HEADLINE: Woman Charged With Murder Of Two Husbands: Mrs. Yvonne Fletcher, 30, a domestic, of Ferndale Street, Newtown, was charged at Central Court of Petty Sessions yesterday with murdering two men to whom she had been married.
FULL TEXT: The police allege that she poisoned them. Unkempt and red-eyed from crying, Mrs. Fletcher was remanded in custody until next Monday.
She wept while the charges were read in court.
The charges said that –
• On March 23 last, Mrs. Fletcher murdered Bertram Henry Fletcher, 30.
• On July 29, 1948, she murdered Desmond George Butler, 29.
~ THE ALLEGATION: “Poisoning” ~
Asked for some details of the allegations, Sergeant Bush said: –
The allegation is that the first man died in 1948 as a result of poisoning. The defendant was his wife.
”We say the second man died in a similar manner in March this year when the defendant was his wife.”
The Magistrate, Mr. C. F. Denton, S. M., asked Mrs. Fletcher if she wanted to make an application for bail.
She did not seem to understand what he meant and a policeman explained to her.
Then she replied: “No, I don’t want bail.”
Sergeant Bush said the police were opposing bail.
He asked that if an application for bail was made later, the officer in charge of the inquiry. Detective Fergusson, should be communicated with.
The magistrate said he would have the police objection to bail and the request noted.
Mrs. Fletcher was arrested at her home early yesterday.
~ THE BACKGROUND Science Aids Police ~
The charges against Mrs. Fletcher mark the climax of two months’ intensive investigation by Detectives D. Fergusson and F. Krahe.
Superintendent J. Wiley ordered the investigation when doctors at Royal Prince Allred Hospital refused to sign a death certificate for Fletcher on March 23 this year. The next day the Government Medical Officer, Dr. Percy, and Dr. Stratford Sheldon held a post-mortem.
The detectives were pre- sent, but the examination did not reveal the cause of Fletcher’s death.
The contents of the stomach and certain organs were then analysed by Mr. T. A. McDonald, at the request of the Government Analyst, Dr. Taylor.
On April 21, the detectives applied for and were granted permission by the City Coroner, Mr. Forrest, to exhume the body of Butler.
This was done at Rookwood Cemetery in drizzling rain at dusk on the same day.
Later, at the City Morgue, Dr. Percy and Dr. Sheldon examined the remains.
Samples of flesh tissue were also forwarded to the Government Analyst, Dr. Taylor, Detectives Fergusson and Krahe now spread their investigations further afield, interviewing many people in Sydney, Melbourne and Broken Hill.
They also inquired into Butler’s death at Broughton Hall psychiatric clinic.
[“Woman Charged With Murder Of Two Husbands,” Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), May 20, 1952, p. 1]
FULL TEXT: Shortly after they made the arrest, they took the 67-year-old woman to Sydney hospital, where she was admitted. The detectives who made the arrest were Detectives D. Fergusson and F. Krahe. Both are poison experts of the C.I.B.
ON CASE A YEAR
They have been working on the case for more than a year. They alleged that the two women became ill late in 1951. Their symptoms, it is now alleged, were those of thallium poison.
Police said that the medical profession then was not fully aware of the effect of thallium and the symptoms were not diagnosed as poisoning at the time. Both women lost their hair and both were treated for nervous disorders. The elder of the two was sent to hospital for a gall bladder operation.
ONE WENT BLIND
In February, 1952, the elder woman went blind. She will not regain her sight. Later the hair of both women began to grow again.
Police alleged that early in May, 1952, the elder woman had a second dose of thallium. This time she was in Sydney Hospital for a month, and poisoning, was diagnosed. She lost her hair again. She was discharged after a month.
Almost immediately afterwards the younger woman also became ill again and her symptoms were diagnosed as thallium poisoning. She too went to Sydney Hospital.
For the period both women were in hospital a police-woman, who is a triple-certificated nursing sister, watched by their beds.
