Victorian Lives behind Victorian Crimes: The Poisoning Men

Victorian crime
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Arsenic was easily obtainable and simple to use, and its use as a rat poison meant that there was nothing particularly suspicious about women buying it. At the time, divorce was difficult, especially for the poor, and especially for women. While men could divorce an unfaithful wife, a woman could only divorce her husband for much worse things; for example, if he was violent or deserted her.

Married women had no property rights — whereas a widow could inherit her husband's property. So the temptation to do away with a brutal or sometimes just boring husband was always there But it wasn't only inconvenient husbands who could be disposed of with relative ease. During this period, the Government changed the law so that an unmarried mother could no longer get maintenance from her child's father through the court. Add to this the rise of 'burial clubs' — an insurance scheme where payouts greater than the cost of the funeral would be made on the death of the insured — and it's hardly surprising there was a rise in the number of cases of infanticide amongst the poor.

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Stratmann makes two interesting points about these cases — firstly, that women murdering their children tended to use laudanum rather than arsenic because it was a 'kinder' death, causing less suffering to the victim; and, secondly, that juries, who probably had a good understanding of the impossible poverty some women found themselves in, tended to take a more sympathetic and lenient view of such cases than we might expect from Victorian men.

Stratmann makes the point that, although there were indeed many poisoning cases in the period, much of the hysteria around the apparent prevalence of poisoning was due in large part to the effect of 'moral panic', as the media and special interest groups whipped up fear amongst the populace for their own advantage. The new Pharmacists Association and the forerunner of the British Medical Association saw panic over poisons as a means to boost recognition of their own professions as the best people to sell and control drugs, while nothing sells more newspapers than a horrific murder and, preferably, a good public hanging to follow.

As the science of detection gradually improved and the Government slowly began to take measures to make the purchase of arsenic a little harder, the focus changed somewhat to vegetable alkaloids, such as the infamous strychnine. Since these poisons were harder to get hold off and in some cases required a bit of knowledge to use effectively, the 'moral panic' pendulum swung and it was now men who were seen as the main poisoners, especially well-educated, respectable men.

Again Stratmann raises some interesting points here, such as the reluctance of doctors called in to such cases to suggest poisoning because of the elevated social positions of the 'suspects'. She gives us examples of cases where a wife would be slowly poisoned, with her attending physicians suspecting poison for days, even weeks, before death but doing nothing constructive to stop it. The British class system at play as usual — isn't it great? Meantime, the science was improving but unfortunately the egos of the scientists were growing alongside.

Now both prosecution and defence would call 'expert witnesses' who would battle it out in court, more interested sometimes in their own reputations than in the guilt or innocence of the accused. This had the double effect of making it next to impossible for jury members to decide on scientific points they didn't understand, while undermining public faith in science in general.

In some of the examples Stratmann cites here, I was frankly glad I hadn't been on the jury, as both sides set out to destroy the reputation of the other. She also compares the British system to the French, where the court would appoint its own expert, thus avoiding this kind of courtroom confrontation but also meaning that perhaps too much reverence and faith was placed on one man's opinion. So, interesting stuff.

Unfortunately overall, I found the interesting bits were pretty deeply submerged under a lot of scientific stuff I didn't really understand and didn't think was explained clearly enough for the layperson. Also, there are far too many examples of cases given, all complete with very similar gruesome descriptions of vomiting, bodily excretions, autopsies and horrific scientific experimentation, mainly on dogs.

All the cases eventually merged into one mass of yuckiness — a few cases more carefully chosen would have been much more effective, in my opinion. By the final few chapters, I was skipping over the cases, and the science, I must admit, to get to the little bits of interest to me. In the end, I felt it was all too detailed and had too much repetition of points already made. However, it is undoubtedly a thoroughly researched and well written book which will be a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the science, justice system or social conditions of the time.

Sep 01, Jeanette rated it liked it. This is the case history and forensics outcomes for numerous cases of poisoning during the 's. Most of the cases are European- and involve testing patterns that were just being learned. In most cases, these herald at nearly the birth of forensics for examining organs or recovered residue to prove poisoning had occurred. It's a difficult read. Case study histories do not connect and the chemical and law bound dictates of place and time are innumerable.

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For instance, the categories of poisons mo This is the case history and forensics outcomes for numerous cases of poisoning during the 's. For instance, the categories of poisons most commonly used as murder weapons. Those are difficult and lengthy, as well. Especially the alkaloids, plant substance acting compounds, not yet isolated or in most cases, named.

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I would not recommend this book to other than a person interested in forensic science, chemicals and chemistry, and maybe an interest in the origins of laws and criteria for pharmacy. The research and the photo plates are awesome and truly convey what the "eyes" of the times held for these deciding issues for further laws and also for consequence to the perpetrators. Apr 02, Cleopatra Pullen rated it really liked it Shelves: true-crime , own , historical-crime , netgalley.

The Secret Poisoner concentrates mainly on those who made it to trial in the nineteenth century. The description of the death by this particular poison is gut-wrenching, although not as bad as for the poor victims! This is a comprehensive book, with information about the scientists who devised tests for detecting poison in the body of the deceased, these tests were often demonstrated in court by the experts, many of whom it appeared were playing their own game of one-upmanship sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Sadly the descriptions of the tests themselves had me no more interested than I was many moons ago in my chemistry lessons, but I understood enough to get the gist I think! We also learn how frightened poisoning left the population at this time with stories in the press gleefully pouring out the details of the trials to their readers. In response to the public clamouring for action, the Pharmaceutical Society wrote a report to ensure that the sale of poisons became more regulated, athough this took a shockingly long time to make it into law finally This book covers poisoners predominantly in the United Kingdom and France, although some Americans make an appearance towards the end of the book.

