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Yvonne Gladys FLETCHER





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: July 29, 1948 / March 23, 1952
Date of arrest: May 19, 1952
Date of birth: 1922
Victims profile: Desmond George Butler, 30 (her first husband) / Bertrand "Bluey" Fletcher, 30 (her second husband)
Method of murder: Poisoning (thallium)
Location: Newtown, New South Wales, Australia
Status: Sentenced to death on September 23, 1952. Commuted to life imprisonment after the NSW Government abolished the death penalty. Released in 1964

In Australia in the early 1950s there was a notable spate of cases of murder or attempted murder by thallium poisoning. At this time, due to the chronic rat infestation problems in overcrowded inner-city suburbs (notably in Sydney), and thallium's effectiveness as a rat poison, it was still readily available over the counter in New South Wales, where thallium sulphate was marketed as a commercial rat bait, under the brand "Thall-rat".

In September 1952 Yvonne Gladys Fletcher, a housewife and mother of two from the inner Sydney suburb of Newtown, was charged and tried for the murders of both her first husband, Desmond Butler (who died in 1948) and her abusive second husband, Bertrand "Bluey" Fletcher, a rat bait layer, from whom Yvonne had obtained the thallium poison that she used to kill him earlier that year.

Suspicions were raised after it became obvious to friends and neighbours that Bluey Fletcher was suffering from the same fatal illness that had killed Yvonne's first husband. A police investigation led to the exhumation and testing of Desmond Butler's remains, which showed clear evidence of thallium, and this led to Yvonne being convicted of Butler's murder. She was sentenced to death, but this was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment after the NSW Government abolished the death penalty; she was eventually released in 1964.

At the time of the trial, it was reported that this was the first known case in Australia of a person being convicted of murder by administering thallium. The Fletcher case is also notable for the fact that one of the arresting officers was Sydney detective Fred Krahe, who later became notorious for his suspected close involvement with elements of Sydney's organised crime scene and his alleged involvement in the disappearance of social activist Juanita Nielsen.


Woman Sentenced To Death

The Sydney Morning Herald

September 24, 1952

Mrs. Yvonne Gladys Fletcher, 30, collapsed in the dock last night when she was sentenced to death for the murder of her first husband, Desmond George Butler, 30, by administering thallium poison.

A Central Criminal Court jury had returned a verdict of guilty after an absence of four hours.

Mrs. Fletcher, who wore a grey costume, blue jumper, and white hat, seemed self-composed when the jury returned to court.

She showed no emotion when the foreman announced the verdict..

Asked if she had anything to say before the Court passed sentence, she said, "No, your Honor." in a clear voice.

Mr. Justice Kinsella said: "You have had a fair trial and a patient and careful consideration of the evi- dence by the jury.

"If the conviction had been in respect of your second husband, possibly some palliation of your crime might have been found, for the evidence showed you suffered greatly at his hands. In respect of your first husband, there is no evidence at all of that nature.

"The crime of murder is a terrible one, and when the killing is by means of an insidious poison, secretly administered within the family circle to an unsuspecting victim, which destroyed him mentally and physically, while permitting him to linger for months in wretched agony, then the crime is a horrible one."

Mrs. Fletcher constantly opened and closed her eyes as the Judge addressed her.

When he passed the death sentence, she collapsed in the dock, dropping a prayer-book which she had carried during the seven-day trial.

Three policewomen and a constable rushed to her aid. They gave her a glass of water.

Just before Mrs. Fletcher reached the door leading to the cells, she burst into a fit of weeping.

Ban Sale: Jury

Mr. Justice Kinsella referred to a recommenda tion from the jury that, in view of the scientific evidence, the sale of thallium poison in any form to the public should be prohibited.

He said he would pass on the recommendation to the appropriate authority.

Mrs. Fletcher has two small children by her first marriage.

A gaol authority said that Mrs. Fletcher would be placed in an observation cell at Long Bay until the sentence was carried out or commuted to a term of imprisonment.

He said that, if the sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life, Mrs. Fletcher would be able to petition for release after serving about 20 years.

Mrs. Fletcher would remain at Long Bay.

A legal authority said last night that this was the first case known in Australia of a person having been convicted at murder by administering thallium poison. There had been several cases of suicide in which the poison was used.


Woman Sentenced To Death For Poisoning

The Canberra Times

September 24, 1952

SYDNEY, Tuesday.

Mrs. Yvonne Gladys Fletcher, 30, was to-night sentenced to death at the Central Criminal Court, for the murder of her first husband.

