacoste was
consistent with the drug's having been taken in small doses, or whether
it had been given in one dose. Devergie's confrere Flandin later
declared his conviction that the death of Lacoste was due to one dose of
the poison, but, from a verbatim report, it appears that he did not give
any reason for the opinion.

At this point Mme Lacoste was recalled, and repeated her statement that
she had seen her husband rubbing himself with an ointment and drinking
some white liquid on the return of a syphilitic affection.

Dr Lasmolles testified that Lacoste, though very close-mouthed, had told
him of a skin affection that troubled him greatly. The deceased dosed
himself, and did not obey the doctors' orders. It was only from a farmer
that he understood Lacoste to have a hernia, and Lacoste himself did
not admit it. The doctor did not believe the man poisoned. He had been
impressed by the way Mme Lacoste looked after her husband, and the
latter did not complain about anyone. M. Lasmolles had heard no mention
from Lacoste of the glass of wine given him by Meilhan.

After M. Devergie had said that he had heard of arsenical remedies used
externally for skin diseases, but never of any taken internally, M.
Plandin expressed his opinion as before quoted.

The next witness was one Dupouy, of whom some mention has already been
made. Five days before his death Lacoste told him that, annoyed with
his wife, he definitely intended to disinherit her. Dupouy admitted,
however, that shortly before this the deceased had spoken of taking a
pleasure trip with Mme Lacoste.

Lespere then repeated his story of the complaints made to him by Lacoste
of his wife's conduct, of his intention of altering his will, and of
his belief that Euphemie was capable of poisoning him in order to get a
younger man. It was plain that this witness, a friend of Lacoste's for
forty-six years, was not ready to make any admissions in her favour. He
swore that Lacoste had told him his wife did not know she was his
sole heir. He was allowed to say that on the death of Lacoste he had
immediately assumed that the poisoning feared by Lacoste had been
brought about. He had heard nothing from Lacoste of secret maladies or
secret remedies, but had been so deep in Lacoste's confidence that he
felt sure his old friend would have mentioned them. He had heard of such
things only at the beginning of the case.

The Procureur du Roi remarked here that reliance on the secret remedies
was the 'system' of the defence.

That seemed to be the case. The 'system' of the prosecution, on the
other hand, was to snatch at anything likely to appear as evidence
against the two accused. The points mainly at issue were as follows:

(1) Did Meilhan have a chance of giving Lacoste a drink at the fair?

(2) Did Lacoste become violently sick immediately on his return from the

(3) Did Lacoste suffer from the ailments attributed to him by his wife,
and was he in the habit of dosing himself?

(4) Did Meilhan receive money from Mme Lacoste, and, particularly, did
she propose to allow him the supposed annuity?

With regard to (1), several witnesses declared that Lacoste had
complained to them of feeling ill after drinking with Meilhan, but none
could speak of seeing the two men together. M. Mothe, the friend
cited by Meilhan, less positive in his evidence in court than the acte
d'accusation made him out to be, could not remember if it was on the
16th of May that he had spent the whole afternoon with Meilhan. It was
so much his habit to be with Meilhan during the days of the fair that
he had no distinct recollection of any of them. Another witness, having
business with Lacoste, declared that on the day in question it was
impossible for Meilhan to have been alone with Lacoste during the time
that the latter was supposed to have taken the poisoned drink. Lescure,
in whose auberge Lacoste was supposed to have had the drink, failed to
remember such an incident. The evidence that Meilhan had given Lacoste
the drink was all second-hand; that to the contrary was definite.

