Messengers Of Death

Messengers Of Death: Poisonous Nineteenth Century Women

It was easy to kill someone in the 19th century, much easier than it is today… Access to arsenic could be gained for pennies and it’s effects mimicked such diseases as cholera, dysentery and typhoid, all of which, at the time, were common illnesses. Other killers, such as laudanum, sulphuric acid and a rare poison called colchicum were used by the women in this book. Research proves that it was easier to kill someone by poison in rural areas than in big towns and cities.

In most cases, the murder was only brought to the attention of the authorities by gossip and rumour mongering. One expert suggested that there were many hundreds of poisoning cases that remained undetected. It was said that women were more amenable to poisoning as it was a non physical type of execution. They also had less chance of detection, by travelling around the country, getting married and/or changing their name.

The insidious ways in which these poisons were used, called for such women to be nicknamed ‘Messengers of Death’. Using previously unexplored cases, Margaret Drinkall reveals how women poisoners in the nineteenth century created such a culture of poisoning, that it seriously alarmed the government and the legal authorities of the time. Some women believed that spells and the power of witchcraft would protect them from the gallows.

One woman offered her services as a professional poisoner, to other wives wishing to escape their husbands. Many others enjoyed the benefits of murder after insuring their relatives in burial clubs, without the knowledge or consent of those who were poisoned. Women in the village of Wix near Harwich used mass poisonings to rid themselves of encumbrances. As a result, local coroners were forced to order many exhumations. This then is the story of some of those ‘Messengers Of Death’…

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