Graham Young, the St. Albans Poisoner
By Johnny Sharp - CrimeLibrary.com
During the summer of 1961, a strange virus seemed to be spreading
through a small family home in a northern suburb of London, England.
Since February, 37-year-old Molly Young had suffered vomiting, diarrhea
and excruciating stomach pain, which she initially dismissed as bilious
attacks. Before long her husband Fred, 44, was also suffering, with
similar stomach cramps debilitating him for days at a time. Then Fred's
eldest daughter Winifred, 22, was violently ill on a couple of occasions
that summer. Shortly afterwards, her brother Graham Young was violently
sick at home.
It even seemed as if the mystery bug had spread beyond their household -
a couple of Graham's school friends had also been off school ill a
couple of times with similar painful symptoms.
In November 1961 the plot thickened. Winifred Young was served a cup of
tea by her brother one morning, but found its taste so sour she took
only one mouthful before she threw it away. While on the train to work
an hour later, she began to hallucinate, had to be helped out of the
station and was eventually taken to hospital, where doctors came to the
conclusion that she had somehow been infected with the rare poison
belladonna. She told her father Fred, who developed a theory. His
14-year-old son Graham had been crazy about chemistry for some years,
and had even been banned from using chemicals in the house after
abortive experiments set fire to furniture in his room. Could the boy
have inadvertently contaminated his family's food?
He confronted his son, but Graham blamed Winifred, who he claimed had
been using the family's teacups to mix shampoo.
Unconvinced, Fred searched Graham's room, but found nothing
incriminating. Nevertheless, he warned his son to be more careful in
future when "messing about with those bloody chemicals."
The family had been concerned about Graham for a while. He was
just...different, utterly unlike other boys his age. Since the age of 9
or 10, when he started stealing his stepmother Molly's perfume and nail
varnish remover to analyze its contents and sniff the vapors, he'd been
obsessed with chemistry and poisons. If a member of the family took a
headache tablet or some cough medicine, he would take great pleasure in
telling them the exact scientific names for all the ingredients, and
seemed especially keen on telling them in detail what agonies would
befall them if they took a very large dose.
Still, a boy's got to have a hobby, so when Graham scraped through his
"11 plus" exams (which determined in those days whether a child would go
to a grammar school for more academically minded children, or a
"secondary modern" for those of a more practical bent), his father
bought him a chemistry set as a reward. He wasn't to know that by this
stage of his son's self-education, it was equivalent to giving a Cordon
Bleu chef a couple of pots and a beginner's cook book.
With the help of library books, Graham had already gained the expertise
of a chemistry post-graduate. Yet his do-it-yourself chemistry
experiments seemed to be a touch more extreme than you might expect even
from the most inquisitive schoolboy. He had graduated from nail varnish
remover to inhaling from a bottle of ether to get high. He carried a
bottle of acid around with him which once burnt a hole in his school
blazer. On other occasions he would extract gunpowder from fireworks to
make small bombs. He blew up his neighbor's wall and a nearby hut, but
managed to escape blame for the incidents.
Although Fred Young had never been particularly close to his son, even
he couldn't entertain the idea that his own flesh and blood could be
deliberately poisoning the family.
If he'd known how his wife's symptoms would suddenly worsen a few months
later, he might have had second thoughts.
'The Mad Professor'
Graham Young was born September 7, 1947, to Margaret Young, but his
mother had developed pleurisy during pregnancy, and although the child
was perfectly healthy, Margaret died of tuberculosis only three months
after her son's birth. Her husband Fred, a machine setter, was
devastated by her death, and found it difficult to cope with bringing up
his daughter Winifred, then aged 8, as well as the new baby. Graham went
to live with his Aunt Winnie, who lived nearby, while his sister was
taken in by her grandmother. Graham became very close to Winnie and her
husband Jack, and hated any separation from them.
Then when he was two and a half Graham's father married again, to Molly,
and the family was reunited with their new stepmother in a house on
London's busy North Circular Road.
Although we may speculate about the effect these early upheavals may
have had on the boy, for reasons that are still fairly unfathomable,
Graham Young soon showed signs that he was a very unusual child indeed.
It's perfectly normal for children to idolize certain individuals, be
they famous sportsmen or celebrities, or even older friends or family
members. But Graham Young chose some unlikely figures as his boyhood
role models. He voraciously read books about murderers such as Dr.
Crippen, and he would pore over a book called "Sixty Famous Trials," his
favorite chapter of which told the story of William Palmer, the
Victorian doctor who poisoned his wife and several others with antimony.
As well as these rather unsavory heroes, by the age of 12 the boy would
tell anyone who would listen about his admiration for Adolf Hitler, and
how the Nazi leader was a much maligned figure. Soon after that he began
boasting about his interest in the occult, and claimed to be part of a
local coven run by a man he had met in the local library.
