Freed but under the gravest suspicion.
August 25, 2014
“WELL, HAS SHE BEEN ACQUITTED?” Malcolm McBride said this in low tones to the man sitting next to him on the hard but highly polished wooden seat.
“Yes. There was no way to make it stick. Since she will go free, anyway, in the interest of science, I wish she would tell us how she did it.” The man, an eminent physician, a man of science himself, pondered the events that had transpired in the courtroom. On that day in 1886, the fog had lifted over London, but the sky was still overcast and the color of painter’s putty. “I wish she would tell us how she did it,” he said again.
The two friends made sure they got there in time to get good seats every day. It had been a packed courtroom daily due to the peculiarities of the murder victim, the impossible aspects of the crime itself, and the lurid activities of the two living players in the drama.
A man had died. Was he murdered? Edwin Bartlett, a thirty year old London grocer was a nice enough man, even if somewhat boring. It seemed of late as if he had been losing his grip on reality. He wept a lot. He was convinced worms were devouring his innards. He thought someone had put him under a hypnotic spell. Those close to him were perplexed.
McBride and his doctor friend were convinced that the strange man had been killed by his wife, Adelaide, who had been growing weary of his peculiarities. One of these peculiarities was that he could not sleep unless she was holding on to his big toe.
On the morning of January 1, 1886, Adelaide woke to find Edwin dead. The death was investigated. His stomach was full of chloroform which had fatally poisoned him.
“His stomach contained a stupendous amount of chloroform,” Malcolm McBride said to his doctor friend as they sat their waiting for the courtroom to clear out.
The physician answered back, “Yet no throat tissues were burned or even inflamed or even a slight bit altered. Impossible! You cannot have a stomach full of chloroform without damage to throat tissues. It is simply in no way possible.”
Adelaide Bartlett, the accused, was somewhat of a mystery herself. She was born, an illegitimate child, to a Frenchwoman and a wealthy Englishman who preferred to remain anonymous as her father. He saw to it that she was well-cared for. When Adelaide reached marriageable age, he arranged for her to marry the young London grocer, Edwin Bartlett. Edwin received a sizable dowry for marrying the girl.
Did their marriage go through a magical honeymoon phase? Why no. Soon after the wedding Edwin packed her off to school to become better educated. While she was away, Edwin used part of the dowry to enlarge and improve his grocery business.
When Adelaide returned from her lengthy studies, she probably assumed that the real marriage could now begin. Alas. Edwin seemed to start falling apart mentally upon her return. He continued his crying spells, his weird obsessions, and he could only sleep if his wife was hanging on to his toe.
Adelaide seemed to need more from a marriage partner. It was not long before a Methodist minister was paying an excessive amount of attention to Adelaide while her husband Edwin was seeing to his businesses. At some point, Adelaide requested that the minister, George Dyson, purchase some chloroform for her to help her husband get to sleep. Not long after he made this purchase, Adelaide woke up to find Edwin dead—as dead as the proverbial doornail.
“What I don’t understand,” Malcolm told his physician friend, “is that according to various testimonies. Edwin Bartlett was aware of his wife’s relationship with George Dyson and he actually seemed to condone it! As long as she would hold his toe, so that he could go to sleep at night, was all that was required.”
“That is where the reasonable doubt comes in,” the physician answered. “Apparently Adelaide’s wealthy and still unknown father was still waiting in the wings and helped her obtain some of the finest legal counsel available in the realm. One of the defense attorneys made an almost believable argument that Edwin Bartlett thought himself to be a terminally ill man. He killed himself with chloroform so that his wife, Adelaide, and George Dyson could go ahead and be happy together.”
“Now to my mind, that is far-fetched. And surely he could have left a letter absolving her of guilt,” Malcolm surmised.
“Aye. Far-fetched, it is. And no mater who put the copious amounts of chloroform in Bartlett’s stomach, there is no way it could have gotten there without inflaming or burning his throat.” The physician added.
“It is a mystery,” Malcolm said. “Gravest suspicion. That is what they said in the verdict.”
“They let her go free, but with gravest suspicion,” the good doctor echoed his words, as they made their way from the courtroom and looked back over their shoulders at the young woman still chatting with counsel.
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