Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The Poisoner: The Life and Crimes of Victorian England's Most Notorious Doctor

by Stephen Bates

In 1856, a baying crowd of over 30,000 people gathered outside Stafford prison to watch the hanging of Dr. William Palmer, the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey" as Charles Dickens once called him. Palmer was convicted of poisoning and suspected in the murders of dozens of others, including his best friend, his wife, and his mother-in-law, and cashing in on their insurance to fuel his worsening gambling addiction.

 Highlighting his gruesome penchant for strychnine, the trial made news across both the Old World and the New. Palmer gripped readers including Queen Victoria who wrote of "that horrible Palmer" in her journal.  Palmer was a different sort of murderer than the public had come to fear, respectable, middle class, personable, and consequently more terrifying. But as the gallows door dropped, one question still gnawed at many who knew the case: Was Palmer truly guilty? 

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