Pimlico Mystery

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Adelaide Bartlett

The Pimlico Mystery or the Pimlico Poisoning Mystery is the name given to the circumstances surrounding the 1886 death of Thomas Edwin Bartlett, possibly at the hands of his wife, Adelaide Blanche Bartlett, in the Pimlico district of London. A fatal quantity of chloroform was found in Mr Bartlett's stomach, despite having not caused any damage to his throat or windpipe, and no evidence of how it got there. Adelaide Bartlett was tried for her husband's murder and was acquitted. By the jury's own statement in court Mrs Bartlett's acquittal was partly secured because the prosecution could not prove how Mrs Bartlett could have committed the crime.[1]

Background[edit]

At the heart of the Pimlico Mystery is the odd relationship between a wealthy grocer, Mr. Thomas Edwin Bartlett (1845–1886), his younger French-born wife Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoille (born 1855), and the Reverend George Dyson, Adelaide's tutor and the couple's spiritual counselor and friend. Dyson was a Wesleyan minister, and (if the story Adelaide and Dyson told is true) was encouraged to openly romance Adelaide Bartlett by Edwin's permission. Edwin himself was suffering several unpleasant illnesses (including rotting teeth and possibly tapeworms). Edwin was supposedly something of a faddist, believing in animal magnetism as a key to health, but his reported eccentricities are partly based on what was learnt from Adelaide and Dyson. Adelaide's father was rumoured to be a wealthy and possibly even titled member of Queen Victoria's entourage, which had indeed visited France in 1855,[1] possibly Adolphe Collot de la Tremouille, Comte de Thouars d'Escury.[2]

Edwin and Adelaide were married in 1875. According to Adelaide, it was intended to be a platonic marriage, but in 1881 she had a stillborn baby by Edwin; Edwin had refused her (female) nurse's advice to call a (male) doctor during a difficult labour because he did not want another man "to interfere with her".[1] Early in 1885, they met Dyson as the local Wesleyan minister and he became a frequent visitor. Edwin made Dyson executor of his will, in which he left his entire estate to Adelaide, on condition that she did not remarry (a common stipulation in those days[3]). Later Edwin redrew the will, four months before he died, removing the bar on Adelaide remarrying.[2]

Towards the end of 1885, Adelaide asked Dyson to get some chloroform that had been prescribed by the doctor treating Edwin, Dr. Alfred Leach. Leach would later admit that he prescribed it reluctantly, but at the insistence of his patient. Under the laws of the day, one had to sign a book at the chemist's pharmacy as a record of buying medical poisons, but only for large amounts; Dyson bought four small bottles of chloroform instead of one large bottle, and bought them in several shops, claiming that he needed it to remove grease stains.[2] Only after Edwin's death, did Dyson claim to suddenly realize how suspicious his actions were.

On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1885, Edwin Bartlett returned from a visit to the dentist and went to sleep alongside Adelaide in their Pimlico flat. Just before 4am the next morning Adelaide asked their maid to fetch Dr Leach, fearing Edwin was dead, before rousing the landlady. Edwin's stomach was filled with liquid chloroform. It is just possible that the stories of Edwin's alleged suicide might have been believed and his death considered free of foul play, except that his father, who had always detested Adelaide and had earlier accused her of having an affair with Edwin's younger brother, became extremely suspicious and persuaded authorities to look into the death.

An inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder by Adelaide Bartlett, with George Dyson being an accessory before the fact, and they were both arrested.[3][4]

Trial[edit]

The trial opened on 12 April 1886,[5] attracting great press coverage both in the UK and abroad. At the opening of the trial charges were read out against both George Dyson and Adelaide, but the prosecution immediately asked for the charges against Dyson to be dropped and he was formally acquitted. This enabled the prosecution to call him as a prosecution witness,[3] but also made it possible for the defence to take advantage of his testimony.[6]

Adelaide Bartlett was defended by Sir Edward Clarke, who suggested Thomas Bartlett had committed suicide. Clarke's taking on the case was rumoured to be due to Adelaide's mysterious father's intervention.[1] The prosecution was in the hands (as was traditional in England and Wales until 1957[7]) of the current Attorney General, Sir Charles Russell.

Adelaide was not able to testify in her own defence (something not possible for defendants until the Criminal Evidence Act 1898)[8][9] and the defence called no witnesses,[6] although it did give a six-hour closing statement to the court.[2]

The main forensic aid to Mrs. Bartlett is that the liquid chloroform reached the stomach without burning the sides of the throat and the larynx. Edwin did not have such burns on his body. This bolstered the suicide theory, for such rapid drinking suggested that the drinker rushed the poisoned drink down. When the jury returned to court after considering its verdict the foreman said: "although we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner, we do not think there is sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered." The foreman then confirmed that the verdict was not guilty, which was greeted with "rapturous applause", public opinion having moved in Adelaide's favour during the course of the trial.[2]

The issue of how the poison got into Edwin's stomach without burning him internally in the throat led the famous surgeon, Sir James Paget, to make his famous quip

Postscript[edit]

After the trial both Adelaide Bartlett and Reverend George Dyson vanished from public notice. The authors of The Life of Sir Edward Clarke (1939) report that they had an "impression" that Adelaide Bartlett later married George Dyson, but that they had also heard a theory that the two never met again.

