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Frederick Henry SEDDON





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Poisoner - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 14, 1911
Date of arrest: December 4, 1911
Date of birth: 1870
Victim profile: Eliza Mary Barrow, 49
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Pentonville Prison on April 18, 1912

Frederick Henry Seddon (sometimes called Sedden) (1870 – 18 April 1912) was a British poisoner who was hanged in 1912 for murdering Eliza Mary Barrow.


In 1910 Seddon was a 40-year-old Superintendent of Collectors for a national insurance company. He and his wife, Margaret Ann, had five children. His father also lived with him. At one time Seddon had been a Freemason, being initiated into Liverpool's Stanley Lodge No. 1325 in 1901. He resigned a year later to move south. In 1905 he is named as a founding petitioner of Stephens Lodge No. 3089 at Bourne End, Buckinghamshire. He resigned from both Lodges in 1906.

In 1909, Seddon bought a fourteen-room house at 63 Tollington Park, near London's Finsbury Park area. He had an obsession with making money; he ran a second-hand clothes business in his wife's name and also speculated in real estate. At some stage he had the idea of duping money out of another person, so he and his wife advertised to let out the second floor of their London home. A near-neighbour, Eliza Mary Barrow, a 49 year-old eccentric spinster responded to this advertisement, moving in with her ward Ernest Grant, the ten-year-old nephew of her friend, on 26 July 1910. Previously she had shared lodgings with her cousin, Frank Vonderahe, but she hoped the new arrangement with Seddon would be cheaper.


Being easily led, and as keen on making money as Seddon was himself, Barrow was quickly persuaded by Seddon to sign over to him a controlling interest in all her savings and annuities, including £1,500 of India Stock, in return for which he would take care of her for the rest of her life, giving her a small annuity and allowing her to live in his home rent free.

In August 1911, the Seddons, Barrow, and her young ward went on holiday together to Southend. On their return, Seddon's daughter Maggie was sent to buy a threepenny packet of flypaper from the local chemist. Shortly after, Barrow began to suffer from agonising stomach pains. The local doctor was called, who prescribed bismuth and morphine.

On 9 September he visited her again, but by the following Monday her condition had deteriorated. However, she refused to go to hospital. She improved slightly for a few days, but was confined to her bed where, on 13 September, she made a will, dictated to and executed by Seddon, and witnessed by his relatives. At 6:15 on the morning of 14 September, while being looked after by Mrs. Seddon, Barrow died. Seddon went to the doctor, who issued a death certificate without seeing the body, claiming that he was unable to attend due to overwork brought on by an epidemic current in the area at that time.

On September 15, Seddon went to the undertaker and arranged a cheap funeral, keeping the small commission for himself. Barrow's burial took place in a common burial plot, a pauper's grave, although her family had a vault in Islington. Seddon's later explanation for this was that Barrow's family had snubbed his daughter during an earlier visit and he was not prepared to allow his family to be treated in the same way again, and that if Barrow's family missed the funeral it might teach them better manners for the future.

Immediately after the funeral the Seddon family left for Southend for a fortnight's holiday. Barrow's cousin, Frank Vonderahe, suspicious over the suddenness of the death and how quickly the funeral arrangements had been made, arrived to take over possession of her estate. However, Seddon informed him that nothing was left as he had paid the substantial funeral expenses and the cost of Ernest Grant's upkeep himself. The Vonderahe family then went to the police and voiced their suspicions. Barrow's body was exhumed on 15 November 1911, and an examination of it by Sir William Willicox, the senior Home Office specialist, and young pathologist Bernard Spilsbury, who had already made a name for himself in the Crippen case, discovered about two grains of arsenic.

Trial and execution

Seddon and his wife became the chief suspects in what was by now a murder inquiry. During their trial at the Old Bailey the prosecution, led by the Attorney General, Sir Rufus Issacs, proved that Margaret Seddon had previously bought a large amount of flypaper, which contained arsenic. The prosecution suggested that the poison used to kill Barrow had been obtained by soaking the flypaper in water.

