Graham Frederick Young
7 September 1947
|Died||1 August 1990 (aged 42)|
|Other names||The Teacup Poisoner|
St. Albans Poisoner
Span of crimes
Obsessed with poisons from an early age, Young began poisoning relatives and school friends by lacing their food and drinks with thallium and antimony, culminating in the death of his stepmother. In 1962 he was incarcerated in Broadmoor Hospital at the age of 14. He was released in 1971 and took a menial job in a factory in Bovingdon, where he used his role of tea boy to poison his colleagues, resulting in two more fatalities. In 1972, Young was convicted of two murders and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died at HM Prison Parkhurst in 1990.
The Young case made headlines in Britain and led to a public debate over the release of mentally ill offenders. Within hours of his conviction, the British Government announced two inquiries into the issues it raised. The outcry over the ease with which Young was able to obtain deadly poisons led to the passage of the 1972 Poisons Act. Young's life story inspired the 1995 film The Young Poisoner's Handbook.
Early life and crimes
Young was born in Neasden in Middlesex on 7 September 1947 to Frederick and Molly Young. He had an older sister, Winifred. Molly died of tuberculous pleurisy when Graham was 14 weeks old. He was sent by his father to live with an uncle and aunt, while his sister went to live with their grandparents. Several years later, Frederick Young remarried, to another woman named Molly, and the family were re-united.
He was fascinated from an early age by poisons and their effects. He read extensively about Hitler and Nazi Germany. William Palmer, the Victorian poisoner, also became a hero of Young's. In 1959 Young passed his eleven-plus, and went to grammar school. He also started to read books on advanced toxicology.
In 1961, Young acquired antimony from a local chemist; his knowledge of chemistry and poisons convinced the chemist that he was older than he appeared. He signed the poisons register in the name "M.E. Evans". He began poisoning his stepmother, father and sister. Beginning in February, Molly Young suffered vomiting, diarrhoea and excruciating stomach pain, which she initially dismissed as bilious attacks. Before long his father was also suffering, with similar stomach cramps debilitating him for days at a time. Then Young's sister was violently ill on a couple of occasions that summer. Shortly afterwards, Young himself was violently sick at home. It even seemed as if the mystery bug had spread beyond their household: a couple of Young's school friends had also been off school ill a couple of times with similar painful symptoms.
In November 1961, Winifred Young was served a cup of tea by her brother one morning, but found its taste so sour she took only one mouthful before she threw it away. While on the train to work an hour later, she began to hallucinate, had to be helped out of the station and was eventually taken to hospital, where doctors came to the conclusion that she had somehow been exposed to the poisonous Atropa belladonna. Fred Young confronted his son, but Graham blamed Winifred, whom he claimed had been using the family's teacups to mix shampoo. Unconvinced, Fred searched Graham's room, but found nothing incriminating. Nevertheless, he warned his son to be more careful in future when "messing about with those bloody chemicals".
On Easter Saturday, 21 April 1962, Molly Young died. Her death was attributed to a prolapsed cervical disc, which was believed to have resulted from a road accident. Much later, Young told police that he poisoned her with a lethal dose of thallium. At her wake, Young poisoned a male relative after lacing a jar of mustard pickle with antimony. Shortly afterwards his father became seriously ill and was taken to hospital where he was told that he was suffering from antimony poisoning and one more dose would have killed him. Young's aunt, who knew of his fascination with chemistry and poisons, became suspicious, as did his science teacher (Mr Hughes) who discovered several bottles of poison in Young's desk and spoke to the school's headmaster about his concerns. They arranged for Young to be interviewed by a psychiatrist, posing as a careers advisor, who contacted the police after Young revealed his extensive knowledge of poisons and toxicology.
Young was arrested on 23 May 1962 after returning home from school. Vials of thallium and antimony were found in his possession. When questioned by police, he confessed to poisoning his father, stepmother, sister and school friend Chris Williams. Psychiatrist Dr Christopher Fysh testified that Young had a psychopathic disorder rather than a mental illness, and had failed "to develop a normal moral sense." He felt it was "extremely likely" that Young would re-offend, and recounted a conversation in which Young said: "I am missing my antimony. I miss the power it gives me." Dr Fysh recommended that Young be detained at Broadmoor Hospital, an institution for patients with mental disorders who have committed offences. Dr Donald Blair, another psychiatrist, concurred with Fysh's viewpoint.
