The murder of Bessie Taylor

A few weeks after Mary Spink's death, Chapman advertised for an assistant to work at the Prince of Wales pub, and from the applicants he chose 32-year-old Miss Bessie Taylor, the daughter of a Cheshire farmer and cattle dealer. Bessie was an independent minded young woman who left home at 21 when she came of age and moved to London. There she worked in various restaurants over a period of ten years. Her photograph shows Bessie to be somewhat overweight, but she clearly attracted Chapman and soon fell under his spell. Not only did they work together but Bessie was also sharing his bed before long, and, once again, there was the pretence to the outside world that they were man and wife. Chapman must have confided to Bessie that he could not marry because he was already married and unable to obtain a divorce because of his religion, but not long after she moved to St Bartholomew Square they announced that they were married. On what date this was deemed to have taken place is not known, but we do know that on 18 July 1898 a cheque for £50 arrived from Bessie's father as a wedding gift and this was deposited in Chapman's bank account where it joined the £250 that he had 'inherited' from Mary.

In their spare time that summer he and Bessie went cycling together, and they even joined the local Police Cycling Club. Maybe they cycled as far as Bishops Stortford because in August 1898 he negotiated to buy The Grapes public house there and on the 23rd of that month he drew out all the money from his bank account, a little over £369, and they moved to that country town on the border between Hertfordshire and Essex. The venture appears to have been doomed from the start. Unfortunately Bessie was troubled with her teeth and had to go into hospital for an operation when she developed an abscess in her mouth. This was just before Christmas 1898 and it coincided with a visit of an old friend of hers, Elizabeth Painter, who had been invited to stay at The Grapes for two weeks over the Christmas season. The relationship between Bessie and Chapman was going through a bad patch at this time and Elizabeth witnessed several rows. On one occasion Chapman even threatened Bessie with a revolver.

Life in the country was not really to Chapman's liking and early in the New Year of 1899 he sold The Grapes and they moved back to London. In May, he secured another pub, The Monument, in Union Street, Southwark, and for a while things between him and Bessie improved. She was quite a character and became a popular figure in the pub and the surrounding district. She attended All Hallows Church in Pepper Street, just off Union Street, and gave generously to its charitable organizations. She kept up with her cycling and her parents came to visit her on several occasions and stayed at the pub. Indeed her mother thought a lot of her supposed son-in-law and complemented Bessie on her choice of husband. And so things continued through the rest of that year and most of the next.

Bessie began to fall victim to antimony potassium tartrate in December 1900. About two weeks before Christmas she went down with sickness and constipation and on the advice of Martha Stevens, a regular customer at The Monument, she consulted Dr Stoker of the New Kent Road about half a mile away. Whatever he gave her, it did no good and the bouts of vomiting continued. Martha was a nurse by occupation, and about ten days before Christmas, Chapman asked her to come and look after Bessie, and this she began to do. At first she came only during the day, but as Bessie's condition deteriorated she stayed through the night as well.

When Bessie's brother William, who lived in London, called to see her, he found his sister ill and shrunken, and looking very much older than her 34 years. She complained of violent internal pains and was sick while he was there. Another person to visit Bessie that December was her old friend Elizabeth, who found her fading away. Chapman occasionally made a pass at Elizabeth, and on one of her visits he gave her a kiss.

Bessie was so ill by Tuesday, 1 January 1901 that Dr Stoker was called and thereafter he visited The Monument every day until Bessie died six weeks later, on Wednesday, 13 February. (Queen Victoria had died on Tuesday, 22 January.) The doctor found her suffering from regular vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach pains. Sometimes she would improve for a few days but invariably she would suffer a relapse.

During January, Dr Stoker called in expert medical opinion in an effort to discover the cause of Bessie's illness. Dr Sunderland, a gynaecologist came to see her and thought she had something wrong with her womb. When examination proved it not to be so, a Dr Thorpe, who lived nearby, examined her and he concluded that her symptoms were psychosomatic, although the term he used in those pre-Freudian days was 'hysteria'. In that Bessie's symptoms were not the product of any recognizable organic disease, he was right. Nevertheless, her symptoms were real enough and finally a Dr Cotter was consulted. He thought that Bessie might have cancer of the stomach or intestines and, acting on his suggestion, a sample of vomit was sent to the Clinical Research Association for inspection but no cancerous cells were observed. In early February, Bessie's mother was sent for and when she came down to stay she made herself responsible for preparing all her daughter's meals. Slowly Bessie recovered; by Sunday, 10 February she felt fit enough to get up and when Dr Stoker called he found her playing the piano.

Chapman was not finding it so easy to dispose of Bessie as he had of Mary

Spink. Presumably under the watchful eye of her mother, he could not press upon her the small regular doses of antimony that he had been giving her before her mother arrived, and so he must have decided that the only solution was to give her a single large dose, which he did in the evening of Tuesday, 12 February. She died that night at 1.30 a.m. The doctor who was called could do nothing to save her and on the death certificate he wrote that death was due to intestinal obstruction, vomiting, and exhaustion. Bessie was buried in Lymm churchyard in her native county of Cheshire. Chapman pleaded poverty and Bessie's brother William paid the funeral expenses.

The body of Bessie lay undisturbed for 21 months, long enough for it to decompose. However, when it was lifted from its grave on 22 November 1902 it was observed to exude no odour of putrefaction and with the exception of a layer of mould it was in a remarkable state of preservation. The corpse was dissected and all the major organs found to be free of disease with the exception of the stomach which showed the expected signs of gastritis. The inner surface of the bowel was found to be coated with yellow antimony sulphide, indicating that the fatal dose may well have been introduced into the body in the form of an enema. This compound would be produced from antimony reacting with the hydrogen sulphide that forms as protein decomposes.

The chemical analyses showed the stomach to contain 8 mg of antimony, the kidneys 20 mg, the liver 107 mg, and the intestines 548 mg. This last amount being the largest ever recorded in the victim of antimony poisoning. The total amount of antimony was 693 mg. The soil around the grave was tested but no antimony was found. The evidence all pointed to a massive single dose given to Bessie on the Tuesday evening before she died.

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