The renowned barrister Edward Marshall-Hall led for the defence. He strongly resisted all claims that Barrow had been poisoned, claiming instead that she had died by taking a medical preparation containing arsenic. Despite being advised against it by his Counsel, Seddon insisted on giving evidence in his own defence; it was claimed that he turned the jury against himself through his arrogant and condescending attitude. Certainly, his case was not helped by his ridiculous claim that Barrow might have drunk water from the dishes of flypaper that had been placed in her room to keep away the flies. Despite a fierce battle from the defence team the jury found him guilty. Margaret Seddon was acquitted of any involvement in the murder.

A former Freemason, on being asked by the Clerk of the Court if he had anything to say as to why the sentence of death should not be passed against him, Seddon replied at length and appealed directly to the judge, Sir Thomas Townsend Bucknill, as a brother Mason and in the name of 'The Great Architect Of The Universe' to overturn the jury’s guilty verdict. According to some sources he gave the First Degree sign, according to others the Sign of Grief and Distress, begging for mercy.

The judge, Mr Justice Bucknill, himself a prominent Freemason, is reported as having said, with some emotion:

"It is not for me to harrow your feelings – try to make peace with your Maker. We both belong to the same Brotherhood, and though that can have no influence with me this is painful beyond words to have to say what I am saying, but our Brotherhood does not encourage crime, it condemns it".

Seddon replied that he had already made his peace with his Maker. Mr Justice Bucknill then pronounced sentence of death. Bernard Spilsbury, who went on to become a famous pathologist and who gave evidence during the trial, was not yet involved in Freemasonry, and so the meaning of what had passed between Seddon and Bucknill was lost on him at the time. However, his colleagues who also provided forensic evidence were Masons, and they were aware of its significance.

Seddon was hanged by John Ellis and Thomas Pierrepoint at Pentonville Prison on 18 April 1912.


Arsenic: Frederick Henry Seddon

Year: 1911

Motive: Financial gain

Although the annals of crime are filled with despicable poisoners who used arsenic as a murder weapon, none of them are any competition for Frederick Seddon, who had the reputation for being the single meanest murderer in the history of poisoning.

Seddon was a 40-year-old Superintendent of Collectors for a national insurance company. He had a wife, five children, and a live-in father - and an unhealthy obsession with the acquisition of money. To rake in extra cash, he ran a second-hand clothes business in his wife's name, speculated in the buying and selling of property, and let out the second floor of his house to the woman from whom he would eventually profit greatly.

The woman was Eliza Barrow, a 49-year-old spinster, whose friend's ten-year-old nephew Ernest Grant moved in with her in the summer of 1910. Money began mysteriously finding its way from Barrow to Seddon. It began with Seddon becoming Barrow's adviser in financial matters, and the subsequent transference of £1,500 of India Stock to Seddon in return for a small annuity and remission of rent. By 1911, two Camden properties had found their way into Seddon's coffers as Eliza Barrow's annuity rose to £3 per week. As Lloyd George's budget and the Birkbeck financial crash became news, the spinster withdrew £200 from her savings bank (acting on Seddon's advice) and placed the money in the care of her landlord.

In August, the Seddons, Ms Barrow and her young ward all went on vacation to Southend. Upon their return, Frederick Seddon's daughter Maggie was dispatched to buy a threepenny packet of flypaper from the chemist's. One month later, Eliza Barrow took ill.

When Barrow died in September that year, Frederick Seddon became the sole executor and guardian of Ernie Grant, and wasted no time in appropriating Ms Barrow’s remaining stock and property, claiming that he had had to dig into his own pockets for the funeral expenses and the cost of Ernie's upkeep. Unfortunately, all this incurred the wrath of Ms Barrow's cousins, the Vonderahes, who had themselves expected to inherit. They drove the police to exhume Ms Barrow's body, whereupon the senior Home Office specialist William Willicox and young pathologist Bernard Spilsbury (who had already proved himself in the Harvey Crippen case, and who would go on to become the adviser to the greatest deception in the history of modern military strategy, Operation Mincemeat) found damning proof of arsenic poisoning.

