Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sarah Chesham, English Serial Killer Who Got Away with Murder But Killed Again - 1847


Sarah Chesham was tried for murder twice in 1847 and tried for other murders in 1851.

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): On Thursday, at the Chelmsford Assizes, Sarah Chesham, 36, a good-looking woman, the wife of a labourer was indicted for the wilful murder of Joseph Chesham, her son, by administering to him a large quantity of arsenic. There were two other indictments for murder by the same means against the prisoner; one for the murder of James Chesham, another of her children, and another for murdering Solomon Taylor. It was proved that the deceased child expired suddenly, and that previously to the death the prisoner had applied to more than one person, requesting them to procure some arsenic for her, on the plea that her house was infested with rats. This statement of the prisoner's, however, the witnesses admitted to be true. A threatening letter, written by the prisoner while in prison to Mr. Newport, a former master of the deceased, was produced, imputing to him some grave crime, to which it would appear from the context that she was privy, if not a party. In addition to these details of evidence it was clearly proved by medical testimony that the stomach of the deceased contained arsenic, and that this was the cause of death. Mr. Serjeant Jones addressed the jury for the prisoner, and urged that there was au entire absence of anything like positive proof against the prisoner, and also upon the absence of any direct evidence that she had ever had any arsenic in her possession. The jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

The prisoner was again arraigned on another indictment, charging her with the wilful murder of James Chesham, another of her children, by means of poison. Verdict—“Not Guilty.”

On Friday, Thomas Newport, the person whose name was alluded to on the former trials, surrendered in discharge of his bail. The indictment alleged that Sarah Chesham had administered to Solomon Taylor, the illegitimate child of one Lydia Taylor, a quantity of poison, or some other deadly ingredient; and Thomas Newport was charged with aiding and abetting her. An arrangement was made that the trial should stand over until the next assizes, and he, was liberated upon entering into a recognizance in the sum of £400, and finding two sureties in £200 each. The prisoner, Sarah Chesham, was then placed at the bar to take her trial as the principal in the murder of Solomon Taylor. The jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

[“The Two Cases of Poisoning at Clavering,” The Bell’s New Weekly Messenger (London, England), Mar. 14, 1837, p. 3]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): The records of the Spring assizes for the past week teem with a horrible list of crimes, in number and atrocity unparalleled. The county of Essex, as usual, we are afraid we must say, stands first in odious and unenvied fame of criminal notoriety. Well may Lord Chief Justice Campbell have shuddered when be read the list, and declare, as he did, at the close of the gaol delivery, that rather than pass another such a week of horrors he would resign his office to some man of stronger nerves. First on the list, and perhaps, we may say, first in magnitude of sin, was the author of the Clavering poisonings, Sarah Chesham, who was tried, on Thursday, for an attempt to murder her husband by poison. The reader will remember that this woman had been already tried for poisoning her children, and charged with other poisonings, but escaped justice; and that May, the woman who was hanged in 1849 for poisoning her husband, confessed, before her execution, that Chesham was her teacher and instigator to that crime. The immediate cause of the death of Chesham’s husband was inflammation of the longs; but Professor Taylor, of Guy’s Hospital extracted arsenic from the viscera, in such uniform and equally diffused quantities, as left no doubt in his mind that minute doses of the poison had been constantly given to deceased with intent to take his life. He also discovered arsenic in equable but weak mixture with the mass of a quantity of rice-flour which was taken from Chesham. It seems that Professor Taylor had, in his evidence at the former trial, very fully explained the slow fatality of small doses of arsenic repeatedly administered; so the prisoner was well instructed on this point. A multitude of most incriminating remarks which the prisoner herself had made were put in evidence by witnesses, who established that Chesham was regarded with fear in her village as a “professed poisoner,” The Jury, with very little deliberation, found a verdict of “ Guilty.” Lord Campbell pronounced sentence of death. The Judge was so oppressed by emotion as to be for some moments unable to speak the sentence; the doomed criminal walked from the dock with a firm step and unmoved air.

[Untitled, The Guardian (London, England), Mar. 22, 1851, p. 7]

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EXCERPT: Nothing could be proven in the death of the infant, but police exhumed the bodies of her sons who died under suspicious circumstances. The doctor attending the death of the first son recalled that Chesham refused to order a coffin for him, explaining that one coffin can easily hold two bodies. Several days later, her second son died and the two sons were buried together in one coffin. Both had been enrolled in a burial club. When the bodies of her sons were tested, massive doses of arsenic were detected. The problem was that arsenic could not be conclusively traced back to Chesham, and she was acquitted. She went back to the village where she offered advice on how to prepare “special” mince pies that would alleviate any financial family burden.


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