The jury returned the verdict of guilty after deliberating for 37 hours.

As Mr. Justice Kinsella sentenced her to death, Mrs. Fletcher went white, swayed and then collapsed in the dock.

She was led sobbing from the court by two policewomen.

Mrs. Fletcher was found guilty of the murder of Desmond George Butler in 1948.

The Crown alleged Mrs. Fletcher poisoned Butler with thallium poison.

Atfer delivering the verdict of guilty, the foreman of the jury recommended that the sale, of thallium to the public be prohibited.

The death sentence will probably be commuted to life imprisonment.

Addressing Mrs Fletcher, his Honour said the evidence had shown she had suffered greatly at the hands of her second husband.

"But there is no evidence to say you were mistreated by your first husband," he said.

"The crime of murder is a terrible one, but when the killing was by means of poison secretly administered which destroyed him mentally and physically, it is an atrocious thing."

"For the crime of murder, the law of this State has one sentence Death".

"I, therefore, sentence you, Yvonne Gladys Fletcher to death," His Honour said.

After Mrs Fletcher had left the court, Mr Justice Kinsella complimented the jury on their     "splendid service to the State."

He told the jury men there was ample evidence to bring in the verdict of guilty.

His Honour added if the jurymen desired, they could be excused from jury work for three years.

The Crown Prosecutor, Mr Rooney, Q.C., in. his opening address, said Mrs. Fletcher began administering thallium to her husband in 1947. Butler had sensations of pins and needles in his feet early in 1948.

In March this year, police began inquiries, and Butler's body was exumed on April 17.

Three days after the trial started, Mr. Justice Kinsella decided to admit evidence on the death of Mrs. Fletcher's second husband.

The crown also alleged that Bertram Henry Fletcher (30) had died as the result of thallium   poisoning.

The jury retired this afternoon at 5.30 and returned to the court at 9.10 p.m.


Woman Charged With Murder Of Two Husbands

Sydney Morning Herald

May 20, 1952

Mrs. Yvonne Fletcher, 30, a domestic, of Ferndale Street, Newtown, was charged at Central Court of Petty Sessions yesterday with murdering two men to whom she had been married.

The police allege that she poisoned them. Unkempt and red-eyed from crying, Mrs. Fletcher was remanded in custody until next Monday.

She wept while the charges were read in court.

The charges said that –

• On March 23 last, Mrs. Fletcher murdered Bertram Henry Fletcher, 30.

• On July 29, 1948, she murdered Desmond George Butler, 29.

The Allegation: “Poisoning”

Asked for some details of the allegations, Sergeant Bush said: –

The allegation is that the first man died in 1948 as a result of poisoning. The defendant was his wife.

”We say the second man died in a similar manner in March this year when the defendant was his wife.”

The Magistrate, Mr. C. F. Denton, S. M., asked Mrs. Fletcher if she wanted to make an application for bail.

She did not seem to understand what he meant and a policeman explained to her.

Then she replied: “No, I don’t want bail.”

Sergeant Bush said the police were opposing bail.

He asked that if an application for bail was made later, the officer in charge of the inquiry. Detective Fergusson, should be communicated with.

The magistrate said he would have the police objection to bail and the request noted.

Mrs. Fletcher was arrested at her home early yesterday.

The Background Science Aids Police

The charges against Mrs. Fletcher mark the climax of two months’ intensive investigation by Detectives D. Fergusson and F. Krahe.

Superintendent J. Wiley ordered the investigation when doctors at Royal Prince Allred Hospital refused to sign a death certificate for Fletcher on March 23 this year. The next day the Government Medical Officer, Dr. Percy, and Dr. Stratford Sheldon held a post-mortem.

The detectives were present, but the examination did not reveal the cause of Fletcher’s death.

The contents of the stomach and certain organs were then analysed by Mr. T. A. McDonald, at the request of the Government Analyst, Dr. Taylor.

On April 21, the detectives applied for and were granted permission by the City Coroner, Mr. Forrest, to exhume the body of Butler.

This was done at Rookwood Cemetery in drizzling rain at dusk on the same day.

Later, at the City Morgue, Dr. Percy and Dr. Sheldon examined the remains.

Samples of flesh tissue were also forwarded to the Government Analyst, Dr. Taylor, Detectives Fergusson and Krahe now spread their investigations further afield, interviewing many people in Sydney, Melbourne and Broken Hill.

They also inquired into Butler’s death at Broughton Hall psychiatric clinic.



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