Podcast Episode 23: A Victorian Poisoning Mystery


On New Year’s Day 1886, London grocer Edwin Bartlett was discovered dead in his bed with a lethal quantity of liquid chloroform in his stomach. Strangely, his throat showed none of the burns that chloroform should have caused. His wife, who admitted to having the poison, was tried for murder, but the jury acquitted her because “we do not think there is sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered.”

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll learn about Edwin and Adelaide Bartlett’s strange marriage and consider the various theories that have been advanced to explain Edwin’s death. We’ll also sample a 50,000-word novel written without the letter E and puzzle over a sure-footed American’s visit to a Japanese office building.

Sources for our segment on Adelaide Bartlett and the Pimlico poison mystery:

“The Pimlico Poisoning Case,” The Times, Feb. 16, 1886, 10.

“The Pimlico Poisoning Case,” The Times, March 8, 1886, 12.

“The Pimlico Mystery,” The Observer, March 21, 1886, 3.

“Central Criminal Court, April 13,” The Times, April 14, 1886, 6.

“Central Criminal Court, April 16,” The Times, April 17, 1886, 6.

“The Pimlico Mystery,” Manchester Guardian, April 19, 1886, 5.

Michael Farrell, “Adelaide Bartlett and the Pimlico Mystery,” British Medical Journal, December 1994, 1720-1723.

Stephanie J. Snow, Blessed Days of Anaesthesia: How Anaesthetics Changed the World, 2009.

A full record of the trial was published in 1886, with a preface by Edward Clarke, Adelaide’s barrister.

The full text of Ernest Vincent Wright’s 1939 novel Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E”, is available at Wikisource.

Here’s an excerpt from A Void, the English translation of George Perec’s 1969 novel La Disparition, also written without the letter E.

Two notable Futility Closet posts regarding lipograms:

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle comes from Mental Fitness Puzzles, by Kyle Hendrickson, Julie Hendrickson, Matt Kenneke, and Danny Hendrickson, 1998.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. The show notes are on the blog. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!