Despite that mild criticism which is easily overcome by not trying to pack this into a beginning to end reading experience, it was a simply fascinating read, particularly as the author rounds of her book with brief descriptions of some modern poisoners! Mar 06, Bruce Gargoyle rated it liked it Shelves: arc-reviews , big-house , family-dramas , gender-issues , body-parts , murder , hard-decisions , non-fiction , parenting , review-copy.

The Victorian Fear of Poison Murder

I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley. Ten Second Synopsis: A comprehensive coverage of cases of murder using poison in the Victorian age and the scientific discoveries that advanced the cause of forensic medicine. This is an ultra-thorough coverage of the use of poison in Victorian age murders mostly in England and France and the advances in forensic chemistry that allowed the law to gain convictions for murder by poison based on physical evidence.

The format o I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley. The format of this book consists of collections of actual cases of murder, attempted murder or suspected murder from the time period, interspersed with information about the scientists and chemists whose discoveries allowed for more efficient and accurate means of detecting poison in the deceased.

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The cases are well selected to demonstrate how court cases succeeded or failed upon the strength of the scientific evidence provided — or in some cases, how public opinion swayed the outcome of certain trials when the science was not yet developed sufficiently to keep pace with the kind of evidence that would provide the jury with the information needed to reasonably acquit or convict. The book focuses also on the gender and class issues surrounding poison murders, with women and the poorer classes seemingly more likely to use widely available and easily accessible poisons both mineral and vegetable to commit dastardly deeds.

While I was very engaged with the information early on in the book, by the halfway point, I started to feel as if I had seen all this before.

Each chapter follows the same structure, beginning with a case study and the assertion that this case was pivotal in advancing either the science of poison detection or the laws related to availability of poisons, followed by a look at the key scientists of the time and their work, succeeded by a bunch of other murder case studies. Even though the introduction notes that the author left out many interesting cases that were too similar to the ones included, I feel that a good deal more slashing and hacking could have been done in the selection process for the various cases presented.

Despite the fact that the book is long and could have done with a bit more fussiness in the selection of the cases presented, I was nevertheless fascinated with some of the information revealed here. I would recommend this one for fans of forensic investigation TV shows, who are looking for a blast from the past as to how the experts got their man or more commonly, woman back in the Victorian day. Sep 24, Shoshana Hathaway rated it it was amazing.

Linda Stratmann's dark and splendid social history reveals the nineteenth century as a gruesome battleground where poisoners went head-to-head with authorities who strove to detect poisons, control their availability, and bring the guilty to justice. She corrects many misconceptions about particular poisons and documents how the evolution of issues such as marital rights a The Secret Poisoner By Linda Stratmann Murder by poison alarmed, enthralled, and in many ways encapsulated the Victorian age.

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[Flanders] shines in her readings of literary novels containing criminal and detective The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London by Judith Flanders grand murder in the paper a whole family poisoned it is very shocking, but I facts with lively story-telling the research behind this book is phenomenal. Liberally illustrated by true tales of crimes from the Victorian era, the book's real . hope of money but also those most feared of poisoners the medical men who did .. nineteenth century, the author looks at a number (perhaps too many) real- life . of individual murders, and the science behind detection of different poisons .

Combining archival research with a novelist's eye, Stratmann charts the era's relationship and fascination with poisons, poisoners and their affects on society in Europe, but especially in England. This is an extremely readable book, and is part history, part academic presentation, and part forensic textbook. For anyone fascinated by forensics, murder, murders and their weapons of choice, this is a thoroughly absorbing reading experience.

Although meticulously and thoroughly researched, this author has the eye for detail, and the voice for expression of a novelist, and the resulting combination kept me reading from the first page to the last, and enjoying the experience. This aside, I can thoroughly recommend this incredibly informative, thorough, thought provoking, and yes, even entertaining book. I read this book as part of my immersion in nineteenth century London and New York, and it had exactly what I needed to write an episode on a poisoning mystery. Poisonings were all the fad during the Victorian era since only a few poisons were traceable.

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It was an easy way knock off a rich relative who wasn't dying fast enough, a complaining wife, a drunken husband, the boss who fired you. It seems that the leading forensic scientists of the day were in a race with the more creative poisoners to I read this book as part of my immersion in nineteenth century London and New York, and it had exactly what I needed to write an episode on a poisoning mystery. It seems that the leading forensic scientists of the day were in a race with the more creative poisoners to identify especially plant-based poisons in human tissue.

I found the poison I intend to use, and I learned some of the procedures then used in the laboratories to separate the poison and identify it. The main obstacle to solving a poisoning was often the coroner, especially in nineteenth century New York.

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The position was a political appointment, and many were corrupt drunkards more interested in getting a payoff from the funeral home for the quick delivery of a body than performing a proper autopsy -- which they didn't know how to do anyway. If someone wanted a decent autopsy done, Bellevue Hospital was the only game in town. Hope I am not conflating this bit about coroners with another book I've been speed reading so many of them for research lately. Anyway, highly recommend this one for Victorianageophiles. I think I'm first to finish it, so I'll post a group review later.