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Graham Frederick Young (10 September 1947 – 1 August 1990) was an English serial killer who used poison to kill his victims. He was sent to Broadmoor Hospital in 1962 after poisoning several members of his family, killing his stepmother. After his release in 1971 he went on to poison 70 more people, two of whom died. Young, who was known as the 'teacup poisoner', was then sent to Parkhurst Prison where he died of natural causes in 1990.
Early life and crimes
Young was born in Neasden, north west London. His mother died a few months after his birth. He was sent by his father to live with an uncle and aunt, while his sister went to live with grandparents. A few years later he was separated from his aunt and uncle in order to live with his father and new stepmother.
He was fascinated from a young age by poisons and their effects. In 1961 at age 14 he started to test poisons on his family, enough to make them violently ill. He amassed large quantities of antimony and digitalis by repeatedly buying small amounts, lying about his age and claiming they were for science experiments at school.
In 1962 Young's stepmother, Molly, died from poisoning. He had been poisoning his father, sister, and a school friend. Young's aunt Winnie, who knew of his fascination with chemistry and poisons, became suspicious. He sometimes suffered the same nausea and sicknesses as his family, forgetting which foods he had laced. He was sent to a psychiatrist, who recommended contacting the police. Young was arrested on 23 May 1962, confessing to the attempted murders of his father, sister, and friend. The remains of his stepmother could not be analysed because she had been cremated, and at the time her death was not treated as suspicious but rather as the result of complications from injuries sustained in a traffic accident.
Young was detained under the Mental Health Act in Broadmoor Hospital, an institution for patients with mental disorders who have committed offences, after having been assessed by two psychiatrists prior to his trial and diagnosed as suffering from a personality disorder, and also schizophrenia (classed under the law then as psychopathic disorder as it was linked to abnormal violence). Subsequent analysis has also suggested signs of the Autistic spectrum.(cf Bowden 1996).
His detention was subject to special restriction meaning that subsequent discharge, leave of absence etc. would have to be approved by the Home Secretary. The Hospital Order initially stipulated that he should be detained for at least 15 years. The Secretary of State later noted that the index offences, for someone found sane, carried a sentence of no more than seven or eight years. Young was released after nine years, deemed "fully recovered". In the hospital, Young had studied medical texts, improving his knowledge of poisons, and continued experiments using inmates and staff (one of whom died). It was rumoured that his knowledge of poisons was such that he could even extract cyanide from laurel bush leaves on the mental hospital grounds and that he used this cyanide to murder fellow inmate John Berridge.
After release from hospital in 1971, he began work as a quartermaster at John Hadland Laboratories in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, near his sister's home in Hemel Hempstead. The company manufactured thallium bromide-iodide infrared lenses, which were used in military equipment. However, no thallium was stored on site, and Young obtained his supplies of the poison from a London chemist. His employers received references as part of Young's rehabilitation from Broadmoor, but were not informed of his past as a convicted poisoner. Young's probation officer never visited Young's home or place of work (official Aavold Report into the Young case, 1973).
Soon after he began work, his foreman, Bob Egle, grew ill and died. Young had been making tea laced with poisons for his colleagues. A sickness swept through his workplace and, mistaken for a virus, was nicknamed the Bovingdon Bug. These cases of nausea and illness, sometimes severe enough to require hospitalisation, were later attributed to Young and his tea.
Young poisoned about 70 people during the next few months, none fatally. Egle's successor sickened soon after starting work there, but decided to quit. A few months after Egle's death, another of Young's workmates, Fred Biggs, grew ill and was admitted to London National Hospital for Nervous Diseases (now part of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery). It was too late and after suffering agony for several weeks, he became Young's third and final victim.
At this point, it was evident that an investigation was necessary. Young asked the company doctor if the investigators had considered thallium poisoning. He also told a colleague that his hobby was the study of toxic chemicals. Young's colleague went to the police, who uncovered Young's criminal record.
Young was arrested in Sheerness, Kent, on 21 November 1971. Police found thallium in his pocket and antimony, thallium and aconitine in his flat. They also discovered a detailed diary that Young had kept, noting the doses he had administered, their effects, and whether he was going to allow each person to live or die.
At his trial at St Albans Crown Court, which started on 19 June 1972 and lasted for ten days, Young pleaded not guilty, and claimed the diary was a fantasy for a novel. Young was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was dubbed "The Teacup Poisoner".
While in prison, he befriended fellow serial killer Moors murderer Ian Brady, with whom he shared a fascination with Nazi Germany. In his book, The Gates of Janus (2001) published by Feral House, Brady wrote that "it was hard not to have empathy for Graham Young". The reformed criminal Roy Shaw in Pretty Boy (2003), his autobiography, recounts his friendship with Young.
In popular culture
A film called The Young Poisoner's Handbook (1995) is loosely based on Young's life.
In November 2005 a 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl was arrested for poisoning her mother with thallium. She claimed to be fascinated by Young, having seen the 1995 film, and kept an online blog, similar to Young’s diary, recording dosage and reactions.
A book was published in 2013 about the murders.
- Emsley, John, The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 347.
- Lewis, Leo (3 November 2005). "Schoolgirl blogger poisons mother in homage to killer". The Times (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010.
- "Ruling on Japan poison-diary girl". BBC News. 1 May 2006. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
- Bowden, Paul (1996). "Graham Young (1947–90); the St Albans poisoner: his life and times". Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 6: 17. doi:10.1002/cbm.132.
- Crimelibrary entry for Graham Young
- The Young Poisoner's Handbook at the Internet Movie Database
- Debate in Parliament about the case (Hansard, HC Deb 29 June 1972 vol 839 cc1673-85).