Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Spotlight: Graham Young

Graham Young, older (left) and younger (right)

Graham Young, older (left) and younger (right)

Born Graham Frederick Young in north west London on September 10, 1947, died August 1, 1990. Young was a serial killer, who killed four people with poison, who was also known as the Teacup Poisoner and the St. Albans Poisoner. The exact number of people he poisoned is unknown. His role models included poisoners Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and Dr. William Palmer, as well as genocidal madman Adolf Hitler.

Graham Young was a unique poisoner in that he seems that have poisoned just about everyone he came into contact with, including himself a few times by accident. Young started his career as a poisoner at 14 in 1961, by poisoning his family with antimony and digitalis. Most of the people he poisoned became violently ill, but did not die. He poisoned his father, step mother, sister, and a school friend. His stepmother, whom he had hated from a young age, died, but it was not known until later that she had been poisoned.

Suspicions grew and Young soon confessed to poisoning his family, and was incarcerated at Broadmoor Hospital in 1962, a maximum-security mental institution for criminals. During his nine years at Broadmoor he passed the time by improving his knowledge of poisons and continuing his “experiments” on the staff and inmates, one of whom died of cyanide poisoning that Graham seems to have compounded himself from laurel bush leaves on the property. He also poisoned the staff’s coffee with harpic bleach from the toilets, and their tea with sugar soap. Had his poisons not been detected he could easily have killed all 97 people on staff. After that the staff would scold inmates saying, “Unless you behave, I’ll let Graham make your coffee.” In 1971 doctors deemed his recovery complete. Young was released and his record sealed. Prior to his release he wrote a letter to his sister stating that he would kill one person for every year he had spent incarcerated. The comment was entered into his record, but Young was released anyway.

After his 1971 release Young poisoned everyone at his workplace, killing his foreman, with tea laced with thallium. His method of delivery there was primarily tea. Young could poison a whole pot, or just the cup of a single person. The poisoning was so widespread that it was thought to have been a viral outbreak. He poisoned about 70 people over the course of the next few months, killing one. After the last death an investigation quickly revealed Young’s history as a poisoner and he was arrested. On searching his apartment police found antimony, digitalis, and aconitine, as well as a diary detailing all of his poisoning activities, including dose, effect, and his decision of who would live and who would die. Young was convicted of the murders and spent the rest of his life in prison. Creepily enough Young befriended serial killer Ian Brady while in prison. Young died in prison of natural causes in 1990.

Young’s Poisons of Choice:

Antimony, a heavy metal that can very easily be powdered and when administered causes flu-like symptoms. Symptoms of low-dose antimony poisoning are headache, nausea, dizziness, fever and depression. In large doses it can be used to induce vomiting, but also causes diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, tingling of the extremities and sometimes a skin rash. Prolonged exposure can cause hair loss.

Digitalis, derived from plants like Foxglove that contain digoxin, it primarily affects the heart causing vastly increased, decreased, irregular heart rate and sometimes palpitations, as well as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and vision changes.

Aconitine, a toxin derived from the Aconitum plant causes tingling or burning, numbness, diarrhea, vomiting, pain, convulsions, arrhythmia, headache and confusion.

Thallium, which is used in pesticides and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, pain, loss of reflexes, convulsions, muscle wasting, headaches, numbness, dementia, psychosis, and even coma and hair loss.

Cyanide, renders the body’s cells unable to use oxygen. In low doses it can cause general weakness, giddiness, headaches, vertigo, confusion, and perceived difficulty breathing followed by a loss of consciousness. In higher doses it causes coma with seizures, apnea, and cardiac arrest and death. It was used for criminal executions in some U.S. states and in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany’s death camps.

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