The policewoman inspected all food brought to the women in the form of gifts. The younger woman, on leaving hospital, returned to her home at Redfern. The elder went for a holiday to the North Coast with her daughter. She was there for several months. She returned to her home early this year.
Police said that late last month the elder woman had a fresh dose of thallium poison. Her hair began to fall out again and is still falling out. Detectives Fergusson and Krahe took her to the hospital last night. Police said that the younger woman had completely recovered. They allege that the thallium was administered to the two women in food.
£1,000 BAIL FIXED
Detectives Fergusson and Krahe arrested the 63-year-old woman they have charged at the home of the elder woman yesterday. The 63-year-old woman was charged at Central Police Station. Bail was fixed at £1,000, but had not been forthcoming by early this morning. The woman will appear in Central Court today. Yvonne Fletcher, 30, was found guilty by a Central Criminal Court jury on September 23, 1952, on a charge of having murdered her first husband, Desmond George Butler, 30, by administering thallium. Butler died in July, 1948.
Mrs. Fletcher appealed against the conviction. The State Full Court dismissed the appeal in February. Police also charged Mrs. Fletcher with having murdered her second husband, Bertram Fletcher, by administering thallium. The Crown did not proceed.
The Electricity Commissioner, Mr. H. G. Conde, said last night that metropolitan black-
outs to-day should be confined to the rostered zone C. He said metropolitan blackouts yesterday occurred in half of zone B between 5.25 p.m. and 6.15 p.m. with the charge after she had been found guilty of having murdered Butler. The Cowra Coroner, Mr. F. Arnold, found on August 19, 1952, that Allan Williams, 25, died from thallium poisoning.
On April 27, a group of Australian poison experts met at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to collate the world's most up-to-date medical and analytical data on thallium poisoning. The data was collected by C.I.B. detectives, clinical doctors, and chemists from the Government Analyst's Department. The meeting was designed to find an antidote to thallium—one of the deadliest poisons. A successful antidote to thallium poisoning has baffled poison experts for years.
[“Woman Arrested On Thallium Charges; C.I.B. detectives last night arrested a 63-year-old woman and charged her with having administered thallium poison with intent to murder two other women, aged 67 and 40.” The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), May 12, 1953, p. 1]
FULL TEXT: Fletcher, 30, collapsed in the dock last night when she was sentenced to death for the murder of her first husband, Desmond George But- her, 30, by administering thallium poison. A Central Criminal Court jury had returned a verdict of guilty after an absence of four hours. Mrs. Fletcher, who wore a grey costume, blue jumper, and white hat, seemed self-composed when the jury returned to court. She showed no emotion when the foreman announced the verdict.
Asked if she had anything to say before the Court passed sentence, she said, "No, your Honor." In a clear voice. Mr. Justice Kinsella said: "You have had a fair trial and a patient and careful consideration of the evidence by the jury. "If the conviction had been in respect of your second husband, possibly some palliation of your crime might have been found, for the evidence showed you suffered greatly at his hands. In respect of your first husband, there is no evidence at all of that nature. "The crime of murder is a terrible one, and when the killing is by means of an insidious poison, secretly ad- ministered within the family circle to an unsuspecting victim, which destroyed him mentally and physically, while permitting him to linger for months in wretched agony, then the crime is a horrible one."
Mrs. Fletcher constantly opened and closed her eyes as the Judge addressed her.
When he passed the death sentence, she collapsed in the dock, dropping a prayer- book which she had carried during the seven-day trial. Three policewomen and a constable rushed to her aid. They gave her a glass of water.
Just before Mrs. Fletcher reached the door leading to the cells, she burst into a fit of weeping.
