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Charlotte BRYANT





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 22, 1935
Date of arrest: February 10, 1936
Date of birth: 1904
Victim profile: Frederick Bryant, 39 (her husband)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Dorset, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Exeter Prison on July 15, 1936

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Bryant, Charlotte

Charlotte McHugh was illiterate and a very promiscuous young lady. She met Frederick Bryant in Ireland during the early 1920s while he was serving in the Army. Leaving Ireland they moved to Somerset and were married. He was 25 and she was 19. Over the next few years, Charlotte had five children, although it's suspected that not all of these had the same father. By 1925 they were living in a tied cottage in Over Compton, east of Yeovil, where Fred managed to get a job as a farm labourer.

Charlotte was not a good housewife and she neglected her family while she went in search of any extra-marital pleasures that might be available. Her husband found it easier to ignore his wife's nymphomania and did not even object when she brought men to the house to share her bed.

One of her numerous lovers was a horse-dealer of gypsy origin named Leonard Parsons. He started lodging in the Bryant house sometime in 1933. Parsons did not lodge on a regular basis as his occupation often required him to travel. He was himself a married man with four children.

Charlotte, however, was in love with him and decided that she would rather have him as her husband. Charlotte was not very discreet and early in 1934 Fred was sacked, possibly because of the gossip surrounding his wife. They moved to Coombe, near Sherbourne, in Dorset. In May 1935 Frederick was taken ill with stomach pains. The doctor was called and he said that Frederick was suffering from gastro-enteritis and that he would recover within a few days, he did but then fell ill again on the 11 December, again recovering within a few days.

On 22nd December he was taken violently ill again and this time he died. His body was examined and four grains of arsenic was discovered.

When the police searched the house they found a tin that had contained arsenical weedkiller amongst rubbish at the back of the house and traces of arsenic were found on shelves in the house and in one of Charlotte's coat pockets.

Charlotte was arrested on 10th February 1936 and charged with the murder of her husband. Her trial was opened at Dorset Assizes, Dorchester in front of Mr Justice Macnaghten, on Wednesday 27th May 1936 with Charlotte seemingly unable to follow the proceedings. She protested that she had been on very good terms with her husband but witnesses were to refute this. On Saturday 30th May 1936 she was found guilty and sentenced to hang. She was executed at Exeter Prison on Wednesday 15th July 1936 by Tom Pierrepoint. She was thirty-three years old.


Charlotte Bryant

Charlotte McHugh, born in Londonderry in 1904, was illiterate and promiscuous. She met Frederick Bryant in Ireland during the early 1920s when he was serving as a military policeman in the British Army. They moved to Somerset and were married. He was twenty-five, she nineteen.

Over the next few years, Charlotte produced five children, though it is not known how many of these were fathered by Frederick. In 1925 they had moved to a tied cottage in Over Compton, east of Yeovil, after Fred obtained a job as a farm labourer. Charlotte was a slovenly woman who neglected her family while she went in pursuit of any extra-marital pleasures that might be available. Her husband ignored his wife's nymphomania and did not even object when she brought men to the house to share her bed.

One of her numerous lovers was a crude, unwashed peddler and horse-dealer of gypsy origin named Leonard Parsons. He started lodging in the Bryant house sometime in 1933. Parsons did not lodge on a regular basis as his occupation required him to roam, sometimes even as far as his 'wife', Prescilla Loveridge, the mother of his four children. Charlotte, however, was besotted with him and decided that she preferred him to her husband.

Early in 1934 Fred was sacked, possibly because of the gossip surrounding his wife, who was known locally as 'Killarney Kate', 'Compton Bess' and 'Black Bess'. They moved to Coombe, near Sherbourne, in Dorset.

