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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.