17 March 1903
THE SOUTHWARK POISONING CASE
(Before Mr. Justice Graham)
Severin Klosowski, otherwise George Chapman, 36, publican, was indicted for the wilful murder of Maud Marsh, otherwise called Maud Chapman, and he was charged on the coroner's inquisition with the same offence. The prisoner was also indicted for the wilful murder of Elizabeth Taylor, otherwise called Bessie Chapman; and there was another indictment charging him with the wilful murder of Mary Isabella Spink, otherwise called Mary Isabella Chapman.
The prisoner pleaded "Not guilty."
The Solicitor General, Mr. Sutton, Mr. Charles Mathews, and Mr. Bodkin conducted the prosecution on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions; Mr. George Elliott, Mr. Arthur Hutton, and Mr. V. Lyons appeared for the defence.
The trial of the prisoner upon the indictment and coroner's inquisition charging him with the wilful murder of Maud Marsh was proceeded with. The Court was crowded.
In opening the case, the Solicitor General said that the prisoner was indicted for the wilful murder on October 22 last year of Maud Marsh. At the date in question the prisoner and Maud Marsh were living together as husband and wife at the Crown public house, High street, Borough, a public house of which the prisoner was the landlord. The prisoner was known then, and for a long time previously, as George Chapman. On that date, at about half past 12 o'clock in the day, Maud Marsh died. She died in such circumstances and with such symptoms that the doctor very properly refused to give any certificate as to the cause of death until further inquiry was made. A post mortem examination was accordingly made, and it revealed that Maud Marsh had died from a metallic irritant poison known as antimony. All the parts of her body were found to be literally saturated with antimony. It was quite plain that a considerable dose must have been administered to her some few hours before her death. It was clear that there had been a continued dosing of the woman for some time, so that the poison permeated her blood and got into the various organs of her body. The real question for the jury to decide was, Was the antimony administered to her by the prisoner? Antimony was a metal, and it was introduced into chemical commerce as an ingredient - the main ingredient - in a powder called tartar emetic or emetic tartar. It was a white powder soluble in water and with no colour; and it was, therefore, an easy matter to introduce it either into liquids or into food or other medicine. If it had been introduced during life into any body it preserved that body after death so that even after several years the body might be recognized. The prisoner was Severin Klosowski. He was a Russian Pole. In his early days in Russia he studied medicine. He was apprenticed apparently to various surgeons in that country, and he appeared to have sought to become a junior surgeon. In 1888 the prisoner came to England and worked as a barber. In 1889 the prisoner was married, and his wife was still alive, but apparently she had not lived with him for many years. In 1895 the prisoner purchased a house in Tottenham in the name of Klosowski. About that time he seemed to have become acquainted with a girl named Chapman, and he appeared to have taken the name of George Chapman. He did not think that from that date, 1895, onwards the prisoner ever returned to his original name. In March, 1896, he was living at Hastings. He was there living with a woman named Isabella Spink as Mr. and Mrs. Chapman. While at Hastings he was acting as a barber. On April 3, 1897, he purchased from a chemist named Davidson an ounce of tartar emetic, which contained 437 and a half grains. Two grains had been known to be a fatal dose. From ten to 12 grains would ordinarily prove fatal. An ounce of tartar emetic would contain about 146 grains of metallic antimony. The book which had to be signed when poison was purchased was signed in his name. A most curious example of the preservation of evidence was to be found in the fact that when the prisoner was arrested, and when his goods had been taken possession of by the police, the label which had been put by the chemist on the tartar emetic was found. It also appeared that while he was at Hastings the reading of medical books still had some attraction for the prisoner, because, although he was a barber, he purchased some medical books from the chemist. In September, 1897, the prisoner and Isabella Spink removed from Hastings to the Prince of Wales public house in Bartholomew square, near Finsbury, where they lived in the name of Mr. and Mrs. Chapman. Isabella Spink died on December 25, 1897, and was buried at St. Patrick's Cemetery at Leyton. At Easter, 1898, when still at the Prince of Wales public house, the prisoner took as assistant in the public house a girl named Bessie Taylor, the daughter of a Cheshire farmer. Shortly afterwards they appeared to have gone through some form of marriage; and they lived together at the Prince of Wales as Mr. and Mrs. Chapman. On March 23, 1899, they moved to a public house called the Monument, in Union street, Borough. On February 13, 1901, Bessie Taylor died, and she was buried at Lymm, in Cheshire. He now came to the case under investigation - that relating to the death of Maud Marsh. Maud Marsh was a young girl 18 or 19 years of age, the daughter of Robert and Eliza Marsh, who lived at Croydon. In August, 1901, having advertised in a paper for a situation, she received an answer from the prisoner, in the name of George Chapman, from the Monument public house. Thereupon she and her mother saw Chapman with reference to her obtaining a situation in his public house. The prisoner said that he was a widower, but he stated that there was a family living at the top of the house. Both of these statements were false. The girl was induced to accept a situation at his public house. When she had been there some time she and the prisoner visited her mother, and the prisoner said that he wished to marry the girl. On October 13, 1901, the prisoner and Maud Marsh went out, saying that they were going to be married, and when they came back the girl had a ring on her finger, and she said that the prisoner had the marriage certificate. From that day they lived as man and wife down to the time of her death. By June, 1902, the prisoner had taken the Crown public house, and a girl named Florence Rayner was engaged as barmaid. When she went there Maud Marsh was apparently in good health. Florence Rayner had not been there long when the prisoner asked her to go to America with him. She replied, "No, you have your own wife downstairs; you don't want me." The prisoner said, "Oh, I could give her that (snapping his fingers) and she would be no more Mrs. Chapman. I can send you to America and can come on after you." Florence Rayner left the employment of the prisoner in July; but she afterwards visited the Crown public house, and