In May 1935 Frederick was taken ill, with the doctor diagnosing gastro-enteritis. Frederick recovered within a few days. He was taken ill again on 11th December, again recovering within a few days. On 22nd December he was taken violently ill and died. Four grains of arsenic was discovered in the corpse. A tin that had contained arsenical weedkiller was found amongst rubbish at the back of the Bryant house and traces of arsenic were found on shelves in the house and in one of Charlotte's coat pockets.

Charlotte was arrested on 10th February 1936 and charged with the murder of her husband. Her trial was opened at Dorset Assizes, Dorchester, on Wednesday 27th May 1936 with Charlotte seemingly unable to follow the proceedings. She protested that she had been on very good terms with her husband but a witness, Mr Tuck, testified that he had met Charlotte returning from the hospital immediately after her husband's demise. Her comment to Mr Tuck, an insurance agent with whom Charlotte had tried to insure her husband's life, that "Nobody can say I poisoned him" did her no good at all. Especially since no one knew at that time that her late husband had been poisoned.

On Saturday 30th May 1936 Charlotte Bryant was found guilty and sentenced to hang. She was executed at Exeter Prison by Thomas Pierrepoint and Thomas Phillips on Wednesday 15th July 1936. She was thirty-three years old.



Arsenic and Old Lovers

Poisoners seem to love using arsenic to dispatch their victims despite the fact that the naturally occurring chemical is one of the easiest to detect.

Perhaps its favor among murderers is because arsenic is so easily obtainable. In fact, the computer used to read this post contains a form of arsenic — gallium arsenide — in its semiconductors.

In the play and film Arsenic and Old Lace, the kindly old Brewster ladies murder their lonely boarders by serving arsenic-laced tea, giving the appearance that this method of poisoning is somehow humane. In reality, death by arsenic poisoning is an extremely unpleasant way to die. If subjected to a large dose of arsenic, the victim suffers from intense gastro-intestinal distress, dizziness, vomiting blood and other nasty effects. Smaller doses administered over a longer period make the victim feel as if he or she is suffering from a never-ending bout of the worst flu they have ever experienced. Eventually, enough of the poison accumulates in the body to cause death.

For those readers who know of a person who is deserving of death by arsenic poisoning, the Malefactor’s Register — which strongly condemns any murder or attempt — reminds the reader that arsenic has been detectable by forensic sciences since the 18th century and undoubtedly will be discovered in any autopsy — any pathologist will immediately notice the red brick-colored mucosa and test for the mineral. Because arsenic does not readily degrade, it remains detectable even after cremation.

Charlotte Bryant, however, was an illiterate killer of dubious intelligence and little imagination who lived in a village of about 75 people in Dorset, England, so it’s not unexpected that she would choose arsenic to kill her husband in 1935.

Charlotte had been married for 13 years when she tired of her spouse, Frederick. For the time in which they lived and their location, the couple had an extremely liberal relationship because Frederick apparently could not satisfy Charlotte’s insatiable sexual appetite. A poor farm hand, Frederick also liked the money that Charlotte brought in as a part-time prostitute (the fact that Charlotte, a wrinkled, unkempt, snaggle-toothed woman could bring in any money as a whore demonstrates how remote and small the village of Coombe-Keynes must have been at the time).

Testimony at Charlotte’s trial indicated that she was desperate for excitement and that her favors could be purchased for the price of a lager at the local pub. Her loose nature was no secret in Coombe-Keynes (could there be any secrets in a village so small?).
Charlotte entertained her clients in the rural farmhouse she shared with Frederick and their four children. With the tacit approval of Frederick, she would wait until he left for work and the older children headed off to school. Then, after sending her youngest child off to the candy store for an hour, she would entertain her clients in the marital bed.

The arrangement was acceptable to everyone — “I don’t care what she does. Four pounds a week is better than 30 shillings,” Frederick once told a friend — until the Christmas season of 1933 when Charlotte met an itinerant peddler named Leonard Parsons.

