Our 4th (and 5th) Murderess, Christiana Edmunds

Christiana Edmunds was the most infamous female patient at Broadmoor Asylum, and hers is also the only case of confectionary terrorism in Victorian Era England. Born in Margate, Kent, Christiana came from a very comfortable, middle class background.

In 1869 she met and fell in love with Dr Charles Beard, who lived nearby. She sent him love letters in an era when any form of intimacy between a man and a woman was significant, and  they carried on writing for several months. Dr Beard was already married, and in the summer of 1870, he wrote to Christiana, ‘This correspondence must cease, it is no good for either of us’. The following September, she visited his wife, Emily, with a gift of chocolate creams. She enjoyed a few, and was promptly and violently sick. Dr Beard accused Christiana of poisoning his wife, which she denied. In fact, Christiana complained that the same chocolates had made her ill, as well.

Christiana was banished from the Beard household completely in January 1871. Over the next few months there were many cases of people falling ill in Brighton after eating sweets and chocolates from a shop called Maynard's. All of them recovered quickly. When a 4 year old died after eating a chocolate, an inquiry was held. Christiana came forward and claimed that she and a friend had also become ill after eating sweets from Maynard’s store. She blamed Mr Maynard, and tests discovered strychnine in the chocolates sold in his shop. A verdict of accidental death was recorded, and the shop owner destroyed all of his stock.

But the poisonings continued! Fear crept through the streets of the seaside town: where and who would the poisoner strike next? In August 1871, six prominent locals received parcels of poisoned fruits and cakes. Several people were violently sick after eating them and, once again, Christiana had received one of the parcels. When the Police arrived to remove it, she told them ‘How very strange, I feel certain that you’ll never find it out’. Dr Beard, suspecting her, decided to go to the Police and voice his concerns. He handed over the large cache of letters from her. The Brighton Police wrote to Christiana about the poisonings, and when they received her reply in the same hand as the doctor’s correspondence, she was arrested.

With further investigation, many small incidents began to connect Christiana to both the poisoned chocolates and the cakes. Witnesses came forward who had sold her strychnine under the name Mrs. Baker. Christiana was charged with attempted murder. She arrived at her committal hearing 'Resplendent, all in black'. When she was found guilty of murder, her immediate response was to claim that she was pregnant. Court officials asked for women 'of a certain age' to make themselves known to them. A jury of matrons retired to examine Edmunds in an ante room. A doctor was summoned. They declared that Edmunds was not pregnant, and that the law would take its course. After some intervention, and the fact that her father and a brother had gone 'mad', it was decided that Christiana was mentally unfit, and she was sent to Broadmoor asylum.

Christiana lived there for 38 years, smuggling in makeup and great quantities of false hair. One of her last recorded conversations follows:

Christiana: How am I looking?
A: Fairly well.
Edmunds: Are my eyebrows alright?
A: Yes.
Edmunds: I think I am improving. I hope I shall be better in a fortnight. If so, I shall astonish them; I shall get up and dance – I was a Venus before and I shall be a Venus again!

She died nine months later on 19th September 1907, aged 78. The cause of death was given as senile decay, or old age.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published