26 July 1815 – Eliza Fenning

Eliza Fenning

Eliza Fenning


A tantalising little package marked ‘arsenic, deadly poison’; alluring if you’re attempting a murder, but a little obvious don’t you think?

Similarly, when it comes to poisoned food, it’s just too convenient to blame the cook, but that may have been what happen. Eliza Fenning may well have been fitted up for a murder, which she paid for in full today in 1815.

Making a meal of it

The 22-year-old cook’s murderous meals comprised beef and dumplings and it was the latter of which is said to have contained the potent poison.

It was bound for the inhabitants of a house in Chancery Lane. Olibar Turner, along with his son and daughter ate the meal and as a result of the killer ingredient, they were very poorly.

Of course as the maker of the deathly dumplings, Fenning’s fate was pretty well sewn up, despite the fact that she’d eaten it too and fallen ill.

Food for thought

The prosecution cooked up a damning case against the young hired help, but it turned out that there could have been other suspects – another maid perhaps or even the wife. Mrs Turner, for example, inspected Fenning’s food, mixed a sauce ‘and left it for her to make’, according to the Newgate Calendar.

Turner then went out that fateful night, so she didn’t partake of the arsenic-laced accompaniments. Nevertheless, Fenning as key suspect was never in doubt, so the blame fell squarely on her young shoulders.

Support

Despite her entreaties of innocence to her dying day, Fenning carried the can for the macabre attempted murders.

However, the prosecution was shot to pieces by one pioneer of the day, who fought hard to get Fenning off the hook.

Sadly, he failed to save her, but William Hone was able to provide evidence that may have absolved her posthumously. Indeed, he set the standards for investigative journalism according to Wikipedia.

There was much public backing for her freedom, but it never came, and we will never know if she was innocent or not for none of the others were tried. As a result, Fenning hanged on this day in 1815, following her trial at the Old Bailey. Around 10,000 people showed their support by turning up for the poor girl’s funeral a few days later.

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