Known as 'The Rugeley Poisoner' and 'The Prince of Poisoners', William Palmer is Staffordshire's most notorious doctor. This account comes from the archives of the historic Surgery Bar in Stafford.
On June the 14th, 1856, the notorious Victorian doctor - William Palmer was hanged outside Stafford Prison for the murder of John Parsons Cook. Palmer was accused of poisoning Cook by strychnine. He denied the crime but was found guilty at the Old Bailey in London and sentenced to hang at Stafford Gaol.
Thirty five thousand spectators crammed the streets of the town to witness the grisly spectacle – some spending the whole night in pouring rain to secure their place.
Prince of Poisoners
Such was his notoriety that broadsheets and ballads were sold on the streets as souvenirs and even the rope-maker produced extra rope and sold sections of the noose for a guinea.
It was alleged that Palmer had been responsible for as many as fifteen murders, including those of his wife, four of his children, his brother and his mother in law. Dubbed the Rugeley Poisoner or the Prince of Poisoners Palmer has continued to hold the fascination of the media and of the public ever since.
The full story
In 1845 upon leaving finishing school Anne Thornton met the charming Dr William Palmer. She was the heiress to the Noah's Ark hostelry in Stafford; but she was warned against him by her guardian, and so refused his first offer of marriage.
Palmer pursued her - seeing here as a pretty, wealthy and fascinating young lady of nineteen - and they eventually married in 1847 at St. Nicholas in Abbots Bromley.
Within a year Palmer was borrowing money from his mother in law Mary Thornton (who hated Palmer). She was persuaded to stay with William and Anne - and within two weeks had taken ill and died.
Palmer was expecting £12,000 upon her death but was bitterly disappointed with the money gained, and not satisfied with the allowance paid quarterly to his wife by the trustees.
By 1854 Palmer was deeply in debt and, seeing no chance of ever getting clear, decided to kill his wife, but before doing so insured her for £13,000. After paying the first and only premium... Anne Palmer died.
Early in 1855, Palmer again raised money by insuring his brother Walter for £14,OOO - a deed ending with the same deadly results.
But Doctor William Palmer's career ended in 1856 outside Stafford Gaol, where he was hanged for the murder of John Parsons Cook. His effigy stood in the Chamber of Horrors, Madame Tussaud's, London for 127 years.
It is generally supposed that Palmer poisoned at least eleven victims; and as many again carry all his hallmarks.
Despite his killing two of its licensees, the Noah's Ark never did become his property, but his descendants did come to own it eventually.
The later history of the Noah's Ark inn was that it was sold to the Corporation in 1877, who within a few years took down part of it and rebuilt it as it stands today. It was renamed the Surgery during the 1990's.
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last updated: 10/12/2008 at 08:53