31 May 1922 – Herbert Rowse Armstrong

Herbert Rowse ArmstrongIt’s the perfect cover. A solicitor who’s tasked with upholding the law is the last person you’d suspect to be a criminal.

Not so Herbert Rowse Armstrong who became the only known solicitor in Britain to be executed – when he wasn’t practising law, he was bumping people off for whatever reason.

His method of choice was arsenic and he first tried it out on his wife. She was the perfect candidate in his eyes – she was sickly and no-one suspected a thing. That is until he used the method again.

Armstrong was a retired army major who’d retired to practice law in the picturesque town of Hay-on-Wye. But that was part of his downfall – a small town equals no privacy. So industrial amounts of arsenic is going to make anyone suspicious, let alone in a town where everyone knows your name.

Armstrong tactics

So when a rival turned up at Armstrong’s house, invited on the pretext of resolving a dispute, little did he know that arsenic-laced cake was on the menu. But Armstrong’s plan backfired – for his victim was feisty and the toxic secret ingredient failed to do its stuff.

He was also effectively shopped by the pharmacist who got suspicious after selling him the stuff so the police were primed and ready to haul him in.

At the same time, the widower’s wife was exhumed and there it was – traces of arsenic were rife. Indeed our man was even caught with a stash of the toxic stuff in his pockets.

There was no get-out clause – Armstrong was going down. It turns out that he poisoned his wife to get out of an unhappy marriage – but as a lawyer surely he could have found a method of getting shot of that was within the law.

Armstrong was hanged at Gloucester aged 52, by executioner of the hour, John Ellis.

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