He was a solitary child, with few friends. Most of his schoolmates kept
their distance, finding him "creepy," and teachers were hardly any
keener on him, disturbed by his habit of wearing an old swastika badge
to school, at a time when World War II was still all too fresh in the
memory for many.
He showed little interest in most school subjects, with the notable
exception of chemistry, and particularly toxicology, or the study of
poisons, for which he displayed a fascination bordering on obsession.
That said, he was mainly self-taught, spending long hours in the library
reading books on poisons and forensic science.
Those children who did briefly play with young Graham told of how he
would try to get them to sniff ether with him, and also involve them in
his occult ceremonies, on one occasion sacrificing a neighborhood cat.
In fact around that time several such feline residents of the area went
missing, suggesting this was by no means a unique incident.
Although Winifred Young writes in her book "Obsessive Poisoner" that
Graham grew to enjoy a close and affectionate relationship with his
stepmother, Molly, the boy himself often told classmates how much he
hated her. He would show them a small plasticine voodoo doll he had
made, full of pins, which he carried around claiming it represented his
stepmother. Later he would tell psychiatrists that he often dreamed of
how much happier his life might have been if only his real mother had
lived. Part of this resentment may have simply been down to the fact
that Molly was a strict parent to Graham, and after she confiscated a
dead mouse he had poisoned, he drew a picture of a tombstone, on which
were written the words "In Hateful Memory of Molly Young, RIP." He then
deliberately left it out where she would see it.
Yet Molly Young was not the first subject chosen for Graham's first
life-endangering "experiments" with poison. His interest in chemistry
had helped him befriend a fellow science enthusiast, a boy named
Christopher Williams, who was also a neighbor of the Young family. The
pair would often eat their packed lunches together at school, and
sometimes swap sandwiches. Before long Williams began to suffer regular
bouts of sickness, headaches and painful cramps. His mother didn't know
what to think, wondering whether this might simply be a case of childish
play-acting. Doctors could only suggest that his symptoms, since they
involved headaches and vomiting, were those of severe migraine. The
possibility of one of his school friends poisoning him would surely have
seemed far-fetched even if it had crossed their minds, since the pair
were only 13 and not old enough to obtain poisons.
What they didn't account for was the exceptional cunning of
Christopher's new friend. After talking knowledgeably about poisons and
convincing two separate local chemists that he was aged 17 and needed
them for study, Graham Young had obtained enough antimony, arsenic,
digitalis and thallium to kill 300 people.
Still, he was relatively restrained in the doses he gave to Williams,
and they even appeared to have a motive in some cases. For instance, on
one occasion Williams told Young he was taking a girl they both liked
out on a date to a TV show recording that Friday evening. Conveniently
for Young, Williams was violently ill that day, and Graham went in his
place. Still, even though the pair had once had a playground fight in
which Young vowed "I'll kill you for this," Williams never suspected
that his friend's obsession with poisons had anything to do with his
recurring illness. Besides, Graham did a good impression of concern, and
watched his friend's extreme discomfort with great fascination,
expressing his sympathies, while also predicting the likely next step
his illness would take. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Other pupils of the John Kelly Secondary School were more wary of the
cold, eccentric Young. They nicknamed him "the mad professor," a label
that was not intended to be affectionate, but which Young seemed to
like. Clive Creager, a friend of William, recalled the macabre drawings
Young would show him. "I would be hanging from some gallows over a vat
of acid," he told Anthony Holden, author of "The St. Albans Poisoner,"
"with syringes marked 'poison' sticking into me. He was evil and I was
afraid of him."
Mercifully for the likes of Creager and Williams, though, Graham found
his school friends ultimately unsatisfactory as human guinea pigs, since
he couldn't keep tabs on their symptoms once they were absent from
school due to illness. So he reserved his most daring and dangerous
experiments for a group of patients whose progress he could observe at
closer quarters -- his own family.
Death in the Family
Molly Young's illness got progressively worse during the early months of
1962. She lost weight, suffered excruciating back ache, and her hair
began to fall out. She also appeared to age noticeably, and Winifred
Young later wrote, "It was as if she was wasting away in front of our
When Molly Young woke up on Easter Saturday, 1962, however, her symptoms
seemed different. Her neck felt stiff, and she had "pins and needles" in
her hands and feet. Nevertheless she went out shopping, but returned
before lunchtime, while Fred Young was out at the local pub. Her husband
came home to find Graham staring out of the kitchen window, watching
awestruck as his stepmother writhed in agony in the back garden. She
died in hospital later that day.
