Victorian London - Crime - Violence, murders and assaults - Conspiracy to Murder

The Times, April 22, 1876


    At Bow-street yesterday, William Kimpton Vance, 24, a medical student, 59, Euston-road, and Helen Snee, 30, married, 48, Crowndale-road, Camden-town, were charged on warrants before Mr. Vaughan with conspiring together to murder some person at present unknown.
    Mr. Poland, prosecuting on behalf of the Treasury, said that on the 23d of February last, a letter came to the Post-office in the Junction-road, Kentish-town, N.W., addressed "M.Q." No one called for it and it remained there till the end of March. It was then returned to the General Post Office, in St. Martin's-le-Grand. The clerk in the Dead Letter Office who opened it thought from the extraordinary nature of its contents that it was his duty to submit it to the authorities at Scotland-yard. It was placed in the hands of Chief Inspector Clark, who made the inquiries which have resulted in the present prosecution. This letter ran as follows: "59, Euston-road, N.W. Wednesday. - My Dear Sir, - It occurs to me I may not have very clearly explained my suggested modus operandi. One thinks of many things pertinent - after closing the letter for post. Referring to your note of the 20th, I must say there is risk of discovery with whatever mode of death, for the Registrar requires notice of 'cause of death' from medical attendant. Should this not be forthcoming an inquest - and in all cases of sudden death an inquest. If a person die under unnatural or suspicious conditions, and the matter hushed up and no inquest - this implies the distinct connivance of friends. But you desire to have your friend or friends ignorant of any premeditated design and no doctor called in attendance. Under these circumstances there must ensue a coroner's inquiry. My plan is this, - Sudden death allowed or apparently suspicious death acknowledged. Still a favourable verdict may be returned, which in no way can invalidate a will made antecedent to death - probably many weeks. The peculiarity of my suggestion is that although the actual cause of death is found out, and that a narcotic, yet  the verdict will be the most lenient - viz., 'by misadventure,' or, as it is phrased, sometimes more specifically, 'the deceased was in the habit of taking chloral, and died from an overdose incautiously administered by himself.' I can arrange details to 'square' with this, and submit them to you at our meeting or on paper. If you, chloral might be administered to a dog or cat, or you might try yourself an ordinary dose, and be thereby cognizant of the bona fides of the agent. Upon mature consideration, I know of no more feasible method. The cases of the poisoners Pritchard and Palmer, both doctors, were ingenious, yet they were detected. They lived before these chloral times. As an anatomist and medical jurist, I altogether frown on any attempt to excite arterial rupture, &c., and am willing to adduce reasons. I write this letter at 52, Brady-street, Bethnal-green, E., where I am since yesterday doing full duty for Surgeon Mainwaring. We have a surgery here, and I have access to the drugs, bottles, and labels, &c. I return to Euston-road to-night and will have a supply of the drug. If you adopt my theory, we might arrange to meet and then take leave of the subject. You can select your own fit time. I would desire this for several reasons (a), to get rid of the affair, have it off my mind, which is natural and human; (b), I am expected to be summoned in Liverpool any of these days to meet my brother-in-law returning in a sailing vessel from San Francisco; (c), a cousin of mine en route for Hamburg is coming to 59, Euston-road to stay a few days, and if I be not in Liverpool next Tuesday I want to be at his service. Expecting a reply, believe me, Sir, in confidence, yours, W.K.V." No one reading that letter could doubt that the writer of it had been applied to by some person to supply a poison in order to destroy life so that there should be no coroner's inquest, and that any will that might be left should not be invalidated. Inspector Clark first went to 49 (not 53), Brady-street, where Mr. Mainwaring, a surgeon, resided. The latter remarked that on the 23d of February, the day the letter was written, he had as assistant a young man named William Kimpton Vance. On looking at the letter he identified the handwriting as Vance's. The next step was to discover to whom the letter had been addressed. This was found out in the following way:- On the 30th of March, a few days after the letter had been returned to the General Office, a letter was received by the authorities, signed "W. Quarll," asking for the return to Junction-road Post-office of some letters addressed "M.Q." or "Q.W." which the writer had not been able to call for, and which had been sent to the Dead Letter-office. On the 6th of April another application was made by the same person, it being added that one of them was very important. To these letters the authorities replied that there were no letters so addressed. This reply was sent to "William Quarll, Post-office, Junction-road, Kentish-town." That office was watched by the police, and on the 