Charles Bravo

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Charles Bravo
Born 1845
Died 21 April 1876 (aged 30–31)
Balham, London, England

Charles Bravo (1845 – 21 April 1876) was a British lawyer who was fatally poisoned with antimony in 1876. The case is still sensational, notorious and unresolved. The case is also known as The Charles Bravo Murder and the Murder at the Priory.

It was an unsolved crime committed within an elite Victorian household at The Priory, a landmark house in Balham, London. Leading doctors attended the bedside, including the royal physician Sir William Gull,[1] and all agreed that it was a case of antimony poisoning. The victim took three days to die, but gave no indication of the source of the poison during that time. No one was ever charged with the crime.

Background[edit]

Charles Bravo was born Charles Delauney Turner in 1845. He was the son of Augustus Charles Turner and Mary Turner, but later took the surname Bravo from his stepfather, Joseph Bravo. He became a barrister and by the time of his marriage to Florence Ricardo (née Campbell) he had fathered an illegitimate child.

His wealthy wife Florence had previously been married, in 1864, to Alexander Louis Ricardo, son of John Ricardo MP, but had been separated from him because of his affairs and violent alcoholism. She herself had had an extramarital affair with the much older Dr James Manby Gully, a fashionable society doctor who was also married at the time, and she had fallen out of favour with her family and society. Ricardo died in 1871 and Florence married Charles, a respected up-and-coming barrister, on 7 December 1875, terminating her affair with Gully.

Police inquiries in the case revealed that Charles's behaviour towards Florence was controlling, mean, violent and bullying. Florence was wealthier than Charles and had opted from the start to hold onto her own money, an option only recently provided by the Married Women's Property Act 1870. This led to tensions within the marriage.

The poisoning and the mystery[edit]

The poisoning of Charles Bravo occurred four months into the marriage. Bravo's death was long drawn out, lasting from two to three days, and painful. It was particularly notable that he did not offer any explanation of his condition to the attending doctors.

One hypothesis is that Charles Bravo was slowly poisoning his wife with small cumulative doses of antimony in the form of tartar emetic, which explains the chronic illness that she suffered from since shortly after their marriage. While treating himself with laudanum for toothache before going to bed he mistakenly swallowed some, then took the tartar emetic, mistakenly believing it was a true emetic that would induce vomiting.[2] The housekeeper Mrs Cox reportedly told police that when they were alone together Charles had admitted using the tartar emetic on himself, but she later changed her statement, perhaps to deflect suspicion from herself to Florence.

Other investigators have offered different suggestions as to what happened to cause his death, including suicide, murder by the housekeeper Mrs Cox, whom he had threatened to sack, murder by his wife, and murder by a disaffected groom whom he had discharged from employment at The Priory.

Aftermath[edit]

Two inquests were held, and the details were considered to be so scandalous that women and children were banned from the room while Florence Bravo testified. The searching cross-examination launched the career of the lawyer George Henry Lewis. The first inquest returned an open verdict. The second inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder, but nobody was ever arrested or charged.[citation needed]

The household broke up after the inquest ended and the twice-widowed Florence moved away. She died of alcohol poisoning two years later.

--In popular culture==

The novel So Evil My Love by Joseph Shearing (pseudonym of Marjorie Bowen) has elements of the Bravo poisoning in its plot. It was later made into a film.

The novel Below Suspicion by John Dickson Carr also has elements of the Bravo case in the first murder.

The graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell briefly features both Charles and Florence Bravo in Chapter 2. One of the protagonists is the royal physician Sir William Gull, who is shown attending Charles Bravo on his deathbed.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sherwin, Adam (11 October 2004). "Was it the wife the lover the stableman or the maid who poisoned Charles Bravo". The Times (London). 
  2. ^ Bridges (1956)

Resources[edit]

  • Bridges, Yseult. How Charles Bravo Died. Jarrolds (1956)
  • Diamond, Michael (2003). Victorian sensation. Anthem Press. pp. 176–180. ISBN 1-84331-150-X. 
  • Emsley, John. The elements of murder: a history of poison. Oxford University Press (2005) ISBN 0-19-280599-1. P.233
  • Jenkins, Elizabeth. Six Criminal Women. Sampson Low (1949, 1951)
  • Juxon, John. Lewis and Lewis: The Life And Times of a Victorian Solicitor. Ticknor & Fields (1984, 1985) ISBN 0-89919-277-7. P.115-139: Ch.12: 'The Torturer"
  • Ruddick, James. Death at the Priory. Atlantic Books (2002) ISBN 1-903809-44-4.
  • Williams, John. Suddenly at the Priory. Penguin Books (1989)

External links[edit]