In the early morning hours of New Year's Eve 1885, Mrs. Adelaide Bartlett awoke to find her husband, Thomas, had passed away in the night. She immediately called for a doctor who promptly discovered Mr. Bartlett's death was anything but natural, finding his stomach to be filled with a large amount of liquid chloroform. Adelaide was arrested along with the Reverend George Dyson, a Wesleyan minister who had become a friend and frequent visitor to the Bartlett family, and both were charged with the murder of Thomas Edwin Bartlett. However, the complexities of the cause of his death would prove to be somewhat of a revelation at the trial, and despite evidence pointing towards possible foul play, both Adelaide and Dyson would be found not guilty, primarily because the prosecution were simply unable to prove how they could have murdered her husband.
Adelaide was born in France in 1855 and moved London sometime before 1875. The identity of her father is the subject of speculation, and it is believed he was possibly a wealthy and titled member of Queen Victoria's entourage who had visited France in 1855. Adolphe Collot de la Tremoille, the aristoratic Comte de Thouars d'Escury has been proposed as Adelaide's real father. Thomas Edwin Bartlett was born in 1845 and went on to be a grocer by profession, becoming quite wealthy by the time he met Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoille. Thomas, who often used his middle name Edwin, and the much younger Adelaide married in 1875 and by most accounts the marriage was a happy one but purely platonic, something Adelaide had intended from the beginning. Despite this, Adelaide fell pregnant with Edwin's child in 1881, but the baby was a stillborn. It was rumoured that she had endured a difficult birth and her husband had forbade, on the advice of a female nurse, that she be attended to by a male doctor, something Edwin would not allow because he did not want another man "to interfere with her".
It was around early 1885 when the Bartlett's met the Reverend George Dyson, the local Wesleyan minister, and he would soon become a frequent visitor at their household. Edwin even made Dyson the executor of his will, the entirety of which was left to his wife Adelaide, on the condition that she did not remarry after his death. Although this was a common stipulation during these times, Edwin would amend the will four months later, allowing Adelaide to remarry in event of his death. Edwin had made his will because of his ailing health, and he suffered from a number of unpleasant illnesses, including tapeworms and rotting teeth. He regularly saw his personal doctor, Alfred Leach and under the influence of his wife and Dyson, he came to believe in more eccentric remedies such as animal magnetism being the key to a long healthy life.
Towards the end of 1885, Mr. Bartlett's health was in decline and on the advice of Adelaide and Dyson, he had ordered his doctor to prescribe him chloroform, who reluctantly did so only on his patient's insistence. Adelaide asked Dyson to procure some chloroform for her husband, which he did so by buying four small bottles from several different shops instead of one large bottle. The reason for this was because the laws of the time required the buyer to sign a record book at the chemist whenever large quantities of medical poisons were purchased. Dyson told the various shop owners he needed the chloroform to remove some stubborn stains, and this claim was accepted for the relatively small amounts he purchased. On 31 December 1885, New Year's Eve, Edwin returned home to the couples Pimlico flat after a dental appointment, and went to bed shortly afterwards, sleeping next to his wife. Adelaide woke just before 04:00am the following morning and found her husband dead.
She immediately called for Dr. Leach and then notified her landlady. The doctor found something peculiar about the body, there was a large amount of liquid chloroform in Edwin's stomach. It was suspected he had become desperate with his failing health and had committed suicide. This theory was discounted by Edwin's father, who having always been distrustful of Adelaide and having previously accused her of having an affairs with his younger son, Edwin's brother, became suspicious and called for the matter to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities.
At the inquest performed by Mr. A. Braxton Hicks, it was determined that Edwin had met with foul play and a verdict of wilful murder was returned. Adelaide was prompted to give evidence at the inquest, because she would not be permitted to give sworn evidence on her own behalf in the event of a trial, but she declined. The finger of suspicion now pointed at Adelaide and Dyson who were both arrested for murder.
The trial began on 12 April 1886, and generated a great deal of public and media interest both at home and abroad. Adelaide was defended by Sir Edward Clarke, who contended that Thomas Bartlett was not murdered, but had committed suicide. It was rumoured that Clark had agreed to defend Adelaide because of the intervention of her mysterious but powerful and wealthy father. The prosecutor in the case was the Attorney General, Sir Charles Russell, as was tradition in England and Wales until 1957. When the charges were read out at the opening of the trial, the prosecution requested the charges against George Dyson be dropped and he was formally acquitted of murder. Sir Russell had planned to use Dyson as a prosecution witness, but this also enabled the defence to use his testimony as well.
The Pimlico Trial
The prosecution brought to the courts attention the peculiarity of the relationship between the Bartlett's and George Dyson, specifically how the couple maintained they were given Edwin's blessing for their romance, despite his objections in allowing another doctor to tend to his wife difficult birth. It was highlighted that this might have been the reason Edwin was murdered, to allow Dyson and Adelaide to pursue their romance further and with a sizeable inheritance. Sir Russell also brought into question the actions of Dyson in buying several small bottles of chloroform instead of one large bottle, something Dyson himself would admit was suspicious.
Adelaide in the dock
Because Adelaide was unable to testify in her own defence, Sir Clarke called no witnesses but did give a six-hour closing statement to the court. He called into question the forensic evidence, namely how the fatal quantity of chloroform had ended up in Mr. Bartlett's stomach despite there being no corrosive burns to the sides of his throat or windpipe. The autopsy recorded no such burns on his body and this only furthered the theory that Edwin had not been murdered but had committed suicide by drinking the poisoned liquid in a rushed manner.
The jury retired to deliberate the evidence presented before them and when they returned to the court, the foreman declared; "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 verdict of not guilty was received to rapturous applause, as the British public had grown in Adelaide's favour during the course of the trial.
The most peculiar aspect of the trial was how exactly the poison ended up in Edwin Bartlett's stomach without burning the inside of his throat. The famous surgeon Sir James Paget famously quipped that, "Now that she has been acquitted for murder and cannot be tried again, she should tell us in the interest of science how she did it!". After the trial, both the Reverend George Dyson and Adelaide Bartlett disappeared from public scrutiny. It was rumoured by some that they had married, others are adamant the two never saw each other again.
Adelaide had reportedly moved to America where she settled in the state of Connecticut, although her life post-trial has remained a mystery. Meanwhile, Dyson's life is equally mysterious. A woman from Maryland reported in 1939 that he allegedly moved to New York City, where he changed his name and married a young bride, who was then murdered for her fortune and estate in 1916. Another story has him emigrating to Australia. Whatever their fates were, neither ever revealed the method used to poison Thomas Edwin Bartlett.
Written by Nucleus
Written by Nucleus