5th of April the prisoner Snee was seen to go in. She asked for and received the letter address to "William Quarll," and then left. She was followed, and it was discovered that she was living at 49, Crowndale-road, Camden-town; her name was Elizabeth Snee, and her husband was abroad. On the 16th of April she sent a post-office order from Eversholt-street Post-office to W.K.Vance, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, for 2 2s. This post office order she took out in the name of Quarll, and have as address 20, Denbigh-street. At Denbigh-street no one of the name of Quarll was known, nor was the prisoner herself known there. The warrants were now obtained, and the prisoners arrested. Vance when arrested handed to Inspector Clark the following letter: "20, 2 '76. Dear Sir, - I make no question you could be of service to me. The question is, will you? The solatium I offer is 100; the conditions these:- I am tired of my life. I could do a great deal of good to a person I am interested in by leaving the world just now, and, one way or the other, I am resolved to do so, but if possible I should prefer not to wound the feelings of the person who will gain most by my death, by allowing it to be supposed voluntary. Besides, the most merciful verdict of a corner's jury would be sufficient to invalidate my will. Now, although I have some acquaintance with medicine and chymistry, I know of no drug or combination of drugs which would do this for me without risk of discovery. It is possible you may. It is not absolutely essential that the supposed means should be painless or even very quick in their results. If some artery could be hurt with any palpable appearance of accident, assistance summoned too late, &c. I am willing to allow time for experiments, and have no objection to a personal interview. I will give any assure of bona fides that may be thought necessary. I only request that this communication be considered strictly private. Yours faithfully, M.Q. Address to these initials at the P.O., Junction-road, Kentish-town, N.W." The prisoner Snee admitted when arrested that she had put the following advertisement in the Daily Telegraph:- "To medical men in need of money, or to students well up in chymistry and anatomy. A gentleman engaged in an interesting experiment is willing to give liberal remuneration for professional assistance. - Q.W., Post-office, Junction-road, Kentish-town, N.W." It would appear that the prisoner Vance answered that advertisement, the letter just read was her reply to him, and the one that was not fetched at the Post-office, and that discovered the whole of this case, was in answer to this reply of hers. It is certain that the prisoner Snee wished to obtain a drug to destroy life, whether her own or some one else's was matter for further inquiry; and it was likewise certain that for the sake of gain the prisoner Vance gave her the assistance she required to destroy that life and also sent her drugs. He received, as is shown by the Post-office order, a sum of 2 2s. as part of his reward for his assistance. Mr. Poland, in conclusion, stated that he thought Mr. Vaughan would think, after hearing the evidence, that this certainly was a case in which further inquiry must be made and the real truth arrived at if possible.
    Inspector George Clark, Chief Inspector of Detective Police at Scotland-yard, said he arrested Vance at 59, Euston-road, on Thursday afternoon. The warrant being read to him. He said, "Quite right; I have been in communication with a person of that name. I am a medical student, and I did not intend to murder anybody or harm anybody." Upstairs in his room he handed to witness a letter, the last one read by Mr. Poland. In the room was a large box containing drugs, &c. Detective-Sergeant Butcher took him to the station and charged him. Witness and Detective-Sergeant Manton went on to 48, Crowndale-road. The prisoner Snee opened the door. The warrant was read to her, and she said, "I have not harmed any one. I did not intend to harm any one or to commit a murder. I intended the drugs for myself." She said she had destroyed all the letters and even all the blotting-paper. She only intended having the drugs ready, as she was very ill and weak, and meant to take them herself if she was ill again. She had periodical sharp pains. She said, "Some powder I received was so horrible in smell I could not use it, and I sent it back when I sent the P.O.O. The other drug I poured away and broke the bottle. I had never seen the person. The 2 2s. was for the trouble I had given him. He answered an advertisement I put in the Daily Telegraph." Witness found a quantity of writing similar to that in the letter in the room.
    Mr. John Gordon Mainwaring, surgeon, proved that the prisoner Vance was occasionally employed by him as locum tenens. Witness had a very high opinion of him. The visits paid by prisoner Snee to the Post-office in Kentish-town and to the Post-office in Eversholt-street for the Post-office order were proved by witness.
    Mr. POLAND then asked for a remand, which was granted, Mr. Vaughan saying he would take two sureties in 300 each for the prisoner Snee. The bail was not forthcoming.

