Here's a lovely review of my new book from the blog, True Crime Daily. I'm sharing here but you can check out the original here: http://truecrimereader.com/2016/07/thecaseofthechocolatecreamkiller/
"This is a solid, meticulously researched book on a notorious 19th century British female killer.Christina Edmunds was a poisoner who laced chocolates with strychnine. She was tried for the murder of a little boy and she poisoned many others. Her murderous impulses were sparked by unrequited love she had for a married man.
Christina was found to be criminally insane and lived for the rest of her life at Broadmoor Hopsital (home of serial killers Peter Sutcliffe and Moors Murderer Ian Brady) , dying in 1907.
The author Kaye Jones knew the case was a sensation of its time, garnering national press coverage. However the book is also a social history of life in Brighton in the late 1800s and a detailed account of Christina Edmunds’ family history. The epilogue is also fascinating as it applies a diagnosis to what Edmunds was suffering, which was not a recognised condition at the time of her crimes.
Kaye Jones gave an interview to her local newspaper Andover Advertiser, which is a good background read if, like me, you are fascinated by the research and writing processes of authors."
The Body on the Moor: Neil Dovestone, A Modern Case of Strychnine Poisoning
This week, the BBC Magazine is running a series of reports on the case of Neil Dovestone. This isn't his real name: Neil Dovestone is a John Doe, his identity remains unknown to the police, despite months of police investigation and media coverage.
If you're not familiar with Neil's case, here are the details. On the morning of December 11 2015, Neil Dovestone, an elderly man of between 65 and 75 years old, took the 10 am train from London's Euston Station to Manchester Piccadilly. Arriving just after midday, Neil spent 53 minutes perusing the shops at the station before travelling to Saddleworth Moor in Oldham. Here, Neil went into the Clarence pub and asked the landlord for directions to "the mountains" - though he did not specify a particular place. The landlord then took him to the door of the pub and directed him towards the Dovestone Reservoir (hence the name of this John Doe). Neil then left the pub, heading in that direction, and was not seen again until just after 3 pm. According to the witness, he was halfway up the Indian's Head, a 1500 ft peak. This the last confirmed sighting of Neil.
At 10:50 am the next morning, a cyclist was riding up the Indian's Head when he spotted Neil's body and called the emergency services. Neil was lying on his back with his arms by his side, prompting the cyclist to think that he had died of a heart attack. When the emergency services arrived, they found the following things on Neil's person:
Neil had no identification on his person, not even a wallet.
After the discovery of the body, a toxicology report showed that natural causes were not responsible for Neil's death: he had, in fact, died after taking a lethal dose of strychnine which readers of this blog will know is one of the deadliest substances known to man and was banned in the UK in 2006. Traces of the poison were also found on the empty bottle of thyroxine sodium in Neil's coat.
This case is both tragic and fascinating. It is so sad that nobody has come forward and identified Neil and that nobody can explain why he travelled over 200 miles to Saddleworth Moor to take his own life, a place synonymous with the crimes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. All of the police enquiries and public appeals have (thus far) drawn a blank. That being said, nobody can say definitively that Neil wasn't murdered. There is not enough evidence to say either way. Knowing what I know about strychnine, I find it hard to accept that anybody would willingly use it to commit suicide. Anybody of sound mind, anyway. Death by strychnine is an agonising process, as I learned through my research into Christiana Edmunds, and it is an extremely uncommon cause of death in the 21st century.
Here's an artist's sketch of Neil because someone out there might recognise him. You just never know.
Image courtesy of The Independent. Follow the case using #bodyonthemoor
Here's an article I wrote today for the wonderful Findmypast blog which details my research into Christiana's family tree. The discovery of syphilis was a major breakthrough in my study of Christiana's family and it had an important effect on my book...
(You can read the original article here).
"For my new book, I have traced the life and times of Christiana Edmunds, nicknamed the Chocolate Cream Killer, and one of the most notorious murderesses of the Victorian era. Using records on the Findmypast site, I've been able to discover intimate details about Christiana's life and crimes.Christiana's weapon of choice was poison - strychnine and, sometimes, arsenic - and her poisoning spree brought the town of Brighton to its knees over the summer of 1871.Her trial at the Old Bailey in the following year was heavily-attended by the press and public and she was the first woman to have her death sentence respited to a permanent stay in the newly-built Broadmoor Asylum. She lived there until her death from 'senile debility' in 1907. While it was easy to get swept in by the sensational aspects of her crimes, I suspected that there might be more to Christiana's story than passion and passion and, once I got stuck into the research, I was quickly proved right.
Using Findmypast's newspaper archive, I had gleaned a lot of Christiana's biographical details from the press coverage of her trial. I knew, for instance, that she was not a native of Brighton, the scene of her crimes, but was, in fact, born in Margate in 1828. Her father, William Edmunds, was a locally-celebrated architect who married Ann Burn, the daughter of a Royal Marines officer, on New Year's Day in 1828. After their marriage, the couple moved to a large and luxurious house in Hawley Square, one of the most sought-after addresses in town, where they employed three servants.
