The trial of Frederick Seddon for the murder of his lodger Eliza Barrow by poison gained from soaking fly papers.




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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Himself - Presenter
Frederick Henry Seddon
Margaret Seddon
Edward Marshall-Hall KC
Sarah Berger ...
Maggie Seddon
Christopher Banks ...
Hilda Kriseman ...
Amelia Vonderahe
Margaret Lang ...
Sandy Walsh ...
Eric Dodson ...
Dr. Henry Sworn
Kevin Woodrow ...
Ernest Grant
Andrew Johns ...


The trial of Frederick Seddon for the murder of his lodger Eliza Barrow by poison gained from soaking fly papers.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama





Release Date:

17 July 1981 (UK)  »

Box Office


£25,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

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User Reviews

"Them as lived with her would have done her in for a hat pin!"
11 November 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Still another of the episodes of the B.B.C. series LADY KILLERS (1981), only this was in the second part of the series concentrating on men who murdered women. This particular episode deals with a poisoning case of 1911 - 1912, which involved a couple who were well off, who probably poisoned an offensive woman who was their boarder for the large amount of money that she had in property. The Seddons - Barrows affair is recalled now as one of the few where one of the defendants was acquitted while the other was convicted on the same evidence. The deciding factor was the arrogant behavior of Mr. Frederick Seddon as opposed to his wife Margaret.

Frederick Seddon, unlike some of the other major killers of British Crime, was one killer for profit who really did not have to get involved. He had a substantially successful business career as the superintendent of an insurance company. In fact, every time I see DOUBLE INDEMNITY, I momentarily think of Seddon while watching Edward G. Robinson's "business only" brainy investigator Barton Keyes. Seddon invested his money carefully - in fact he had the reputation of being a tightwad. His large house had an attic that he converted into a set of rooms for let. When he did so, he probably did not have murder in his mind.

Unfortunately the rooms attracted the attention of Miss Eliza Barrows, a middle age spinster who had some physically repellent habits and a bad temper. But Miss Barrows had nearly $6,000 pounds invested in India stocks (by her foresighted father) giving her a really good income for 1911. Seddon became aware of this and his own greed got the better of him. He made an offer to his new tenant - if she gave him control of her stock portfolio, he would give her an annuity guaranteeing her about 3 pounds a week for life (which was more than her current income). Barrows was somewhat greedy too, and accepted the offer.

Within a few months Seddon was struggling to keep the 3 pounds a week going. Then Miss Barrows began getting ill, vomiting and getting weaker. There were doctors brought in but no nurses (Mrs. Seddon acted as nurse). Finally Miss Barrows died, supposed of a gastric problem.

Given the set-up, and his own regular intelligence, Frederick Seddon should have had the perfect murder here. Nobody suspected that Miss Barrows was poisoned, and his own reputation as a hard-headed successful businessman protected him. Unfortunately he was a man who did not suffer those he considered fools gladly. Mrs. Barrows had relatives, the Vonderahe family. They were aware that she had substantial property that would be theirs. If Seddon had been smart, he would have set aside some of Barrows' property and given it to this family, and that would probably have been that! Instead his arrogance got the better of him. He basically was quite curt with them and sent them packing. And they went to the police!

It is the Seddon Case that cemented the growing reputation of Bernard Spilsbury as the leading forensic expert of the day. He soon found, assisting Sir William Wilcox, evidence of arsenic in Miss Barrows. Still, Seddon and his counsel, Sir Edward Marshall-Hall mounted a good defense, first on whether or not the authorities showed how Seddon got the arsenic. Eventually it was shown that his daughter Maggie had acquired arsenic soaked fly paper, which could be the source for the poison.

The evidence against Seddon was just as strong or weak against his wife Margaret. Yet the crisis of the case occurred while Seddon insisted on going into the witness box. Marshall-Hall was aware that Seddon's strong personality might not work in the witness box, but he could not talk his client out of going in.

The Attorney General, Sir Rufus Isaacs, happened to be the worst person in the world to try to match wits with. The results were fascinating. Isaacs is on record as admitting that Seddon was the only defendant he ever cross-examined who did not crack under questioning. In fact, his replies were flawless. But Seddon also came across as too glib and struck by his own cleverness. A key moment: Seddon blew up in the box when Isaacs mentioned that he was seen counting money belonging to Miss Barrows later on the day she died. "You make me out to be a monster to do such a thing!", Seddon said. But a second later he said (with a partial gloat), "Besides, I would have had all day to count it!". Statements like that did not sit well with the jurors.

Seddon was convicted, and his wife acquitted. A member of the Masons, Seddon unnerved Mr. Justice Bucknill (a well known Grand Master Mason) by reminding him that one Mason was not supposed to harm another. Bucknill, in tears, said that the Masons will not tolerate murder, and to try to make his peace with God. Seddon was hanged on April 18, 1912, thus surviving the 1,500 victims of the Titanic Disaster by three days.

One final point to mull over. In 1912 George Bernard Shaw was writing Pygmailion (which was produced the next year). The play does have two characters named Eliza and Freddy, which makes one wonder if Shaw had been following the Seddon trial. But even more interesting is the scene where Eliza is shown off to Mrs. Higgins' friends at her home, and shatters her perfect speech and manners by insisting on telling the story of an aunt whose hat was stolen after she died suddenly, and who may have been poisoned. It's not India stock, but it does sound familiar, especially as Miss Doolittle does have a dark view of her aunt's landlords.

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