For the most part the evidence with regard to (2), that Lacoste became
very ill immediately on his return from the fair, was hearsay. The
servants belonging to the Lacoste household all maintained that
the vomiting did not seize the old man until the night of
Wednesday-Thursday. Indeed, two witnesses testified that the old man, in
spite of his supposed headache, essayed to show them how well he could
dance. This was on his return from the fair where he was supposed
to have been given a poisoned drink at three o'clock. The evidence
regarding the seclusion of Lacoste by his wife was contradictory, but
the most direct of it maintained that it was the old man himself, if
anyone, who wanted to be left alone. On this point arises the question
of the delay in calling the doctor. Witness after witness testified to
Lacoste's hatred of the medical faculty and to his preference for dosing
himself. He declared his faith in a local vet.

On (3), the bulk of the evidence against Lacoste's having the suggested
afflictions came simply from witnesses who had not heard of them.
There was, on the contrary, quite a number of witnesses to declare that
Lacoste did suffer from a skin disease, and that he was in the habit
of using quack remedies, the stronger the better. It was also testified
that Lacoste was in the habit of prescribing his remedies for other
people. A witness declared that a woman to whom Lacoste had given
medicine for an indisposition had become crippled, and still was

With regard to (4), the Mayor merely repeated the evidence given in
his first statement, but the cure', who also saw the deed assigning an
annuity to Meilhan, said that it was not in Mme Lacoste's writing, and
that it was signed with the unusual "Euphemie." This last witness added
that Mme Lacoste's reputation was irreproachable, and that her relations
with her husband were happy.

Evidence from a business-man in Tarbes showed that Mme Lacoste's
handling of her fortune was careful to a degree, her expenditure being
well within her income. This witness also proved that the Fourcades'
evidence of Euphemie's misbehaviour could have been dictated from spite.
Fourcade had been found out in what looked like a swindle over money
which he owed to the Lacoste estate.

The court then went more deeply into the medico-legal evidence. It were
tedious to follow the course of this long argument. After a lengthy
dissertation on the progress of an acute indigestion and the effects of
a strangulated hernia M. Devergie said that, as the poison existed in
the body, from the symptoms shown in the illness it could be assumed
that death had resulted from arsenic. The duration of the illness was in
accord with the amount of arsenic found.

M. Flandin agreed with this, but M. Pelouze abstained from expressing
an opinion. He, however, rather gave the show away, by saying that if
he was a doctor he would take care to forbid any arsenical preparations.
"These preparations," he said moodily, "can introduce a melancholy
obscurity into the investigations of criminal justice."

Some sense was brought into the discussion by Dr Molas, of Auch. He put
forward the then accepted idea of the accumulation of arsenic taken in
small doses, and the power of this accumulation, on the least accident,
of determining death.

This was rather like chucking a monkey-wrench into the cerebration
machinery of the Paris experts. They admitted that the absorption and
elimination of arsenic varied with the individual, and generally handed
the case over to the defence. M. Devergie was the only one who stuck
out, but only partially even then. "I persist in believing," he said,
"that M. Lacoste succumbed to poisoning by arsenic; but I use the word
'poisoning' only from the point of view of science: arsenic killed him."


The speech of the Procureur du Roi was another resume of the acte
d'accusation, with consideration of that part of the evidence which
suited him best.

This was followed by the speech of Maitre Canteloup in defence of
Meilhan. The speech was a good effort which demonstrated that, whatever
rumour might accuse the schoolmaster of, there were plenty of people of
standing who had found him upright and free from stain through a long
life. It reproached the accusation with jugglery over dates and so
forth in support of its case, and confidently predicted the acquittal of

Then followed the speech of Maitre Alem-Rousseau on behalf of the Veuve
Lacoste. Among other things the advocate brought forward the fact that
Euphemie was not so poorly born as the prosecution had made out, but
that she had every chance of inheriting some 20,000 francs from her
parents. It was notorious that when Henri Lacoste first broached the
subject of marriage with Euphemie he was not so rich as he afterwards
became, but, in fact, believed he had lost the inheritance from his
brother Philibert, this last having made a will in favour of a young
man of whom popular rumour made him the father. This was in 1839. The
marriage was celebrated in May of 1841. Henri Lacoste, it is true, had
hidden his intentions, but when news of the marriage reached the ears
of brother Philibert that brother was so delighted that he destroyed the
will which disinherited Henri. It was thus right to say that Euphemie
became the benefactor of her husband. Where was the speculative marriage
on the part of Euphemie that the prosecution talked about?

