Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arctic Explorer Mystery

Motive and Opportunity

Two more recent books have gone much further in indicting Dr. Bessels, who had access to the Polaris' large cache of arsenic, which was then commonly administered for a variety of medical maladies, including headaches.

Trial by Ice
Trial by Ice
In Trial by Ice, author Richard Parry raises the possibility that Bessels and other Germans conspired against Capt. Hall to keep the American from reaching the pole -- perhaps under orders by Otto von Bismarck, the tyrannical German chancellor, although he offers no real evidence to support that theory.

A subtitle of Parry's book declares Hall's death a murder. He wrote, "Given the presence of motive, opportunity, and in all likelihood access to the substance that killed Hall, Bessels is the most logical choice."

In Fatal North, author Bruce Henderson makes the case that the exhumation evidence clearly indicates murder. He wrote:

"As Charles Francis Hall had feared those last two frightening weeks of life, he was being poisoned to death...It hadn't been done with one massive dose of poison in the cup of coffee, administered perhaps in a fit of anger, bitterness or envy. Rather, it was done systematically. Hall had been killed a little bit at a time over the course of two weeks. The nature of the act strongly suggested cold-blooded, calculating, premeditated murder by a diabolical killer who had gotten away with his crime."

Fatal North
Fatal North
Like Loomis and Parry, Henderson fingered Dr. Bessels, whom he said was motivated by a lust for personal glory. At one point after Hall died, Henderson notes, Bessels considered making his own sledge run for the North Pole.

Henderson provides one titillating new piece of evidence.

He tracked down a book about the Hall expedition written by Bessels and published in his native language in Germany in 1879. In the book, Bessels quotes extensively from Capt. Charles Hall's journals -- the same ones that he and Buddington claimed were lost.

The German apparently had concealed this crucial potential evidence from the naval board of inquiry. Did he do so because Hall's journal implicated him as a murderer?

If Bessels had a secret, he went to his grave in 1888 without revealing it.
He died young, at age 42. The cause of death: a stroke.