Molly Young was cremated at Graham's suggestion, after the pathologist
concluded that death was due to the prolapse of a bone at the top of her
spinal column. This is a known symptom of long-term antimony poisoning,
and yet no connection was made. The most popular conclusion among the
family was that her injury was connected to a bus crash she had been
involved in the previous year when she received a blow to the head. In
fact it turned out that the problem with the spinal column was probably
not the cause of death. Holden explains that Young changed his choice of
poison because after more than a year of being regularly dosed Molly had
actually developed a tolerance to antimony. On the evening before she
died, he had spiked her evening meal with 20 grains of the colorless,
odorless, tasteless "heavy metal" substance thallium. He rather overdid
it -- there was enough in there to kill five or six people.
Even after Molly's death, the Young family's mystery illness appeared to
be spreading - Graham's uncle John began to vomit copiously after the
funeral. Must have been something he ate...such as the pre-spiked
mustard pickle provided for the sandwiches, which only he ate.
By this time Young's second major experiment cum murder plot was well
under way. And this time the victim was actually his own flesh and
Fred Young had suffered attacks of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains
now and again throughout Molly's illness, but after her death the
symptoms intensified to such a point that he became convinced he was
about to die. When he was admitted to hospital Graham frequently visited
him, and enthusiastically discussed his condition with doctors, who
couldn't work out if it was arsenic or antimony poisoning. The latter
was eventually diagnosed, and doctors estimated that one more dose could
have killed him. Fred Young later reflected that his bouts of sickness
always seemed to happen on a Monday, the day after Graham would
accompany him to the local pub on Sundays.
While that thought only struck him after his son's arrest, during his
time in hospital Fred told his daughter not to bring Graham to see him
any more. If that betrays a suspicion on his part that his son was
poisoning the family, the whole family and several of Graham's friends
shared those fears, but just as before, the idea that a 14-year-old boy
could be coldly attempting to torture and kill his own family seemed too
horrendous to even contemplate, let alone voice in public.
It fell to a more emotionally detached figure to finally raise the
alarm. Graham's school chemistry teacher, Geoffrey Hughes, had long been
uneasy about the increasingly extreme experiments Young was insisting on
performing, and one night after school he searched the boy's desk. After
finding bottles of poisons, drawings of dying men, and essays about
famous poisoners, he contacted the police.
To try and ascertain his mental state, Young was sent for what he
thought was a careers interview, wherein the interviewer (in reality a
police psychiatrist) appealed to his vanity and persuaded him to talk at
length about his expertise with poisons.
The "careers officer" reported his horrified findings, but when the
police stepped in Graham denied everything, even when a phial of
antimony which he carried around with him (often referring to it as "my
little friend"), fell from his shirt pocket. Eventually, though, he
broke down and confessed all, finally leading police to his several
caches of poisons, stashed in a hedge near his home, and in the same hut
across the road which he once blew a hole in with his gunpowder
"It grew on me like drug habit," he said of his murderous hobby, "except
it was not me who was taking the drugs."
Broadmoor's Youngest Inmate
Despite the fact that there was insufficient evidence to try the
14-year-old Young for the murder of his step mother, he was convicted of
poisoning his father, sister and friend Chris Williams, and the verdict
found there was "a lack of moral sense" at the heart of his personality.
These days we might be tempted to label such character traits as
"psychopathic." He was sent to Broadmoor maximum security hospital with
an order that he was not to be released without the permission of the
Home Secretary for 15 years. He would be Broadmoor's youngest inmate
While on remand awaiting trial, he was already telling psychiatrists, "I
miss my antimony. I miss the power it gives me." Where there's a will,
though, there's a way, and within a few weeks of his arrival at
Broadmoor, a fellow prisoner named John Berridge had died of cyanide
poisoning. This was the same Berridge that Winifred Young says Graham
complained about in letters, expressing irritation at his loud snoring
in the communal dorms. Nevertheless, the authorities were baffled, as
there was no cyanide to be found anywhere in the prison. Young then
corrected them, patiently explaining how cyanide could be extracted from
laurel bush leaves, of which there were copious amounts in adjoining
fields. But his confession was only one of many, as tends to be the case
whenever someone dies in a mental institution, so the official verdict
On another occasion the staff's coffee was found to contain harpic
bleach from the toilets. From then on, staff would joke to inmates,
"Unless you behave, I'll let Graham make your coffee."
Meanwhile, Young was still pursuing familiar interests. According to the
British crime monthly Murder Casebook, he grew a Hitler moustache and
making hundreds of wooden swastikas to wear round his neck. These hardly
appear to be the actions of a man anywhere near being cured of whatever
mental illness had afflicted his young mind. But Graham Young's doctors
were confident that in time he would grow out of these adolescent
Their hopes appeared to have been fulfilled by the end of his fifth year
inside, as he had become a model prisoner, and was moved into a less
strict block with more freedoms. It was suggested to Young that he might
one day be able to pursue a university degree if he "got better," which
appeared to convince him to go cold turkey on his toxicology addiction.
