Today marks the anniversary of Christiana Edmunds' burial in the grounds of Broadmoor Asylum. Christiana lived to the ripe old age of 79, dying in 1907 of "senile debility" (or old age). At the time of her death, her crimes were a distant memory: it had been 36 years since she had committed her poisoning spree and 35 since she had stood in the dock of London's Old Bailey. Nevertheless, many newspapers reported Christiana's death and used her passing as an opportunity to remember her "curiously cunning" poisoning spree.
For the Banbury Advertiser, Christiana was the scorned lover who planned a "diabolical course of action" as a means of winning back Dr Beard. Similarly, the Manchester Courier called Christiana the "notorious poisoner" whose case was one of the most serious of the past century. Interestingly, the Essex County Chronicle chose the headline "Mad for thirty years" and noted that her death sentence was respited on the ground of insanity.
Christiana remained a figure of interest well into the twentieth century. In 1970, ITV televised a series of plays called Wicked Women in which Christiana's poisoning spree was featured. Christiana was played by Anna Massey (whose performance was universally praised) and her "horrid case" was retold to a modern audience. Reviewing for The Times, Leonard Buckley claimed that Christiana made the "average Borgia…seem like the proprietor of a health food store."
And that, I think, sums up popular conceptions of Christiana as a lady who combined mad and bad in one of the most sensational cases of the nineteenth century.
Banbury Advertiser, October 3 1907.
Manchester Courier, September 28, 1907.
Essex County Chronicle, September 27, 1907.
The Times, February 23, 1970.
I came across the story of Eva Pierlo while researching Christiana Edmunds' time in Newgate prison. The pair were cellmates and Christiana complained to the prison governor about sharing with Eva, a woman accused of bigamy, on the grounds that she had a low moral character. This is rather ironic when you consider that Christiana was accused and found guilty) of one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder!
Anyway, while the details of Eva's case are scant, I think her story is one worth mentioning.
Very little is known about Eva's background until she stood in the dock of the Old Bailey on 9 January 1872. The Times commented on Eva's "ladylike appearance and manners." Eva had no counsel but this was a good thing, wrote one reporter from the Leeds Times:
"This compelled her to state her case to the court in her own way and, judging by the result, her oratorical powers must be of no mean description."
Reading her trial transcript, it is clear that Eva was a confident woman who was frank and open about the charge she was accused of. She had no problem in admitting to bigamy, for instance, but she wanted the court to know the full details of her two marriages before they judged her actions.
Eva had married her first husband, Albert Pierlo, on 8 December 1870 at Aldgate Church in London. With no home of their own, the newlyweds spent the first two weeks of their marriage as lodgers in the home of Mary Ann Carter. In court, Mary Ann testified that Albert had repeatedly "struck" and "ill-treated" his new wife, even though Eva was financially supporting him. In fact, Albert was in the habit of extorting money from Eva: taking first her personal allowance of 17 shillings per week before squandering £80 of her life savings on a failed business venture in Hamburg. When the couple returned to London, Albert pawned all of Eva's clothing and then disappeared, leaving her in a state of personal and financial ruin.
Less than nine months after marrying Albert, Eva wed William Frederick White. In court, Eva openly admitted that William had married her "out of pity" and to prevent her from being "ruined." Soon after, Eva was arrested after Albert heard about the wedding and informed the police.
The jury found Eva guilty of bigamy but strongly recommended mercy. Despite claiming that bigamy is a "very serious offence," the judge agreed with the jury and sentenced Eva to serve three days in prison. He also informed her that she could take out a magistrates order to protect her property and her earnings from Albert, her "predatory husband."
After serving her three day sentence, Eva disappears from record. Perhaps she followed William to India (where he went after her arrest) or simply got on with the rest of her life.
Leeds Times, 13 January 1872.
The Times, 10 January 1872.
Old Bailey online: