Another Case for Death Penalty Debaters to Argue Over
Still another series that I have never seen from Britain that had a legal historical background. But if you have read the responses on this thread, there is a negative comment that caused some consternation. What I find interesting was that when this series came out I recall it got a rather rough time from critics. The criticism was about the production values! Apparently (at least from the criticism I recall)the same set was used for the courtroom in every show even if the episodes took place in different eras. There was also criticism about the presentation of the stories, with the defense attorneys arguing the merits of their defense arguments between scenes in the case.
While several are less well known than the best known ones (Madeleine Smith, Dr. Crippen, Nevil Heath) the one that most attracts my attention to the point of discussing it is the Bryant Poisoning Affair of 1935 - 1936. It is not discussed as frequently as it could be, and I find that amazing. When we hear of the long, long list of British trials for murder where a conviction was questionable (and resulted in execution), Bryant usually gets overlooked. I think the reason is rather snobbish - unlike Edith Thompson (who was interesting and well educated) or Ruth Ellis (who was a capable business lady) Bryant was somewhat sluttish and she was not too well educated. Yet she was arrested for the poisoning of her husband with arsenic laced weed killer in a slow, methodical way to look like he had some illness. You can decide for yourself - keeping in mind that Ms Bryant ended up being hanged.
Charlotte came from Irish and gypsy stock, and married Frederick Bryant, a farm laborer. They lived in a country cottage (and when I use that term, it was a crowded, not very sanitary building). Charlotte had children by her husband - possibly too many. There is an issue if all were his kids, for Charlotte liked to romp with other men at the local pubs. Apparently Charlotte did it for cash - her prostitution added to the weekly income (so probably Frederick didn't mind being cuckolded too much). By the way, she used the cottage for her sex favors (sending the kids away when she did). These details, if you consider them, help explain the laxity of anti-death penalty advocates to talk about poor Charlotte.
Charlotte met a man named Leonard Parsons, whom she fell in love with. Parsons moved into the cottage and slept with Charlotte (and Frederick apparently said nothing!). Parsons was a traveling salesman, and was in and out of the cottage in two years. Charlotte tried to convince him to return to her (he returned, instead, to his own wife and children), and had a scene with Parson's common-law wife Priscilla Loveridge. Parsons refused to return.
In the meantime another woman, Lucy Ostler, moved into the cottage as a tenant with her seven kids (on top of Charlotte, Fred, and their five kids!). She had met Charlotte and they became friendly, and when Parsons left they agreed Lucy could come in. Only Fred argued about this (probably because of the huge number of kids - after all, Parsons had left his kids back home with Priscilla).
Shortly afterward Fred started having attacks of what the doctors thought was gastric-enteritis. On the night of December 22, 1935 Lucy saw Charlotte giving some Oxo to Fred, who vomited it up. Shortly after he was rushed to a hospital and died. In the autopsy they found four grams of arsenic. It was later learned that an illiterate woman had recently purchased weed killer at a chemist's shop (drug store). Both Charlotte and Lucy were illiterate, and both were arrested. Then Lucy turned against Charlotte, claiming that Charlotte showed her a green tin (the weed killer was sold in such a tin) and said she had to get rid of it. Lucy later found it partly burned in the furnace. Tried in May 1936, Charlotte faced Lucy and Parsons as witnesses against her.
The argument was that she killed her husband because of arguments about Lucy moving into the cottage. The thing is this did not seem a major cause for a deadly quarrel - Charlotte ignored Fred if they disagreed, and Fred would acquiesce. Also, despite Lucy's testimony, the argument could be she was the one who bought the weed killer. Parsons' testimony only showed Charlotte's moral lapses, for she did not try to poison him or his wife. And Charlotte (despite being illiterate) proved to have moral strength and made a good witness in her defense. Unfortunately the jury found her guilty.
Due to administrative problems poor Charlotte was in a condemned cell for two months. Her appeal failed, and she made a last appeal to King Edward VIII (the title of the episodes was part of her appeal to Edward). The King found Charlotte's plight less interesting than Wallace Simpson, so he did not stop the execution. She was hanged on July 15, 1936.
It's rare to come across a major poisoning case with so many holes in it like Charlotte's. Somehow, I suspect if the case occurred in the 1970s, she would have gotten a prison sentence and been released in ten or fifteen years. But her sluttish personality hurt her, as much as adultery hurt Mrs. Maybrick in 1889 and killed Mrs. Thompson in 1923. That, and her lowly economic status, condemned her more than any sense in the government's case.
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