True CRime Sunday: The Chocolate Cream Poisoner

Welcome back to True Crime Sunday! This week, we’re going to take a look at someone who liked to add a little something extra to sweet treats, Christiana Edmunds, aka the Chocolate Cream Poisoner.

In the late 1860s, Christiana, then in her late thirties or early forties, lived with her widowed mother and had begun an affair with a local doctor. The nature of the relationship is uncertain. He, a married man, maintained that the so-called affair was nothing but letters and a little bit of flirting. She maintained that the relationship was much more than that. Either way, the doctor decided to end the affair in 1870.

Christiana Edmunds sent her former lover’s wife a box of chocolates that had been poisoned. The wife recovered, but the doctor suspected who was behind his wife’s illness. He didn’t do anything about it partly because he didn’t have proof, partly because of the potential for scandal.

In 1871, Christiana began buying chocolate creams from a local confectioner. She took them home, added a dash of strychnine, and then returned them to be sold to someone else. Edmunds originally bought the poison herself and said she needed it to deal with stray animals at her home. Her frequent purchases raised a few suspicious eyebrows, so she started hiring local boys to make the purchases for her.

People all over got sick but recovered. No one made any connection between the sudden illness and the treats they’d ingested. Miraculously, no one died until a four-year-old on vacation with his family ate one of the chocolate creams from the bakery. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident. Was Christiana Edmunds swayed by the child’s death? Not even close.

Instead, she ramped up her poison spree and started sending poisoned chocolate to important people. This included another go at the doctor’s wife. By this time, police were suspicious and had connected the poison to the chocolates. However, they didn’t have any suspects. Edmunds decided to send herself a box of the chocolates in an attempt to keep suspicion off of her.

Her former lover finally decided to go to police with his suspicions, and Edmunds was arrested in 1872. At her trial, her mother argued that there was mental illness on both sides of the family. Christiana Edmunds was originally sentenced to death, but her sentence was commuted to imprisonment at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where she stayed until her death in 1907.

Whether it was a broken heart or underlying mental illness that was behind the poisonings, I can’t say for sure. With today’s food handling standards, it’s strange to think that there was once a time when someone could buy food, return it, and have that same food sold to someone else.

Join me next week and see what true crime story is next!

Looking for more?

The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer: The Poisonous Passion of Christiana Edmunds by Kaye Jones

Trials of Passion: Crimes in the Name of Love and Madness by Lisa Appignanesi

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