The Pimlico Mystery or the Pimlico Poisoning Mystery is the name given to the circumstances surrounding the 1886 death of Thomas Edwin Bartlett, possibly at the hands of his wife, Adelaide Blanche Bartlett, in the Pimlico district of London. A fatal quantity of chloroform was found in Mr Bartlett's stomach, despite having not caused any damage to his throat or windpipe, and no evidence of how it got there. Adelaide Bartlett was tried for her husband's murder and was acquitted. By the jury's own statement in court Mrs Bartlett's acquittal was partly secured because the prosecution could not prove how Mrs Bartlett could have committed the crime.
The heart of the Pimlico Mystery is the odd relationship between a wealthy grocer, Mr. Thomas Edwin Bartlett (1845–1886), his younger French-born wife Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoille (born 1855), and the Reverend George Dyson, Adelaide's tutor and the couple's spiritual counselor and friend. Dyson was a Wesleyan minister, and (if the story Adelaide and Dyson told is true) was encouraged to openly romance Adelaide Bartlett by Edwin's permission. Edwin himself was suffering several unpleasant illnesses (including rotting teeth and possibly tapeworms). Edwin was supposedly something of a faddist, believing in animal magnetism as a key to health; but again, his reported eccentricities are partly based on what was learnt from Adelaide and Dyson, both of whom may have had reasons to lie. Adelaide's father was rumoured to be a wealthy and possibly even titled member of Queen Victoria's entourage, which had indeed visited France in 1855, possibly Adolphe Collot de la Tremouille, Comte de Thouars d'Escury. Adelaide is sometimes recorded as being born illegitimately in Orléans in 1855.
The marriage of a Clara Chamberlain and Adolphe Collot de Thomas (sic) d'Escury is recorded in the BMD index March quarter 1853, lending weight to the supposition that Adelaide was not illegitimate. BMD records Adolphe's death (under the surname De Escury) in the Pancras district of London in the June quarter of 1860. In the 1861 census, Clara is a widow and is living with children Henry (7), Adelaide (5), Frederick (3) and Clara (1), as well as her unmarried sister Ellen Chamberlain (17) RG9/163 Folio 97 Page 10 Havelock Road, South Hackney, where the three elder children are recorded as being born in France. BMD lists Clara's death at the age of 33, in the Pancras district also, in the December quarter of 1866. In the 1871 census the orphaned Adelaide (surname enumerated as de Thours) is adopted daughter to a William H and Ann Wellbeloved, William being a confectioner. Her brother Frederick (as Freddy) is a boarder in the same household (High Street, Hampton Wick, Middlesex RG10/866 Folio 7 Page 5). Adelaide is listed as being Assistant to the Confectioner, and born in St Cloud, a district of Paris, rather than Orleans (as is her brother Freddy).[original research?]
Edwin and Adelaide were married in 1875. According to Adelaide, it was intended to be a platonic marriage, but in 1881 she had a stillborn baby by Edwin; Edwin had refused her (female) nurse's advice to call a (male) doctor during a difficult labour because he didn't want another man "to interfere with her". Early in 1885, they met Dyson as the local Wesleyan minister and he became a frequent visitor. Edwin made Dyson executor of his will, in which he left his entire estate to Adelaide, on condition that she didn't remarry (a common stipulation in those days). Later Edwin redrew the will, four months before he died, removing the bar on Adelaide remarrying.
Towards the end of 1885 Adelaide asked Dyson to get some chloroform that was prescribed by the doctor treating Edwin, Dr. Alfred Leach. Leach would later admit that he prescribed it reluctantly, but at the insistence of his patient. Under the laws of the day regarding purchasing large amounts of potential medical poisons, one had to sign a book at chemist's pharmacy as a record - but not if the amounts purchased were small; Dyson bought four small bottles of chloroform instead of one large bottle, and bought them in several shops, claiming that he needed it to remove grease stains. Only after Edwin's death, did Dyson claim to suddenly realize how suspicious his actions were.
On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1885, Edwin Bartlett returned from a visit to the dentist and went to sleep alongside Adelaide in their Pimlico flat. Just before 4am the next morning Adelaide asked their maid to fetch Dr Leach, fearing Edwin was dead, before rousing the landlady. Edwin's stomach was filled with liquid chloroform. It is just possible that the stories of Edwin's alleged suicide may have been believed and his death considered free of foul play, except that his father, who had always detested Adelaide, indeed he had earlier accused Alelaide of having an affair with Edwin's younger brother, became extremely suspicious and convinced authorities to look into the death.
The trial opened on 12 April 1886, attracting great press coverage both in the UK and abroad. At the opening of the trial charges were read out against both George Dyson and Adelaide, but the prosecution immediately asked for the charges against Dyson to be dropped and he was formally acquitted. This enabled the prosecution to call him as a prosecution witness, but also made it possible for the defence to take advantage of his testimony.
Adelaide Bartlett was extremely fortunate in her choice of barrister: Sir Edward Clarke, possibly the finest barrister of late Victorian England. His taking on the case was rumoured to be due to Adelaide's mysterious father's intervention. He was able to show sufficient ambiguities against the deceased to make the suicide theory barely possible. His tactics with Dr. Leach, the elder Bartlett (who was revealed to have a mercenary, ulterior motive towards his son's estate), and Reverend Dyson were sufficient to gain his client an acquittal. It should be pointed out that the prosecution in this classic poisoning case was in the hands (as was traditional in England and Wales until 1957) of the current Attorney General, Clarke's great rival Sir Charles Russell, but that the latter was involved with Liberal Party policies and politics connected to Parnell's Home Rule campaign for Ireland; therefore, Clarke did not have his rival at that rival's top legal game. The "suicide" theory gained ground, despite evidence given that on the last evening of his life, Edwin Bartlett told his maid to have a sumptuous dinner prepared for him on the next day - hardly the action of a man contemplating suicide.
