Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Graham Young, the St. Albans Poisoner

A Death in the Family

Molly Young's illness got progressively worse during the early months of 1962. She lost weight, suffered excruciating back ache, and her hair began to fall out. She also appeared to age noticeably, and Winifred Young later wrote, "It was as if she was wasting away in front of our eyes."

When Molly Young woke up on Easter Saturday, 1962, however, her symptoms seemed different. Her neck felt stiff, and she had "pins and needles" in her hands and feet. Nevertheless she went out shopping, but returned before lunchtime, while Fred Young was out at the local pub. Her husband came home to find Graham staring out of the kitchen window, watching awestruck as his stepmother writhed in agony in the back garden. She died in hospital later that day.

Molly Young was cremated at Graham's suggestion, after the pathologist concluded that death was due to the prolapse of a bone at the top of her spinal column. This is a known symptom of long-term antimony poisoning, and yet no connection was made. The most popular conclusion among the family was that her injury was connected to a bus crash she had been involved in the previous year when she received a blow to the head. In fact it turned out that the problem with the spinal column was probably not the cause of death. Holden explains that Young changed his choice of poison because after more than a year of being regularly dosed Molly had actually developed a tolerance to antimony. On the evening before she died, he had spiked her evening meal with 20 grains of the colorless, odorless, tasteless "heavy metal" substance thallium. He rather overdid it -- there was enough in there to kill five or six people.

Thallium in vials
Thallium in vials

Even after Molly's death, the Young family's mystery illness appeared to be spreading - Graham's uncle John began to vomit copiously after the funeral. Must have been something he ate...such as the pre-spiked mustard pickle provided for the sandwiches, which only he ate.

By this time Young's second major experiment cum murder plot was well under way. And this time the victim was actually his own flesh and blood.

Fred Young had suffered attacks of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains now and again throughout Molly's illness, but after her death the symptoms intensified to such a point that he became convinced he was about to die. When he was admitted to hospital Graham frequently visited him, and enthusiastically discussed his condition with doctors, who couldn't work out if it was arsenic or antimony poisoning. The latter was eventually diagnosed, and doctors estimated that one more dose could have killed him. Fred Young later reflected that his bouts of sickness always seemed to happen on a Monday, the day after Graham would accompany him to the local pub on Sundays.

While that thought only struck him after his son's arrest, during his time in hospital Fred told his daughter not to bring Graham to see him any more. If that betrays a suspicion on his part that his son was poisoning the family, the whole family and several of Graham's friends shared those fears, but just as before, the idea that a 14-year-old boy could be coldly attempting to torture and kill his own family seemed too horrendous to even contemplate, let alone voice in public.

It fell to a more emotionally detached figure to finally raise the alarm. Graham's school chemistry teacher, Geoffrey Hughes, had long been uneasy about the increasingly extreme experiments Young was insisting on performing, and one night after school he searched the boy's desk. After finding bottles of poisons, drawings of dying men, and essays about famous poisoners, he contacted the police.

To try and ascertain his mental state, Young was sent for what he thought was a careers interview, wherein the interviewer (in reality a police psychiatrist) appealed to his vanity and persuaded him to talk at length about his expertise with poisons.

The "careers officer" reported his horrified findings, but when the police stepped in Graham denied everything, even when a phial of antimony which he carried around with him (often referring to it as "my little friend"), fell from his shirt pocket. Eventually, though, he broke down and confessed all, finally leading police to his several caches of poisons, stashed in a hedge near his home, and in the same hut across the road which he once blew a hole in with his gunpowder experiments.

"It grew on me like drug habit," he said of his murderous hobby, "except it was not me who was taking the drugs."

 

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