The Chocolate Cream Poisoner: Christiana Edmund's Murderous Mind

Updated on June 6, 2019
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Jackie spends her spare time researching interesting UK history stories, gardening, photography and animal welfare campaigning.

Broadmoor Asylum
Broadmoor Asylum

Family and Early Life

Christiana's life should have been perfect. She was born into a middle-class family in Margate, Kent in 1829. Her father was an architect, and Christiana was one of four children; one boy and three girls. Sadly, the family was prone to mental illness. Christiana's brother was committed to the Earlsfield Asylum for Idiots in London and died there. One of her sisters died young, and it was said that she committed suicide. Even her father went mad before his early demise.

Despite her family background, Christiana seemed quite normal and was sent to a private school as a boarder and, on leaving, she returned to the family home to her father, sister and mother to live as any respectable middle-class lady did—calling on other ladies of a similar social standing and attending functions. But this wasn't particularly exciting, as far as Christiana was concerned.

Following the death of her father in the 1860s, Christiana and her family moved from Margate, and it was then that Christiana's true nature came to the fore.

Christiana's Downfall Begins

By the time the Edmunds ladies had moved to Brighton, Christiana was a middle-aged spinster with very little to occupy her mind until she fell in love with her doctor and neighbour, Charles Beard, around 1869.Unfortunately for Christiana, Charles was married to a woman named Emily. But this didn't stop Christiana from sending him billets-doux to try to capture his heart.

It should have been obvious to her that his love could not be reciprocated; he was already happily married and, if he did have an affair with her, his career would be compromised. Charles Beard confronted Christiana and insisted these love letters should stop but, undeterred, Christiana came up with a deadlier solution.

Death Is Just a Box of Chocolates

In September 1870 Christiana visited her neighbour Emily Beard while Charles was out and presented her with a lovely box of chocolate creams. Emily had a couple but became violently sick. It appeared Christiana had added something extra to the sweetmeats which she'd bought from J G Maynard's sweet shop. At the same time as when she'd bought the chocolates, she'd also bought some strychnine from Isaac Garetta, a chemist in the town, on the premise that it was to kill stray cats.

Christiana still insisted on pursuing Charles Beard, but eventually he'd had enough and told her in no uncertain terms that she was never to step foot inside his house again. This was Christiana's breaking point, and she went completely off the rails.

Over the next few months, it was reported that several people in Brighton had become ill after eating chocolates and sweets but it wasn't until the summer of 1871 that the dots began to link together. Charles Miller was taking a holiday in Brighton with his brother and the brother's family. Charles had taken his four-year-old nephew out. They called into J G Maynard's sweet shop and bought some chocolate creams. Charles had one and gave one to his nephew, Sidney. Charlies became ill and, sadly, Sidney died.

An inquest was held and Christiana was pleased to give evidence that she and her friends had bought chocolates from J G Maynard and they too had become ill. The chocolates that had been sold to Charles Miller had been tested and strychnine had been found, but as J G Maynard was a well-liked and respected member of the Brighton community, it was evident that he hadn't poisoned anyone deliberately. A verdict of accidental death was therefore recorded.

Mr Maynard then destroyed all of his stock to be on the safe side.

Events After the Inquest

Following the inquest, three letters were sent anonymously to Sidney's father suggesting that he may want to sue Mr. Maynard for his son's death and intimated that the whole truth had not come out at the inquest.

It appeared that this was true as throughout the summer more poisonings occurred and these all led back to J G Maynard's sweet shop.

On top of that, Christiana's world fell apart when Dr. Charles Beard and his wife decided that there were too many unhappy memories in Brighton and moved to Scotland. However, before they left, Christiana thought she'd have the last laugh. She had occasion to go back to Margate for a couple of days on family business. She left Brighton on 8th August 1871 and stopped at Margate to conduct her business. On 10th August she boarded a train, but not to Brighton. Instead she took a trip to London. She then bought some fruit and cakes before hopping on a train at Victoria Station and heading home to Brighton. One of the cakes had been parcelled up and addressed to Emily Beard. Another was addressed to Christiana herself.

Christiana got to Brighton, but before she had time to get home, Emily Beard had received her parcel. It was duly opened and contained a plum cake. The cake was tasted but was found not to be very pleasant and so it was put to one side. Charles Beard considered that the cake had probably been poisoned and, believing that the police may think he was trying to poison his wife, decided to go straight to the police. He told them what had happened between him and Christiana Edmunds so the police duly attended at the Edmunds' home and arrested Christiana.

The police checked Christiana's writing against that on the address label of the plum cake parcel and it was found to be the same. Her committal hearing took place in Brighton but the story was such big news the trial itself took place at The Old Bailey in London in January of 1872.

The Trial and Beyond

Christiana was initially charged with the attempted murder of Emily Beard, but that charge was later changed to the murder of Sidney Barker.

Christiana loved all the media attention and had in mind that she would give them the tragic tale of her affair with Charles Beard—a woman scorned. However, her theatrical story was soon shot down in flames when the whole sordid truth was presented.

The prosecution informed the Court that Christiana sent a gang of boys to the chemist to buy strychnine and another gang to buy chocolates. They then returned the items to Christiana who injected the poison into the chocolates and then she returned some to J G Maynards as they 'weren't to her liking' or just left some boxes of poisoned chocolates lying around the town in the hope that unsuspecting members of the public would pick them up and eat them.

Christiana gave no motive for her behaviour but some believed she was trying out various doses of strychnine and used the general public as guinea pigs before finally administering a fatal dose to Emily Beard; some believed that she just enjoyed setting up scenarios and then standing back at a distance to see what the consequences were.

Christiana's barrister asked for leniency as insanity was prevalent within her family but hereditary madness could not really be proven so the jury found her guilty of murder and she received the death sentence. Christiana then claimed she was pregnant but this was proven to be false and she was then sent to prison to await execution.

However, fortunately for Christiana, the Home Office decided that they would look into her mental health. An examination was carried out, overseen by William Orange who was the head doctor at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. He considered that Christiana was 'morally defective' and would have no idea that what she'd done was wrong. He therefore suggested that she should put into his care at Broadmoor where she could be treated.

This information was placed before the Home Secretary who overturned the death penalty but rather than changing the charge to life imprisonment, he decided to change the sentence to not guilty on the grounds of insanity.

On 5th July 1872 Christiana, aged 43, was taken to Broadmoor and kept under the watchful eye of Dr. Orange. He reported that she was extremely vain. Although she had moments when she was deceitful and argumentative, she became quieter and more rational and eventually was moved into a women's block for less troublesome inmates. There she spent time sewing, helping to mend the clothing of those within the asylum. She also enjoyed a game of croquet and for the whole of her time in Broadmoor she never forgot to apply her make-up.

Christiana spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor. No applications were made to get her released but, as she had an extremely disturbed mind, in all likelihood any request would have been dismissed.

She outlived the rest of her family. By 1901 she had very poor eyesight and by 1906 she could barely walk. Later that year, just before the New Year of 1907, she became weak and was placed in the infirmary and was under close observation by the infirmary staff. A record was made of a conversation she had with another patient which indicated that she still believed she was an irresistible temptress. According to the records, she asked how she was looking and was told she looked fine. She then asked if her eyebrows were in order; the reply was yes. She then went on to say that she felt she was improving and if she was around in a fortnight she'd prove to everyone that she could still dance—'I was a Venus before and I shall be again'.

Christiana lived on until 19th September 1907 and her cause of death was marked down as senile decay.

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