The day Charlotte met Leonard she invited him back to the farmhouse for Christmas dinner. Frederick, apparently feeling especially charitable because of the season, listened to Leonard’s complaints about sleeping on the road and impulsively invited the Bryants’ new-found friend to stay with them.

To Charlotte, Leonard was everything that Frederick was not. He was a swarthy, blue-eyed, world-saavy travler whose life was in sharp contrast to Frederick’s stay-at-home, familiar complacency. Naturally, Charlotte fell in love with Leonard, who may not have loved her back, but enjoyed the sex without strings that she offered.

At night, Leonard slept on the couch in the living room, but as soon as the house cleared out in the morning, he and Charlotte would adjourn to the bedroom for a bit of intimacy.
This arrangement tested even Frederick’s tolerance. He was willing to put up with Charlotte’s casual liaisons, particularly when they brought in extra income, but he was unwilling to play the role of cuckold when his rival had the audacity to share his home along with his wife.

Frederick told Leonard to leave, which he did. Much to Frederick’s shock, Charlotte took two of the children and left with her lover. She stayed away for two days before returning, saying she was worried about the children she left behind.

Frederick forgave his wife, an act that helped seal his doom.

Shortly after Charlotte returned home, Leonard began showing up for morning intimacy. Inexplicably, within a few months, Leonard was once again a resident in the Bryant household. Frederick and Leonard managed to achieve some kind of detente and eventually switched places in reference to their sleeping arrangements.

About the same time that Charlotte became pregnant by Leonard, in the spring of 1935, Frederick began to suffer bouts of gastroenteritis. His first attack occurred when Charlotte was out of the house, but had conveniently left Frederick’s lunch in the oven. Within minutes of eating the meat pie, he became violently ill to the extent that a neighbor heard his cries of agony. The doctor was summoned and gastroenteritis was the diagnosis. Frederick recovered in about a week.

In August 1935, Frederick was laid low with another attack but recovered in four days.
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s relationship with Leonard was in its final stages. In November 1935 he walked out of her house and left his pregnant lover. The next time they saw each other, Charlotte would be in the dock, accused of murdering her husband.

Within a month Charlotte had moved on to a new friend, although there is no evidence that the relationship was sexual. She had made friends with a local young widow, Lucy Malvina Ostler, who had a handful of children of her own. Lucy suggested that she (and her children) move in with the Bryants, which Charlotte endorsed. Frederick, however, was having none of it.

On December 21, 1935, Lucy spent the night with the Bryants after Charlotte complained of “feeling nervous.” That night Frederick became ill for the last time. He was rushed to the local hospital, but within hours, he was dead.

The autopsy revealed significant traces of arsenic in his system. Immediately, Charlotte was suspected of the crime and was moved out of her home by police anxious to find evidence to back their hunches.

The first break occurred when a local druggist told authorities that he had sold a tin of arsenic to a woman who signed the required poison register with a cross. However, when he was shown a lineup of women that included both Lucy and Charlotte, he could not make an identification.

The lineup spooked Lucy, who told police that she saw a tin of poison in the Bryant home. Her description of the tin matched that sold by the chemist. She saw the tin a second time when she was cleaning out the ashes beneath the house’s steam heater. She told authorities that she threw the in the yard and it was quickly recovered. An analysis revealed that it contained traces of arsenic.

It wasn’t until May 1936 that Charlotte stood trial for Frederick’s murder. The chief witness against her was Lucy Ostler.

Lucy testfied that on December 21 she heard Charlotte offer her husband a drink of beef boullion and that shortly after Frederick was prostrate with stomach pains followed by vomiting.

Charlotte’s two eldest children also offered evidence against her, telling the court about the strange sleeping arrangements in the Bryant home.

Leonard Parsons was traced and brought in to testify for the Crown. He recalled seeing Charlotte with poison that she said was weedkiller.

Charlotte took the stand in her own defense and squarely pointed the finger of blame on Lucy Ostler. She claimed she had gone to bed at 7 p.m. on December 21 and that Lucy had been the one to care for Frederick during his last night on Earth.