BAN SALE: JURY
Mr. Justice Kinsella referred to a recommendation from the jury that, in view of the scientific evidence, the sale of thallium poison in any form to the public should be prohibited. He said he would pass on the recommendation to the appropriate authority. Mrs. Fletcher has two small children by her first marriage. A gaol authority said that Mrs. Fletcher would be placed in an observation cell at Long Bay until the sentence was carried out or commuted to a term of imprisonment. He said that, if the sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life, Mrs. Fletcher would be able to petition for release after serving about 20 years. Mrs. Fletcher would remain at Long Bay. A legal authority said last night that this was the first case known in Australia of a person having been convicted at murder by administering thallium poison. There had been several cases of suicide in which the poison was used.
[“Woman Sentenced To Death,” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW, Australia), Sep. 24, 1952, p. 1]
POISON CASE CHRONOLOGY
Mrs. Fletcher alleged that Dr. K. J. M. King, whom she called in, told her to stop away from Butler, that Butler had more strength in his little finger than she had in both hands, and if Butler wanted a drink of water or anything to eat, to push it toward him with a stick. In evidence at the trial, Dr. King said he would not have said this. Mrs. Stewart gave Butler a meal; no one at home to look after him.
July 27, 1948: Dr. King again visited Butler, who was helpless, a 'protoplasmic mass— like a jelly.' In capable of fending for himself, incapable of moving and of throwing food: Dr. King arranged for Butlerto be taken to Broughton Hall.
July 28, 1948: Butler admitted to Broughton Hall 11 a.m.
July 29, 1948: Butler died: Mrs. Fletcher not at home when police called tobreak news.
July 30, 1948: Mrs. Fletrcher fainted when told news: she was 'surprised' to be asked to identify her husband's body, and thought it might have been her brother, who had a motor-cycle.
July 31, 1948: Dr. Sheldon performed post mortem: in view of negative tests for arsenic and lead at Prince Alfred Hospital, he did not send organs for analysis.
August 20, 1948: Mr. Austin, S.M., City Coroner, found Butler died from natural causes — peripheral neuritis of unknownorigin affecting the heart.
November 17, 1951: Bertram Henry Fletcher married Yvonne Gladys Butler. January and February 1952: Mrs. Fletcher applied to the court for protection from assaults and apprehended violence.
February, 1952: A foreman at Butler and Norman's, Alexandria, laying rat-baits; Fletcher, who
worked there, said Mrs. Fletcher asked him to get rat poison; foreman gave Fletcher some; next day. Fletcher told foreman: 'She reckons the stuff is good, you can drink it; in fact, she says she has drunk it before.'
March 7, 1952: 'Terrible' row between Fletcher and Mrs. Fletcher. March 8 1952: Fletcher left Butler and Norman's feeling sick; he called at the home of his sister, Mrs. Florence Witchard, at 11 a.m. and said: 'My feet feel funny — pins and needles.'
March 9, 1952: Next-door neighbor Roy Stewart heard Fletcher moving about in yard; about 5.30 p.m., went into Fletcher's after being called; Fletcher said: 'My feet are all numb and I can't walk;' Stewart called ambulance; Fletcher taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. A weeping Fletcher examined at hospital; authorities unable to contact wife; Mrs. Witchard sent for; at 2 a.m. on March 10, she took him to her home.
March 10, 1952: Mrs. Fletcher visited Mr. Hawkins, Public Solicitor, and said: 'It all came back to me about Bluey (Fletcher) saying he would take poison and get me into trouble.' Fletcher told his father, Henry Fletcher: 'I am not putting on an act.'
March 11, 1952: Fletcher told his father his hands were numb; Dr. Thomson examined Fletcher; his symptoms 'consistent with peripheral neuritis.'
March 12, 1952: Dr. Thomson again visited Fletcher; arranged admission to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Dr. Thomson mentioned to hospital Medical Superintendent possibility of poison; investigations for lead and arsenic proved negative; Mrs. Fletcher visited hospital with notice of ejectment; asked by Fletcher's father not to serve the letter; Mrs. Witchard combed Fletcher's hair — it was falling out in handfuls.