Maitre Alem-Rousseau made short work of the medico-legal evidence (he
had little bother with the facts of the illness). Poison was found in
the body. The question was, how had it got there? Was it quite certain
that arsenic could not get into the human body save by ingestion, that
it could not exist in the human body normally? The science of the day
said no, he knew, but the science of yesterday had said yes. Who knew
what the science of to-morrow would say?

The advocate made use of the evidence of a witness whose testimony I
have failed to find in the accounts of the trial. This witness spoke
of Lacoste's having asked, in Bordeaux, for a certain liquor of
"Saint-Louis," a liquor which Mme Lacoste took to be an anisette. "No,"
said Lacoste, "women don't take it." Maitre Alem-Rousseau had tried to
discover what this liquor of Saint-Louis was. During the trial he had
come upon the fact that the arsenical preparation known as Fowler's
solution had been administered for the first time in the hospital of
Saint-Louis, in Paris. He showed an issue of the Hospital Gazette in
which the advertisement could be read: "Solution de Fowler telle qu'on
l'administre a SAINT-LOUIS!" The jury could make what they liked of that

The advocate now produced documents to prove that the marriage of
Euphemie with her grand-uncle had not been so much to her advantage, but
had been--it must have been--a marriage of affection. At the time when
the marriage was arranged, he proved, Lacoste had no more than 35,000
francs to his name. Euphemie had 15,000 francs on her marriage and the
hope of 20,000 francs more. The pretence of the prosecution, that her
contentment with the abject duties which she had to perform in the
house was dictated by interest, fell to the ground with the preliminary
assumption that she had married for her husband's money.

Maitre Alem, defending the widow's gayish conduct after her husband's
death, declared it to be natural enough. It had been shown to be
innocent. He trounced the Press for helping to exaggerate the rumours
which envy of Mme Lacoste's good fortune had created. He asked the jury
to acquit Mme Lacoste.

The Procureur du Roi had another say. It was again an attempt to destroy
the 'system' of the defence, but by making a mystery of the fact that
the Lacoste-Verges marriage had not taken place in a church he gave the
wily Maitre Alem an opportunity for following him.

The summing-up of the President on the third day of the trial was, it is
said, a model of clarity and impartiality. The jury returned on all the
points put to them a verdict of "Not guilty" for both the accused.


Another verdict may now seem to have been hardly possible. The
accusation was built up on the jealousy of neighbours, on chance
circumstances, on testimonies founded on petty spite. But, combined with
the medico-legal evidence, the weight of circumstance might easily have
hoisted the accused in the balance.

It will be seen, then, how much on foot the case of the Veuve Lacoste
was with that of the Veuve Boursier, twenty years before.

It is on the experience of cases such as these two that the technique
of investigation into arsenical poison has been evolved. In the case of
Veuve Boursier you find M. Orfila discovering oxide of arsenic where M.
Barruel saw only grains of fat. Four years previous to the case of the
Veuve Lacoste that same Orfila came into the trial of Mme Lafarge with
the first use in medical jurisprudence of the Marsh test, and based
on the experiment a cocksure opinion which had much to do with the
condemnation of that unfortunate woman. In the Lacoste trial you find
the Parisian experts giving an opinion of no greater value than that
of Orfila's in the Lafarge case, but find also an element of doubt
introduced by the country practitioner, with his common sense on the
then moot question of the accumulation, the absorption, and elimination
of the drug.