Young pleaded guilty to three charges of poisoning his father, sister and Chris Williams and was convicted of "malicious administration of a noxious thing to inflict grievous bodily harm". He was not charged for murdering his stepmother, as her autopsy report did not list poison as the cause of death. The judge Mr Justice Stevenson ruled that Young was to be detained under section 60 of the Mental Health Act in Broadmoor Hospital. Furthermore, he was not to be released for 15 years without the approval of the Home Secretary. Young was Broadmoor's youngest inmate since 1885.
Subsequent analysis has also suggested signs of the autism spectrum (cf Bowden 1996).
The Secretary of State[who?] later noted that the index offences, for someone found sane, carried a sentence of no more than seven or eight years.
Young was released after nine years, deemed "fully recovered".
In June 1970, after nearly eight years in Broadmoor, Edgar Udwin, the prison psychiatrist, wrote to the Home Secretary to recommend his release, announcing that Young "is no longer obsessed with poisons, violence and mischief."
However, in the hospital Young had studied medical texts, improving his knowledge of poisons, and continued experiments using inmates and staff (one of whom died). It was rumoured that his knowledge of poisons was such that he could even extract cyanide from laurel bush leaves on the mental hospital grounds and that he used this cyanide to murder fellow inmate John Berridge.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (August 2020)
After his release from Broadmoor in February 1971, Young initially stayed with his sister Winifred and her husband in Hemel Hempstead. Within weeks he had resumed his interest in poisons. An attempt to acquire poison from John Bell & Croyden in Wigmore Street was unsuccessful, as the chemist refused to sell them without written authorization. Young duly returned with the required authorization on Bedford College headed notepaper and was sold 25g of antimony potassium tartrate. He told the chemist that he needed it for a qualitative and quantitative analysis. He later returned to the same chemist to purchase 25g of thallium.
Poisoning of Trevor Sparkes
Young attended a storekeeping training course in Slough and stayed at a hostel in nearby Cippenham. He befriended 34-year-old Trevor Sparkes, another resident of the hostel, and the two occasionally visited the pub together or shared a bottle of wine in Sparkes' room. Young would later confess to poisoning Sparkes with antimony sodium tartrate. On the night of February 10, Sparkes was violently sick, had diarrhoea, pins and needles in his legs and pains in his testicles; earlier in the evening he had accepted a glass of water from Young. Sparkes' symptoms returned periodically over the following months. He felt so ill during a football match that he had to leave the pitch after a few minutes. Specialists were unable to pinpoint the cause, variously diagnosing it as a kidney infection, bowel infection, urinary tract infection or stomach infection. Sparkes left Slough in April 1971 and gradually recovered, though he never played football again.
The Bovingdon bug
Young secured a job as assistant storekeeper at John Hadland Laboratories in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, near his sister's home in Hemel Hempstead. The company manufactured thallium bromide-iodide infrared lenses, which were used in military equipment. However, no thallium was stored on site, and Young obtained his supplies of the poison from a London chemist. On his application, Young stated that he had studied chemistry and toxicology. He explained that his lack of employment history was because he had suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of his mother in a car accident. His employers received references as part of Young's rehabilitation from Broadmoor, but were not informed of his past as a convicted poisoner. Young's probation officer never visited Young's home or place of work.[full citation needed] Young left Slough and rented a room in Maynard Road, Hemel Hempstead, at £4 per week.
His new colleagues found him unpredictable; he could be surly and kept to himself, but on other days he was more cheery. During breaks he usually sat alone reading, invariably a book on one of his favourite subjects: war, chemistry, Nazi Germany or famous murderers. He was not talkative, unless one of his favourite topics was being discussed. Young's duties at Hadland included collecting drinks from the tea trolley in the corridor and bringing them to the storeroom. Each employee had their own mug, which made it easier for him to target specific individuals for poisoning.
Soon after Young's arrival at Hadland, he started poisoning his co-workers, mostly focusing on his immediate colleagues in the store rooms. His modus operandi was to slip poison, usually antimony or thallium, into their tea or coffee. Victims would fall ill with symptoms that included vomiting, stomach pains, nausea and diarrhoea. Initially, the mysterious illness was assumed to be a virus and was nicknamed the "Bovingdon Bug". Other explanations put forward were contamination of the local water supply and radioactivity from a disused airfield nearby.
Murder of Bob Egle
Egle was first poisoned with antimony, and he had several days off work with diarrhoea and severe stomach pains. His health improved after a week-long holiday, but on his return Young put a lethal dose of thallium in his afternoon tea. Egle's condition deteriorated rapidly from this point. He complained of intense back pain and numbness in his fingers and feet. He was transferred to the intensive care unit at St Albans City Hospital, where paralysis set in. Young showed a strong concern for Egle, repeatedly contacting the hospital for updates on his progress. Egle finally died on 7 July 1971. An autopsy attributed Egle's death to a rare form of polyneuritis known as Guillain–Barré syndrome. Young was chosen to accompany managing director Godfrey Foster to Egle's funeral, as a representative of the department Egle managed. Foster recalled Young remarking how sad it was that "Bob should come through the terrors of Dunkirk only to fall victim to some strange virus."
