The Pimlico Mystery
Adelaide was born in France on December 19th, 1855. Her mother was an Englishwoman named Clara Chamberlain. Clara was married to a French mathematics teacher named Adolphe Collet de la Tremoille, but he was apparently not Adelaide’s biological father. was said that her real father was "an Englishman of good social position," but even this was never established.
When Adelaide was 19, her father arranged a marriage for her. She was sent to England, where a 30-year-old grocer named Edwin Bartlett was - to put it bluntly - given a large sum of money to marry her.
The marriage contract had three stipulations - Edwin had to take sole responsibility for Adelaide, promise never to refer to her dodgy background, and to continue her education. Immediately after the pair married on April 6th, 1875, Edwin packed his bride off to a boarding-school in Stoke Newington. Adelaide remained there for a year, after which she was sent to a Protestant convent in Belgium. Although a Catholic, she converted to her new husband's religion. It was not until late in 1877 that she returned to England, and she and Edwin finally began their life together.
The Bartletts remained childless until 1881, when, after a long, difficult labour, Adelaide gave birth to a stillborn child. Edwin had refused her nurse's advice to call a (male) doctor during a difficult labour because he did not want another man "to interfere with her". She found the entire experience so traumatic that she vowed she would never become pregnant again.
In 1883, the Bartletts moved to Merton Abbey, near Wimbledon, where they made the acquaintance of the local Wesleyan pastor, 27-year-old George Dyson. The trio soon became the closest of friends. Edwin made Dyson executor of his will, in which he left his entire estate to Adelaide, on condition that she did not remarry. Later Edwin redrew the will, four months before he died, removing the bar on Adelaide remarrying.
Towards the end of 1885, Adelaide asked Dyson to get some chloroform that had been prescribed by the doctor treating Edwin, Dr. Alfred Leach. Leach would later admit that he prescribed it reluctantly, but at the insistence of his patient. Under the laws of the day, one had to sign a book at the chemist's pharmacy as a record of buying medical poisons, but only for large amounts; Dyson bought four small bottles of chloroform instead of one large bottle, and bought them in several shops, claiming that he needed it to remove grease stains. Only after Edwin's death, did Dyson claim to suddenly realise how suspicious his actions were.
On New Year's Eve, December 31st, 1885, Edwin Bartlett returned from a visit to the dentist and went to sleep alongside Adelaide in their Pimlico flat. Just before 4am the next morning Adelaide asked their maid to fetch Dr Leach, fearing Edwin was dead, before rousing the landlady. Edwin's stomach was filled
Edwin's alleged suicide might have been believed and his death considered free of foul play, except that his father, who had always detested Adelaide and had earlier accused her of having an affair with Edwin's younger brother, became extremely suspicious and persuaded authorities to look into the death.
An inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder by Adelaide Bartlett, with George Dyson being an accessory before the fact, and they were both arrested.
The trial opened on 12th April 1886, attracting great press coverage both in the UK and abroad. At the opening of the trial charges were read out against both George Dyson and Adelaide, but the prosecution immediately asked for the charges against Dyson to be dropped and he was formally acquitted. This enabled the prosecution to call him as a prosecution witness, but also made it possible for the defence to take advantage of his testimony.
Adelaide Bartlett was defended by Sir Edward Clarke, who suggested Thomas Bartlett had committed suicide. Clarke's taking on the case was rumoured to be due to Adelaide's mysterious father's intervention. The prosecution was in the hands of the current Attorney General, Sir Charles Russell.
Adelaide was not able to testify in her own defence (something not possible for defendants until the Criminal Evidence Act 1898) and the defence called no witnesses, although it did give a six-hour closing statement to the court.
The main forensic aid to Mrs. Bartlett is that liquid chloroform reached the stomach without burning the sides of the throat and the larynx. Edwin did not have such burns on his body. This bolstered the suicide theory, for such rapid drinking suggested that the drinker rushed the poisoned drink down. When the jury returned to court after considering its verdict the foreman said: “Although we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner, we do not think there is sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered”. The foreman then confirmed that the verdict was not guilty, which was greeted with ‘rapturous applause’, public opinion having moved in Adelaide's favour during the course of the trial.
The issue of how the poison got into Edwin's stomach without burning him internally in the throat led the famous surgeon, Sir James Paget, to make his famous quip. "Now that she has been acquitted for murder and cannot be tried again, she should tell us in the interest of science how she did it!"
After the trial both Adelaide Bartlett and Reverend George Dyson vanished from public notice. The authors of The Life of Sir Edward Clarke (1939) report that they had an "impression" that Adelaide Bartlett later married George Dyson, but that they had also heard a theory that the two never met again.