Despite a fierce battle put up by the defence, who vehemently claimed death by chronic ingestion of an arsenic-containing medicinal preparation; and despite Seddon's preposterous claim that Ms Barrow might have drunk water from the dishes of flypaper placed in her room to keep away flies, the jury pronounced him guilty, no doubt influenced by his loathsome arrogance in court. He was subsequently hanged in Pentonville Prison on 18 April, 1912.


Murder and Masonry

Bernard Williamson Investigates the Infamous Seddon Murder Case

In the sparse, hushed courtroom, the judge prepared to pronounce sentence of death. Looking straight at the prisoner, he said; ‘We both belong to the same Brotherhood,’ (he faltered here) ‘and though that can have no influence with me, this is painful beyond words for me to have to say what I am saying, but our Brotherhood does not encourage crime, it condemns it.’

This was the culmination of a sensational trial, sensational not only because of the nature of the crime committed, but because it was clear that the accused man had made an appeal for leniency in the name of the fraternity to the Judge, a fellow Freemason. In the course of the trial he had signalled to the Judge that he was in distress, and thus was born a legend of masonic collusion between crime and justice.

Frederick Henry Seddon was an insurance agent and a mortgage salesman, who had been initiated in the Stanley Lodge No. 1325 in 1901, later becoming a founder of Stephens Lodge, No. 3089 but resigned from both in 1906. In 1909 he purchased a fourteen-room house at 63 Tollington Park, by the Finsbury Park area close to Seven Sisters Road in London, for the then princely sum of £220.

The following year he made the acquaintance of a forty-nine year old spinster, Miss Eliza Barrow, who had been left a legacy enabling her to have investments in property and stocks. She and Seddon had at least one thing in common – they were both very mean and difficult to get on with. She lived in lodgings with her cousin, Mr Frank Vonderahe, but in a conversation with Seddon let him know that she was having difficulties with living expenses. Miss Barrow, who suffered from miserliness bordering on eccentricity, did not trust banks, and kept as much as three hundred pounds in her rooms.

The Lodger

Seddon was not slow to see the possibilities, and had already sized up the advantages of having a well-heeled spinster for a lodger, whose rent payments could be relied on and settled in cash. He was persuasive and personable, and convinced her that it would be to her advantage to come and live with him. Accordingly, Miss Barrow came to live at number 63 on 26 July 1910, bringing with her an adopted boy, Ernest Grant, together with his uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Hook from Edmonton. She immediately proved to be an ideal tenant, who kept to her rooms, only sitting in the kitchen occasionally chatting to the charwoman.

A few weeks went by and she seemed to have settled in well when one morning, out of the blue, Miss Barrow handed a letter to the Hooks. This letter, which was probably from Seddon, told them to pack their things and leave the apartment. This resulted in a furious row, which culminated in the Hooks accusing Seddon of trying to grab Miss Barrow’s estate. But relations had now broken down completely, and the Hooks left in a most acrimonious atmosphere.

With the Hooks out of the way, the devious Seddon seems to have manoeuvred Miss Barrow quite cleverly. When she expressed concerns at the value of the investments in her properties, Seddon was most solicitous, and for an annuity and a remission in the rent, offered to oversee these investments. Early in 1911 he persuaded Miss Barrow to sink her £3,000 capital into an annuity which, he told her, would provide an income of three pounds a week for life. He made all the arrangements himself, paying her out each quarter in gold, but in fact the £3,000 had gone into Seddon’s own pocket and not to the insurance company.

The Death

In September 1911, following the outbreak of an epidemic in the area, possibly cholera, Miss Barrow became very ill. The doctor was called, who prescribed bismuth and morphine for the complaint. On Saturday the ninth he visited her again, and by the following Monday she was weaker. Nevertheless, she refused to go to hospital. She improved slightly for a few days, but was confined to her bed where on 13 September she made a Will dictated to and administered by the ever-helpful Frederick, witnessed by his relatives. At 6.15 on the morning of 14 September, whilst being attended to by Mrs Seddon, Miss Barrow died. Seddon went to the doctor, who issued a death certificate without seeing the body, claiming overwork brought on by the prevailing epidemic.

