don’t let your husband go bike riding alone in San Francisco

Cordelia Botkin was the star of a sensational and lurid murder case in 1898

image found here

Thirty-year-old John P. Dunning had a good life with a comfortable marriage, a young daughter and a job with the Associated Press bureau in San Francisco. However in September 1895, John Dunning’s life would take a dramatic turn when, while taking a leisurely bicycle ride, he spotted an attractive woman sitting on a bench.

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The estranged wife of  Welcome A Botkin, Cordelia Botkin was already 38 years old but still possessed a powerfully seductive charm. During the next two years, Dunning became a frequent guest at the Botkin house on Geary Street. Besides cheating on his wife, and on occasion Cordelia Botkin, Dunning began to drink and lose money at the racetrack. In early 1898, Dunning’s employer, suspecting embezzlement of company funds, fired him. His wife and daughter returned to Delaware to live with family while Dunning moved in with Cordelia who now resided at the Victoria Hotel on Hyde Street.

Hyde St San Francisco found here

Cordelia was thrilled to be living under the same roof with her lover, but her joy was short-lived. Dunning received a reporting assignment to cover the Spanish-American War. Before leaving San Francisco, Dunning had bad news for Cordelia: he missed his wife and daughter. When he completed his assignment, he would rejoin his family in Delaware. The affair was over. Cordelia did not take the news very well. In her mind the affair was not over, not by a long shot.

image found here

Mrs. Dunning began receiving anonymous letters mailed from San Franciso, letters referring to her husband’s affair with an “interesting and pretty woman.” The letters were signed, “A Friend.” In August, Mrs. Dunning received an anonymous note signed, “With love to yourself and baby. Mrs. C.” The note was accompanied by a Cambric handkerchief and a box of chocolates.

chocolate sushi found here

After dinner on August 9, 1898, Elizabeth passed the mystery box of bonbons around to family and friends. A few of those gathered that evening passed up the chocolate while Mrs. Dunning and her sister, Leila Deane, helped themselves to several pieces. That night, everyone who ate the candy became sick. Mrs. Dunning and her sister, having eaten so much of the chocolate, became violently ill.

On August 20 Leila Deane died. The next day Mrs. Dunning passed away. Both women had suffered extremely painful and agonizing deaths. John Dunning, still overseas when he received the news, arrived back in Delaware ten days later. When he saw the anonymous letters, including the note that had come with the chocolates, he simply said, “Cordelia.”

NOT Cordelia Winterbottom found here

The uneaten chocolates were analyzed by a chemist who reported that they had been spiked with arsenic. Autopsies were not performed on the bodies because the physician in charge erroneously believed that the victims’ prolonged vomiting had cleansed their bodies of the poison. When presented with the basic facts of the case, a coroner’s jury ruled that the two women had been poisoned to death by the arsenic-laced candy which had been mailed from San Francisco.

arsenic poisoning found here

Police officers, bearing the key evidence—the candy, the paper it had been wrapped in, and the anonymous writings—boarded a train for San Francisco. The leading investigator, I.W. Lees, had been appointed chief of the San Francisco Police Department the previous year. An innovator, in 1854 Lees became the first American police administrator to regularly photograph arrestees. As a result, the San Francisco Police Department had a large rogues gallery. 

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Because the suspect vehemently proclaimed her innocence, Lees was forced to solve the case the hard way, by conducting a detailed, painstaking investigation. He began by tracing the arsenic to the Owl Drug Store where a clerk had sold arsenic, in June of 1898, to a woman meeting the description of Cordelia Botkin. Lees then questioned an acquaintance of the suspect who told him that Mrs. Botkin had expressed concern about having to sign her name when purchasing arsenic. Lees also spoke to a physician who had been asked by Cordelia to describe the effects of various poisons on the human body.

Owl Drug Store found here

Searching Mrs. Botkin’s room at the Victoria Hotel, he found wrapping paper, bearing a gold seal and a company trademark, that had enclosed the chocolates in the candy box. From this he learned that the bonbons had been purchased from the Haas Candy store. A sales clerk remembered the customer because the woman had wanted half a box as she planned to add her own, homemade chocolate. The clerk’s physical description of this customer matched that of Cordelia Botkin.

