Sarah Dazley - Background and Information
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Sarah Dazley was executed on Saturday, 5th August 1843 for the murder of her husband. When she was sentenced to death the judge declared that he believed she had also murdered her small son. The local newspaper called her a “female Bluebeard”. There was a huge fuss in the local papers over the sensational execution of a woman poisoner.
Sarah was found guilty at Bedford Crown Court of having given arsenic to her second husband, William Dazley. When the body of her first husband, Simeon Mead, was examined, there was no proof of arsenic in his remains, but there was evidence of arsenic in the bodies of both her second husband and her infant son, Jonah Mead. At the time of her arrest she had been planning to marry for the third time.
Arsenic was the most common poison in the 19th century. It has almost no taste and can easily be disguised in food. At that time, poor hygiene caused many cases of dysentery and other similar diseases, for which arsenic poisoning could easily be mistaken.
In this case study we are looking at one of the early cases in which it was possible for forensic scientists to prove that someone had been poisoned. Only seven years before, in 1836, James Marsh published details of a conclusive chemical proof for the presence of arsenic. He showed that arsenic poisoning could be detected in any parts of human remains even many years after death.
Until that time, arsenic had been freely available from pharmacists. The Marsh test showed that so many people were being poisoned with arsenic that in 1851 Parliament passed the Arsenic Act. This forbade the sale of arsenic to strangers. The names of all purchasers of arsenic should be recorded. In addition, all arsenic should be mixed with soot or indigo to make it harder to hide in food.
How Sarah was caught
The case of Sarah Dazley comes after the introduction of the Marsh Test but before the Arsenic Act controlled the sale of arsenic. She probably had not heard of the test, and thought she was safe.
Unfortunately for her, there was a lot of gossip about the deaths of her two husbands and her son, especially when the banns for her next wedding were read in church. At that point people remembered the events around the deaths of her husbands. Various people remembered her giving white powder to William and Jonah. Also, the chemist’s assistant in the village remembered her buying arsenic. Without doubt, however, the main proof of her guilt was in the Marsh test carried out on the bodies.
This information is also available as a word document - see below.