The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer by Kaye Jones by Kaye Jones - Read Online

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The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer - Kaye Jones

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For Mum & Lexi

First published in Great Britain in 2016 by

Pen & Sword History

an imprint of

Pen & Sword Books Ltd

47 Church Street

Barnsley

South Yorkshire

S70 2AS

Copyright © Kaye Jones 2016

ISBN: 978 1 78159 375 2

PDF ISBN: 978 1 47388 141 9

EPUB ISBN: 978 1 47388 140 2

PRC ISBN: 978 1 47388 139 6

The right of Kaye Jones to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the Publisher in writing.

Typeset in Ehrhardt by

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Printed and bound in the UK by CPI Group (UK) Ltd,

Croydon, CRO 4YY

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Contents

Acknowledgements

Ihave spent the last two years writing Christiana’s story and there are a number of people that I would like to thank for all their help and support during this time. Firstly, to Pen & Sword Books, who gave me this fantastic opportunity, and to my lovely editors, Jen Newby and Eloise Hansen, for all of their help, advice and encouragement along the way.

Researching Christiana’s life, especially her early years in Kent, proved very tricky and I thank Anthony Lee, of Margate Local History, for sharing his excellent knowledge on her father and allowing me to use many of his photographs. To Luke Mouland, of Kith and Kin Research, I bow to your genealogical superiority and thank you for all your assistance. I also thank Alannah Tomkins for allowing me access to her research on the sad fate of Dr Charles Beard and to Mark Stevens for pointing me in the right direction. My thanks also to Peter Henderson of the King’s School Archives for information on the young William Edmunds. I also appreciate the efforts of staff at the Kent Archives, The Keep in Brighton and the Berkshire Record Office, who supplied me with so much information.

Finally, to my (long-suffering) family and friends, especially Keiran, Lexi, Liz, and Janine; I will never be able to fully express my gratitude for all of your patience and support while writing this book. I could not have done it (and stayed sane) without you all and I promise no more stories of syphilis and strychnine. Not until the next book, anyway.

15 March 1847

The death of a patient was not an unusual occurrence at Peckham House Lunatic Asylum.

Inside the walls of this former private mansion, the asylum’s resident physician, Dr James Hill, was occupied with the macabre task of certifying a death, a task he had carried out more times than he cared to remember. The patient who had tonight lost his life was William Edmunds and the doctor felt a pang of genuine sadness as he stood over his lifeless body. It was not that Dr Hill favoured William above his other patients; he prided himself upon the equal treatment of all those in his care. It was, in fact, the cause and manner of William’s passing that had provoked such an emotional response in the usually calm and reserved doctor.

Since his arrival at Peckham House six years earlier, Dr Hill had seen scores of men afflicted by the same tragic ailment as William. Its medical name was general paralysis of the insane, though those who had witnessed first-hand its devastating impact knew it as one of the most terrible maladies that can afflict a human being.¹ General paralysis of the insane was first recognised in 1672 by the physician, Thomas Willis, but was not studied again until 1798 when John Haslam, an apothecary to the infamous Bethlem Hospital, described three cases in his book Observations on Insanity. After Haslam, it was the French who took the lead: beginning in 1822 with Antoine Bayle, a physician working in Paris, who recognised general paralysis as a distinct disease and offered the first clinical description of its symptoms.² It was these symptoms which fascinated doctors on both sides of the Channel. They were bizarre, yet debilitating, and almost always resulted in the premature death of the patient. By the early nineteenth century, then, the peculiar course of this disease was well-understood and had been well-documented by physicians in England and France.³

It all began with paralysis of the tongue. Unable to move this major muscle, the patient would start to stammer and mutter like a ‘person intoxicated’.⁴ Accompanying this strange paralysis were delusions of grandeur which caused the patient to rave and boast of vast, though imagined, wealth and riches. As these symptoms developed, a second stage of the disease set in. The paralysis spread to the upper and lower limbs and weakened the muscles of the neck and trunk. This made basic physical movements, like sitting upright and standing, extremely difficult. Mental deterioration also continued, with most patients now in the advanced stages of dementia and in need of constant care. ‘Nothing is more deplorable than the aspect of a lunatic affected with general paralysis of the third degree’, wrote the eminent physician, James Cowles Prichard, in 1835. His observations demonstrated the full horror of the disease’s final stage:

These patients, motionless and insensible, are reduced to a state of mere vegetation; their existence is a kind of slow death … Some individuals are not able to utter a single word, and only utter vague and confused sounds. The lower extremities are so weak that standing is impossible … Often there remains no trace of intelligence.

