On This Day
The Chocolate Murders
As chocolate became more affordable from the mid-19th century, this little luxury proved irresistible to those with a sweet tooth. Its popularity also meant it became a reliable vehicle for administering poison. Every piece would be eaten with relish, every cup drained! Stories abound of poisonings via chocolate in all its forms: hot chocolate, cocoa, chocolate drops, chocolate sticks, and more.
These crimes reflected the hierarchies that dominated Victorian domestic life. The accused were most often women – servants, wives and mistresses. Their role in preparing chocolate and cocoa certainly gave them the opportunity to tamper with the beverages, but it also made them vulnerable to accusation.
30 June 1857 The Glasgow Romance
On this day in June 1857, the trial of Madeleine Smith began in Glasgow, Scotland. Her lover had died from arsenic poisoning in March 1857 and Smith, who had recently purchased arsenic, was charged with his murder. The prosecution alleged she had laced ‘chocolate or coffee’ with the poison but the case was found not proven. Smith later married, and lived on until 1928.
“The Glasgow Romance”, Ballarat Star, 7 September 1857.
23 May 1868 poisoning by a wife
On this day in May 1868, M. Jean Baptiste Brisset, ‘a well-known agriculturist’ died in France ‘in fearful agony’. His wife Louise – twenty-four years his junior – had poisoned him by adding sulphate of copper to his daily drinking chocolate. After inheriting his wealth (and spending the lot!), Madame Brisset was arrested and sentenced to death.
‘Poisoning By a Wife’, Toowoomba Chronicle and Queensland Advertiser, 25 August 1869.
7 July 1871 The Connecticut Borgia
On this day in July 1871, the trial of Mrs Lydia Sherman continued in Birmingham, Connecticut, USA. Sherman confessed to the murders of three husbands and four of her children, but was tried for the murders of eight of her children. She administered the poison through food and beverages, including cups of chocolate. Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1872, she escaped from prison in 1877 but was soon tracked down.
‘The Connecticut Borgia’, Empire, 14 October 1871.
10 August 1871 The Chocolate Cream Killer
On this day in August 1871, boxes of chocolate creams laced with strychnine were discovered at Victoria Station, London. The boxes were addressed to people in Brighton, including a doctor and his wife. The poisoner, Christiana Edmunds, injected the creams with strychnine with the intention of murdering as many people as possible. Her crimes also included returning contaminated chocolates to a confectioner’s shop where they were sold on to the public,. As a result, a boy died and Edmunds was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted and she was confined to a lunatic asylum.
During her trial, a great deal was made of Edmunds’ class position. People professed to be shocked that such ‘a lady’ could be so calculating and ‘evil’.
“The Brighton Poisoning Case”, Leader, 2 December 1871.