The Times, June 1, 1876



(Before Mr. Justice  MELLOR.)

William Vance, 24, described as a medical student, and Ellen Snee, 29, a married woman, were indicted for conspiring together to commit a murder.
    The trial excites much interest.
    . . . 
    The ATTORNEY-GENERAL, in opening the case to the jury, said he thought when they had investigated the evidence they would come to the conclusion that the conspiracy, if a conspiracy should be established, had for its object that the prisoner Ellen Snee should commit suicide, and that the prisoner Vance should aid and abet her in the perpetration of that crime; it being a murder for any one to take away his own life. The circumstances were very peculiar. The woman  Snee was the wife of a commercial traveller to Messrs. Bass, the eminent brewers at Stoke-upon-Trent. She had been formerly married to a gentleman connected with a house in Lombard-street, and who afterwards went to Spain and eventually died abroad. She seemed to have been well educated, fond of literature and music, of a romantic turn of mind and an excitable temperament. When her husband was absent she was constantly in the habit of going to theatres and other places of amusement. He, on the other hand, seemed to have been very kind to her. His father died in July, 1875, leaving a will, and property amounting to about 14,000, which he seemed to have distributed equally amongst his children. Up to that time there was not the slightest imputation against the female prisoner, who seems to have borne an irreproachable character. The prisoner Vance was a medical man, who, though without a diploma, had acquired a considerable reputation as a medical man. 
    . . . 
    In another letter dated April 9, signed "William Quarll," and addressed to "M.V., 149, Kentish-town-road," the writer said:-
    "I cannot thank you enough for the admirable way in which you have managed everything. My niece knows nothing of your being a medical man. I have given her to understand you are something of a virtuoso, and that the box contained impressions from antique seals; also that I owe you a great deal of money. I am inclined to think the chloral will be perfectly satisfactory. I should like to know if there is any likelihood of its strength evaporating, especially in the corked bottle. It is possible that this may get somewhat wasted with sniffing and experimenting, and that a further supply will be necessary; but I will try not. Supposing I do not give the dog his, a portion of it diluted would, I suppose, do for me in every sense of the word? Is a portion equal to six teaspoonsfull of the labelled bottle quite certain it its effect. If you can assure me of this, I shall not want any other medium, except, perhaps, a drop of two of prussic acid in a tiny phial in case of failure with the dog, but that I can let you know. I think I had better get a little oil of peppermint at any ordinary chymist's. Tell me what quantity will suffice. I shall be in the City early to-morrow, and will post your fee whole after drawing it out. I do not think there is any danger, and you will want it for your holyday, perhaps. Don't forget the bill. I can trust my niece to see it paid, but you may have to wait six months after the event. This lovely weather has given me a great desire to see on particular spot of country in the north for the last time. I think I shall start on Tuesday afternoon, and give myself a week's holyday. This may defer the event until Easter Tuesday or Wednesday, but cannot make much difference to you. Tell me in your next if the Euston-road address is good for six months. Yours most faithfully, WILLIAM QUARLL. In what way is alcohol a poison? I have somewhere met with the following pasasge:- 'Arsenic will not destroy life so quickly as alcohol, for the former has to decompose the structure of the stomach, whereas alcohol directly assails the principle of life in the nervous system."
    To that Vance, writing from 59, Euston-road, under the date of the 12th of April, said he had received the ltter, but feared to reply to the old place of his correspondent, but thought of changing the address, hoping at the same time that might not cause unpleasant delay. The writer went on to say, - "The prussic acid is quite ready for post, and, as for the essence of peppermint, you will find some three or four drops suffice to flavour and neutralize odour. Alcohol kills like chloral, both are narcotic; they induce sleep and simulate apoplexy. Sometimes apoplectic folks lying in the street are taken for 'dead drunk.' My full name is William Kingston Vance; let my address remain 59, Euston-road, N.W. If you keep the solutions corked carefully, they evaporate little. The dog's portion would do you; the full half of it is sure to be effectual. Your own share is diluted, and doubly so, for having found the fluid rushed about in the bottle (filled more than half) and made a noise when the packet (for your niece) was shaken, I filled up the bottle with water. Let the label remain, but, should you use your own solution, take two good tablespoons full. It might be a good plan, having abstracted your dose, before swallowing to pour in some clear water, but not to the extent of filling; for, if the solution were found very strong and undiluted, suspicion might be aroused. You understand you may employ either bottle. If the small, abstract a full half and then pour in a little water. If the larger, abstract two tablespoons full and then pour in a little water. Whichever bottle you use throw the other way, and let the bottle you employ be left on the mantelpiece or table; not hard by the bed. Let no specimen of my writing save that relating to debt be found, and let all around you remain in usual condition, to imply absence of design; the entire affair is to show prima facie accident."
    . . . [police reporting on drugs found in Vance's possession] . . .  He found a large number of medicinal drugs and preparations, principally those in common use in pharmacy. Among them he found the following poisons:- Laudanum, 4 ounces; powder opium, half ounce; solid opium, 2 drachms; morphia, 6 grains; strychnine, 46 grain; dilute prussic acid, 1 ounce; dilute prussic acid, unlabelled, 6 drachms; corrosive sublimate, 2 drachms 23 grains; tincture of belladonna, 2 ounces. Empty ounce bottle, Corbyn's labelm "Liquid Chloral Hydral." Each minim contained one grain of pure chloral hydral. Dose 10 to 60 minims. Each half-a-grain to a grain of strychnine was sufficient to cause death. It was not sold in the form produced to the public except under the strictest conditions.
    By Mr. COLLINS. - These were all poisons that medical men would administer under proper precautions. The other drugs found at the lodgings were of a simple kind.

