The Husband Poisoner – Secret Sydney History
Shocking real-life stories of murderous women who used rat poison to rid themselves of husbands and other inconvenient family members. For readers of compelling history and true crime, from critically acclaimed author Tanya Bretherton.
After World War II, Sydney experienced a crime wave that was chillingly calculated. Discontent mixed with despair, greed with callous disregard. Women who had lost their wartime freedoms headed back into the kitchen with sinister intent and the household poison thallium, normally used to kill rats, was repurposed to kill husbands and other inconvenient family members. Yvonne Fletcher disposed of two husbands. Caroline Grills cheerfully poisoned her stepmother, a family friend, her brother and his wife. Unlike arsenic or cyanide, thallium is colourless, odourless and tasteless; victims were misdiagnosed as insane malingerers or ill due to other reasons. And once one death was attributed to natural causes, it was all too easy for an aggrieved woman to kill again.
This is the story of a series of murders that struck at the very heart of domestic life. It’s the tale of women who looked for deadly solutions to what they saw as impossible situations. The Husband Poisoner documents the reasons behind the choices these women made – and their terrible outcomes.
Duffy’s thoughts on The Husband Poisoner
I love reading true crime. Being related to a suspected poisoner back in 1920’s England, I had a real interest in finding out what spurs people, particularly women, to slip deadly poison to poor unsuspecting victims.
The rise of Thallium poisoning in Sydney after WWII was a surprising piece of history to read. I have read about Sydney’s underbelly and infamous characters such as Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. Still, this spate of poisonings has never made it’s way to a TV series or book I was aware of until The Husband Poisoner dropped into my letterbox.
It’s an interesting read that left me with a mix of emotions—empathy for one of the perpetrators and the victims who had prolonged, agonising deaths. The callousness of Caroline Grills was extremely shocking, and it was sometimes difficult to keep up with the names of all the extended family members who became her targets.
I found myself heading to Trove to read the news articles of the time and see these infamous women’s images. I would have loved to have seen these clippings and images in the book, because at times, the stories were so shocking, that I wondered what was fact, and what was a sprinkle of author embellishment.
A must-read for anyone interested in Australian history and true crime. Be warned, these stories will stay with you for a while.
Check out Duffy’s other true crime reads and reviews!