Christiana Edmunds (3 October 1828 – 1907) was an English woman who, in the late 19th century, became known as The Chocolate Cream Killer after poisoning several people with strychnine in chocolate creams, killing one.
Edmunds was born in Margate, and was the eldest child of William Edmunds, an architect who designed the Holy Trinity Church and the Margate Light House. Her mother was Ann Christiana Burn, the sister of John Southerden Burn and daughter of a Royal Marines Captain. Edmunds had a privileged upbringing and was privately educated but was diagnosed with hysteria in her early twenties. It was while she was living with her widowed mother in Brighton, in the late 1860s, that Edmunds became involved with the local doctor, Charles Beard. The nature of their relationship remains a source of controversy but, in September 1870, Edmunds poisoned his wife by giving her a poisoned chocolate cream. The following day, Mrs Beard became violently ill, but recovered. Dr Beard said later that he suspected Edmunds had poisoned his wife at that time, but did not act on his suspicion, due to a lack of proof and a concern over the taint of scandal.
In 1871, however, Edmunds began obtaining chocolate creams from the local confectioner, John Maynard. She took them home, laced them with strychnine, and returned them to the vendor. Maynard then sold them to the public, not knowing that they had been poisoned. Initially, Edmunds was obtaining the strychnine from a local chemist, Isaac Garrett, on the pretence that she needed it to poison stray cats. In an attempt to cover her tracks, she began paying young boys to purchase them for her. By this time several people in Brighton had become ill after eating the chocolates, but no one had connected the illnesses with the chocolates. However, in June 1871, 4-year-old Sidney Albert Barker, on holiday with his family, died as a result of eating chocolates from a shop called Maynard's. The Brighton coroner, David Black, ruled the death accidental. It was later confirmed that this was the only death from the poisoning.
Edmunds then increased her poisoning campaign, and began sending parcels of chocolates to prominent persons, including Mrs Beard, who became violently ill. By this time, the police had connected the large numbers of ill people with the chocolates. Edmunds also sent parcels to herself, claiming that she, too, was a victim of the poisoner, in the hope that this would deflect suspicion from her and on to the shopkeeper, John Maynard, from whom the victims had purchased their chocolates. At this point Dr Beard informed the police of his suspicions, which resulted in Edmunds being arrested, and charged with the attempted murder of Mrs Beard, and the murder of Sidney Barker. After committal hearings, it was decided to move the case from Lewes to the Old Bailey, and Edmunds's trial began in January 1872.
Her mother testified that both sides of their family had a history of mental illness. Dr Beard claimed that he and Edmunds never had a sexual relationship, but that instead it was merely a series of letters sent by her to him, and mild flirtations. Edmunds was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment due to her mental state. She spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, dying there in 1907.
In popular culture
The Great Chocolate Murders, by John Fletcher, is a drama based on the events of the case, first broadcast by the BBC on Saturday 22 September 2007. It features Sîan Thomas, Chris Donnelly, Jennifer Hill, Dorien Thomas and Brendan Charleson, and was directed by Kate McAll.
- Jones, Kaye (30 April 2016). The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer: The poisonous passion of Christiana Edmunds. Pen & Sword History. ISBN 978-1781593752.
- Stratmann, Linda (22 March 2016). "Chapter 16: Matrimonial Causes". The Secret Poisoner: A Century of Murder. Yale University Press. pp. 217–232. ISBN 978-0300204735.