The Times, June 2, 1876

Mr. Justice MELLOR, in passing sentence, told the prisoners that they had been convicted on the clearest possible evidence of the crime alleged in the indictment, and he, for his own part, could see no reasonable doubt of the fitness and propriety of the verdict. As to Vance, he was a young medical man of promise, and might have attained a good position in life, but, under the temptation of money, to which he succumbed, he had degraded the profession of which he had been about to become a regular member by giving facilities to another person less skilled than himself to commit the crime of suicide, - if no other crime. He took no security as to the bona fides of that person, and the object of secrecy, for which he gave artful and elaborate instructions, might apply not only to the person in correspondence with him (Vance), but for aught he knew it might have been a mere sham and an endeavour to obtain the means to poison others not in correspondence with him. Mr. Justice Mellor felt that the interests of society required that he should so far make an example of him as to show to persons such as himself, possessing a knowledge of the medical profession, that when they abused that knowledge and for the sake of money enabled persons to commit crime they could not escape condign punishment. If the indictment had been framed under another statue he might have sentenced him to ten years' penal servitude. Still, he hoped the sentence he had power to pass would be sufficient to prevent all persons like him from being induced by money or any other temptation to pander the knowledge they had acquired for the purposes of crime. The sentence was that he be imprisoned for 18 calendar months. Mr. Justice Mellor regretting, at the same time, that he had no power to add hard labour to that sentence. As to the female prisoner, looking only at the circumstances, though there might be suspicions behind, he regarded her in the light of an unfortunate lady who had been tempted either by illness, the ennui of life, or some other motive; but he was willing to take her case on the supposition that there was nothing more sinister behind it. She herself knew whether the whole truth of this matter had been discovered. But he should treat her simply on the evidence before him. It appeared she was an accomplished woman, with literary tastes, and having many inducements not to quarrel with the world. In the circumstances he should be failing in his duty if he passed on her a lighter sentence than imprisonment for six calendar months, which he did accordingly.

Times, April-June, 1876