my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.
Born in London in 1947, he lived with his aunt and uncle after his mother died when he was just a few months old, before returning to live with his father and stepmother a few years later.
A clever boy, Young passed his eleven-plus and went to grammar school, but he had been fascinated by poisons and their effects from an early age and in 1961 he began to test them out on his family.
He appears to have started with antimony on his stepmother who began to suffer from vomiting, diarrhoea and excruciating stomach pain, which she dismissed as bilious attacks, until her husband became similarly ill. It seemed to be some mystery bug since both Young and his sister fell victim to it, followed two of his school friends.
In November 1961, Young served his sister a cup of tea, but it tasted bitter and she threw it away. Even so, an hour later she began to hallucinate while on the train to work and was taken to hospital where doctors concluded that she had somehow been poisoned with deadly nightshade. Young’s father suspected that his son might be to blame, but Young protested that it was his sister’s fault for mixing shampoo in the family teacups.
Then in April 1962, Young’s stepmother died apparently of complications following a road accident. Her remains could not be tested because she had been cremated, but the aunt that had previously lived with became suspicious, knowing of his fascination with chemistry and poisons. He was referred to a psychiatrist who immediately contacted the police and the fifteen-year-old was arrested.
Young confessed to the attempted murder of his father, sister and his friend and he was detained under the Mental Health Act and committed to Broadmoor Hospital, the youngest inmate since 1885.
In June 1970, after nearly eight years in Broadmoor, Dr. Edgar Udwin, the prison psychiatrist, wrote to the home secretary to recommend his release, announcing that Young ‘is no longer obsessed with poisons, violence and mischief.’ Which is odd since he had studied medical texts, improving his knowledge of poisons. It was rumoured that his knowledge of poisons was such that he could even extract cyanide from laurel bush leaves on the mental hospital grounds and that he used this cyanide to murder fellow inmate John Berridge.
Young was released from hospital in February 1971 and obtained a job as quartermaster at John Hadland Laboratories near his sister’s home in Hemel Hempstead. The company manufactured thallium bromide-iodide infrared lenses used in military equipment. No thallium was stored on site, and Young obtained his supplies of the poison from a London chemist.
Soon after he began work, his foreman, Bob Egle, grew ill and died. Young had been making tea laced with poisons for his colleagues. A sickness swept through his workplace and, mistaken for a virus, was nicknamed the Bovingdon Bug. These cases of nausea and illness, sometimes severe enough to require hospitalisation, were later attributed to Young and his tea.
He poisoned around seventy people during the next few months, although none fatally. A few months after Egle’s death, another of Young’s workmates, Fred Biggs, grew ill and was admitted to London National Hospital for Nervous Diseases. It was too late and after suffering agony for several weeks, he became Young’s third and final victim.
At this point, it was evident that an investigation was necessary. Young asked the company doctor if the investigators had considered thallium poisoning. He also told a colleague that his hobby was the study of toxic chemicals. Young’s colleague went to the police, who uncovered Young’s criminal record.
At his trial at St Albans Crown Court in June 1972 Young pleaded not guilty, claiming that the diary was a fantasy for a novel. Young was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was dubbed ‘The Teacup Poisoner’.
Young died in his cell of a heart attack at Parkhurst prison in August 1990, one month before his 43rd birthday.