Autumn of poison

After the relative tranquillity of the summer months, the mysterious bug began to strike again in earnest in the autumn of 1971. The sequences of illness in the stores had not gone unnoticed at the factory and people talked of it in terms of a microbe that was afflicting the workers, naming it the Bovingdon bug, thereby linking it to a local outbreak of gastroenteritis. Young was in a position to disguise his poisoning because the Bovingdon bug produced symptoms similar to those of mild antimony poisoning.

Diana Smart in particular seemed most susceptible to the bug, although in her case it had an unpleasant side effect of bad body odour, so much so that her husband, who also worked at Hadland's, found it unbearable to sleep in the same bed with her. (The doctor treated her smelly feet as a case of athlete's foot.) Her constant battering by antimony sodium tartrate made her depressed and listless. After Young's conviction, The Criminal Compensation Board eventually awarded her £367.

About the beginning of October, Young began to put thallium acetate in the drinks of his fellow workers and his first victim was David Tilson who was a clerk in the import-export department. He received a dose in his mid-morning cup of tea on Friday, 8 October. He found that his tea was very sweet, contrary to his taste, and so he only drank a little of it. Young had tried to camouflage any detectable taste that thallium might have imparted to the drink by adding sugar. The result was that Tilson had taken only a small amount of the poison. Even so this produced some symptoms and had he drunk all the tea he would no doubt have ended up as Egle had: dead.

On the following day, Saturday, he felt pins and needles in his feet and by Sunday his legs had gone numb. He saw his doctor on Monday and was back at work by Wednesday even though his legs were still a little stiff. He worked for the remainder of that week and then got a second dose of thallium acetate on the Friday. Young had foreseen the need for Tilson to have a second dose because his original plan involved a visit to David in hospital following his first dose, which was where he would have been had he drunk all the sweetened tea. Young planned to take a small bottle of brandy for David, laced with more thallium acetate. Instead he gave Tilson his second dose in his tea at work.

That weekend, Tilson's legs got progressively worse and chest pains developed which made breathing difficult. He saw his doctor again. By the Monday he was unable to sleep and could not bear the weight of bedclothes on his body. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he was admitted to St Albans City Hospital on Wednesday, 20 October. There he started to improve and was sufficiently recovered to be discharged on the Thursday of the following week. The next day, 29 October, his hair began to fall out and within two days he was almost bald. On Monday, 1 November he was readmitted to hospital where a Dr Cowan questioned him about his habits and diet on the assumption that he had been poisoned, but this line of enquiry revealed nothing. He was again discharged from hospital five days later and convalesced from several more weeks before returning to work. His only long term disability was to be impotent and the Criminal Compensation Board eventually awarded him £460.

The day before Tilson left hospital, Fred Biggs was admitted and the day David Tilson left hospital, on 5 November, another Hadland employee, Jethro Batt, was taken there, suffering from the same complaint. We will consider Biggs's murder in a minute and deal with Batt's poisoning first. Batt was 39 years old and lived in Harlow which was quite a long way from Bovingdon. He had an arrangement whereby he worked late so as to avoid the rush hour and he would make himself a cup of coffee during this time. He became friendly with Young and would give him a lift back to Hemel Hempstead if he, too, was working late.

On Friday, 15 October, and the day that Young put the second lot of thallium acetate in Tilson's tea, Jethro found Young working late in the stores and Young made him some coffee. However, he found this too strong and drank only a mouthful. But, like Tilson, he had taken enough poison to produce the typical symptoms of thallium poisoning. The drink made him feel queasy and shortly after he arrived home he decided to go to bed. On

Saturday his legs felt strange and by Sunday they felt numb and stomach pains had developed. On the Monday morning he went to see his doctor who diagnosed influenza.

The symptoms that Tilson and Batt displayed were very similar to those who responded adversely to thallium in the days when it was given as pre-treatment for ringworm. In those days the typical dose for an adult was 500 mg. If both Tilson and Batt had drunk a quarter of a mug of the doctored tea or coffee, before discarding the rest as undrinkable, then it would appear that Young had added 2 g to each drink, which would certainly have been a fatal dose. Clearly his intention was to murder them. Young later admitted that he had administered 4 g of the poison in two doses to Batt. Such a quantity would definitely kill but thankfully he had only taken a fraction of this dose, enough to explain his symptoms but not enough to kill him.

By Thursday, 21 October, Batt was unable to get out of bed, his feet hurt, and he had pains in his stomach and chest. As the days went by the thallium began to affect his brain, he became delirious and had hallucinations. His depressed state of mind became so acute that he contemplated suicide. By the end of the second week of his illness his hair had begun to fall out and on the Friday of the third week he was admitted to hospital. Like Tilson, Batt eventually recovered but he too was rendered impotent. Being a married man, this was obviously a more serious handicap than David's loss of virility and consequently Batt was awarded £950 by the Criminal Compensation Board.

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