Daddy’s Easter egg – fatal if eaten before a meal
Happy Easter! Are you enjoying tucking into those chocolate eggs? Do you know who gave them to you? After reading this, you might want to check…
Easter Eggs courtesy of Clip Art
Our story begins with a dispute over the estate of Annie Holmes of Huntington near York who died on 13 April 1919. A will dated 7 April 1919 named the executor as Mrs Holmes’s brother Thomas Liddle, a farmer of Shiptonthorpe. Francis Holmes, her husband, alleged that the will was a forgery, producing a will dated 2 April 1919 of which he was the executor. A court ruled in favour of Mr Holmes, and Liddle was referred for trial before York magistrates on a charge of conspiring to forge a will. Peter Oliver and Joseph Dawson, the witnesses to the will, were also prosecuted.
In April 1920, Francis Holmes and six witnesses in the forgery case received packages of chocolates through the post wrapped in telegraph forms. There were messages such as ‘Daddy’s Easter egg; with love’, ‘Grandad’s Easter eggs’, ‘Eat your Easter egg’, and ‘Easter eggs; one for all’. After dinner on 13 April, John Raper Thompson of Huntington ate one of the chocolates. He became ill shortly afterwards and developed the symptoms of strychnine poisoning. Doctors said that if he had not consumed a meal just before he ate the sweet he was very likely to have died. Analysis of the chocolates sent to others revealed half a grain of strychnine in each –potentially a fatal dose.
At the York Assizes in June 1920, Liddell, Oliver and Dawson were found guilty of forging a will and of perjury. The court moved on immediately to the trial of Liddell for attempted murder by means of the poisoned chocolates. The jury found him guilty of administering poison with intent to endanger life but acquitted him of attempted murder. The judge described the chocolate case as ‘outrageous’ and sentenced him to ten years’ penal servitude to run concurrently with a five year sentence for forgery and perjury. Oliver and Dawson each received a sentence of eighteen months without hard labour.
Back to those eggs now. Bon appetit!
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
Further reading :
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph 11 June 1920; Gloucestershire Echo 24 June 1920 and 15 July 1920; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 16 July 1920