Despite this, it was later revealed by Broadmoor contemporaries of Young
that as late as 1968, nearly six years into his sentence, two whole
packets of "sugar soap," a cleanser used to wash down the walls before
painting, went missing, and the contents were later found in the
communal tea urn. Potentially, no fewer than 97 people could have had
their stomachs burnt out, and many might well have died. Clearly Young's
desire to convince the authorities of his rehabilitation was soon
disregarded once he was presented with such a golden opportunity to
poison those around him. In Broadmoor, however, the unwritten rules of
prison life applied, which meant the fellow prisoners who discovered
what had happened refused to inform on Young to the authorities, but
instead meted out their own physical punishment in private.
In June 1970, after nearly eight years in Broadmoor, Dr. Edgar Udwin,
the prison psychiatrist, wrote to the home secretary to recommend his
release, announcing that Young "is no longer obsessed with poisons,
violence and mischief."
Young was thrilled, and Winifred Young tells of a letter he sent her
breaking the news of his impending release. "Your friendly neighborhood
Frankenstein will soon be at liberty," he joked. One of Young's nurses
had cause to question the wisdom of letting this man walk the streets.
Not long before his release he told her: "When I get out, I'm going to
kill one person for every year I've spent in this place." Incredibly,
this apparently sincere comment never reached the ears of the relevant
authorities, despite being taken down on file at the time.
For all his "Frankenstein" jokes, Winifred Young was delighted to hear
of her brother's "full recovery," and eagerly awaited his release from
Broadmoor. She was happy to accept the authorities' view that he had
been cured, even if she later admitted there was an element of wishful
thinking at work. Fred Young was less thrilled, however, still finding
it hard to forgive his son for the death of his beloved wife, not to
mention the permanent damage Graham had inflicted on him. So when Graham
stepped out of the prison gates on February 4th 1971, he went to stay
with Winifred and her new husband Dennis in Hemel Hempstead, 40 miles
north-west of London. Despite their worries, their food remained
uncontaminated, although Graham was still insistent on extolling the
virtues of Adolf Hitler, and on this occasion ranted on about a "final
solution" style approach to the troubles in Northern Ireland, which were
reaching a peak around that time. "Cured" he may have been. A deeply odd
individual he remained.
According to Winifred Young, one of the first things her now 23-year-old
brother did on his release was to make a 'sentimental journey" to the
chemists where he had originally obtained his poisons. He proudly
announced his identity to staff there, hoping his notoriety may have
stood the test of time. He also returned to his old family home in
Neasden, introducing himself to neighbors he had known as a teenager. He
even visited his old school headmaster. Tellingly, he seemed much keener
to remind them of his notorious past crimes than to boast about his
Within a week of his release, Young began training as a storekeeper in
Slough, and moved into a hostel nearby. Soon after his arrival, though,
fellow hostel resident Trevor Sparkes, 34, began to experience sharp
abdominal cramps and sickness. Graham suggested a glass of wine might
help. That only seemed to make his symptoms get worse. His face swelled,
and the vomiting increased, along with diarrhea and strange scrotal
pains. Eventually Sparkes, an avid soccer player, was taken ill during a
game when he seemed to lose control of his legs. Doctors couldn't find a
satisfactory explanation, but he would continue feeling what he
described as "diabolical pains" for years afterwards, and never played
soccer again. Around the same time another man claimed to have had a
drink with an intense young fellow obsessed with chemicals and poisons,
and later committed suicide because of the incessant pain he
experienced. Whether he was effectively Graham Young's second (or even
third, if we count the Broadmoor cyanide incident) victim will surely
never be proved.
Shortly afterwards, Young got a job as a store clerk at a photographic
firm in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, not far from his sister's home in
Hemel Hempstead. When they asked for references, they were referred to
the Broadmoor psychiatrist Dr Udwin, who wrote back assuring them that
although Young had suffered "a deepgoing personality disorder," he had
now made "an extremely full recovery." No mention of his erstwhile
predilection for poisons, which might have been relevant considering
highly toxic chemicals were used on the company premises.
The Bovingdon Bug
As it turned out, the new recruit at John Hadland Ltd. had no need to
avail himself of the substances available on site. He had already been
to London armed with the same fake ID of "M.E. Evans" that he had used
as a teenager, and bought a new batch of "antimony potassium tartrate"
(the full name by which he insisted on calling it) and thallium from a
West End chemist. Within days of starting work at Bovingdon, the new boy
happily accepted the job of making tea for his workmates.
The first colleague Young made friends with was 41-year-old Ron Hewitt,
who was soon to leave the firm but had stayed on for a few weeks to show
the new boy the ropes so he could take over his job.
