The Pimlico Poisoning Mystery #RealCrimeFriday

Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoille was 19 when she married successful grocer Thomas Edwin Bartlett (29 and known as Edwin) in 1875. It would seem that theirs was not a happy marriage with some reports claiming that Thomas refused to have sexual relations with his new wife. Some also say that within a year of her marriage Adelaide had embarked upon an affair with her brother-in-law.

More strangely still, when Adelaide struck up a close friendship with a Wesleyan minister called Reverend George Dyson, Edwin enthusiastically endorsed the relationship and drew up a will leaving his estate to his wife with George as executor.

Adelaide Bartlett, wife of the victim
Adelaide Bartlett, wife of the victim

After Edwin and Adelaide moved to Pimlico in south London in 1885, Edwin fell dangerously ill. Adelaide asked George to source a large amount of chloroform to treat her husband. George did this by buying four small bottles from four different shops. When Edwin’s father came to visit his son, Adelaide refused him entry, much to the father’s ire.

On New Year’s Eve 1885, Edwin returned from a visit to the dentist and went to bed alongside his wife. However, around 4am the next morning, Adelaide shouted and woke her landlord with the words ‘Come down! He is dead! He is dead!”.

When Edwin’s father visited the body of his son he said that it smelt strongly of chloroform and demanded an inquest be held. This went ahead and the post-mortem revealed that Edwin had died with a large amount of chloroform in his stomach. However, his throat and larynx showed none of the burning that would have been expected from the drinking of chloroform.

An account of the case from the pross at the time
An account of the case from the press at the time

Nevertheless, the inquest concluded that Edwin had been murdered and both Adelaide and George Dyson were arrested.

At the trial, George was immediately acquitted so the prosecution could focus on the case against Adelaide. However, this did also mean that the defence could use his testimony in support of Adelaide’s plea of not guilty.

Adelaide had employed the considerably impressive services of top barrister Sir Edward Clarke who successfully argued that the forensic evidence of the case did not prove murder. Although the law at this time prevented a defendant giving their own testimony and the fact that the defence called no witnesses, Adelaide was acquitted.

Adelaide Bartlett on trial
Adelaide Bartlett on trial

The foreman of the jury said:

“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”.

Following the end of the trial, surgeon Sir James Paget quipped:

“Now that she’s been acquitted for murder and cannot be tried again, she should tell us in the interest of science how she did it”.

Adelaide disappeared shortly after the trial; some say she never saw George again and he emigrated to the US or even Australia, some say the couple married. Regardless of the truth, one fact remains: Adelaide never did tell how she did it and the true circumstances of Edwin’s murder remain a mystery.

Subscribe to Real Crime magazine here and have the world’s best collection of real crime stories delivered to your door each month.