From the press coverage, I knew that Christiana was the couple's eldest child and she was followed by a son, William, in 1829; two more daughters, Louisa and Mary, in 1831 and 1832; and finally, a son, Arthur, in 1841. The nine-year gap between Mary and Arthur seemed, to me, to be unusually long, considering the health of the couple and the lack of reliable contraception in the period. So, digging further with Parish records, I found two children who died in infancy during this gap: Frederick, in 1833, and Ellen, in 1835. Infant mortality was not uncommon in the Victorian era, even among the wealthier classes, but I couldn't help but wonder if there was a reason why these two babies had died when the other five had prospered.
Using the Findmypast family tree builder, I started to put these details together, all the while wondering about poor Frederick and Ellen. It was only when I returned to researching Christiana's father, William Edmunds, that I made the breakthrough I had hoped for. I knew that William had died in mysterious circumstances in a lunatic asylum in London in 1847 but then, with the help of his death certificate, I learned the cause of his sudden demise: William was suffering from "General Paralysis of the Insane," a Victorian term for the third and final stage of syphilis.
Whether William knew he had syphilis is subject to some speculation. Syphilis was extremely common in Victorian England, affecting around one-tenth of the population, but its symptoms are not always easy to detect. He may never have noticed, for instance, the small, painless chancre which appears shortly after infection. Even if he did, Victorian doctors were unable to treat it effectively. In fact, the advice to young Victorian men was to go forth and procreate, an idea based on the mistaken assumption that syphilis will eventually go away. But untreated syphilis causes a number of problems for procreating couples, including a high incidence of miscarriage and congenital syphilis, a potentially life-threatening condition for children.
Not all children born to parents with syphilis, however, will develop congenital syphilis. In fact, modern studies suggest that a newly-infected mother has a 59 percent chance of transmitting the infection to her baby but the likelihood decreases for mothers in the later stages of syphilis, to around 13 percent. For those babies who do become infected, they face a number of serious health problems, like fever, gastroenteritis and pneumonia; health issues which can be fatal in young children. Suddenly, the mysterious and sudden deaths of young Frederick and Ellen had a possible explanation.
But what did all this mean for Christiana? Did she have syphilis? Could third-stage syphilis explain the 'madness' she claimed to have at her trial? Initially, I thought it did. It seemed logical to me that her father had contracted syphilis in his days a bachelor, before his marriage to Ann, and that Christiana was, perhaps, suffering from the mental effects of syphilis at the time she committed her crimes. But then I made another discovery which changed my mind once again.
In 1875, Dr Max Kassovitz, a paediatrician and leading figure in the field of congenital syphilis made a remarkable observation on the disease. He proved that congenital syphilis is defined by 'spontaneous gradual diminution in intensity of syphilitic transmission." In other words, with each succeeding pregnancy, the effect of syphilis on a baby will gradually diminish. For the Edmunds family, this means that Frederick and Ellen were the first victims of congenital syphilis and that William became infected with syphilis while married to his wife, not before. According to Kassovitz's law, there is no possibility of Christiana being 'mad' as a result of congenital syphilis.
While syphilis was not responsible for Christiana's actions, it gave me an important insight into her family history. I would never have given much thought to the possibility of syphilis, had I not looked at her family tree and noticed such a large gap between children but, in doing so, I came to view Christiana very differently. Family tragedies, like the deaths of Frederick and Ellen, helped to define the woman that Christiana came to be and we cannot understand the motivations of the so-called Chocolate Cream Killer without them."
I am very pleased to share this lovely review of my book on Christiana Edmunds from the Brighton and Hove Independent. (You can view the original article here).
"You know that expression that we all use – ‘only in Brighton’. Well, this certainly applies to this book: The true story of Christiana Edmunds and her thwarted pash on her doctor. So thwarted in fact that she tries to poison his wife and child. When that doesn’t work, and he gets suspicious she comes up with what she thinks is a simply marvy idea, and that it is to randomly poison the whole town to get the blame off her. Hmm, what could possibly go wrong?
This is a staggering account of just how easy it was (stop a child in the street, bung them a copper, and forge a note saying you’re a chemist in North Street and have run out of arsenic or strychnine and Bob’s your uncle.) She then buys some chocolate creams from Maynards in the centre of town, randomly places her (poisoned) chocolates back in the bag, grabs another urchin and gets them to return them to the shop. The shop then places them back in stock and the whole of Brighton plays Russian roulette with bon bons.
The book is full of horrendous yet fascinating facts about Victorian food safety, the ‘cure’ for hysterical women, the treatment of the insane, and general views of women at the time. A true account that makes for great reading. But maybe not over a box of chocolates."
Saxonfields Author Publishes The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer.
More publicity for the book today, this time in my local newspaper, the Andover Advertiser.
You can read the full story here.
Author Reveals the Margate Past of a Murderess Dubbed the Chocolate Cream Killer
Today, the book has featured in the Isle of Thanet Gazette in which I talk about Christiana Edmunds' life in Margate.
Check out the full story here: