Because Mondays are MURDER...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Murderous Monday - Women Who Kill - Florence Maybrick - The Flypaper Poisoner, Miscarriage of Justice?

Florence Maybrick was born Florance Chandler on 3rd September 1862 in Mobile County Alabama to John Chandler, a banking partner and Caroline Holbrook.

After her father's death and her mother's remarriage to Baron Adolph von Roques, Florence travelled with her family to Liverpool in England.  It was aboard ship that she met her future husband, James Maybrick, a cotton broker 24 years her senior.  They were soon married on 27 July 1881 at St James Church, Picidilly, London.

Unfortunately their marriage was an unhappy one.  James had several mistresses and was obsessed with his health, to the point of self administering arsenic and strychnine.  Florence had lovers of her own, one is believed to have been local businessman Alfred Brierley and even James's own brother, Edwin.  After a violent argument with James regarding her faithfulness, James threatened to divorce Florence.

Florence was in the habit of buying flypapers and soaking them in water to extract the arsenic as a beauty treatment.  Florence bought some flypaper from a local chemist in the April of 1889.  On 27th of that month James Maybrick was taken ill.  At first it was thought that James has accidentally self administered a double dose of strychnine, doctors treated him for a stomach complaint but James's condition deteriorated.  Florance wrote a compromising letter to Alfred, which was intercepted by the family nanny, Alice Yapp and passed onto James's brothers. 

On 11th May 1889 James Maybrick died at his home in Liverpool.  His brothers were immediately suspicious and arranged for his body to be examined.  The post mortem found small traces of arsenic throughout James's body, but not in quantities sufficient to kill a person.  It was also unclear as to whether James had been poisoned or had administered the arsenic himself.  Yet Florence was arrested for her husband's murder.  The Liverpool Echo reported -

"Florence Maybrick has been arrested on suspicion of murdering her husband James Maybrick, her children are being cared for by their godmother, Mrs Jannion at Gateacre."

Florence stool trial at St George's Hall, Liverpool, were she was convicted of her husband's murder and sentenced to death.  A public outcry followed, the was then concluded that while Florence had administered the arsenic to her husband with the intent to murder, there was reasonable doubt as to whether the amount of arsenic was the cause of death.  Florence's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Florence was first held in the Female Convict Prison in Woking, Guildford, where she appears aged 27 on the 1891 Census.  Later Florence was transferred to the Female Convict Prison and House of Correction on Bierton Road in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Where she appears aged 37 on the 1901 Census.

Florence was finally released in 1904 after having spent 14 years in custody.  She returned to the United States where towards the end of her life she became a recluse.  Florence died at home in her three room cabin in Gaylordsville, Connecticut on 23rd October 1941.

It seems perhaps the courts where preoccupied with punishing Florence for her suspected adultery, rather than the actual death of her husband as the evidence against her was thin to say the least.  A doctor and chemist both testified to James having self administered and purchased arsenic for his personal use.  Many Victorian men believed arsenic to be a tonic and aphrodisiac.  Florence had very little to gain from James's death and would have been finanically better off if she had legally separated from James.  Maybe the thought of divorce and the resulting ruin in Victorian society drove her to desperate measures.  Found in Florence's possessions after her death was a tattered family bible, pressed between it's pages was a ageing piece of paper with instructions on how to soak flypaper to obtain arsenic for use as a beauty treatment.


  1. The practise of taking very small doses of arsenic was popular with both men and women, for varying reasons. It was also prevalent in pretty much anything, eg wallpaper, clothes, powders and even beer.
    An account of Florence Maybrick also features in a book called "The Murders at the Black Museum" and reading that I got the impression she was guilty. I could well be wrong though.

  2. I woder what the verdict would have been today if presened with the eveidence they had then. No doubt not guilty.