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To identify the person who had addressed the mailed package, and penned the anonymous letters as well as the note that accompanied the candy, Lees questioned document examiner Daniel T. Ames, considered the preeminent handwriting man in the country. When Ames analyzed and compared samples of Mrs. Botkin’s handwriting with the questioned documents, he confidently announced that she, to the exclusion of all others, had written the questioned material. Two other document examiners brought into the case agreed with his findings

Bill Gates’ handwriting analysis found here

Amid intense media coverage, the Botkin trial began in early December. Five hundred spectators were lined-up outside the courthouse door. Having pled not guilty, Cordelia Botkin, sat stiffly at the defense table dressed in black , holding a white lace handkerchief. She showed no emotion when the prosecution put John Dunning, a narrow-shouldered man with thinning hair, on the stand. Dunning admitted having an affair with the defendant as well as three other women in San Francisco. 

The defense had no choice but to put Cordelia Botkin on the stand, a move that thrilled the press and the millions of people following the case. Cordelia did not deny that she had purchased arsenic, explaining that she had used the poison to clean a straw hat. Following Botkin’s stint on the stand, the defense rested its case. 

hat cake found here

After four hours of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict: guilty, on two counts of first-degree murder. Cordelia could have been sent to San Quentin Prison to serve her sentence, but the judge, worried what would happen to her there, sent her to the county jail in San Francisco where, in exchange for sexual favors, Cordelia would come and go as she pleased. A few months after sentencing her, the judge saw Cordelia shopping in downtown San Francisco.

While Cordelia shopped, her lawyer appealed her conviction. The appellate court’s overturning of her murder convictions, led to a second, less sensational, trial. Once again, on the strength of the handwriting testimony, Cordelia was convicted and sentenced to life. Cordelia was transfered to San Quentin. On March 7, 1910, at the age of fifty-six, she died. The official cause of death: “Softening of the brain, due to melancholy.”

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the names that enchanted France

Jean “Papa” Galmot was born in Monpazier, France in June 1879 and died in Cayenne, French Guiana, August 1928.

Galmot found here

He managed a gold mine owned by his stepfather in the forest of Guiana, making ​​a fortune while striving to improve the lives of its workers and employees. He relieved their poverty by paying them decently, applying labor legislation and creating local scholarships for the poor.

rocket launch in French Guiana found here

Galmot was a pioneer in many areas; an idealist, poet and writer of value. But he was poisoned and died, aged just 49, while working against injustice and for the rights of the citizens of Guiana. He then became the object of a cult. Spontaneously, hearing of his death, the people rose up and a riot broke out in Cayenne.

people of French Guiana found here

Janet Flanner reported on the trial of these rioters

“Indeed, the prisoners’ very names have enchanted the citizens of France. Buckaroos with gentle voices and criminal records are called Mith, Parnasse, Pilgrim, Avril, Mars and even Time. A woman who is said to have aided them in casting stones is a Mlle. Radical, possessor of four children and three professions, only one of which, prostitution, could be acknowledged. The giant Iquy, a deaf fisherman, was Galmot’s mameluke.

image from Mameluke Training Manual found here

An octogenarian named Moustapha is accused of having beaten men to death with his umbrella on the big day. When at home he lives in an inn called The Thirty Knife Cuts. None of the prisoners speaks French grammatically, all refuse to have interpreters, all mix their genders, lie magnificently, are affectionate, polite, and as a means of showing their admiration, call the lawyers and the judge “Papa”.

brass knuckle umbrella found here

Dying, some of them, from tuberculosis contracted in the cold prison where they have waited two years for trial, the accused, attired in evening clothes, green mittens and varnished boots, probably await either the guillotine or Devil’s Island. The giant Iquy wears a sweater embroidered with his motto: “Life is Lovely.”

man in embroidered clothing found here

If the evidence is long, the prisoners remove their boots. Those beheaded would remain in France. Those sentenced to hard labour for life would merely, ironically enough, go back home to Guiana. One can only regret that Conrad died too early to have written of their hearts of darkness.”

image found here

Published in: on September 29, 2011 at 9:35 pm  Comments (51)  
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warning to wives of diplomats

When Pamela Egremont returned from Peking, she bought back a copy of the following circular to show John Julius Norwich.