Nowadays we are quite certain that our experts in medical jurisprudence
know all there is to know about arsenical poisoning. What are the
chances, however, in spite of our apparently well-founded faith, that
some bristle-headed local chemist with a fighting chin will not
spring up at an arsenic-poisoning trial and, with new facts about the
substance, blow to pieces the cocksure evidence of the leading expert
in pathology? It may seem impossible that such a thing can ever happen
again--a mistake regarding the action of arsenic on the human body. But
when we discover it becoming a commonplace of science that one human may
be poisoned by an everyday substance which thousands of his fellows
eat with enjoyment as well as impunity--a substance, for instance, as
everyday as porridge--who will dare say even now that the last word has
been said and written of arsenic?

But that, as the late George Moore so doted on saying, is quelconque. M.
Orfila, sure about the grocer of the Rue de la Paix, was defeated by M.
Barruel. M. Orfila, sure about the death of Charles Lafarge, is declared
by to-day's experts in criminal jurisprudence and pathology to have been
talking through his hat. According to the present experts, says "Philip
Curtin," Lafarge was not poisoned at all, but died a natural death.
Because of M. Devergie it was for the Veuve Lacoste as much 'touch and
go' as it was for the Veuve Boursier twenty years before. Well might
Marie-Fortunee Lafarge, hearing in prison of the verdict in the Lacoste
trial, say, "Ma condamnation a sauve Madame Lacoste!"

In all this there's a moral lesson somewhere, but I'm blessed if I can
put my finger on it.


  Abbot, George, Archbishop of Canterbury
  Alem-Rousseau, Maitre; on arsenic
  Amos (Great Oyer of Poisoning)
  Ansell, Mary
  Aqua fortis--see Poisons
  Armstrong, poisoner
  Arsenic--see Poisons
  Artois, Comte d'--see Charles X
  Aumale, Duc d'

  Bacon, Sir Francis
  Balfour, Rev. James
  Ballet, Auguste
  Barruel, Dr.
  Barry, Philip Beaufroy
  Berry, Duchesse de
  Bidard, Professor; evidence against Helene Jegado
  Black, Mrs (Armagh)
  Blandy, Mary
  Bordeaux, Duc de
  Bordot, Dr.
  Borgia, Cesare
  Borgia, Lucretia
  Borgia, Rodrigo, Pope Alexander VI
  Borrow, George
  Boubee, Dr.
  Boudin, Dr.
  Bourbon, Louis-Henri-Joseph, Duc de, afterwards Prince de Conde
  Bourbon, Louise-Marie-Therese-Mathilde d'Orleans, Duchesse de
  Boursier, Veuve; case compared with Veuve Lacoste's
  Bouton, Dr.
  Briant, Abbe
  Brock, Alan
  Broe, M. de, Avocat-General
  Brownrigg, Elizabeth
  Bruce, Rev. Robert
  Burke and Hare
  Burning at the stake

  Canteloup, Maitre
  Cantharides--see Poisons
  Carew, Edith Mary
  Carr, Robert
  Cassagnol, M., Procureur du Roi, Auch
  Castaing, poisoner
  Cecil, Robert, Lord Salisbury
  Chabannes de la Palice, Marquise de
  Charles X, King of France; flight from France
  Coke, Sir Edward, Lord Chief Justice
  Conde, Louis-Henri-Joseph, Prince de--see Bourbon, Duc de Conde,
  Louis-Joseph, Prince de
  Cotton, Mary Ann
  Couture, Maitre; speech in defence of Mme Boursier
  Cream, Neill
  "Curtin, Philip"

  Dawes, James, made Baron de Flassans
  Dawes, Sophie,
  Devergie, M., chemist
  Diamond powder--see Poisons
  Diblanc, Marguerite
  Dilnot, George
  Donnoderie, M., Assize President, Auch
  Dorange, Maitre; defence of Helene Jegado
  Dubois, Dr, his account of the Prince de Conde's death
  Dunnipace, Laird of--see Livingstone, John
  Dyer, Amelia