The most controversial witness, however, was Dr. Roche Lynch, who was a chemist with the Home Office. He testified that the ashes beneath the boiler contained an “abnormally large” amount of arsenic — 149 parts per million. The expected level in ash was about 45 parts per million. Thus, he explained, something containing arsenic was burned beneath the boiler. The judge, in his summing up, advised the jury that this appeared to him that someone had obviously tried to destroy evidence. It was a fair assumption that this person was Charlotte.

The jury took just an hour to find Charlotte guilty of first degree murder and she was sentenced to hang.

However, two days after the verdict was returned, her solicitor received a letter from a college professor who advised her counsel that the Home Office chemist was seriously wrong in his estimates of the arsenic content of ash. In fact, he argued, the normal arsenic content of British household coal was never less than 140 parts per million and often reached levels of 1,000 parts per million.

Armed with this new information, Charlotte’s defense team attempted to gain a new trial for her. They were unsuccessful in swaying the appellate court:

It would be intolerable if this court, on the conclusion of a capital charge or other case, were to listen to the afterthoughts of a scientific gentleman who brought his mind controversially to bear on the evidence that was given. We adumbrated that possibility and we set our minds against it.

~Lord Chief Justice Gordon Hewart.

Charlotte Bryant was executed at Exeter prison on July 15, 1936. She left a letter behind that is intriguing in its mystery:

“It’s all _____’s fault I am here,” she wrote. “I listened to the tales I was told. But I have not long now and I will be out of all my troubles. God bless my children.”

Charlotte supplied the identity of the person she blamed, but in releasing the letter, prison authorities blacked out the name. Perhaps somewhere, in an archive somewhere in England, the unredacted letter could shed the final light on this crime.


Charlotte Bryant

Charlotte Bryant was born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1904, her maiden name being McHugh. Little is known of her childhood, but by age 19 she was a nice looking girl with raven black hair and attractive eyes who fraternised with the British soldiers in the Province and was nicknamed "Darkie" by them. She was illiterate, ill educated and notably promiscuous. Her activities were strongly disapproved of by the Republicans and she was threatened with tarring and feathering - a fate that befell quite a few girls who went out with British soldiers during "The Troubles."

In 1922 she met Frederick Bryant who was eight years her senior. Frederick was serving as a military policeman in the Dorset Regiment. He had served in the army during the 1st World War and was described as a simple country lad. He immediately fell for Charlotte's physical charms. When Frederick's tour of duty ended he returned to England and Charlotte went with him.

They married a little while later at Wells in Somerset. Frederick resumed civilian life as a farm labourer and by 1925 was working as a cowman at a farm near Yeovil, in the village of Over Compton. Like most small rural villages there was little to do and even less excitement. Social life revolved round the local pub. In the 13 years of their marriage Charlotte gave Frederick five children, although whether he was the father of all of them is open to question.

Charlotte was very highly sexed and soon became bored with village life, compared to the excitement of life around the Londonderry barracks, with plenty of attentive and free spending soldiers and a good sex life. She didn't work as such and spent her days drinking and indulging in a little prostitution - one feels as much for the sex as for the money.

She was known as Black Bess or Killarney Kate by the villagers and was thought of as a drunken slut. Surprisingly Frederick seemed indifferent to these "goings on" to use an expression of the time. As he told a neighbour "I don't care what she does. Four pounds a week is better than 30 shillings". (£1.50 a week, which he earned as a cowman)

In December 1933 Charlotte met Leonard Edward Parsons, a horse trader and gypsy, who took up lodgings in the Bryant's cottage and with whom she had an affair. In 1934 Frederick Bryant was sacked from his job as a farm labourer, as his employer was not happy about what was going on in his tied cottage. They then moved to the village of Coombe, near Sherborne, where again Frederick found employment as a farm labourer. The move did not change the domestic circumstances, Parsons simply moved with them and his and Charlotte's affair continued unabated.