Lady Pamela found here

It was typed entirely in capital letters but I can’t bring myself to do that to you. I have left the grammatical errors as they were written

“From the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Peking”

This is to inform all missions, especially the wives of other diplomats here in Peking, of the incident surrounding the sudden departure from Peking of the Sierra Leone Ambassador’s wife, Mrs Theresa Malomo Kojo Randall.

How beautiful is Sierra Leone?

Mrs Kojo Randall left suddenly to avoid scandal after her husband caught her with a packet of poison which was supposedly sent to her by her Guinean sweetheart whom she already has a 1 year old son for and from whom the ambassador snatched her away to come to Peking. This is the reason in fact why he did not realise she was already pregnant before. He married her and she had to come and undergo an abortion here in Peking on her arrival.

Terry-Poison found here

The poison was supposed to be used in cooking food for the ambassador to kill him so that Mrs Randall can easily return to her Guinean trader sweetheart in Freetown.

Well informed sources in Freetown said Mrs Randall confessed in Sierra Leone that she was advised to send for and use the poison for her husband by the wife of the First Secretary of the Embassy, Mrs Stella Saquee, who claimed vast experience in using such juju to keep her own husband quiet this is way he does not notice that she sleeps around with a lot of men here in Peking.

All Diplomatic Mission


Juju found here

don’t play ball with your mother in law

Back in the days when it was freely available, Thallium was known as Inheritance Powder or the Poisoner’s Poison.

Look what Poison did to their hair!

On New Year’s Day in 1988, Abdullah Ali, an Iraqi businessman who had been living in London for eight years, was taken ill with flu-like symptoms and was admitted to hospital. There his condition rapidly deteriorated — his hair fell out, he developed excruciating skin and joint pain, and paralysis and respiratory failure began to set in; 15 days later he was dead.


Abdullah Ali is thought to have been a victim of Saddam Hussein’s secret service, which used thallium sulphate as its poison of choiceFrance also used the poison to kill a guerrilla leader in Cameroon in 1960, and the United States is suspected of using thallium in one of its many attempts to kill President Castro of Cuba. A chemist conceived a plan to poison the Cuban leader by putting thallium powder in his shoes. This method would have caused his hair to fall out, robbing him of his iconic beard, as it destroys hair follicles.

Castro didn’t always have a beard

Thallium was used medically and cosmetically before its lethal effects became known. Though the fatal dose for an adult is 800 milligrams, or less than a quarter of a teaspoonful, 500 milligrams would be prescribed to treat ringworm. Thallium depilatory creams were also popular in the 1930s.


In the 1950s, Thallium was the poison of choice in two high profile murder trials in Sydney.


Perhaps the most well known of the thallium poisoners was 4ft 5″ tall grandmother, Caroline Grills, who killed four members of her family and attempted to murder another three by adding thallium to her home made treats. This sweet looking 63-year-old serial killer was sentenced to life in prison, spending the rest of her days in Long Bay Gaol where she became known by the other inmates as ‘Aunt Thally’.

Long Bay Gaol

The other notorious thallium poisoning was of rugby league star, Bobby Lulham who played for Balmain and Australia. Lulham and his wife, Judith lived with his mother-in-law Veronica Monty, with whom he was having an affair whilst Judy was attending church.


In 1952 Veronica poisoned Bobby Lulham, adding thallium to his mug of Milo. Lulham eventually recovered and Veronica Monty was charged with attempted murder. She admitted to poisoning Lulham but claimed it was an accident, stating she had meant to poison herself as she could not bear the guilt of her illicit affair and the betrayal of her daughter.

Milo and pistachio cheesecake found here

Newspapers focused on the sexual details of this case which acquired colossal proportions because of these ‘scandalous’ revelations. It seems the reading public revelled in the opportunity to gaze into the domestic life of a man they regarded as the ‘average Australian bloke ’, yet whose marital problems and sexual indiscretions presented a very different picture to the expected domestic scene. Women seemed fascinated by the Monty trial and many took a particularly active interest in the case. It was reported that at each day’s hearing a crowd of women bustled into the small courtroom as soon as the doors opened, cut lunches in their string bags, ready to listen to the details of Lulham’s domestic attachments.


Veronica Monty was acquitted of the crime, and a few days later, Judith Lulham filed for divorce. Bobby Lulham’s marriage was over and so was his career with Balmain. He slipped into obscurity and two years later his ex mother in law put a gun to her head in a hotel room.

photo found at joe’sblog