  "Egalite"--see Orleans, Louis-Philippe
  Elwes, Sir Gervase
  Enghien, Duc d'
  Essex, Countess of--see Howard, Frances
  Essex, Robert Devereux, third Earl of

  Farnese, Julia
  Feucheres, Adrien-Victor, Baron de; marriage with Sophie Dawes;
  Feucheres, Baronne de--see Dawes, Sophie
  Flanagan, Mrs. poisoner
  Flandin, M., chemist
  Flassans, Baronde--see Dawes, James
  Fly-papers, for arsenic
  Forman, Dr
  "Fowler's solution"
  Franklin, apothecary

  Gardy, Dr
  Gendrin, Dr
  Gibbon, Edward
  Gowrie mystery
  Gribble, Leonard R.
  Gunness, Belle

  Hardouin, M., Assize President, Seine
  Harris, Miss
  Henry, Prince of Wales, son of James VI and I
  Higgins, Mrs, poisoner
  Hogarth, William
  Holroyd, Susannah, poisoner
  Howard family
  Howard, Frances, Countess of
  Essex, Countess of Somerset; early marriage; attracted to Robert
  Carr; begs Essex to agree to annul marriage; administers poison to
  husband; annulment petition presented; nullity suit succeeds;
  enmity to Overbury inexplicable; arrest and trial; death; portrait
  Howard, Thomas, Earl of Suffolk

  Jack the Ripper
  James VI and I, cruelty and inclemency of; double dealing
  of; share in Overbury's murder
  Jegado, Helene
  Jesse, Tennyson
  Jones, Inigo

  Kent, Edward Augustus, Duke of
  Kincaid, John, Laird of Warriston
  Kipling, Rudyard
  Kostolo (the Boursier case)

  Lacenaire, murderer and robber, his verses against King Louis-
  Lacoste, Henri
  Lacoste, Veuve
  Lacroix, Abbe Pelier de, his evidence re death of Prince de Conde
  Lafarge, Marie-Fortunee
  Lambot, aide-de-camp to last Prince de Conde
  Lapis costitus--see Poisons
  Lavaillaut, Mme
  Lecomte, valet to last Prince de Conde
  Lesieur, chemist
  Lidange, chemist
  Linden, Mme van der
  Livingstone, or Kincaid, Jean
  Livingstone, John, of Dunipace
  Logan, Guy
  Lombroso, Cesare
  Loubel, apothecary

  MACE, PERROTTE (Jegado victim)
  "Maiden," the
  Mainwaring, Sir Arthur
  Malcolm, Sarah; portraits of
  Malgutti, Professor, his evidence re arsenic in Jegado trial
  Manoury, valet to last Prince de Conde
  "Marsh technique," arsenic
  Maybrick, Mrs, poisoner
  Mayerne, Sir Theodore
  Meilhan, Joseph
  Mercury--see Poisons
  Moinet, Paul
  Molas, Dr, arsenic theory
  Monson, Sir Thomas
  Montagu, Violette
  Murdo, Janet
  'Mute of malice,'

  Northampton, Henry Howard, Earl of
  Norwood, Mary

  O'Donnell, Elliot
  Orfila, Professor; change of opinions re arsenic; intervention in
  Lafarge case
  Orleans, Louis-Philippe, Duc d', (King of the French); bourgeois
  traits of; elected King
  Orleans, Louis-Philippe ("Egalite"), Duc d'
  Orleans, Louise-Marie-Therese-Mathilde d'--see Bourbon, Louise-
  Marie-Therese-Mathilde d'Orleans, Duchesse de
  Overbury, Sir Thomas

