St Albans Nostalgia

Caroline’s older sister, Mary Ann, aged eighteen or twenty two depending upon which report you read, worked as a maid to a wealthy household in Coram Street in the then fashionable Bloomsbury area of London and was engaged to a young man. Neither Mary Ann nor her fiancée had any money and had had to postpone their wedding because they could not afford the cost of a marriage licence which was seven shillings and sixpence (37.5p). This situation did not suit Mary Ann who devised a plot to insure her sister’s life and then kill her to obtain the pay out. For a premium of three old pence (1.5p) a week she would get £22 on the death of her sister. This was to be accomplished using a phosphorous based rat poison which she bought from a local shop near where she worked. She stirred the poison into a cake mix, baked the cake and sent it through the post to her sister on Ward 7 at Leavesden on . Caroline decided to share the cake with some of her friends and all became ill. However Caroline ate considerably more of the cake than the rest had and therefore had far more severe symptoms. The staff were at full stretch at the time dealing with an outbreak of typhoid amongst the inmates and it was some time before Caroline was seen by a doctor. He immediately admitted her to the infirmary but it was too late to save the poor girl. An autopsy was carried out by Dr. Blair who declared the cause of death to be phosphorous poisoning. This was traced back to the remains of the cake and via the postmark on the wrapping paper it came in, back to Mary Ann. She was arrested and charged with the murder by Supt. Wood.She vehemently denied it telling Supt. Wood “I know nothing whatever about it. I am as innocent a girl as ever was born” and saying that she had purchased the rat poison to kill rats in her employer’s home. Her mistress, Mrs. Maloney, told the police that the house was not infested with vermin and that she had not asked for any rat poison to be purchased.

Mary Ann came to trial at Hertford Assizes in St. Albans on before Mr. Justice Mathew, the proceedings lasting two days. The prosecution made much of Mary Ann’s motive for the crime and brought fo