Parsons did not live with the Bryants on a permanent basis, but rather stayed there between business trips. He had a common law wife, Priscilla Loveridge, by whom he had fathered four children. Initially Parsons and Frederick Bryant appeared to get on quite well and drank together in the local pub. Domestic life however was somewhat different with Charlotte and Parsons sharing the marital bed while Frederick had to sleep on the sofa on occasion.

Eventually Frederick could stand the situation no longer and ordered Parsons to leave. Charlotte went too and she and Parsons rented rooms in Dorchester. She soon returned to the family home however. A few days later all three had a meeting and Parsons was allowed back into the house. It appeared that Charlotte had become totally besotted with Parsons, but although he enjoyed her sexual favours, her love was not returned and the relationship began to deteriorate. This was something however, she was to deny at her trial.

The murder.

In May 1935, Frederick, who was then 39 years old, was taken ill for the first time, immediately after eating the lunch that Charlotte had cooked. He had severe stomach pains. Helped by a neighbour who induced vomiting, he began to feel a little easier. The doctor came to see him and diagnosed gastro-enteritis, and after a few days Frederick Bryant returned to work. A further attack followed in August and again Frederick made a full recovery.

In November 1935 Parsons dropped a huge bombshell into Charlotte's life by announcing that he was leaving. His stated reason was the lack of work in that part of Dorset although the deterioration in Charlotte's looks may have had far more to do with it.

On December the 11th, 1935, Frederick was again taken ill with severe stomach pains from which, once more, he recovered. Charlotte continued to search for Parsons in the local pubs but without success. She did however form a new relationship with a woman called Lucy Ostler who was a widow with seven children.

Lucy moved into the Bryant's home and witnessed Frederick's final attack on the night of December the 22nd 1935. He once again suffered extremely severe stomach pains. This time it was so bad that he was admitted to hospital in Sherborne where he died in the afternoon of the 23rd.

His death was regarded as suspicious by the doctors and therefore a post mortem was carried out. Analysis of his tissues by Home Office pathologist, Dr. Roche Lynch, found 4.09 grains of arsenic in the body. These findings were reported to Dorset Constabulary who visited Charlotte and removed her and the children to a workhouse in Sturminster Newton while they conducted a minute search of the Bryant's cottage and garden. Of the 150 odd samples sent to the Home Office laboratory, 32 contained arsenic. Among the items recovered was a burnt tin which had contained an arsenic-based weed killer.

Armed with this vital piece of information the police systematically visited all the local chemists shops to try and establish where the weed killer had been purchased and by whom. Their efforts bore fruit and they discovered a Yeovil chemist who had sold a tin of the weed killer to a woman who only signed the poisons register with an X. (remember, Charlotte could not write, a fact known to all who knew her). The chemist however was unable to identify either Charlotte or Lucy Ostler in a subsequent identity parade.

On February the 10th, 1936, Charlotte who was still at the workhouse in Sturminster Newton, was arrested and charged with the murder of her husband. She is reported to have told the officers that arrested her "I haven't got poison from anywhere and that people know. I don't see how they can say I poisoned my husband"

The trial.

The trial opened on Wednesday May the 27th,1936 the Dorset Assizes in Dorchester, before Mr. Justice MacKinnon. It was to last just four days which was by no means unusual in capital murder trials in those days. As it was a high profile poisoning case the prosecution case was led by the Solicitor-General, Sir Terrence O'Connor. Charlotte was defended by the well known barrister Mr. J.D. Casswell KC.

The prosecution argued that the case was a classic eternal triangle and that Charlotte poisoned her husband to be able to have Parsons. They could not show direct evidence that Charlotte either bought or administered the arsenic although the circumstantial evidence supported this theory. Lucy Ostler testified against Charlotte and told the court that on the night Frederick died Charlotte had made him an Oxo drink and that he was violently sick after taking it.

