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When Adelaide Bartlett discovered the body of her husband in their stylish residence in the heart of London on the morning of January 1, 1886, she immediately dispatched the maid to fetch the doctor. On hearing the news of Thomas Edwin Bartlestt's death, Adelaide's father-in-law immediately suspected foul play. Not only was the dead man only 41 years old, but he had recently passed an insurance examination with flying colours and had been insured for the then-princely sum of four hundred pounds. Though he had been complaining of fatigue in the final weeks of 1885, there was nothing to suggest any cause of death. The first thing Edwin Bartlett Senior did when he came to examine the body was to smell his son's breath for see if he could detect any poisons. The second thing he did was to ask authorities to look into what happened, especially considering his suspicions concerning Adelaide.
In the subsequent autopsy conducted on Thomas Bartlett's body, his stomach was found to contain a lethal quantity of chloroform. Thomas had been suffering from various chronic illnesses, including rotting teeth, and was reportedly a fan of fad health remedies (such as animal magnetism) which he hoped would cure him once and for all. Though he had visited his dentist on the day before his death, the question of how such a large dose of chloroform should have been in his stomach immediately raised suspicions. His doctor, Alfred Leach, had admitted to prescribing chloroform for his patient but only in regulated doses. Which still raised the question of how he came to be poisoned. While police weren't prepared to rule out suicide, it was Adelaide's scandalous relationship with her tutor, the Reverend George Dyson, that led to an inquest returning a verdict of wilful murder. Adelaide and Dyson were both promptly arrested. And so began what would become known as the Pimlico Poisoning Mystery.
Thomas Bartlett had been a wealthy grocer and part of a very proper and close-knit English family. His marriage in 1875 to Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoile, who was both French and considerably younger than he was, caught everyone by surprise. Adelaide's father, who was never publicly named but rumoured to be an English nobleman, had arranged the marriage to Thomas, apparently after only a single meeting. Since Adelaide was illegitimate, her father was desperate to arrange a good marriage for her. Not only would the marriage provide her with a legitimate name, but is would also ensure a respectable place in English society. As part of the agreement, the father gave Thomas a rather sizeable dowry (which was promptly invested in Thomas' grocery business). The arrangement also had Thomas agree to assume all responsibility for his young wife, including controlling her behaviour, a major concern in Victorian times.
Thomas' father detested Adelaide from the beginning and often accused her of affairs, including one with Thomas' younger brother. Which seems ironic considering that Adelaide would later insist that her marriage to Thomas had been "platonic" from the very beginning. The accusations of infidelity and general animosity Adelaide received from her father-in-law caused her to run away from her home on several occasions (Edwin would then accuse her of running off with other men). Thomas eventually forced his father to apologize to Adelaide in writing, something Edwin would later claim he had only done to make peace with his son.
Though the accusations of infidelity stopped (at least for a while), Adelaide and Edwin continued to despise one another. When Adelaide became pregnant in 1881 (apparently after repeating begging Thomas for a child), things became even more nightmarish. The pregnancy was a difficult one from the beginning, especially since Thomas refused to allow anyone but female midwives to tend to his wife. Even when one of Adelaide's nurses pleaded with him to allow a male doctor to treat her, Thomas flatly refused to allow any man to "interfere with her." When the baby was stillborn, Adelaide was devastated. She would never become pregnant again and they went back to their old "platonic" relationship.
Most of the details surrounding the later married life of Thomas and Adelaide would only come out in open court after his death. Edwin Bartlett would reluctantly testify that his son once told him that a man should have "two wives, one for companionship and one for work." Other people who knew Thomas would often hear him say the same thing, albeit more crudely. Another of Thomas' quirks was his reluctance at allowing Adelaide to have any female friends or acquaintances visiting. Instead, oddly enough, he insisted on surrounding her with male acquaintances and often encouraging her to become physically intimate with them.
One particular favourite was Wesleyan minister George Dyson. Not only was Dyson a frequent visitor to the Bartlett home, but he was also hired to tutor Adelaide and to act as a spiritual counselor to the couple. Thomas had so much confidence in Dyson that he even asked him to be executor of the new will he had drawn up. The exact nature of the relationship that Adelaide, George, and Thomas actually had would become the fodder for lurid gossip during the criminal trial. According to witnesses, George Dyson often arrived as early in the morning after Thomas left for work and would stay for the rest of the day. He even kept his own coat and slippers at the house. Thomas also paid for George to accompany them when they went on vacation.
Though Thomas' father had no trouble accusing Adelaide and George of conspiring to poison his son, the testimony Adelaide would provide was much more lurid. Among other things, she testified that Thomas had openly encouraged George to become intimate with her and even asked them to kiss in his presence. "He seemed to enjoy it," she said. George Dyson was much more nervous testifying about his relationship with Adelaide. He admitted confessing to Thomas about his growing fondness for her. Thomas, for his part, seemed quite pleased and suggested that George and Adelaide write letters to each other. The letters themselves were never entered into evidence (assuming they hadn't already been burned) though Thomas did change his will shortly before his death.
This new will, with George Dyson as executor, was much the same as the previous one except for removing the sticky clause insisting that Adelaide not be allowed to remarry after his death. But there were far more lurid revelations to come in a murder trial that would have Londoners crowding into the courtroom and eagerly reading their evening paper for the latest details.
To be continued
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