During Egle's absences, Young targeted Egle's assistant Ron Hewitt, poisoning his tea with antimony. Hewitt had already accepted a job at another company and was working his notice (Young was specifically hired as his replacement). After leaving the company, he suffered no further symptoms. As a result of Egle's death and Hewitt's departure, Young was promoted to head storeman for a probationary period. For the next few months, his poisonings were limited to occasional small doses of antimony in his co-worker Diana Smart's tea, usually when she annoyed him. Young wrote in his diary: "Di [Diana Smart] irritated me yesterday so I packed her off home with an attack of sickness. I only gave her something to shake her up. I now regret that I didn't give her a larger dose, capable of laying her up for a few days."
Poisoning of David Tilson and Jethro Batt
On 8 October 1971, Young put thallium acetate in David Tilson's tea. Tilson found the tea too sweet for his liking (Young had added sugar to disguise any unusual taste from the thallium) and therefore did not drink it all. Young administered a second dose of thallium a week later. Tilson was admitted to hospital with numb legs, breathing difficulties and chest pains. His skin was so tender he could not endure the weight of the bedsheets, and all his hair then fell out. Young had a back-up plan to visit Tilson in hospital and offer him a bottle of brandy laced with more thallium. Subsequently, Tilson recovered, though he was left permanently impotent by the poisoning.
At the same time he was poisoning Tilson, Young also began poisoning another Hadland employee, Jethro Batt. Young admitted to administering 4g of thallium to Batt in two doses, enough to kill him. However, he found the coffee Young had made for him too strong and did not drink it all. Nevertheless, Batt was admitted to hospital with stomach and chest pains, and his hair fell out. The thallium made him suicidal. Batt ultimately recovered, but like Tilson he was also left impotent. Young apparently felt some remorse for poisoning Batt, writing in his diary: "I feel rather ashamed in my action in harming J [Batt]."
Murder of Fred Biggs
Young's third main target for poisoning was Fred Biggs, a 56-year-old local councillor and part-time employee at Hadland's. At first he was given antimony, prompting the typical "Bovingdon bug" symptoms. Then, on 30 October 1971, Young gave Biggs three doses of thallium acetate in his tea. By the following day, Biggs had developed chest pains and had trouble walking. Within days, he was admitted to Hemel Hempstead General Hospital, then transferred to the Whittington Hospital in North London, followed by the London National Hospital for Nervous Diseases (now part of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery). His central nervous system deteriorated to the point that he could not speak and had trouble breathing. His skin also began to peel off. Young showed concern for Biggs' condition, continually telephoning Biggs' wife and the hospital directly to make enquiries. Biggs finally died on 19 November 1971.
Investigation and arrest
The management at Hadland became so concerned about the mysterious sickness that they initiated an investigation. Moreover, some of Young's co-workers began to have suspicions about him. Diana Smart noticed that he was never affected by the bug and suggested he might be a carrier of the virus. Philip Doggett informed the management of Young's unhealthy interest in poisons. The firm's medical officer, Dr Iain Anderson, told staff that he had ruled out heavy metal poisoning as a possible cause, which led to an argument with Young, who insisted that the symptoms displayed by victims pointed to this diagnosis. Intrigued by the young storeman who seemed knowledgeable about medicine, Anderson sought out Young after the meeting and quizzed him further. He quickly discovered that Young had a deep knowledge of poisons and toxicology, which prompted John Hadland, the firm's owner, to contact the police. The investigating officers noticed that the onset of the "Bovingdon bug" coincided with Young's arrival at the company. A police background check revealed Young's earlier poisoning convictions.
Young was arrested at the home of his aunt and uncle in Sheerness, Kent, on 20 November 1971. Nothing incriminating was found on his person. He denied any wrongdoing, but as he was being led away his aunt overheard him ask the officers "which one is it you're doing me for?" When police searched his bedsit, they discovered a large stash of bottles containing poisons, including 434 milligrams of thallium and 32.33 grams of antimony, the latter 200 times a lethal dose. Other poisons in his possession included atropine, aconitine and digitalis. His lodgings were covered in swastikas and pictures of Hitler and other Nazis. Police also discovered a detailed diary that Young had kept, noting the doses he had administered, their effects, and whether he was going to allow each person to live or die. Upon further questioning by police, he admitted that the initials in the diary referred to his co-workers ('F' was Fred Biggs, 'D' was David Tilson and so on).
