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Two shillings worth of Arsenic.
They do say, that there are only a handfull of motives for Murder, it's just a matter of deciding, which one applies to any particular case. In this one, the motive is easy, the method though, is most unpleasent, as indeed are most crimes associated with poison. It's not always a type of murder that can be laid exculsively at the door of the female, sadly, in this instant, it most definately can.
Around the begining of May, 1869, Joseph Oliver, a 39 year old Boiler maker, who was employed at the firm of Hill and Smith, Harts Hill, Brierley Hill, began to feel unwell. He was normally a man in very robust health, and had never before taken any time from his work, where he was highly regarded, and on good pay. On the 16th May, despite all the efforts of a Doctor, Joseph Oliver died, his death being associated with the bane of the times, various gastric complaints, and he was duly laid to rest by his grieving widow. It wasn't long, untill a few nasty rumours concerning his supposedly weeping wife, came to the attention of the authorities. A few quiet words, and Doctor Timmins was soon despatched to dig up the recently interred corpse, who then, as instructed, sent off the deceased's organs to a prominent Doctor in Birmingham, the renowned Dr Alfred Hill. The report that arrived back, soon sent the Police in pursuit of Fanny Frances Maria Oliver, the 28 year old widow of Joseph, for the hard work of Dr Hill, had uncovered the presence of both Arsenic and Strychnine. The grieving widow was soon located, but some distance from Harts Hill, in fact she was staying with her uncle, at a house in Lozells Birmingham, and to say the least, she was not well pleased. Her protestations of innocence, would soon be under very close scutiny, as several witnesses now came forward with some damning evidence against her. She wasn't that well liked in Harts Hill it seems, for she wasn't of the district, and had no roots in the area. After hearing some of the evidence at the resumed Inquest, the first had been adjourned, while a second test was conducted on the brain of Joseph Oliver, who again had to dug up, and with the same result, Death from Arsenical Poisoning. She was arrested, charged, and sent to await trial at the next sessions of The Worcester Assizes.
Fanny Oliver was the second wife of Joseph Oliver, his first, to a Tipton girl Emma Cole, in West Bromwich, in 1855, had produced no children, and she had died in 1861. Joseph was then employed as a Boiler Fitting Engineer, and was lodging with his inlaws, but some time later, moved to a better job in Harts Hill. Here he met his next bride, she was a Milliner, and they married at St Marks, Pensnett, on the 20th June, 1864, but there is distinct possiblity that she only wed him, for the security of his Building Society Account. As later events would confirm, she failed to tell him she was still in touch with her former boyfriend, a man who would loom large in the tale that would unfold at the trial.
Born, Frances Messenger Summer, in September,1841, to a family in the Tailoring business, at Barwell, near Hinckley, Leicestershire, her parents moved to Staffordshire, prior to 1851, where they lived in Brunswick Road, Handsworth, Staffordshire. ( Now part of Birmingham, and just around the corner from where I reside ) It was from this upbringing, that she learned the MillinersTrade, but what she was doing in Harts Hill in the early 1860s, is anybodies guess. It's also not clear how she met the man who comes into this tale of sordid morals, John Burgess, a young Butcher, who was living behind the shop at No.9, Stafford Street, Wolverhampton. Wanting to enjoy himself, as all the young do, but not having the means, he was almost always short of money, and 5 years into her marriage, Fanny, a bit bored, decided to help him out. Unfortunately, she didn't have the means either, so enter the tempting Building Society Account of Joseph Oliver into the story, which in April 1869, held just over £90. The means to an end, so to speak, and the end of poor Joseph.
In late 1868, when Fanny heard that John owed £2, not a large sum today, she sent one of their servants, ( I did say that Joseph was well paid, for they had not one, but two ) Mary Parker, to Wolverhampton by Train, with a note telling him to come to Harts Hill and she would give him the money. She even gave him instructions as the Station to alight at, Round Oak, and directions to her home in Canal Street, Harts Hill. The note, which was produced in court, also told Burgess, that her husband always came home from his work for his meals, and instructed him to wait in a local Pub, The Round of Beef, just over the road from the Station, wher she would join him. Over the next few months John Burgess paid many visits to Harts Hill, each time Fanny sending the other servant girl, 13 year old Annie Archer, to keep watch at the house's entry, and tell any callers she was out. Depending on the train times, these visits lasted from an hour to over two, and Burgess seems to have always left with money in his pocket, not to mention a smile on his face. She was though, about to be found out about the missing money as she knew the Society, who reckoned their books every quarter, would tell her husband his funds were very low, so something had to done. Adopting a false name, she travelled to a Chemist in Dudley, the premises of Charles Hazard Gare, and being refused Arsenic the first time, returned with someone who could vouch for her ( false )identity and purchased a Shillings worth. Later. on the 11th May, Mary Parker turned up at the shop with a note bearing a request for more Arsenic, signed with the false name. Charles Gare, against all the regulations, supplied the poison, and sealed the fate of the by now ailing and very sick Joseph Oliver. ( He was later fined just £1 and costs, for this horrific breach of the rules ) As Fanny cooked and served all Josephs meals, ( apprently with an added ingedient ) it took the Jury just 20 minutes to find Fanny Frances Maria Oliver guilty of Wilful Murder, and the Judge, Baron Pigott, duly sentenced her to Death by Hanging. Following an appeal, not from Brierley Hill, but from some eminent gentlemen of Birmingham, concerned about the tests to determine the presence of Arsenic, Baron Pigott reduced the sentence to Penal Servitude for Life, and she was sent to Knaphill Female Convict Prison, in Surrey. She was still there in 1881, a lucky woman, for there's no doubt whatsoever that she poisoned her husband. Now if that had been a man who had poisoned his wife, I wonder if the same treatment would have been available.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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