Two older members of staff, 59-year-old storeroom manager Bob Egle and
60-year-old stock supervisor Fred Biggs, also befriended Young, lending
him cigarettes and money for his bus fare. However, after a time Egle
began to spend periods off work ill. Around the same time, Ron Hewitt
developed diarrhea, sharp stomach pains and a burning sensation in the
throat after drinking a cup of tea fetched by Young. The symptoms lasted
a few days, but doctors could only suggest food poisoning or gastric
flu. When he was well enough to return to work, though, the symptoms
promptly returned, invariably after drinking tea. Over the next three
weeks he suffered no fewer than twelve bouts of this mysterious illness.
After leaving the company Hewitt had no further symptoms, while Bob Egle
also recovered after a holiday. However, the day after returning to
work, Egle's fingers went numb, and he couldn't move without agonizing
pain. By the time he was taken to hospital, numbness had spread through
his body until he was virtually paralyzed, and unable to speak. To the
horror of his workmates, he died 10 days later, on July 7, 1971. The
cause of death was officially bronchial pneumonia arising from an
unusual type of polyneuritis known as the "Guillan-Barre syndrome."
"It's very sad," said Graham to colleagues, "that Bob should have come
through the terrors of Dunkirk (a crucial battle of World War Two) only
to fall victim to some strange virus." Such was Young's very vocal
concern, he was chosen to accompany the firm's managing director to the
In the weeks following Egle's death, the staff at Bovingdon tried to put
the tragic incident behind them. Yet the rather work-shy young storeroom
assistant insisted on continually musing about possible medical causes
for Bob Egle's bizarre symptoms. Then in September 1971 Fred Biggs also
began to suffer the same symptoms. And he wasn't the only one.
Young's fellow storeroom worker Jethro Batt, 39, was made a cup of
coffee by Graham one evening, but threw it away complaining it tasted
bitter. "What's the matter?" asked Young. "D'you think I'm trying to
poison you?" 20 minutes later Batt vomited and felt intense pain in his
legs. Fellow staff members Peter Buck and David Tilson also suffered. In
the case of Batt and Tilson, their hair fell out, leaving the latter, as
doctors described him, "looking like a three-quarter plucked chicken."
Young had administered various doses of different poisons among his
workmates, designed to confuse doctors looking for a common cause of the
complaints. These manifested themselves in a number of unlikely ways. A
receptionist, Mrs. Diana Smart, complained of suffering from foul
smelling feet for months, while Buck and Tilson were rendered impotent
for some weeks after their initial illness. "I was going around with
several girls at the time," Tilson later related in court, "and I became
useless in bed."
Their ailments were put down to some kind of virus in the local area,
which became known as "the Bovingdon Bug." By unfortunate coincidence, a
stomach bug had spread among the village children on a couple of
occasions in the preceding months. Many workers speculated, just as the
residents of Neasden had a decade before, that a contaminated water
supply might be the cause. Others suspected radioactivity from
experiments in a nearby airfield could be the culprit.
If this was the same virus that had spread among the village's children,
it had certainly assumed a virulent new form. After briefly recovering
from his first experience of Young's unique approach to coffee-making,
Jethro Batt fell ill again, and after a few days he was in such pain he
later said he contemplated suicide. He remained in hospital for some
Fred Biggs' condition was the worst of the new outbreak. His condition
deteriorated to the point where his skin began to peel off, and the pain
was such that he could not stand the weight of a bed sheet on his body.
Even that was not serious enough for Young's liking, it appears. "'F'
(Fred) is responding to treatment," he was later discovered to have
written in his diary. "He is being obstinately difficult. If he survives
a third week he will live. I am most annoyed."
Young's pessimism was misplaced. On November 19 death finally came to
Fred Biggs, as merciful release.
The Germ Carrier
By this time speculation as to what was causing "the Bovingdon bug" had
understandably reached fever pitch. Winifred Young writes that Diana
Smart even confided in the firm's Managing Director, Godfrey Foster,
that she suspected Graham Young was "a germ carrier." Alas, the only
suggestion she could make as to how he might have caught such "germs"
was that he lived in a boarding house with a Pakistani family.
On the afternoon that Fred Biggs' death was announced, the firm's doctor
gathered the staff to a meeting to reassure them that there was no
evidence that any lack of hygiene on the company premises could have
caused the deaths and illnesses. Yet one man wanted to know more. The
doctor was surprised to find himself being grilled by the young store
assistant, who asked several detailed questions as to why poisoning by
the heavy metal thallium had been ruled out. The doctor was puzzled by
his apparent in-depth knowledge of the subject, and told the firm's
owner. He in turn informed the police.