He confessed to poisoning Egle, Biggs, Batt, Tilson and Trevor Sparkes, and said that he deliberately used different poisons in order to confuse doctors. He also boasted of having committed the "perfect murder" by killing his stepmother Molly. He spent twenty minutes explaining to the officers the effects that thallium has on the human body. When asked why he had poisoned people who were his friends and colleagues, Young responded: "I suppose I had ceased to see them as a people - at least, a part of me had. They were simply guinea pigs."
Trial and prison
Young was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, four counts of administering poison with intent to injure and four counts of administering poison with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. He pleaded not guilty, which made it difficult to find a barrister willing to represent him and the trial date had to be postponed several times. Eventually, Sir Arthur Irvine QC agreed to defend him. John Leonard QC led the prosecution for the Crown. The judge was Mr Justice Eveleigh. The trial was held at St Albans Crown Court and started on 19 June 1972.
Due to safeguards protecting defendants, the jury could not be told of Young's previous convictions for poisoning. Young retracted his earlier confession to the police, claiming he had only made it in order to get some rest. Nevertheless, the evidence against him was strong. The prosecution called 75 witnesses to testify against him. Young himself was the only witness in his defence. Excerpts from Young's diary were read out in court. Young claimed the diary was a fantasy for a novel. Examination of Fred Biggs' internal organs found thallium in his intestines, kidneys, muscles, bones and brain tissue. The cremated remains of Bob Egle, which had not yet been scattered, were also analysed and found to contain 9mg of thallium. The latter was the first instance of cremated ashes being used as evidence in a murder conviction.
On 29 June 1972, after one hour and 38 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Young guilty of two counts of murder (Bob Egle and Fred Biggs), two counts of attempted murder (Jethro Batt and David Tilson) and two counts of administering poison with intent to injure (Diana Smart and Ronald Hewitt). He was found not guilty of administering poison to Trevor Sparkes and Peter Buck, and was acquitted on all four counts of administering poison with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Through his counsel, Young requested that he be sent to a conventional prison rather than return to Broadmoor. His request was granted, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, to be served at HMP Park lane in Maghull later changing to Ashworth. During his stay at Ashworth Hospital he was moved from cells due to him being able to make a poison out of 7 common household items with no antidote for it, so was moved regularly and cells searched. He would have regular visits from the medical director and during these visits young said to the medical director that he had seen In the medical journals that a trial drug from America would be beneficial to him, they looked into this and ordered a batch from America and got him on a 2 week course. After the 2 weeks another interview with young was arranged and young told the medical director that it seemed to be working but the effects wore off and asked for the dose to be upped which was done and a further 2 weeks later another review was arranged. On this review young asked for his solicitor to be notified as Park Lane had been overdosing him, he was later transferred to HMP Parkhurst
While in prison, Young befriended Moors murderer Ian Brady, with whom he shared a fascination for Nazi Germany. Brady's 2001 book, The Gates of Janus, in which he discusses various serial killers, includes a chapter on Young. Brady wrote that Young "was genuinely asexual, finding even discussion of sexual matters not only uninteresting but also distinctly distasteful... Power and death were his aphrodisiacs and raisons d’être." Elsewhere Brady stated that "it was difficult not to empathise with Graham Young." The reformed criminal Roy Shaw, in his autobiography Pretty Boy (2003), recounts his friendship with Young.
Young died in his cell at Parkhurst prison on the evening of 1 August 1990, one month before his 43rd birthday. The cause of death was listed as myocardial infarction at an inquest, after a postmortem.
On 29 June 1972, the day Young's trial ended, Home Secretary Reginald Maudling gave a statement in the House of Commons about the case and the issues it raised. He confirmed that more safeguards were to be introduced governing the release of mentally ill offenders. Henceforth, no patient at a special hospital was to be discharged without two concurring recommendations from psychiatrists. Supervision of released patients was also to be improved.
Maudling ordered a review of current procedures for releasing offenders from psychiatric hospitals. The review was to be carried out by a three man committee headed by Sir Carl Aarvold, Recorder of London. Their findings were published in January 1973. Maudling also announced an inquiry to review the management of mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system, to be chaired by Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. This led to the Butler Committee's recommendations in 1975, which resulted in the expansion in forensic mental health services with the development of regional (now referred to as medium) secure units in most of the health regions in England and Wales. Prior to that there had been only the high security hospitals of Broadmoor, Rampton and Ashworth.
