1950: Werner Gladow, teen Capone 1549: Robert Kett, rebelling against enclosures

1823: Dr. Edme Castaing, the first to kill with morphine

December 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1823, French physician Edme Castaing expiated upon the scaffold history’s first conviction for murder with morphine.

The good doc used the drug, a new twist on an ancient remedy only recently brought to market, apparently to poison off one of two wealthy brothers with the connivance of the other wealthy brother, the latter of whom stood in danger of being disinherited.

And then, the beneficiary of that crime wrote a will of his own to the profit of the poisoner.

Do not try this at home.

Castaing, naturally, poisoned off the other brother, too, and relieved some considerable financial distress along with, one must think, the burdensome company of a complete dullard.

The science of toxicology,” however, “was not greatly advanced at this time, and … the above conclusion was based on presumption rather than fact.”

While today, such a case might be ripped from CSI, in 1823 it entailed an uncertain trial with varying (and wrong) medical testimony and a circumstantial trail of witnesses drawing flailing rebuttals from the accused that ran towards the unconvincing and the contradictory. (Follow the twists and turns from a contemporary chronicle here.)

Quite convicted in the public eye (a verdict history has had little cause to revisit), Castaing was judicially acquitted of the murder of Hippolyte Ballet, and doomed by the barest 7-5 majority verdict for the second Ballet boy. The London Times complained in its report of the execution (printed Dec. 9, 1823), that

[t]he faculty speak in very harsh and unmeasured terms of Dr. Pellatan, who neither described with care and accuracy, what he himself observed on opening of the body of Ballet, nor gave them the means of forming an opinion themselves, by bringing to Paris the intestines of the deceased. The physicians join the rest of the world in ascribing Ballet’s death to substances administered by Castaing, but they regret that criminal justice could not, owing to the neglicence or ignorance of Pellatan, obtain more satisfactory proofs of the crime. Beyond his own confessions, contradictions, and admissions, there was confessedly no ground to convict him.

A few years later, Victor Hugo (we keep meeting him here) had the title character in “The Last Day of a Condemned Man” occupying Castaing’s former cell, and evidently thought the matter possessed sufficient notoriety to name-check the headless poisoner decades afterwards in Les Miserables.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Public Executions

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