It's perhaps not so surprising that doctors took a while to consider
thallium poisoning as a cause of the outbreak, because until Graham
Young used it, it had never been used as a poison in Britain. Death from
gradual thallium poisoning is an agonizing affair, something which
Graham Young knew only too well. As well as suffering excruciating
stomach pains, violent sickness and diarrhea, patients often lose their
hair (as did Batt and Tilson, and Young's stepmother Molly years before)
and suffer thickening and scaliness of the skin. Later, degeneration of
the nerve fibers sets in, along with weakness of the limbs leading to
paralysis, and eventually delirium. The victim usually dies through not
being able to breathe. It's almost worse if the sufferer survives, since
the body gets rid of the thallium slowly, meaning days or weeks of
agony. If the dose is repeated, it has the effect of being an
accumulative poison which kills gradually over a week or two. All things
considered, it's a long, slow method of murdering someone, of which any
sadist would be proud.
Graham Young may not have been a sadist in the conventional sense, but
he did take great pleasure in following and noting down every last
gruesome symptom each of his victims suffered, recording them each day
in exercise books and plotting graphs to analyze their progress.
This almost fetishistic documentation proved his downfall. Once the
firm's MD had alerted police, it didn't take detectives long to work out
that the illnesses had started shortly after a certain individual had
joined the Bovingdon firm. A quick consultation from a couple of
forensic scientists revealed the symptoms of the victims were consistent
with thallium poisoning. They were also kind enough to finally inform
the firm's bosses that Graham Young was a convicted poisoner.
Police immediately searched Graham Young's room in nearby Hemel
Hempstead, where they were confronted with walls covered in pictures of
Hitler and other Nazi leaders, accompanied by drawings of emaciated
figures holding bottles marked "poison," clutching their throats as
their hair fell out. They also found bottles, phials and tubes lined
along the window sill, and under his bed lay the incriminating diary,
with a number of entries following the progress of his "patients."
The day was Saturday, November 21, 1971, and Young was visiting his
father Fred and Aunt Winnie in Sheerness, Kent, some eighty miles away.
It was 11:30 at night when police knocked on the door, and Fred Young
immediately knew what they wanted. He pointed the officers towards his
son, and Winnie asked her nephew "Graham, what have you done?" "I don't
know what they are talking about, Auntie," he replied. But as he was
being led out, Fred Young heard him ask the officers, "Which one are you
doing me for?" After they had left, Fred gathered together Graham's
birth certificate and every other document relating to his son, and tore
them to shreds.
A Picture of Evil
Once in custody, Young admitted to the poisonings under interrogation,
and even boasted of committing "the perfect murder" of his stepmother
back in 1962, knowing he could still deny everything in court. He
laughed mockingly when he was asked for a written statement admitting
Yet for all his grotesque arrogance, he soon told police "the charade is
over," and was clearly resigned to his fate. That didn't mean, however,
that he wouldn't have his day in court. He planned to wring every ounce
of notoriety from the case, in pursuit of his ambition to become the
most infamous poisoner of all time.
Graham Young's trial took place at St. Albans Crown Court in June 1972.
On the defense stand, he eloquently argued the toss with the prosecuting
counsel, relishing the ultimate intellectual challenge of escaping
"He was very proud of being the first person to use thallium in a
poisoning case in Britain," remembers Peter Goodman, Young's defense
lawyer, "For him the whole thing was one big chemistry experiment, and I
suppose the trial was an experiment in seeing if he could use his
knowledge to argue his way out of it.
"He was clearly a very intelligent fellow," says Susan Nowak, who was in
court to report on the trial for The Watford Observer. "but he also came
across as incredibly creepy. You didn't want to make eye contact with
him because he just had this unnerving aura about him."
Young clearly enjoyed conveying such a chilling impression. When the
press asked for a picture of the defendant, he insisted they use one in
which he looked particularly cold-eyed and sinister. As it happened, the
glowering photograph actually came about by accident. Holden explains
that Young was scowling because he thought he had been cheated out of
some money by the coin-operated photo booth where the picture was taken.
It's hard to believe that Young seriously held out much hope of being
acquitted, but that doesn't account for the supreme arrogance of a man
who regarded himself as far more intelligent than virtually everyone he
encountered. While awaiting trial he wrote to his cousin Sandra
insisting "I stand a good chance of acquittal, for the prosecution case
has a number of inherent weaknesses. A strong point in my favor is that
I am NOT guilty of the charges."
Young's initial confidence was based on the assumption that the
prosecution wouldn't be able to prove beyond doubt that only he could
have administered the poisons. Since Bob Egle had been cremated, he
assumed proof of thallium poisoning would be impossible, while he had
made a point of offering Fred Biggs some thallium grains to help him
kill bugs in his garden, knowing he could later claim that Biggs had
misused them. As for the diary relating to the victims, he claimed they
were figments of his imagination on which he planned to base a novel.