the prisoner one day said to her, "If you had not been such a fool you would be in the Crown now." That date synchronized with the illness of Maud Marsh. In that month of July Marsh's sister came to see her, and the prisoner when asked where she was replied, "She is in bed dying fast." Her sister saw her and advised her to go to the hospital, but the prisoner opposed the idea. Eventually he gave some money to her to see a doctor; but her sister, instead of taking her to a doctor, removed her to Guy's Hospital, where she remained from July 28 to August 20. The doctors were never able to form any clear opinion as to what she was suffering from. When she was in the hospital and away altogether from the prisoner she recovered her health. On her going back to the Crown public house the symptoms of illness reappeared. On October 10 Dr. Stoker, who had attended Bessie Taylor, was consulted by the prisoner. The doctor prescribed some medicine for her. The prisoner alone gave her her medicine and food. The doctor suggested that the girl should go to the hospital; but the prisoner objected to it, and it was then proposed that she should have a nurse. The prisoner thereupon engaged a woman named Jessie Toon to act as nurse; but he still continued to administer her medicine and give her her food. He frequently felt her pulse, and on one occasion he used a stethoscope. On another occasion he brought her some brandy, but she could not take it. Her mother, who was in the room, on drinking some of it, found that it burned her throat. She got worse, and another doctor was called in at the request of the relatives, the prisoner being told that she was thought to be suffering from poison, to which he replied that he did not know how that could be unless it was some rabbit they had had to eat. He was told that the doctor did not find any arsenic in the rabbit. The prisoner said he could not tell how it was or what else it could be. About 12 o'clock on October 23 her mother noticed a change in the girl and called for the prisoner, who brought some more brandy, which she refused to take. Shortly afterwards she died. After the death the prisoner had a conversation with Dr. Stoker and asked him for a certificate. Dr. Stoker said he could not give one unless he had a post mortem examination. The prisoner said she had dies of exhaustion caused by diarrhoea and vomiting. Dr. Stoker asked what occasioned these; but he made no reply. Before the girl dies Jessie Toon, the nurse, told the prisoner she had overheard the doctor say to her mother that if Maud died she would himself go to the expense of a post mortem examination. The prisoner replied, "That is the mother who is doing that. She wants to have a post mortem to show me up. Be careful what you say to her and take notice of what she says to you. Ask her if she thinks there is anything wrong. She is a wicked old cat and will say anything." A partial post mortem examination was made by Dr. Stoker and other medical men, and traces of arsenic were found. A fuller analysis was made by Dr. Stevenson and Dr. Freyberger in the presence of the other doctors. The presence of tartar emetic to the extent of 20.12 grains was detected. Two grains had been known to kill a person. There was found in the house a bottle which had been recently washed, in which were the remains of some white powder. On this being analysed the presence of antimony was found. Dr. Stoker had never prescribed antimony, and had not had it in his surgery for the last ten years. Antimony was practically not used now as a medicine at all. The prisoner was arrested on the charge. In reply to it he said he knew nothing about it and did not know how she got the poison. She had been to Guy's Hospital for the same sort of sickness. He would not, he said, have hurt her for the world.
The Solicitor General was proceeding to refer to the circumstances attending the deaths of Isabella Spink and Bessie Taylor, when Mr. Elliott objected that the Crown were not entitled to go beyond the indictment charging him with the murder of Maud Marsh, and were limited to matters covered by that indictment.
Mr. Justice Grantham said the evidence was clearly admissible.
The Solicitor General, proceeding, said that after the post mortem examination on Maud Marsh had been made it was thought desirable by the authorities to have the bodies of Isabella Spink and Bessie Taylor exhumed. Isabella Spink had died on December 25, 1897, and Bessie Taylor on February 13, 1901. When the coffin containing Spink's body was opened the state of preservation of the remains was most remarkable. The features appeared as if the body had only been placed in the coffin that very day. The condition of the various organs was normal and there was practically nothing to account for her death. The organs were submitted to a chemical analysis, and 3.83 grains of tartar emetic were found; but that did not represent anything like the amount of poison administered to her. Her body was saturated with antimony; and the doctors would say that a large dose must have been administered to her shortly before her death. Bessie Taylor's body was also found to be preserved to a remarkable extent. A chemical analysis detected the presence of 10.5 grains of metallic antimony or 23.12 grains of tartar emetic. In the same way it was found that the woman must have had a considerable dose just before her death. The symptoms in both cases were identical with those exhibited by Maud Marsh. Cases of poisoning, rare as they were, were more important, perhaps, than any other class of murder. It was difficult to trace them. Poisonings might take place without detection or discovery; but, if they were to distinguish in degree between one murder case and another, he thought that no murder was more determined and more malicious than one of poisoning, and that no murder was more demonstrative of the cruelty of the person who perpetrated it, when a man stood day by day by the bedside of a person he professed to love, saw her sinking away under the influence of what he had himself administered, and pretended to be treating his victim for a malady which his act alone had produced.
Evidence was then called for the prosecution as to the prisoner being a Russian Pole of the name of Severin Klosowski and his having been apprenticed to surgeons in Russia. A book of the prisoner's, with the name of S. Klosowski on the front and back, was found at the Crown public house by the police at the tome of his arrest. Testimony was also given by Mr. Davidson, a chemist who had been in practice at Hastings in 1897, as to the purchase by the prisoner of an ounce of tartar emetic on April 3 of that year. He identified the label found at the prisoner's house as that which he had placed on the tartar emetic then purchased. At this stage the trial was adjourned until tomorrow (Tuesday). The jury were taken to an hotel for the night in charge of the ushers of the Court.