Within the Victorian era, poison was the first choice of many murders. Deaths dating back to that of Napoleon Bonaparte (1821), suggest that toxic substances such as Arsenic, Cyanide and Strychnine all proved popular with the United Kingdom. One case however, which changed the whole perspective of murder by poison is that surrounding the Pimlico Mystery. A wealthy grocer, a young and beautiful French wife and a love triangle involving a reverend could have been a simple suicide, however the events that unfolded casted doubt on this death. Is it possible to poison someone without showing any evidence of the toxic product being consumed?
Thomas Edwin Bartlett was born in London in 1845. His father, a builder, built many successful grocer shops within the area of South London. This family business of shops meant that Thomas led a comfortable life, with a tight-knit family surrounding him. By the age of 29, he was co-owner to six of the establishments. Around this age, Thomas met Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoille. Adelaide’s history is mysterious. Born illegitimately in New Orleans in 1855, it is believed that her father was Adolphe Collot de la Tremouille and her mother, an English girl. After spending much of her time in France, it is believed she was sent to live with her maternal aunt and uncle in Kingston-upon-Thames. It is not known when or where, but at some point on her move to England, Adelaide met Thomas’s brother, and this is how Thomas became to know of the young French girl. At the age of 19, Adelaide and Thomas married at the Parish Church of Croydon on the 9th April 1875. At the beginning of their marriage, Adelaide asked Thomas if she could return to education, her previous one being disrupted with her move from France to England and Thomas happily accepted, money seeming of no problem to Thomas. Adelaide spent one year at a boarding school before returning home to be with her husband. It was around this time, when Thomas’s mother passed away and reluctantly Thomas agreed for his father to move into the flat that Thomas and Adelaide lived in above one of their successful shops. Documents show that Thomas’s father did not much approve of the marriage between the two and was known to accuse Adelaide of having an affair with Thomas’s brother. This would not be that much of an allegation, seeing as Adelaide was living with said brother when she met Thomas. Upset by the accusations, Adelaide fled to her Aunties and Uncles house and only returned once Thomas forced his father to apologise. Following this, the family seemed to live civilly within the flat.
Tragedy struck in 1881, when Adelaide fell pregnant, and subsequently gave birth to a stillborn baby. The nurse hired had pleaded for help from a male doctor, but Thomas had refused, stating he did not want another man looking at his wife. Before he finally agreed to have a doctor present, it was too late. It was around this time that Adelaide confessed to never wanting more children, claiming that her and Thomas had only had sexual intercourse once in their marriage and this was the time she fell pregnant. Adelaide also claimed that her husband would never try to sexually please her. Following the heartbreak of losing a baby, the couple moved continuously before settling in 1883. It was here that Adelaide formed a close relationship with Reverend George Dyson, a Wesleyan minister. The friendship between, not only Adelaide and Dyson, but also that of Dyson and Thomas blossomed. Reports claimed that Dyson would visit their home three times a week and was even hired by Thomas to provide his wife with tutoring in subjects such as Latin and Geography. Dyson confessed that he had once kissed Adelaide but that no other activity had happened yet the housemaid for Adelaide and Thomas reported that she saw the two in positions which were most odd for a normal student and tutor. However, with all this out in the open, it would seem that Thomas did not seem to mind his wife having attention off another man and Thomas would frequently write letters to Dyson signing the letters, ‘I am yours affectionately’. The friendship blossomed further when in October 1885, Thomas changed his will, leaving everything to his wife Adelaide, making Dyson the executor and even allowing Adelaide to remarry if he were to die.
For most individuals, it would be rather odd to see your wife strike up such a close relationship with another male, but many people regarded Thomas as an ‘strange fellow’. His own doctor described him as, ‘the most extraordinary man he’s ever met’. His doctor also thought him to have some form of mental illness. In the court case, other’s highlighted that Thomas was also a hypochondriac – claiming he had chest pains, syphilis, tapeworm and a long list of other illnesses. One illness which was true however was that Thomas was suffering terribly with rotting gums. Thomas did however fall ill in December. On the 8th December, Thomas left work early feeling ill. He rang for the doctor who told him he had subacute Gastritis – inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Following the next couple of weeks, Adelaide sent letters to Thomas’s father stating that he did not have permission to come over and visit from the doctor and that it was not fair on Thomas to have visitors. This could have been the beginning of suspicious behaviour. Nothing else was noted, but on the 27th December Adelaide took an evening stroll with Dyson. It was on this stroll that Adelaide asked Dyson to purchase Chloroform for her. Adelaide stated that their live in nurse normally purchased Chloroform for the couple, but she had gone to America and therefore was not able too. Dyson agreed, not questioning why Adelaide needed the corrosive poison. Over the next two days Dyson visited four local chemists, purchasing a small bottle of Chloroform from each stating the reasoning for the purchase was to remove grease stains. In this year, chemists did not require a signing off for any small purchase and that may explain why Dyson purchased four small bottles instead of one large one. On the 29th December, Adelaide and Dyson met up again and this is when Dyson handed over the Chloroform.
On the 1st January 1886, Adelaide woke suddenly from cramp at around 4am. It was at this time that she felt Thomas’s feet and realised that they were stone cold. She checked his vitals, and its even reported that she poured Brandy down Thomas’s throat in a bid to wake him up. When Thomas did not stir she rang Thomas’s doctor then ran upstairs to her landlords’ room stating, ‘Come down, I think Mr Bartlett is dead.’ When the doctor arrived, alongside the landlord they reported seeing a large unlabelled bottle upside down in a tumbler glass on top of the drawers. Time of death was estimated at 1am. In the time after the death, Thomas’s father arrived and immediately checked the body for signs of cyanide poisoning. He smelt the body but smelt nothing suspicious but still demanded an investigation. The post-mortem consisted of four doctors. All the organs seemed healthy, until the stomach was cut open. The doctors reported how the smell of Chloroform overtook the whole room. The one thing that makes this all a mystery, however, is that when Chloroform is swallowed you would expect to see burns and damage to the tongue and throat area. This was not present creating the mystery of how the Chloroform came to be within Thomas’s stomach. Adelaide was arrested on the suspicion that she murdered her husband, with Dyson being arrested as an accessory. In February, the coroner’s enquiry began. The trial received large attention, both the UK and Foreign media being present at the six-day trial. Many British individuals believed Adelaide to be guilty straight away – the reasoning for this was because of her being French and not a British. Adelaide was represented by Defence Lawyer, Edward Clark. Clark maintained on Adelaide’s behalf that Thomas had committed suicide. Thomas’s doctor had already concluded that he believed Thomas to be mentally ill and also reported that he believed Thomas suffered from Depression and insomnia. The Crown prosecution argued that this was either a case of murder or accidental death. Dyson’s trial was excused and therefore he took to the witness stand. He described how when he questioned Adelaide about her intentions for the Chloroform she became angry and frustrated with Dyson. The second person to testify was the couple’s nurse. She stated she had never bought Chloroform and had never been to America. However, even though the relationship between Adelaide and Thomas was described as odd, there was no problems with their relationship in the months leading up to his death. After six days, and after a couple hours deliberation, the jury concluded that, ‘although we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner, we do not think there is sufficient evidence to say how, or by whom the chloroform was administered’. They therefore ruled not guilty.