In discussing Linda Stratmann’s book Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion, I mentioned that she devotes a chapter to the case of Adelaide Bartlett. This is one of the most fascinating of the classic British murder cases, I think, right up there with Maybrick, Crippen, Wallace, Ruxton and the Croydon Poisonings.
The trial of Adelaide Bartlett took place in 1886, and as Statmann explains, it ‘both scandalized and titillated Victorian society’. Adelaide was accused of using chloroform to murder her husband Edwin, and it emerged that she had been the subject of more than one sexual intrigue. However, in the end she was acquitted, although the consensus view is that she was responsible for Edwin’s death.
The case formed the basis of one of the three novels that Julian Symons wrote about Victorian murder mysteries, Sweet Adelaide. It’s a pretty good novel, with a clever solution (although not one with which Stratmann agrees) and it deserves to be better known, not least because of its entertaining characterisation of the people in and around the Bartlett household and compelling evocation of Victorian social attitudes.
After her perhaps lucky acquittal, Adelaide disappeared from public view. Stratmann describes a couple of accounts of Adelaide’s later activities, but explains that neither stands up to scrutiny. Adelaide’s later story is unknown. Now there, surely, is an opportunity for another interesting novel to be written!