She also related how she had explained to Charlotte what an inquest was and alleged that Charlotte had told her that she hated Frederick and only stayed with him because of the children. She told the court about the tin of weed killer and how Charlotte had said that she would have to get rid of it.

She mentioned how she had found the remains of burnt clothing in the boiler and the then discovered the remains of the tin amongst the ashes which she had thrown into the yard where the police discovered it. The burnt remains of the tin are pictured right.

Mr. Casswell was unable to shake Lucy Ostler who stuck to her damning allegations against Charlotte. Leonard Parsons' testimony did not help her case either. He told the court how they had intercourse on numerous occasions. Nowadays this may not seem shocking but in 1936 promiscuity and adultery were considered totally unacceptable and had the effect of painting Charlotte as a "scarlet" woman - something that probably bore considerable weight with the jury.

Forensic evidence was presented by Dr. Roche Lynch who had analysed the various samples taken from the Bryant's home. He demonstrated to the court how arsenic could be dissolved in Oxo and not be spotted by a person drinking it. He also told the court that he had found that the ashes from the boiler in which Charlotte was alleged to have tried to destroy the weed killer tin contained 149 parts per million of arsenic whereas ashes normally contained around 45 parts per million. Altogether 30 witnesses had testified for the prosecution and painted a dire picture of the woman in the dock.

Mr. Casswell called Charlotte as a witness with some trepidation, but in fact she did much better than he expected. She denied knowing about poison or possessing any weed killer. She also demonstrated to the court that an old coat in which traces of arsenic had been found and which it was alleged that she had worn when she bought the weed killer, did not fit her at all.

Interestingly, she told the court that she was pleased when Parsons left their house and that she had lost interest in him, rather than the other way round.

Charlotte's older children gave evidence next, but their testimony was in fact very damaging to their mother's case. They related how she had asked Ernest, her older son, to dispose of some blue bottles in late December. Her daughter Lily told how she had seen Parsons with a blue bottle who's contents had fizzed when poured onto a stone by Parsons in front of Charlotte.

Once all the evidence had been heard and the closing statements made by both sides, Mr. Justice MacKinnon commenced the summing up. He asked the jury to consider two principle questions - was Frederick Bryant poisoned with arsenic and if so was that arsenic administered by Charlotte. He noted that Charlotte had been present on each occasion her husband had been ill and that two of the bouts of sickness had occurred before Lucy Ostler (a possible suspect) had come into the household.

On Saturday the 30th, the jury after deliberating for just an hour returned a verdict of guilty against Charlotte. When asked if she had anything to say before sentence was passed she replied in a calm voice "I am not guilty." Mr. Justice MacKinnon had the black cap placed upon his wig and then passed the only sentence the law permitted in 1936.

He sentenced her to be taken hence to the prison in which she had been last confined and from there to a place of execution where she was to be hanged by her neck until she was dead. Her body to be buried in the precincts of the prison in which she was last confined. To which he added the customary rider "and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul" There was considerable emotion in the court and Mr. Justice MacKinnon seemed to have difficulty saying these dread words to her. On hearing her sentence Charlotte broke down and was led sobbing from the dock.


After the trial Mr. Caswell received a letter from a Professor Bone who had read about the case in his Sunday paper. He told Mr. Caswell that far from 149 parts per million of arsenic that Dr. Roche had found in the ashes was on the low side for ashes and certainly not an unusually high amount, as Dr. Roche had told the court. Professor Bone later provided the defence with a signed statement to this effect.

Charlotte's appeal was heard on the 29th of June at the Appeal Court in London. Amazingly the Appeal Court refused to hear the evidence of Professor Bone and concluded that even if the jury had been correctly advised by Dr. Roche that the outcome of the trial would have been the same. Thus her appeal was denied and her sentence stood.