  Parry, Judge A. E.
  Partra, Dr
  Pasquier, M.
  Paul III, Pope
  Pearcy, Mrs, murderess
  Pearson, Sarah
  Pelouze, chemist
  Perrin, Maitre Theo.
  Phosphorus--see Poisons
  Piddington, Rev. Mr.
  Pinault, Dr. of Rennes
  Pitcairn's trials
  Pitois, Dr. his estimate of character of Helene Jegado
  Poisons: aqua fortis; arsenic (from fly-papers),(white),(from a
  vermicide); cantharides; diamond powder; great spiders; lapis
  costitus; mercury (metallic),(corrosive sublimate); phosphorus;
  porridge; "rosalgar"; strychnine
  Poisons, reasons murderesses are inclined to use
  Pons, chemist
  Porridge, poisoning--see Poisons
  Porta, Guglielmo della
  Pritchard, Dr, poisoner

  Rachel, MME
  Rais, Gilles de
  Rochester, Viscount--see Carr, Robert
  Rohan, the Princes de, their lawsuit v. Sophie Dawes
  "Rosalgar"--see Poisons
  Roughead, William
  Row, breaking on--see Wheel
  Rully, Comtesse de
  Rumigny, M. de, aide-de-camp to Louis-Philippe

  Sabatini, Rafael
  Saint-Louis, Liquor of--see
  "Fowler's solution
  Sarrazin, Rosalie (Jegado victim)
  Sarzeau, Dr, his evidence re arsenic in Jegado case
  Seddon, poisoner
  Smith ("brides in the bath")
  Somerset, Countess of--see Howard, Frances
  Somerset, Earl of--see Carr, Robert
  Spara, Hieronyma
  Spiders, great--see Poisons
  Strychnine--see Poisons
  Suffolk, Countess of
  Suffolk, Earl of--see Howard, Thomas

  Tessier, Rose (Jegado victim)
  Toffana, poisoner
  Turner, Anne; as beauty specialist; her lover; relations with
  Countess of Essex; a spy for Northampton (?); causes poisoned food
  to be carried to Overbury in the Tower; arrest; trial; condemnation
  and execution
  Turner, Dr George

  Vigoureux, La
  Voisin, La

  Wade, Sir Willlam
  Wainewright, poisoner
  Walpole, Horace
  Warriston, Lady--see Livingstone, Jean
  Webster, Kate
  Weir, Robert
  Weissmann-Bessarabo, Mme
  Weissmann-Bessarabo, Paule Jacques
  Weldon, Antony
  Wheel,Breaking on the
  Winchilsea, Earl of

  Zwanziger, Anna


[Footnote 1: Bles, 1934.]

[Footnote 2: A stanza in one ballad runs:]

[Footnote 3: "And haifing enterit within the faid chalmer, perfaving the faid
vmqle Johnne to be walknit out of his fleip, be thair dyn, and to preife
ouer his bed ftok, the faid Robert cam than rynnand to him, and maift
crewallie, with thair faldit neiffis gaif him ane deidlie and crewall
straik on the vane-organe, quhairwith he dang the faid vmqle Johnne
to the grund, out-ouer his bed; and thaireftir, crewallie ftrak him on
bellie with his feit; quhairvpoun he gaif ane grit cry: And the faid
Robert, feiring the cry fould haif bene hard, he thaireftir, maift
tyrannouflie and barbarouflie, with his hand, grippit him be the thrott
or waifen, quhilk he held faft ane lang tyme quhill he wirreit him;
during the quhilk tyme, the faid Johnne Kincaid lay ftruggilling and
fechting in the panes of daith vnder him. And fa, the faid vmqle Johnne
was crewallie murdreit and flaine be the faid Robert."]

[Footnote 4: Men convicted of certain crimes were also subject to the same form
of execution adulterating and uttering base coins (Alan Napier, cutler
in Glasgow, was strangled and burned at the stake in December 1602)
sorcery, witchcraft, incantation, poisoning (Bailie Paterson suffered a
like fate in December 1607). For bestiality John Jack was strangled on
the Castle Hill (September 1605), and the innocent animal participator
in his crime burned with him.]

