Sunday, 27 July 2014

An Oatmeal Stout poisoning

Old murder cases are weirdly fascinating for me. Especially when there's some sort of beer connection.

As there is in this case. More than just a vague, oblique connection, as the poison was administered via a bottle of Oatmeal Stout.
A mysterious tragedy occurred 32, Churchill Road, South Croydon, in the early hours of Sunday morning. The house is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Beck, each aged about and their two daughters, Daisy, aged 21, and Hilda, aged 19.

32, Churchill Road, South Croydon

At supper on Saturday night they had some stout which had been fetched for them by a lodger in the house. Shortly afterwards the father and mother complained of severe pains, and the girl Daisy also felt unwell. Mr. Beck, shortly after one o'clock, made an attempt to get out of the house, apparently with the object of obtaining medical assistance, but found himself unable to so. The younger daughter, Hilda, teetotaler, who had not touched any of the stout, ran out and called in some neighbours.

Two doctors, Dr. Dempster and Dr. Baker, were summoned, but, despite all their efforts, Mr. and Mrs. Beck expired soon afterwards. The girl Daisy, however, they succeeded in bringing round, and she was conveyed Croydon Hospital, where she is stated to be progressing satisfactorily. The whole affair is shrouded in mystery, but there is no doubt that the parents' deaths and the daughter's illness were caused by poison which had by some means got into the stout.

A remarkable turn in connection with the mysterious poisoning tragedy at South Croydon took place Monday with the arrest of a labouring man named Richard Brinkley, of Maxwell Road, Fulham. He is charged with the murder of Richard and Annie Elizabeth Beck, and with attempting to kill their daughter, Daisy Kathleen, and a lodger named Reginald Clifford Parker.

Brinkley, who is a man about fifty-three years of age, was brought before the magistrates later in the day. A lodger in the house, named Parker, has given the following account of the occurrence: "I feel sure Brinkley had no intention or desire to kill either Mr. or Mrs. Beck. I knew he was coming down to see on Saturday about a dog. I was in my room at Churchill Road — where the tragedy happened — when Mr. Beck came in with some ale, and we both had a little. Presently there was knock at the door, and Brindley came in. He took a bottle of stout from his pocket, opened it, and drank some. I thought this strange, I have known him for some years, and always believed him to be a teetotaler. He then poured some into our glasses and asked for some water, which I got for him, leaving the room for a minute. Then we went out, leaving Mr. Beck behind. The reason he went out was because he had bought a dog, and he gave me instructions about taking it over his house on the Sunday. I went back to Churchill Road afterwards to get my coat, and found Mr. Beck sitting his room. We had some ale, and then Mrs. Beck came in. I asked her what she would have to drink, and she replied, 'There isn't anything.' She asked what time I should be in to dinner the next and said I did not quite know. I left before midnight. The next I heard of the affair was when a police officer woke me up. This was about three o'clock on Sunday morning. I dressed and went to the police station, where I gave my version of the matter. I have been separated from my wife for the last several months. She lives with her mother in Water Lane, Brixton, and Brinkley knows her. mid I had some words over it. believe he came into some money a little while ago."

Dr. W. Dempster said was called to Churchill Road on Saturday, and found Mr. and Mrs. Beck lying on the floor unconscious and dying. This was one o'clock on Sunday morning, and they died a few minutes after his arrival. As far as he could judge at the time they were suffering from the effects of poison.

The girl Daisy was on the couch as if in a faint. He believed the poison was cyanide of potassium. He had examined the stout bottle, and found traces of the same poison.

John Holder, a lad of thirteen, said that on Saturdays he worked for a Mrs. Hardstone, who had an off-license house at Brighton Road. Last Saturday evening about half-past seven a man came in and asked for a bottle of oatmeal stout. Mrs. Hardstone stamped it, and the man said "it was going round the corner." She said he must leave 2d on the bottle, and he left the shop without taking it.

He came in again half-an-hour later, and asked for a bottle of stout. This time he took it and paid the 2d. That morning witness had picked Brinkley out from about ten more as the man in question.

Detective-Inspector Fowler said that, in company with Sergeant Easter, he investigated the case, and eventually went to Maxwell Road, Fulham,  on Sunday midnight, where he met Brinkley. In reply to a question, he admitted that he was Richard Brinkley. Witness told him he would be  arrested on a charge administering a poison to Parker with intent to murder him. He replied. "Well, I'm sugared." Witness then cautioned him, and he said, "I was not Croydon last night." Witness said, "You will also probably be clanged with the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Beck, who have died as a result of the drug or poison administered to them." then he said again, "Well, I'm sugared." and added, " This is very awkward, isn't it?" On the way to the station he said, "I have not seen Parker for three weeks. I have just left his wife and her mother, and come from Water Lane. We have been enjoying ourselves."

Brinkley asked if was going detained all night, and being answered in the affirmative he said, "This is Parker playing a trick on me. He is a dirty tyke."

On the way to Croydon in the morning Brinkley asked if Parker said he had done it, and then repeated "Parker is spiteful to everyone if they speak to his wife." He continued, "his wife and her mother are beautiful people; they Won't have him there. I've a good character, and am a teetotaler. If anyone says I bought beer, they have got to prove it." Brinkley made no reply when the charge was read over to him. On this evidence Brinkley was remanded to await instructions from the Treasury."
Lichfield Mercury - Friday 26 April 1907, page 2.

All very odd, don't you think? What was Brinkley's relationship with Mrs. Parker? Had he really been trying to kill Parker. If he had something going on with Parker's wife, that would seem a pretty good motive.

It's a bit rich not wanting tp pay the deposit on a bottle of beer you knew you wouldn't be returning: his plan was clearly to leave the bottle behind in the expectation Parker would drink it. While we're talking of the beer, this tale also tells me something about the Oatmeal Stout story. The very first mention of Oatmeal Stout, then the exclusive domain of a couple of small breweries, wasn't much more than a decade before this. Yet it had clearly already become a common commodity.

Never heard of the phrase "I'm sugared." before. I can't help thinkib Brinkley might have in fact said something that sounds very similar.

The moral of this tale? Never trust a teetotaler.


Jeremy Drew said...

Brinkley was a wrong'un, but not very smart.

Details here:

Jeremy Drew said...

apparently he was after granny's cash: not exactly a criminal mastermind.

Henry Pierrepoint sorted him out though

Chris said...

There is book titled 'Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Croydon' that has a chapter about this case. There were more complications another death and a contested will to boot.

Unknown said...

We have just found out that Mr Parker is our great grandfather.