Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Graham Young, the St. Albans Poisoner

The Germ Carrier

By this time speculation as to what was causing "the Bovingdon bug" had understandably reached fever pitch. Winifred Young writes that Diana Smart even confided in the firm's Managing Director, Godfrey Foster, that she suspected Graham Young was "a germ carrier." Alas, the only suggestion she could make as to how he might have caught such "germs" was that he lived in a boarding house with a Pakistani family.

On the afternoon that Fred Biggs' death was announced, the firm's doctor gathered the staff to a meeting to reassure them that there was no evidence that any lack of hygiene on the company premises could have caused the deaths and illnesses. Yet one man wanted to know more. The doctor was surprised to find himself being grilled by the young store assistant, who asked several detailed questions as to why poisoning by the heavy metal thallium had been ruled out. The doctor was puzzled by his apparent in-depth knowledge of the subject, and told the firm's owner. He in turn informed the police.

It's perhaps not so surprising that doctors took a while to consider thallium poisoning as a cause of the outbreak, because until Graham Young used it, it had never been used as a poison in Britain. Death from gradual thallium poisoning is an agonizing affair, something which Graham Young knew only too well. As well as suffering excruciating stomach pains, violent sickness and diarrhea, patients often lose their hair (as did Batt and Tilson, and Young's stepmother Molly years before) and suffer thickening and scaliness of the skin. Later, degeneration of the nerve fibers sets in, along with weakness of the limbs leading to paralysis, and eventually delirium. The victim usually dies through not being able to breathe. It's almost worse if the sufferer survives, since the body gets rid of the thallium slowly, meaning days or weeks of agony. If the dose is repeated, it has the effect of being an accumulative poison which kills gradually over a week or two. All things considered, it's a long, slow method of murdering someone, of which any sadist would be proud.

Graham Young may not have been a sadist in the conventional sense, but he did take great pleasure in following and noting down every last gruesome symptom each of his victims suffered, recording them each day in exercise books and plotting graphs to analyze their progress.

This almost fetishistic documentation proved his downfall. Once the firm's MD had alerted police, it didn't take detectives long to work out that the illnesses had started shortly after a certain individual had joined the Bovingdon firm. A quick consultation from a couple of forensic scientists revealed the symptoms of the victims were consistent with thallium poisoning. They were also kind enough to finally inform the firm's bosses that Graham Young was a convicted poisoner.

Police immediately searched Graham Young's room in nearby Hemel Hempstead, where they were confronted with walls covered in pictures of Hitler and other Nazi leaders, accompanied by drawings of emaciated figures holding bottles marked "poison," clutching their throats as their hair fell out. They also found bottles, phials and tubes lined along the window sill, and under his bed lay the incriminating diary, with a number of entries following the progress of his "patients."

The day was Saturday, November 21, 1971, and Young was visiting his father Fred and Aunt Winnie in Sheerness, Kent, some eighty miles away. It was 11:30 at night when police knocked on the door, and Fred Young immediately knew what they wanted. He pointed the officers towards his son, and Winnie asked her nephew "Graham, what have you done?" "I don't know what they are talking about, Auntie," he replied. But as he was being led out, Fred Young heard him ask the officers, "Which one are you doing me for?" After they had left, Fred gathered together Graham's birth certificate and every other document relating to his son, and tore them to shreds.

 

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