Physicians and asylum attendants could offer only palliative care to patients in this final and most disabling stage of general paralysis. There was no hope of a cure and no way of knowing how long they might survive. From the onset of first symptoms, life expectancy ranged from eight months to three years, though a minority had survived a year or two longer.⁶ With such ferocity then, it is hardly surprising that general paralysis became a great source of concern for medical professionals who estimated that it accounted for 20 per cent of asylum admissions.⁷ The constant care required by patients, particularly in the latter stages, placed a great burden on asylum resources and gave the worrying impression that these institutions were teeming with incurable cases.⁸ Although the number of general paralysis diagnoses did increase in the mid-nineteenth century, so too did the general level of insanity among the population. In 1800, for example, there were 2 to 3 people per 10,000 diagnosed as insane in England and Wales. By 1845, this figure had increased to 13 per 10,000 and, by the end of the century, had more than doubled to 30.⁹ In the minds of England’s physicians and asylum superintendents, however, the rapid progression and bleak prognosis of general paralysis made it a far worse adversary than other disorders of the mind.

At 47 years old, William Edmunds fit the typical profile of a general paralysis patient. From the earliest observations on the wards of Parisian asylums, it was clear that this disease preyed almost exclusively on men in middle age. This deeply concerned medical professionals who saw countless husbands and fathers in the prime of life cruelly snatched away from their families. Dr Hill at Peckham House, felt content in the knowledge that his patient’s suffering was now over – but there would be one final twist in the tale of William Edmunds. In 1857, ten years after his death, in 1857, the cause of general paralysis of the insane would finally be revealed when two German surgeons, Johann Esmarch and Willers Jessen, established a causal link between general paralysis and syphilis, one of the most contagious and prevalent infections of the nineteenth century.¹⁰ Long after William’s demise, the implications of this revelation would come to define the Edmunds family and expose a legacy of lunacy, tragedy and murder.

Chapter One

An Easy and Indifferent Childhood

The pretty, seaside town of Margate was less than eighty miles from Peckham House and it was the place that William Edmunds had once called home. Over the previous century, Margate had undergone a rapid transformation and, by the time of William’s birth in 1801, had emerged as one of England’s most popular seaside locations. It was the revival of sea-bathing in the 1730s that had prompted this dramatic change of fortunes, bringing an army of daytrippers and holiday-makers to the town, eager to reap the curative benefits of its clean, blue sea and sandy shore.

The town’s increasing popularity and prominence provided new opportunities for Margate’s native families too. William’s father, Thomas Edmunds, was a well-respected and successful carpenter who had profited from the town’s building boom in the late-eighteenth century. The Edmunds family home in Hawley Square illustrates the extent of his success; this was one of the most desirable addresses in Margate and was famed for its ‘uniform range of handsome houses’ and ‘pretty seaside view’.¹ The family continued to prosper after William’s birth when Thomas took ownership of the White Hart, one of Margate’s more popular hotels. Nestled on the seafront along the bustling Marine Parade, the White Hart boasted extensive sea views and a steady supply of genteel patrons. While managing the hotel, Thomas continued to play a role in building works around Margate. In 1809, for example, he was involved in the rebuilding of Margate Pier after it had been battered by storms the previous year. He suggested the outer edge of the Pier be raised to provide a promenade for visitors and this idea was quickly adopted, earning Thomas great praise around the town and the reputation as a ‘most intelligent builder’.²

When Thomas died in October 1823, William took over as manager of the White Hart. Though the hotel continued to thrive, William felt a pull in a different direction and, in 1825, entered a competition to design a new church in Margate. It was probably his father’s influence and success that had introduced William to the idea of working as an architect and despite his inexperience, he possessed a natural talent for it. Of the twenty-four plans received by Reverend Baylay and Her Majesty’s Commissioners, it was William’s that won them over. Construction on the new church began straightaway and a procession through the town marked the laying of the foundation stone in September 1825. Here, William Edmunds rubbed shoulders with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the MP for Kent, Sir Edward Knatchbull.³ This was high praise for the son of a carpenter and the beginning of an exciting career for the young architect.