Even a confession couldn't stand in his way. Despite having verbally
admitted his crimes to police on his initial arrest, he claimed in court
that he had simply told police what he thought they wanted to hear, in
order to be allowed food and clothing.
He reckoned without advances in forensic science that had been made
since 1962 when Molly Young's cremation meant her murder could not be
proved. Experts succeeded in finding traces of thallium in Bob Egle's
ashes, Fred Biggs" wife confirmed that he never used Young's thallium on
his garden, and as for that claim about the diary, once read out in
court, the diary entries sounded distinctly non-fictional. Excerpts
included the following:
"F (Fred) is now seriously ill. He has developed paralysis and
blindness. Even if the blindness is reverse, organic brain disease would
render him a husk. From my point of view his death would be a relief. It
would remove one more casualty from an already crowded field of battle."
On Diana Smart: "Di irritated me yesterday, so I packed her off home
with a dose of illness."
On an unidentified delivery driver: "In a way it seems a shame to
condemn such a likeable man to such a horrible end, but I have made my
Luckily for the driver concerned, there wasn't a delivery that week...
His entries also revealed a plan to murder David Tilson in his hospital
bed, after Young's initial doses had failed to finish him off. Young
intended to visit Tilson and offer him a swig from a hip flask of
brandy, which he knew Tilson would probably accept but also not tell the
nurses about, since drinking was against hospital rules. Needless to say
the patient would have found himself intoxicated in more lethal ways
than he expected. Tilson's relatively late admission to hospital, and
subsequent month off recuperating, apparently saved his life. He
eventually made a full recovery.
Adding all this evidence to the thallium and antimony found in Young's
room, and a phial in Young's jacket which he had intended to use as his
"exit dose" if he was caught, the prosecution had a strong case. Young
had taunted police that they could not convict him without demonstrating
a motive, but with such powerful evidence of murder, they didn't need to
show a clear motive.
Young was convicted of two murders, two attempted murders, and two
counts of administering poison. He was sentenced to four counts of life
imprisonment alongside two five-year sentences, and although he had told
warders he would break his own neck on the dock railings if convicted,
he failed to live up to his promise.
There was still a sensation in the courtroom, however, when Young's
background was revealed after the guilty verdict. There were gasps of
disbelief when it was announced that Young had done this kind of thing
before, and had been released from a secure mental institution mere
"You looked at the jury," remembers Susan Nowak, "and the blood drained
from their faces when they heard about his previous convictions. The
verdict had not been a foregone conclusion, and they were probably
thinking "what if we'd let this maniac out onto the street?""
How Could They Let This Happen?
The jury at St. Albans crown court added a rider after Young was
sentenced, calling for an urgent official review of the UK laws covering
the sale of poisons. It was the least they could do considering the
circumstances of the case, and the British newspapers wasted no time in
expressing their outrage, alongside reports of the case's more salacious
details. How, they asked, could a convicted poisoner be freed from a
high security prison despite evidence of his continuing obsession with
poison and murder, and also still easily obtain poisons, and be
recommended for work within easy access of dangerous chemicals, without
his employers even being informed of his criminal record and the nature
of his convictions?
Within an hour of the verdict, the home secretary, Reginald Maudling,
announced that two separate inquiries had been set up into the control,
treatment and supervision of mentally ill prisoners. The inquiries led
to tightening of the laws on monitoring mentally ill offenders after
It's easy to be wise in hindsight. The fact of the matter is that Graham
Young was a one-off, an exceptionally rare criminal whose crimes were
pretty much unprecedented, if not in terms of method, then certainly in
motive, since almost uniquely among poisoners, Young appeared to be
driven simply by misguided scientific obsession, married to a total
absence of empathy with the rest of humanity.
"I don't think he had any ill will towards the people he killed," says
Peter Goodman, "he just had no morals. The reason he poisoned those
closest to him was simply because he could closely observe the symptoms.
He was a deranged scientist essentially."
Winifred Young wrote that people who said "Imagine if he'd walked into a
crowded café!" missed the point about her brother's motivation.
"My answer was 'that would be no good to Graham"...cause in such
circumstances Graham would never be able to observe the effect of the
poison. The person or persons poisoned would simply get up from the
table and walk out, and Graham would never see them again - and that
would be no good to him...he wanted to study the effects; to watch how
poison worked, as though he were merely carrying out a clinical
Still, at least some people were served food and drink by Young and
survived without any ill effects. Goodman remembers one occasion when he
went to see his charge in prison. "He offered me a piece of cake. I
hesitated, and he said "Come on, I wouldn't poison my lawyer." That's
pretty much what he said to some of his victims, but I ate it anyway..."
