Y is for Graham Young

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 24 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Graham YoungMany murderers have a motive for their actions, be it greed, jealousy or passion, but others seem to need no reason other than an obsession to kill and one such was compulsive poisoner Graham Young.

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.

The young Graham YoungThen 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 Young had been studying 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 the 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, but 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. The 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.

Young was arrested in Sheerness, Kent, in November 1971. Police found thallium in his pocket and antimony, thallium and aconitine in his home. They also discovered a detailed diary that Young had kept, noting the doses he had administered, their effects, and whether he was going to allow each person to live or die.

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.

For further information see Young’s Wikipedia entry, Biography.com, St Albans and Harpenden Review and Absolute Crime

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

3 comments… Add yours
  • Trevor Rowley 26th June 2019

    Bit of a lad, eh? He was the subject of a TV programme I watched about twelve months ago. It was part of a series about notorious British criminals from the recent past and was very well made. I seem to recall that Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley were included in the same series as was cop killer, Harry Roberts. Incidentally, on the morning that Derek Bentley was hanged (wasn’t a hanging in Britain usually carried out at eight in the morning?), I remember arriving at my junior school (this was January 1953) thinking about a man who, only a few minutes earlier had lost his life in such a way. What unfortunate topics have to go through a young lad’s head.

  • Roger Green 26th June 2019

    This is one of your more recent villains, only 6 years older than I!

  • abc wednesday 29th June 2019

    I am glad I am not one of his familymembers

    But people like him are very intriguing for lots of other people to discover the cause behind his choices

    Have a heartwarming en splendid ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    M e l o d y (team ABC-W)


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