March 23, 1952: Fletcher died.
March 24, 1952: Body identified by Mrs. Fletcher post-mortem by Drs. Sheldon and Percy; organs sent to Government Analyst; police begin investigations.
March 29, 1952: Mrs. Fletcher told Dr. Thomson she was upset at rumors that she poisoned Fletcher.
April 17, 1952: The City Coroner (Mr. E. J. Forrest) issued order for exhumation of Butler's body.
April 22, 1952: Drs. Percy and Sheldon performed a further post-mortem on Fergusson Butler's remains; samples handed to Government Analyst.
May 10, 1952: Government Analyst reported Butler's remains contained heavy infusion of thallium; Drs. Sheldon and Percy re ported their opinion that Butler died from thallium poisoning.
May 19, 1952: Mrs. Fletcher arrested and charged with murdering Butler and Fletcher; she called to Roy Harding, a neighbor: 'I am being arrested,' and laughed.
May 25, 1952: Police ask ed for the Butler inquest in 1948 to be set aside and a new inquest ordered.
June 10, 1952: Motion before the Supreme Court for new inquest.
At Central Criminal Court on Monday week she was brought to trial for the murder of Butler. Mr. Justice Kinsella ruled that the Crown could lead evidence of Fletcher's death. He said this would not be admitted to prove Butler had been poisoned by Mrs. Fletcher, but only to negative a possibility that Butler had been poisoned accidentally, had committed suicide, or had been poisoned by someone un known.
Mrs. Fletcher did not stir when the Crown Prosecutor (Mr. Rooney, Q.C.), led evidence of Fletcher's death. From the dock, she calmly proclaimed her innocence.
She was not visibly affected by the verdict, but her composure was shaken when Mr. Justice Kinsella referred to the 'horrible' nature of the killings.
Mr. Justice Kinsella said: “You have had a fair trial and patient and careful consideration of the evidence by the jury and you have been convicted of the murder of your first husband. The crime of murder is a terrible one. And when the killing is by means of an insidious poison, as in this case, secretly administered within the family circle to an unsuspecting victim, which destroyed him mentally and physically, while permitting him to linger for months in wretched agony, then the crime is a horrible one.”
Just before he reached the death sentence she began to swoon. She collapsed on the floor and later, wept hysterically. It has been announced J that Mr. F. W. Vizzard (Public Defender) is to appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal against Mrs. Fletcher's conviction.
[“Poison Case Chronology,” Truth (Sydney, NSW, Australia), Sep. 28, 1952, P. 1]
FULL TEXT: Mrs. Fletcher appealed against the sentence, on the ground that evidence relating to the death of her second husband, Bertram Henry Fletcher, in 1952, also from thallium poisoning, should not have been admitted at her trial. The appeal was unanimously dismissed by the State Full Court of Criminal Appeal on February 13, 1952.
The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Workmen this week completed new ovens in the kitchens at Long Bay where wardresses' meals are cooked. On completion of the job one workman told Mrs. Fletcher, 'Well. These should last for at least another 15 years." "That will just about see me out," replied Mrs. Fletcher with a wry smile.
[“Poisoner now chef at goal,” Truth (Sydney, NSW, Australia), Aug. 29, 1954, p. 52]
Jul. 29, 1948 – Desmond George Butler (29), husband #1, dies.
Late 1951 – Woman # 1 (40) poisoned, survives.
Late 1951 – Woman # 2 (67) poisoned; survived; later permanently blinded (Feb. ‘52).
Mar. 9, 1952 – Bertram Henry Fletcher, husband #2, becomes ill.
Mar. 23, 1952 – Bertram Henry Fletcher (30), dies.
April 21, 1952 – permission granted to exhume the body of Butler.
May 19, 1952 – Yvonne Fletcher charged.
Sep. 23, 1952 – Yvonne Fletcher (30) sentenced to death for Butler murder.
For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.