This morning I am thrilled to bring you a juicy true story of Victorian murder. Author Kaye Jones has written a detailed and gripping account of an obsession that led to murder; a case that terrified and intrigued the nation in the early 1870s. If you would like to find out more about the woman scorned, who became the ingenious but cruel ‘Chocolate Cream Killer’of Brighton, read Kaye’s fabulous new book about the ‘poisonous passion’ of Christiana Edmunds. I was as fascinated by the case as the Victorian public, as I lived in Brighton for 15 years, and worked very close to the house where one of the key characters resided at the time… My thanks to Kaye for introducing us to Christiana in this blog post…
On the morning of Friday 18 August 1871, the following notice appeared in The Times newspaper:
The news that an anonymous poisoner was on the loose in Brighton fascinated and terrified the Victorian public in equal measure. Though the Brighton police force had not wanted to make public the details of the case, they had little choice but to appeal to the national public. Despite several weeks of investigation, they had not questioned a single suspect and there was an urgent need to calm the town’s growing sense of anxiety. After all, this was the middle of the summer season and Brighton relied on a steady stream of tourists to boost its economy and maintain its reputation.
By the 1870s, Brighton was the most popular seaside resort in Victorian England. Each year, the town welcomed thousands of tourists, eager to escape the dust and grime of the city and to spend their hard-earned shillings in the shops beside its glorious seafront. While this particular summer had started as successfully as any other, the first unexplained poisoning had occurred early – on 12 June – when Sidney Barker, a four-year-old boy on holiday with his family, died after eating a poisoned chocolate cream. At his inquest, the coroner could not account for how poison came to be inside the chocolate and so recorded a verdict of accidental death. But when the police received reports of further poisoning two months later, they became convinced that these incidents were related and that the culprit remained at large, lurking somewhere in the town and quite probably planning another attack.
But the police and public failed to realise some very important things about the so-called Chocolate Cream Killer: firstly, that she was not the typical criminal, being a well-respected and highly-educated lady and, secondly, that she would not stop until she had achieved her objective – the murder of the local doctor’s wife, Emily Beard.
The Chocolate Cream Killer was Christiana Edmunds, born in Margate in 1828 to the esteemed local architect, William Edmunds, and his wife, Ann. A series of family tragedies had forced Christiana and her mother to leave Kent and they arrived in Brighton in the summer of 1867 where they lodged at 17 Gloucester Place. Shortly after their arrival, Christiana became acquainted with a successful local physician called Dr Charles Beard who lived close by at 64 Grand Parade with his wife, Emily, and seven children. The Edmunds and the Beards became close friends but Christiana’s feelings quickly turned amorous and, despite being married, Charles did little to stop her advances.
It soon became clear to Christiana that Emily Beard was an obstacle to her union with Charles and that killing her was the only viable option. Christiana made her first attempt on Emily’s life in a bizarre and unexpected attack late one evening in September 1870. Christiana claimed to have brought some chocolate creams for the Beard’s children and later forced one into Emily’s mouth. Emily was immediately overcome with a foul taste in her mouth and spat the chocolate out, prompting Christiana to make some awkward excuses before leaving the house. Emily survived the attack and told Charles what had happened. This brought his friendship with Christiana to an end but gave her an idea of how to win him back: she would commit the mass poisoning of Brighton by injecting chocolate creams with poison. When everyone in the town started to fall ill, they would blame the local confectioner, John Maynard, which would force Charles to recognise Christiana’s alleged innocence.
Over the course of the next six months, Christiana’s poisoning spree would claim the life of a child and almost take the lives of countless others. Find out more about the events of that fateful summer and the life of this infamous murderess in my new book, The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer: The Poisonous Passion of Christiana Edmunds.
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