1865: Edward William Pritchard, MD

On this date in 1865, tens of thousands crowded Glasgow Green to send off the murderous Dr. Edward William Pritchard … and with him, the era of public hangings in that city.

Pritchard died for poisoning his wife and his mother-in-law earlier that same year, but he might have first killed in 1863. That’s when his 25-year-old servant suspiciously burned to death in a home fire she suspiciously didn’t try to escape. Despite how it looked, Pritchard’s insurance paid up for the incident.

Murder or no, that used up all his escaping-justice karma: there’d be scant deniability next time.

After knocking up another servant in 1864, Pritchard performed an illegal abortion to dispose of the unwanted progeny with the understanding that he’d marry the girl.

Pritchard then found that his increasingly inconvenient wife had taken suddenly and strangely ill. When her mother came to care for her, mom caught the exact same symptoms — vomiting, dizziness. They checked out within three weeks of each other in early 1865, having suffered months of patient, systematic dosing by the medical man of the house.

An anonymous letter, conceivably supplied by an attending physician who naturally had suspicions about these incredibly suspicious deaths, led to the bodies’ exhumation and the ready discovery therein of antimony in lethal quantities. Servants’ testimony affirming the proclivity of others in the household to get sick when they tasted the victims’ food easily nailed down the conviction.

Asked if he had any last remarks on his way to the scaffold, Pritchard replied, “in a firm and clear, but sepulchral, tone of voice, ‘Simply to acknowledge the justice of my sentence.'” (London Times, July 29, 1865)

His posthumous notoriety in Victorian crime pulp is attested by Sherlock Holmes’ tribute in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, published full 27 years after our man’s death: “When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession.”

On this day..

5 thoughts on “1865: Edward William Pritchard, MD

  1. “the single most compelling reason to keep the death penalty. It is justice.”

    Give me a break. It’s primitive revenge. Cavemen w/ clubs: “you clobber me, I clobber you back.” EVOLVE ALREADY.

  2. His last words ‘Simply to acknowledge the justice of my sentence’ express the single most compelling reason to keep the death penalty. It is justice.

  3. For some reason, poison is seen as a “more gentle” form of murder than, say, strangling or stabbing. It’s less violent, but it’s NOT gentle. Poison victims usually suffer horribly for an extended time period before they die. I would much rather run into Jack the Ripper in a dark alley than eat tea served me by Dr. Pritchard.

  4. He was also christened,”The Human Crocodile” from his ability to cry at will. He slow poisoned Mary Jane, his unfortunate wife and her mother who was become suspicious of her daughter’s illness. Where Mary Jane died, he had the appalling hypocrisy to cry out,”Come back! Come back, my dear Mary Jane!” His body was exhumed when the prison was extended many years later and all that was left her a few bones and his patent leather, elastic sided boots which was fitting for a man known for his overweening vanity.

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