[Footnote 5: The Memorial is fully entitled: A Worthy and Notable Memorial of
the Great Work of Mercy which God wrought in the Conversion of Jean
Livingstone Lady Warristoun, who was apprehended for the Vile and
Horrible Murder of her own Husband, John Kincaid, committed on
Tuesday, July 1, 1600, for which she was execute on Saturday following;
Containing an Account of her Obstinacy, Earnest Repentance, and her
Turning to God; of the Odd Speeches she used during her Imprisonment; of
her Great and Marvellous Constancy; and of her Behaviour and Manner
of Death: Observed by One who was both a Seer and Hearer of what was

[Footnote 6: A 'row' is a wheel. This is one of the very few instances on
which the terrible and vicious punishment of 'breaking on a wheel' was
employed in Scotland. Jean Livingstone's accomplice was, according to
Birrell's Diary, broken on a cartwheel, with the coulter of a plough
in the hand of the hangman. The exotic method of execution suggests
experiment by King Jamie.]

[Footnote 7: Hutchinson, 1930.]

[Footnote 8: Edinburgh, W. Green and Son, Ltd., 1930.]

[Footnote 9: Antony Weldon, The Court and Character of King James (1651).]

[Footnote 10: Fisher Unwin, 1925.]

[Footnote 11: State Trials (Cobbett's edition).]

[Footnote 12: Antony Weldon.]

[Footnote 13: State Trials.]

[Footnote 14: Probably started by Michael Sparke ("Scintilla") in Truth Brought
to Light (1651).]

[Footnote 15: Sabatini, The Minion.]

[Footnote 16: According to one account. The Newgate Calendar (London 1773) gives
Mrs Duncomb's age as eighty and that of the maid Betty as sixty.]

[Footnote 17: One account says it was Sarah Malcolm who entered via the gutter
and window. Borrow, however, in his Celebrated Trials, quotes Mrs
Oliphant's evidence in court on this point.]

[Footnote 18: Or Kerrol--the name varies in different accounts of the crime.]

[Footnote 19: Peter Buck, a prisoner.]

[Footnote 20: Born 1711, Durham, according to The Newgate Calendar.]

[Footnote 21: This confession, however, varies in several particulars with that
contained in A Paper delivered by Sarah Malcolm on the Night before
her Execution to the Rev. Mr Piddington, and published by Him (London,

[Footnote 22: In Mr Piddington's paper the supposed appointment is for "3 or 4
o'clock at the Pewter Platter, Holbourn Bridge."]

[Footnote 23: One Bridgewater.]

[Footnote 24: On more than one hand the crime is ascribed to Sarah's desire to
secure one of the Alexanders in marriage.]

[Footnote 25: It was once done by the parish priest. (Stowe's Survey of London,
p. 195, fourth edition, 1618.)]

[Footnote 26: The bequest of Dove appears to have provided for a further pious
admonition to the condemned while on the way to execution. It was
delivered by the sexton of St Sepulchre's from the steps of that church,
a halt being made by the procession for the purpose. This admonition,
however, was in fair prose.]

[Footnote 27: Thanks to my friend Billy Bennett, of music-hall fame, for his hint
for the chapter title.]

[Footnote 28: Sophie Dawes, Queen of Chantilly (John Lane, 1912).]

[Footnote 29: Lacenaire, the notorious murderer-robber in a biting song, written
in prison, expressed the popular opinion regarding Louis-Philippe's
share in the Feucheres-Conde affair. The song, called Petition d'un
voleur a un roi son voisin, has this final stanza:

    "Sire, oserais-je reclamer?
    Mais ecoutez-moi sans colere:
    Le voeu que je vais exprimer
    Pourrait bien, ma foi, vous deplaire.
    Je suis fourbe, avare, mechant,
    Ladre, impitoyable, rapace;
    J'ai fait se pendre mon parent:
    Sire, cedez-moi votre place."]

[Footnote 30: Or, simply, kermes--a pharmaceutical composition, containing
antimony and sodium sulphates and oxide of antimony--formerly used as an

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