At this time it would have been unprecedented for the Court of Appeal to admit new evidence - it just concerned itself with the conduct of the trial. However one could argue that Professor Bone's statement was not new evidence but rather a correction of flawed evidence that had already been given at the original trial by the prosecution's "expert" witness.

In the condemned cell.

Charlotte spent almost six weeks in the condemned cell, where her once raven hair had turned completely white, presumably due to the stress of her situation. She decided, after much agonising, against seeing her children as she felt it would be too much for them to bear. She was visited regularly by Father Barney, a Catholic priest, who prayed with her and had a small altar set up in her cell.

She began to learn to read and write with the help of the shifts of female warders who looked after her round the clock and was able to dictate a telegram to the King asking for clemency. She also wrote a letter in which she said "It is all fault ............ I'm here. I listened to the tales I was told. But I have not got long now and I will be out of my troubles. God bless my children" The Home Office obliterated the name in this note so we will never know whose fault Charlotte thought it was.

A lot had been going on behind the scenes to try and save Charlotte. Sir Stafford Cripps, at that time a Member of Parliament, had applied to the Home Secretary to declare a mis-trial and order a new one on the grounds of the flawed evidence. Questions had also been raised in the House of Parliament about the case and the usual petitions got up.
There appeared to be an unwritten rule at the Home Office that poisoners should not be reprieved and this practice was followed in Charlotte's case.

On the Tuesday (the day before her execution) the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon declined, on the advice of his officials, to grant a reprieve or a new trial. The prison governor had the unpleasant job of communicating this to Charlotte and telling her that the execution would take place, as planned, the following morning.


Strangely Charlotte was neither confined or hanged at Dorchester prison (in the county in which she was convicted and sentenced) although it continued to have an execution chamber which was last used for the hanging of David Jennings in July 1941. Instead she was sent to Exeter jail, in neighbouring Devon, to await execution. Although nobody was executed at Dorchester during this time the condemned cell may have been in use for a prisoner who was subsequently reprieved.

Charlotte was led to the gallows at 8.00 a.m. on Wednesday July the 15th 1936 by Tom Pierrepoint assisted by Thomas Phillips. Albert Pierrepoint may also have assisted his uncle at this execution. By an odd coincidence a man called George Bryant (no relation) had been hanged the previous day at Wandsworth.

As was the norm by 1936 Charlotte's execution was an entirely secret affair and there were no reporters present. However she was attended by a Catholic priest, Father Barney, who was not bound by Home Office rules of secrecy. He later described her last moments as "truly edifying." "She met her end with Christian fortitude." He reported, however, that she never confessed to the murder.

In accordance with her sentence, after autopsy, her body was buried in the grounds of the prison, probably at lunch time, that same day.

Charlotte left the tiny sum of 5 shillings and eight pence halfpenny (about 29p) to be her children, who being now orphaned, were taken into the care of Dorset County Council.

Arsenic poisoning.

Arsenic is a metallic poison and was one of the most frequently used poisons by murderers. It was still quite readily available in 1936, particularly in the agricultural and leather tanning industries. The poisons register had to be signed when arsenic weed killers and rat poisons were purchased from chemist's shops.

It causes vomiting and diarrhoea and its effects are cumulative. Thus it can be administered little by little over a long period of time, rather than in one large and noticeable (to the victim) dose. It builds up in the tissues and particularly in the hair and nails of the victim. By 1936 it was easily spotted by forensic scientists.

A century earlier in 1836, English chemist, James Marsh had developed a reliable test for arsenic in body tissues. His process was very sensitive and could detect as little as a fiftieth of a milligram of the substance. Prior to that it often went undetected when stomach upsets, dysentery and gastro-enteritis were all common and quite often fatal. This was due to the poor hygiene standards and lack of refrigeration in those days.

Briton's most prolific female serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton, used arsenic to poison anything up to 20 victims in 1860's and early 1870's and nearly got away with it.



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