A brave man.
Graham Young served his sentence in the maximum security Parkhurst
prison on the Isle of Wight, where he died in 1990, aged 42. The
official diagnosis was a heart attack, but many have their doubts. In
'the Young Poisoner's Handbook," the movie made about the story in 1995,
it's suggested he killed himself by typically ingenious poisonous means.
Others suspect fellow Parkhurst inmates.
"I wonder if he tried to do the same poisoning tricks he pulled off in
Broadmoor," offers Peter Goodman, "only someone took offence this time."
Anthony Holden, author of the book "The St. Albans' Poisoner," backs up
that theory, asking "Who in his right mind...would want to spend an
indefinite period incarcerated with a man who could extract poison from
a stone - or in this case, perhaps, iron bars - in order to kill some
time by doing just that to his everyday companions?"
Whatever the cause of his death, Young would appear to have achieved a
degree of the immortality he craved. He would often ask people if they
thought he would ever have the honor of having a waxwork made of him and
installed in the "Chamber of Horrors" in London's Madam Tussaud's
museum. He dreamed of taking his place in there alongside one of his
heroes, Dr. Crippen. His wish was finally granted a few years later.
Parkhurst prison is reserved for Britain's most dangerous prisoners,
usually those with mental problems. But in legal terms Young was of sane
mind when he committed his crimes. He was bad rather than mad.
'There was obviously something not right in his head," concludes
Goodman. "I felt sorry for the guy."
By all accounts, that's considerably more than Graham Young ever felt
When asked if he felt remorse, he replied, "No, that would be
hypocritical. What I feel is in the emptiness of my soul."
Winifred Young remembers telling him he should get out more, and try and
make more friends.
"No," he said, "Nothing like that can help. You see, there's a terrible
coldness inside me."
Ian Brady and Graham Young - A Meeting of Minds
Due to the notoriety of his case, Graham Young lived in constant fear of
being poisoned by fellow inmates while in Parkhurst. But one person in
whose company he felt relatively safe was the Moors Murderer Ian Brady.
In 2001, Brady won a long battle for the right to publish a book 'the
Gates Of Janus," in which he offers his insider's view on a number of
serial killer cases. One of those chosen for this rare accolade was his
old friend Graham Young.
"He sometimes grew a Hitler moustache," remembers Brady, "fastidiously
trimming it with a razor until the skin around it was red raw and the
prison staff had to stop him."
He tells of playing Chess with Young on a daily basis, with Young
favoring the black pieces, "likening their potency to the Nazi SS."
Brady claims he always beat him.
The pair bonded over their shared fascination with Nazi Germany.
The bisexual Brady even sounds positively amorous when he describes how
Young shared the "boyish good looks" of a mutual idol, Dr. Josef Mengele.
However, he also reports that Young was "genuinely asexual," and
suggests that this was another example of him exercising power over 'the
herd." "Power and death were his aphrodisiacs," he asserts.
Brady suggests Young was, like him, something of a Nietzschian in
outlook, obsessed with proving himself superior to 'the common herd."
Am I a unique individual or simply a common insect? Do I possess the
courage to act autonomously, against man and god?
The serial killer unfortunately perceives that the only real way to
distance himself from the banality and senility of the herd is to
exercise free will of the most extreme kind – by killing others.
Of Young's flamboyant performance in court he writes:
He probably likened himself to Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, routing
the allied prosecutors and dominating the proceedings at the Nuremberg
Or could that simply be Brady's warped and rather ludicrous fantasy?
He viewed his destiny in Wagnerian terms and would sit in his miserable,
almost bare cell as though it were the Berlin Bunker, listening
rapturously to Gotterdammerung, a doomed figure with his grandiose
dreams in ruins. When depressed...he had the dejected stoop of Hitler in
his final days.
Bear in mind while reading this that Brady would probably find parallels
with Hitler and Nazi Germany in an episode of The Waltons.
The Moors Murderer reports that the only music Young liked were Jeff
Wayne's "War Of The Worlds" and "Hit The Road Jack" by Ray Charles, and
he would amuse himself by reading obituaries of the great and the good
in The Times of a morning. He also fantasizes that Young killed himself.
Possibly he commended 'the poisoned chalice" to his own lips, in a final
gesture of triumphant contempt.
Or could it have been a final gesture of wanting to kill himself?
He concludes the chapter by pointing out that Graham's "relatively
modest use of thallium" was nothing compared to its usage during the
first gulf war, in which American forces bombarded the enemy with
Had Graham lived to see it, this would have brought a cynical smile to
his thin pale lips, and a mischievous sparkle to his dark eyes.
Finally, Brady concludes, in all seriousness, "It was difficult not to
empathies with Graham Young."
Okay, time for your medication, Mister Brady.