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THE FATAL DISH, Issue 15632, 24 October 1914
THE FATAL DISH
STRYCHNINE POISONING. WALTERS’ CARELESSNESS. < [faoii Oue Own Eepoetee.] PALMERSTON, October 24. The inquiry was continued at Palmerston this morning before Mr H. O’Neill, J.P., and a jury, concerning the circumstances antecedent to the death a week ago of James Ross, a married man, about 50 years of age, who died fr -m poison at Mount Royal Station. Ross, who was a well-known mercer in Dunedin many years ago, was acting as cook for a number of ditchers employed upon the station i>y arrangement with the Patriotic Relief Committee. With deceased was a man named John Charles Walters (living, in the Ivaikorai Valley), and it was rice custard sent by Mrs Walters which caused both men to be sick—Ross fatally. Mrs Walters and her children tasted a portion of the same pudding, all noticing a bitter taste; tdeed, Mrs Walters was ill. Afterwards it appears that she placed a saucer over the confection, and upon this saucer the whole story rests. The report of the Government Analyst stated that the rice custard contained strychnine, .42gr of strychnine being extracted from 2oz of the custard. No trace of the strychnine was found in the saucer. From 4oz of the contents of the stomach .J2gr of strychnine was extracted, and since the poison would find its way to other organs, there must have been been from one to three grains in the whole body. He was of opinion that the stomach alone contained a fatal quantity of strychnine, and that 2oz of the rice custard would prove fatal. 4
Detective Ward appealed for the police, and Mr C. J. Payne for the trustees of the Mount Royal Estate. Elizabeth Jane Walters was lecalled. Detective Ward: After you made the custard, what vessels did you put it in? — Witness; A pie dish first. V hen you placed it in the oven, what utensil d.d you put over it?—l put a large saucer over it to keep it from burning. I got the saucer from the top shelf in the kitchen. When the pie was cooked I withdrew it from the oven with the saucer on lop. My original intention was to send the pie dish and its contents to rr.v husband, but found some difficulty in packing it: -o I filled a small basin and placed the same saucer over it, and replaced it in the, oven to brown. The basin did not take the whole of the contents of (he pie dish, and what icmained was to be eaten by myself and children It was in that that the eldest girl noticed a peculiar salty taste, hut I did not attach inach importance to this, owing to the fact that the child reii had often emptied. salt into such puddings. At hen your husband returned or, the evening of the 17th he brought home his clothing in a dross ha >ket'—Yc.->; I tin packed it. AAas there anything you noticed?—l found the saucer in it.' He said to be careful, as that was the saucer that was on the pudding. ] was going to put the saucer into the, scullery, and said ; “Surely this saucer has been washed sineo you mixed the strychnine in it.’ :
What did he say to that?—He said : “ Don't mention Die strychnine,'’ and remarked that he used the pot lid. Did yon recognise the saucer ?—Yes ; I was sure this was the saucer in which 3 had seen him mix strychnine. I did not know where he kept the .strychnine, but the night before he left I asked him to burn any tiial was left, for fear of the children. I do not know how the saucer came to be in lire kitchen, except that he may have left it in the scullery, and the children (who wash up) may have thought it was a clean one, and put it in the kitchen. It was only when he returned from Mount Royal that this occurred to mo.
Witness continued that her husband was using strychnine on cals, and mixed it on meat in a .saucer on the kitchen table. He would place it on the meat with a table knife, and witness would clean it. On Sunday morning her husband had a bad turn, and was sent to the Hospital. John Charles Walters was also recalled. He stated that some weeks before leaving home he 'bought one shilling's worth of poison from Mr Hasleit, chemist, in order to exterminate cats. He took it home and put it in a nail bag within another box, with a latch, inside the coalhouse. To mix it he used an old pot lid and old pieces of tin. He cut the mean with a pocket knife and inserted the poison, and placed it under the house. Afterwards he resealed the poison in a paper, and replaced it on a. high shelf in the coalhouse. On the morning he left home he burnt the remainder of the strychnine, and the. remaining poisoned meat. Deceased unpacked the parcel containing the rife custard. Witness took a saucer and other utensils home. Detective Ward : Had you ever used that saucer in preparing poisoned meat? Witness ; 1 cannot remember ever having used it for that purpose. 1 won't contradict my wife's statement on the, point, but I do not. remember it. Did it occur to yon before you left Monut Royal that the .saucer bad anything to do with the, poisoning?—Xo. Then will you please say why you packed the saucer?—l was packing everything. Why did yon not pack the basin also? —I told the deceased before we had eaten any custard that f would leave him the basin for a.sugar basin.
Witness adder! that when the deceased became bad he thought he was poisoned. Detective Ward ; Von recollect me asking you cm the .Saturday if you had poison in your house in Dunedin ?—Yes. Why did you not tell me that you had purchased poison a fortnight before.—l was not asked. If I had asked you if you had had poison in the- house a fortnight ago, what would you ha.ve said ?—I would have said yes.
Why, when you knew the man died of poison, did you not tell us that you had had poison in your house?—lt never occurred to me.
Do you ask the coroner to accept that? Do you remember your wife making a remark fo you about the saucer?—No; I can almost safely say she didn’t. You were taken ill yourself ou Sunday. Do you know what the doctors at the Hospital thought was the matter with von ?—No.
Would you lie surprised to know that the doctor said nothing was the matter with vou? —I would he very surprised.
Did' not you have an accident with a revolver some lime, ago?—l did.
I think the police took the revolver and cartridges from you, and subsequently they were returned to you, and you shot a man in the leg. Witness objected strongly to these questions. Detective Ward explained that there was no suggestion that there would he any charge against Walters, but he (Detective Ward) wanted to show that this man was a careless sort of individual, whose gross carelessness had resulted in this misadventure. lie wanted also to dissipate any possible suspicion in regard to Mrs Wallers, who had given a very straightforward account of all that had happened. Mr Payne said that at the first blush it might be supposed that something was lacking in the food at Mount EoyaJ, since dishes were sent up, but it was generally admitted that station food was excellent.
The Coroner : Undoubtedly it is. Dr Harrison deposed that h© found Ross in a dying state. Walters was also complaining, and brought up some stuff into his mouth, which he said was bitter. The symptoms - he described showed slight strychnine poisoning. He could say definitely that the cause of death wan strychnine' poisoning. Witness’s post mortem showed deceased’s heart and kidneys to be diseased.
The jury found “ That the deceased died from strychnine poisoning, partaken of in « rice custard forwarded to J. 0. Walters from Dunedin.” They added a rider: <• And we find as a rider that gross carelessness has been shown by John Ohas. Walters in the handling of the poison.”
THE FATAL DISH, Issue 15632, 24 October 1914
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