Adelaide was not able to testify in her own defence (something not possible for defendants until the Criminal Evidence Act 1898) and the defence called no witnesses, although it did give a six hour closing statement to the court.
The main forensic aid to Mrs. Bartlett is that liquid chloroform burns. It cannot pass down to the stomach without burning the sides of the throat and the larynx. Edwin did not have such burns on his body; this suggests that he was actually able (somehow) to gulp the chloroform down quickly. It bolstered the suicide theory a little, for such rapid drinking suggested that the drinker rushed the poisoned drink down. When the jury returned to court after considering its verdict the foreman said: "although we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner, we do not think there is sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered." The foreman then confirmed that the verdict was not guilty, which was greeted with "rapturous applause", public opinion having moved in Adelaide's favour during the course of the trial.
The issue of how the poison got into Edwin's stomach without burning him internally in the throat led the famous surgeon, Sir James Paget, to make his famous quip
|“||"Now that she has been acquitted for murder and cannot be tried again, she should tell us in the interest of science how she did it!"||”|
After the trial both Adelaide Bartlett and Reverend George Dyson vanished from public notice. The authors of The Life of Sir Edward Clarke (1939) report that they had an "impression" that Adelaide Bartlett later married George Dyson, but that they had also heard a theory that the two never met again.
The novelist Julian Symons, in his novelization of the story, Sweet Adelaide, suggested that Mrs. Bartlett emigrated to the U.S., settled in Connecticut, and died there some time after 1933, although others regard her post-trial life as mysterious.
As for Dyson, Richard Whittington-Egan's study of William Roughead's life reported that a woman in Maryland claimed in 1939 that Dyson had come to New York, U.S., changed his name, and as a fortune hunter married and murdered a young bride, her sister, for her estate in 1916. Alternatively, Kate Clarke reports that Methodist church records state that Dyson emigrated to Australia.
- The movie My Letter to George, or “Mesmerized”, with Jodie Foster was "... loosely based on that of Adelaide Bartlett, who, in 1886, went on trial for the chloroform poisoning of her husband.”
- In the famous book Hitchcock/Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock tells to French New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut that he once intended to make a film about this case, but later on he dropped the idea because Truffaut's film Jules and Jim also dealed with—according to his vision—a ménage à trois. He says that one of the scenes of the picture would feature Adelaide and Dyson making violent love while Edwin Bartlett just puffs smoke out of his mouth and stares at a pipe while sitting in a rocking chair.
- Bridges, Yseult, Poison and Adelaide Bartlett, ISBN 0-333-11335-7
- Lustgarten, Ernest, Defender's Triumph (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951), Victorian Trumpets: Edward Clarke defends Adelaide Bartlett, p. 8-80; the same essay appears in Lustgarten's The Murder and the Trial (New York, Charles Scribner's Son, 1958), p. 191-249.
- Sir John Hall (ed), Notable British Trials Series, The Trial of Adelaide Bartlett (Edinburgh, 1927)
- Beal, Edward and Clarke, Edward, The Trial of Adelaide Bartlett for Murder, Held at the Central Criminal Court (1886), ISBN 978-1-4373-4233-8
- Roughead, William, The Rebel Earl and Other Studies, (Edinburgh: W. Green & So, Limited, 1926), The Luck of Adelaide Bartlett: A Fireside Tale, p. 215-252.
- Stratmann, Linda, Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion, ISBN 0-7509-3098-5
- Kate Clarke, The Pimlico Murder: Strange Case of Adelaide Bartlett (Classic crime series), ISBN 0-285-62975-1 (1990), revised 2011, ISBN 978-0-9553205-1-4
- Colin Wilson, in Unsolved Murders and Mysteries (ed John Canning), ISBN 1-85152-530-0
- Michael Farrell, Adelaide Bartlett and the Pimlico mystery, British Medical Journal Volume 309 24–31 December 1994.
- Brian Lane (1991). The Murder Guide. Robinson Publishing. pp. 35–38. ISBN 1-85487-083-1.
- C. J. S. Thompson (2003). Poison Mysteries in History, Romance and Crime (reprint ed.). Kessinger Publishing. p. 306. ISBN 0-7661-3047-9.
- Stephanie J. Snow (2008). Blessed days of anaesthesia: how anaesthetics changed the world. Oxford University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-19-280586-X.
- Derek Walker-Smith; Edward Clarke (1939). The life of Sir Edward Clarke. Taylor & Francis. p. 178.
- Jones, Elwyn (1969). "The Office of Attorney-General". The Cambridge Law Journal (Cambridge University Press) 27 (1). ISSN 0008-1973.
- Christopher Allen (2008). Practical Guide to Evidence. Taylor & Francis. p. 89. ISBN 0-415-45719-X.
- R. J. C. Munday (1985). "Reflections on the Criminal Evidence Act 1898". The Cambridge Law Journal 44 (1): 62–86.
- Richard Whittington-Egan, William Roughead's Chronicles of Murder, Moffat, Scotland: Lochar Publishing,1991, ISBN 0-948403-55-1,page 205. 
- Kate Clarke, The Pimlico Murder: Strange Case of Adelaide Bartlett (Classic crime series), ISBN 0-285-62975-1 (1990), revised 2011, ISBN 978-0-9553205-1-4, page 264
- A Question of Guilt 1980 TV series
- Cf. My Letter to George at the Internet Movie Database
↑Jump back a section
Read in another language
This page is available in 1 language