The novelist Julian Symons, in his novelization of the story, Sweet Adelaide, suggested that Mrs. Bartlett emigrated to the U.S., settled in Connecticut, and died there some time after 1933, although others regard her post-trial life as mysterious.

As for Dyson, Richard Whittington-Egan's study of William Roughead's life reported that a woman in Maryland claimed in 1939 that Dyson had come to New York City, U.S., changed his name, and as a fortune hunter married and murdered a young bride, her sister, for her estate in 1916.[10] Alternatively, Kate Clarke reports that Methodist church records state that Dyson emigrated to Australia.[11]

The Bartlett case was dramatized on the BBC radio series The Black Museum in 1952 under the title of "Four Small Bottles." and in a four-part TV series, A Question of Guilt, in 1980.[12]

Media[edit]

  • The movie My Letter to George, or “Mesmerized”, with Jodie Foster was "... loosely based on that of Adelaide Bartlett, who, in 1886, went on trial for the chloroform poisoning of her husband.”[13]
  • In the famous book Hitchcock/Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock tells French New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut that he once intended to make a film about this case, but later on he dropped the idea because Truffaut's film Jules and Jim also dealt with—according to his vision—a ménage à trois. He says that one of the scenes of the picture would feature Adelaide and Dyson making violent love while Edwin Bartlett just puffs smoke out of his mouth and stares at a pipe while sitting in a rocking chair.
  • The CBS radio program Crime Classics produced and aired an episode entitled "The Shockingly Peaceful Passing of Thomas Edwin Bartlett, Greengrocer" on June 22, 1953 that dramatized the story of this case for its audience with some changes of the facts.

References[edit]

  • Bridges, Yseult, Poison and Adelaide Bartlett, ISBN 0-333-11335-7
  • Lustgarten, Ernest, Defender's Triumph (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951), Victorian Trumpets: Edward Clarke defends Adelaide Bartlett, p. 8-80; the same essay appears in Lustgarten's The Murder and the Trial (New York, Charles Scribner's Son, 1958), p. 191-249.
  • Sir John Hall (ed), Notable British Trials Series, The Trial of Adelaide Bartlett (Edinburgh, 1927)
  • Beal, Edward and Clarke, Edward, The Trial of Adelaide Bartlett for Murder, Held at the Central Criminal Court (1886), ISBN 978-1-4373-4233-8
  • Roughead, William, The Rebel Earl and Other Studies, (Edinburgh: W. Green & So, Limited, 1926), The Luck of Adelaide Bartlett: A Fireside Tale, p. 215-252.
  • Stratmann, Linda, Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion, ISBN 0-7509-3098-5
  • Kate Clarke, The Pimlico Murder: Strange Case of Adelaide Bartlett (Classic crime series), ISBN 0-285-62975-1 (1990), revised 2011, ISBN 978-0-9553205-1-4
  1. ^ a b c d Colin Wilson, in Unsolved Murders and Mysteries (ed John Canning), ISBN 1-85152-530-0
  2. ^ a b c d e Michael Farrell, Adelaide Bartlett and the Pimlico mystery, British Medical Journal Volume 309 24–31 December 1994.
  3. ^ a b c Brian Lane (1991). The Murder Guide. Robinson Publishing. pp. 35–38. ISBN 1-85487-083-1. 
  4. ^ C. J. S. Thompson (2003). Poison Mysteries in History, Romance and Crime (reprint ed.). Kessinger Publishing. p. 306. ISBN 0-7661-3047-9. 
  5. ^ Stephanie J. Snow (2008). Blessed days of anaesthesia: how anaesthetics changed the world. Oxford University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-19-280586-X. 
  6. ^ a b Derek Walker-Smith; Edward Clarke (1939). The life of Sir Edward Clarke. Taylor & Francis. p. 178. 
  7. ^ Jones, Elwyn (1969). "The Office of Attorney-General". The Cambridge Law Journal. Cambridge University Press. 27 (1). ISSN 0008-1973. 
  8. ^ Christopher Allen (2008). Practical Guide to Evidence. Taylor & Francis. p. 89. ISBN 0-415-45719-X. 
  9. ^ R. J. C. Munday (1985). "Reflections on the Criminal Evidence Act 1898". The Cambridge Law Journal. 44 (1): 62–86. doi:10.1017/s0008197300114448. JSTOR 4506701. 
  10. ^ Richard Whittington-Egan, William Roughead's Chronicles of Murder, Moffat, Scotland: Lochar Publishing,1991, ISBN 0-948403-55-1,page 205. [1]
  11. ^ Kate Clarke, The Pimlico Murder: Strange Case of Adelaide Bartlett (Classic crime series), ISBN 0-285-62975-1 (1990), revised 2011, ISBN 978-0-9553205-1-4, page 264
  12. ^ A Question of Guilt 1980 TV series
  13. ^ Cf. My Letter to George at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]