The Holy Trinity Church came in several thousand pounds over budget but its beauty and splendour deflected any negative press from William. Before the church was completed in 1829, William had several more projects in the pipeline. He designed the Margate light house in 1828 and then Droit House, the offices of the Pier and Harbour Company.⁴ In his next project, William designed Levey’s Bazaar, the entrance to the town’s main shopping boulevard. His plan featured a spacious layout and an ‘elegant Grecian archway’ that emphasised William’s flair for design and his versatility as an architect. Levey’s was an instant hit with Margate’s genteel visitors and quickly became the most fashionable place in town to promenade.⁵

William’s success in these early projects not only made him one of the county’s great designers but also one of the most desirable bachelors in Margate. William offered everything a nineteenth century bride could want: he was young, energetic, financially stable and well-respected in his community. Exactly how and when he met his bride-to-be is unknown but he married Ann Christiana Burn on New Year’s Day in 1828. Born on February 2 1800, in Maidstone to the now-deceased Major John Burn, of the Royal Marines, and his wife, Ann.

Following in the footsteps of William’s father, the pair set up home in Hawley Square. They moved into number 16 in the north-east corner of the square and next door to the famous Theatre Royal. Ann fell pregnant straightaway and delivered the couple’s first child, Christiana, in September 1828. Her birth was announced in The Times (though she was incorrectly described as a boy) and she was baptised on October 3 1828. Over the next four years, Ann and William welcomed a further three children into the family: William, baptised in September 1829; Mary, baptised in April 1832; and Louisa, baptised in January 1833.

Life was as good for William as it had ever been. New projects came thick and fast. In 1833 there was the Trinity Church in Dover, described as a ‘beautiful Gothic structure’, and the Blean Union Workhouse in Herne two years later.⁶ Although William was embroiled in a scandal in 1836 with one of his employers, the Margate Pier and Harbour Company, he was quickly vindicated. According to the proprietor and one of the directors, William had forged an invoice for stone, amounting to £305, and pocketed the money. Fortunately, the stone appeared shortly after and the charge against him dropped before any lasting damage to his reputation could be done. At a meeting in January 1837, the company publicly acknowledged their support for William when the proprietors ‘expressed their satisfactions at the explanations given by Mr Edmunds and at the efficient manner in which he discharges his duties’.⁷

The swift resolution of the Pier and Harbour Company scandal ensured that William continued to work on high-profile projects over the next few years. In 1838 he oversaw the remodelling of the Kent and Canterbury hospital and, in the following year, he designed a pavilion at Dover. But this was no ordinary pavilion: it was to be specially erected for a banquet in honour of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Aside from his roles in the armed forces and in central government, Wellington also acted as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and took a particular interest in Dover and its harbour. The banquet celebrated this ceremonial role and demonstrated the public’s regard for the aging duke. According to the New Dover Guide, this magnificent Pavilion covered an area of over 20,000 feet and could accommodate 2,250 guests.⁸ The banquet was a great success: William’s extravagant designs were highly praised by local and national press and he considered this project to be the highlight of his career.

Amid the accomplishments of William’s working life, however, tragedy struck his nearest and dearest. In April 1833 Ann delivered the couple’s fifth child, Frederick Thomas Edmunds. He lived for only sixteen months and was buried on August 8 1834. In the following autumn, another child, Ellen, was born but she died three months later and was buried in December 1835. The death registers do not reveal the cause of death for either Frederick or Ellen. Losing two children in two years must have been devastating for the family and Ann did not bear another child for six years. Arthur Burn Edmunds made his safe arrival into the world in October 1841. He was a healthy baby who showed no signs of serious illness but there would be no more children after him.

Although family life was joyous once again, William’s career had