Archive for April 13th, 2009

He Who Laughs Last …

Monday, April 13th, 2009


In Victorian England, there were many things about Dr. William Palmer on which everyone agreed: he was overly fond of women, gambling, most types of fraud, and he was heavily in debt.

The thing on which people could not agree was if he was or was not – a serial, strychnine murderer who killed more than a dozen people including his wife, his mother-in-law, four out of five of his children, and a half dozen other people he knew.

One reason the English were divided on Palmer was because strychnine was a new, relatively uncommon drug, never before introduced in court as a tool of murder. However when Dr. Palmer and his little bottle of clear liquid were around, an awful lot of people started dropping dead with the same symptoms. Finally, a jury decided the issue by finding him guilty of at least one murder and sentencing him to death by public hanging.

On June 14, 1856, Dr. Palmer was led up the stairs of the gallows and demonstrated at least one more trait on which everyone could agree: the guy had a great sense of humor. At the top step, Palmer put one foot on the scaffolding, turned to the guard and said, “Are you sure this thing is safe?”