Soon after Young's conviction, reports of copycat poisonings appeared in the British press. In November 2005, a 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl was arrested for poisoning her mother with thallium. She claimed to be fascinated by Young, having seen the 1995 film (see below), and kept an online blog, similar to Young's diary, recording dosage and reactions.
In popular culture
During his trial, Young expressed his hope that his waxwork would appear in Madame Tussauds' Chamber of Horrors. He later got his wish and his likeness appeared in the exhibit near those of his boyhood heroes Dr. Crippen and John Haigh.
- Bowden, Paul (1996). "Graham Young (1947–90): the St Albans poisoner: his life and times". Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health. 6: 17–24. doi:10.1002/cbm.132.
- Lane, Brian (1993) . The Murder Guide: 100 Extraordinary, Bizarre and Gruesome Murders. London, England: Robinson. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-85487-083-4.
- "Schoolboy of 14 committed to Broadmoor". The Times. 6 July 1962.
- Emsley (2005), p. 347
- Emsley (2005), p. 349
- "Storeman tells jury he did not murder two workmates or give poison to anyone". The Times. 27 June 1972.
- Lloyd (1990), p. 257
- Official Aavold Report into the Young case, 1973
- Lloyd (1990), p. 260
- Lloyd (1990), p. 271
- Lloyd (1990), p. 264
- "Agony of the man who died from the fingers up". Daily Mirror. 21 June 1972.
- Emsley (2005), p. 353
- Emsley (2005), p. 354
- Emsley (2005), p. 360
- Emsley (2005), p. 354–55
- Emsley (2005), p. 359
- Emsley (2005), p. 357
- Lloyd (1990), p. 275-77
- Lloyd (1990), p. 279
- Lloyd (1990), p. 280-81
- Lloyd (1990), p. 283
- "Life sentence on storeman who killed by poison after release from Broadmoor". The Times. 30 June 1972.
- Emsley (2005), p. 359–60
- "Eight Poisoned In Experiments". Coventry Evening Telegraph. 1972-06-19. p. 7. Retrieved 2018-06-30.
- "Poisoner not me, says Young". Newcastle Journal. 1972-06-28. p. 11. Retrieved 2018-06-30.
- Lloyd (1990), p. 283–284
- Brady, Ian (2001). The Gates of Janus. Feral House. p. 143. ISBN 978-1627310109.
- Brady, Ian (2001). The Gates of Janus. Feral House. p. 141. ISBN 978-1627310109.
- "House of Commons debate on Graham Young". Hansard. 29 June 1972. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
- "Changes already introduced to tighten safeguards at special hospitals". The Times. 30 June 1972.
- "Tighter procedures urged for handling psychiatric offenders". The Times. 24 January 1973.
- Mary, Elizabeth Alexandra; Martin, Michael John (20 June 2000). "Memorandum by Dr. Peter Snowden, Acting Medical Director, Mental Health Services of Salford NHS Trust". London, UK: Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- "CID hunt for copycat poisoner". Daily Mirror. 8 July 1972.
- Lewis, Leo (3 November 2005). "Schoolgirl blogger poisons mother in homage to killer". The Times. London: Times Newspapers Ltd. Archived from the original on 15 March 2007. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
- "Ruling on Japan poison-diary girl". BBC News. BBC. 1 May 2006. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
- Pulver, Andrew (30 January 2009). "Pulverdrome: The Young Poisoner's Handbook is a guide worth keeping". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
- Holden (1995), p. 188
- Pilbeam, Pamela (2006). Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks. A&C Black. p. 212. ISBN 9781852855116.
- "Kray twins' paintings sell for £12,200 at auction". The Guardian. 2 March 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
- Emsley, John (2005), The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, OUP Oxford, ISBN 9780191517358
- Holden, Anthony (1995), The St Albans Poisoner, Corgi Books, ISBN 9780552144087
- Lloyd, Georgina (1990), With Malice Aforethought, Bantam Press, ISBN 978-0-553-40273-5
- Michael H. Stone, M.D. & Gary Brucato, Ph.D., The New Evil: Understanding the Emergence of Modern Violent Crime (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books), pp. 479–480. ISBN 978-1-63388-532-5.
- Bowden, Paul (1996). "Graham Young (1947–90); the St Albans poisoner: his life and times". Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health. 6: 17–24. doi:10.1002/cbm.132.
- Crimelibrary entry for Graham Young
- The Young Poisoner's Handbook at IMDb
- Debate in Parliament about the case (Hansard, HC Deb 29 June 1972 vol 839 cc1673-85).
- The Teacup Poisoner at IMDb (Documentary of Young's life presented by Fred Dinenage)