In Suspicious Circumstances: Season 4, Episode 5

The Next Mrs. Clements (18 Jan. 1994)

TV Episode  -  Drama
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Amanda Boxer ...
Victoria Barnett
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Doctor Holmes
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Amy Stevens
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Kathleen Clements
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Doctor Robert Clements
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18 January 1994 (UK)  »

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A Dapper and Fashionable Widower
24 December 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Clements Case is something like the unsung poison doctor case in 20th Century Britain. It lacked the sensational escape and capture of Dr. Crippen, the African setting of the shooting of his wife by Dr. Benjamin Knowles, or the huge numbers of benevolent patient - "victims" of Dr. John Botkin Adams (if he was a killer - we don't know). Clements, if he was a killer, perfected methods of earlier poisoners, and chose carefully to marry wealthy women. But the issue remains, was he (like his future fellow medical suspect Adams) an actual poisoner or simply the victim of circumstances and a zealous public prosecution? Furthermore, unlike the "lucky" Adams, Clements never got his day in court - he committed suicide when faced by the sheer size of the accusations.

Dr. Robert Clements was from Ulster, and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Unlike some of the 19th Century poisoning doctors (Palmer, Pritchard, or Lamson come to mind), Clements actually was a capable doctor, and one who fit into the upper classes nicely. His repeated marriages were all to wealthy heiresses. His first wife died of sleeping sickness, and the second one of endocarditis. The third one died of cancer. Each one of them had a death certificate signed by Clements as the treating physician. It never occurred to anyone that Clements wives may have died of poisoning, cunningly administered.

In 1939 he married a fourth lady in London, and eight years later she too came down with an illness. Only Clements seemed to believe she was doomed. He kept taking the view that her dizzy spells were not good at all. She finally collapsed and Clements rushed her to the hospital. He hinted it was myeloid leukemia. A pathologist, Dr. James Houston, agreed with Clements, and the death certificate was readied again. But another doctor at the hospital, Dr. Andrew Brown, noticed that the eyes of the the fourth Mrs. Clements were "pinpoint", which suggested morphine poisoning. Brown contacted Scotland Yard, who took over the pathology. They found traces of morphine in her. Rumors soon were circulating about the possibility that Clements turned his wife into a morphine addict (he certainly purchased a lot of it), and he may have been beginning to romance another wealthy woman.

The police now went to see both Clements and Dr. Houston. And they found two corpses. Clements killed himself with an overdose of morphine. He left a note denouncing the lies that had been spread against him. Houston took cyanide, apologizing for his mistakes in his different diagnosis on cases for some time. That ended the Clements case.

Now the issue remains - did Dr. Clements kill all four wives? Most people say yes, but the fact was that two different autopsies showed conflicting results. It's true Houston's suicide note basically claimed he was making mistakes - but this was never probed in court. And Clements' note mentioned a second issue - how much were the comments about the first three deaths on target, and how much were they really based on spite (after all, each marriage made Clements a richer man - which is grounds for greater suspicions, but also grounds for greater jealousy by "friends" and acquaintances)? If the government had looked into the first three deaths, would they have found evidence of poison? Or was Clements simply, incredibly, unlucky about the health of his wives?

The cases of Clements and Bodkin Adams (less than a decade later) are similar about the use of poisons on dying patients (frequently elderly people Dr. Adams treated over many years). But there too, it was suggested in the end that Dr. Adams had used morphine and other drugs to speed the ends of patients, not so much for the legacies, but to ease their last days. He was acquitted, and struck off the medical rolls for nearly twenty years (later he was readmitted). Clements might have offered the same excuse. Possibly Clements might have had the same fate as Adams, except four wives are more tightly connected to a prospected poisoner than multiple elderly patients.

There was one other 19th Century Case - long forgotten - that was like Dr. Clements'. In the middle years of the Victorian period, Dr. A. J. Warder was a frequent government expert witness on poisons in cases. His reputation was somewhat hurt when he was hired to be a witness for Dr. William Palmer in 1856, but he still was an expert after that trial. In 1865, Dr. Warder's third wife died of what appeared to be arsenic poisoning. There was some question about the results, but people started recalling the sudden earlier deaths of Dr. Warder's first two wives. Warder learned that the police were looking into those deaths. He took poison in a cab in Brighton England, but left no note. That case too never went to trial, and we do not know if Dr. Warder (like Dr. Clements) was the victim of circumstances and rumors or a self-destroyed poisoner.


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