The very next day Seddon visited the undertakers and arranged a cheap funeral for £4.10s of which he pocketed 12/6d commission. The burial took place in a common burial plot, despite there being a family vault in Islington, and she was hardly cold in her grave when the Seddon family left for Southend for a fortnights’ holiday. Shortly after Seddon’s return Mr Frank Vonderahe, on arriving to visit his cousin, was dumbstruck to hear of her sudden death, and to learn that everything had been made over to Seddon. The Vonderahes demanded fuller explanations, but none were forthcoming, whereupon they voiced their suspicions to the authorities.

On 15 November 1911 Miss Barrow was exhumed and examined by Sir William Willcox, who discovered two grains of arsenic in the body which, by his calculations, pointed to there being at least five grains present at the time of death. The inquest was adjourned on 29 November, Seddon was arrested on 4 December, and his wife six weeks later. They were both committed for trial at the Old Bailey in March, under Mr Justice Bucknill.

The Trial

The trial commenced, the prosecution lead by the Solicitor General, Sir Rufus Issacs, who started his case by noting that although the case lacked hard evidence, who else in the world had anything to gain by the death of Miss Barrow? He tried to demonstrate that Seddon was a devious, callous and ruthless person, who would be perfectly capable of murder, and who had appropriated money and valuables belonging to Miss Barrow.

The renowned Barrister Marshall Hall opened for the defence, trying to cast doubt on the evidence referring to the arsenic found in the body, which Sir William Willcox had given. He proposed that the amount could have been smaller and ingested over a period of time in the normal course of nursing, rather than in one dose designed to kill. Seddon was advised not to give evidence, but he ignored this advice, and his conceited and condescending demeanour lost him sympathy with nearly everyone in the courtroom.

When Mrs Seddon went into the witness box, the image she presented was of a woman whose passage through life had made of her a drudge. She looked much older than her 34 years of age, and one commentator wrote; ‘The impression that she gave was that she didn’t know why she was there, and that she neither attempted to seek her way out nor evade dangerous questions. I think this is what really saved her. As Mr Justice Bucknill summed up he left the jury a loophole for her by saying “I should be astonished if you do not acquit her.”’

Seddon himself had proved to be his own worst enemy, and by giving evidence had provided the prosecution with their best witness. It took the jury one hour to find Frederick Seddon guilty and acquit his wife. On hearing the word ‘guilty’, Seddon turned pale but was unmoved. On hearing that his wife was free he kissed her, and with that he finally earned the sympathy of those present in the courtroom, but of course by then it was too late.

The Sentence

Before sentence was passed, Seddon was asked if he had anything to say, and according to the records gave ‘a carefully and well prepared speech, during which he appealed to the judge, as a brother Mason, for a reversal of the jury’s finding’. Bucknill suddenly looked utterly bewildered, and staring straight at Seddon, broke down completely. Seddon concluded his speech with the words; ‘I declare before the great Architect of the Universe I am not guilty’ and at this point he raised his arm and gave a Masonic sign.

The report continues ‘The silence which followed these most unusual events was total and seemed to last forever when ... Mr Justice Bucknill, in a stilted and emotional manner, pronounced sentence of death’. When, some half an hour after the Court had been cleared, the Clerk to the Court went to meet the Judge in his chambers, he found that Justice Bucknill, fully robed, was sitting at his table and ‘his eyes were red with weeping’.

No reprieve came and Seddon was hanged by John Ellis and Thomas Pierrepoint at Pentonville Prison, just a short walk from his home, on 18 April 1912 with over 7,000 people assembled outside.

The crowd would undoubtedly have been larger, were it not for the fact that news of the sinking of the Titanic three days earlier was uppermost on everybody’s mind.

Bernard Williamson is a freelance journalist, and an initiate of Strong Man Lodge, No. 45. He is a founder member of the Goose and Gridiron Society, an organisation researching masonic inns and taverns, has written several papers on masonic subjects and had papers published in the transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge. He lives in a quiet village in Essex, where he devotes his time to masonic research.


The victim

Eliza Mary Barrow, 49.


Frederick Henry Seddon



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