Monday, 8 March 2021

A Child's Very Suspicious Death

The body of a child was exhumed in 1839 due to her mother's suspicions she had been poisoned. However despite evidence of foul play, there was no arsenic found in the corpse.

On 16th September that year three year old Jane Nixon of White Mill Street, off Copperas Hill, died after spending the last 48 hours vomiting. The family's physician, Dr Garthside, had diagnosed cholera and Jane was buried in St John's churchyard.

A few weeks later Jane's mother Margaret made an astonishing discovery in the cupboard of a former lodger - a half full bottle of white fluid. This was something which she remembered seeing on the table on the morning of 14th September when the lodger (who was not named in news reports) had given Jane her breakfast.

Margaret had a horrible feeling that her lodger may have poisoned Jane, as she had been given notice to quit for having male visitors stay over night which was against house rules. Margaret took the bottle to a chemist, who confirmed that it was arsenic. The Coroner Philip F Curry ordered that Jane's body be exhumed from her grave. Dr Garthside and another surgeon examined the contents of the stomach but could find no trace of arsenic at all.

An inquest took place in November. In summing up, Mr Curry said it was the most suspicious case he had ever dealt with and that all the evidence regarding the lodger and bottle of arsenic pointed to murder. However the facts were that no arsenic was found in the body. He concluded by saying that the case was beset by suspicions, but the jury had to give their verdict based on the testimony heard. After then minutes deliberation, the jury returned a verdict that Jane died a natural death.

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