One of the “Rugeley Tragedies.” Natural causes or poison?
Palmer was tired of being a doctor and spent more and more time running his own stables and gambling at various race courses.
One day in 1850 he went to Chester Races. He was very friendly with a 49 year old man called Leonard Bladen who worked as a collector for Charrington Brewery. On that day Bladen won a lot of money at the races. Palmer was known to owe him money. After the Races Bladen wrote to his wife telling her that he was going to Rugeley for two to three days to collect what Palmer owed him and that, with his winnings and what Palmer owed him, he should come home with around £1,000. he also added that he would be in Rugeley for a couple of days.
Palmer, ‘being a good loser’ had promised Bladen ‘some sport with the gun’. When Bladen went to Rugeley he continued on to Ashby in Leicestershire to see his brother Henry before returning to Rugeley.
When he was back in Rugeley he was suddenly taken ill. Some time before when he was working he had had an accident where he was hit in the chest by a cart. He suffered internal injuries and had been ordered to rest but had in stead he had gone to the races. Whether he died as a result of these injuries or as a result of poisoning is not known.
His death certificate states that he died on the 10th May 1850 at Market Street, Rugeley and describes him as a 45 year old Common Brewer. The cause of death is given as “Injury of the Hip Joint 5 or 6 months. Abscess in Pelvis 12 days. Certified” and confirms that William Palmer was present at the death.
When he was first taken ill his wife was not sent for as she had not wanted him to go to the races in the first place. A friend of Bladen’s, however, sent for his wife. When she arrived in Rugeley she found that he was in great pain and he did not recognise her. Later he died in agony in Palmer’s house. his wife was surprised to find only £15 in his possessions and that his betting books were missing. He was buried in St. Augustine’s churchyard. In St. Augustine’s Churchyard many gravestones have been placed against the churchyard wall bordering Station Road. Bladen’s grave is the one hundredth grave from the gateway into the parish church.
A damning newspaper report in The Illustrated Times said on February 2nd 1856 three months before Palmer’s trial:-
The year following Mrs. Thornton’s*1 death – some few years ago – a Mr. Bladen, a collector for Charrington’s brewery, who dabbled sufficiently in turf transactions to make him a defaulter to his employers, came to Rugeley on a visit to William Palmer. It would seem, if public rumour be worthy of credit, that Palmer had borrowed £400 from the sporting bagman, and it is possible that the hope of recovering this sum induced the unfortunate man to become the guest of his debtor. However this may be, he had no chance of taking it out of board and lodging. In less than a week he fell desperately sick and after William Palmer and his assistant and subsequent partner, Mr. Benjamin Thirlby, had exhausted their skill, old Dr. Bamford was called in to “prescribe a mixture”. Nevertheless, the patient died . His wife arrived when he was already insensible, but in a few minutes she was hurried out of the room, and never again allowed to behold him – because decomposition had set in so rapidly! She was also disuaded from carrying the corpse to London, the expense of which William Palmer greatly exaggerated. Rumour goes on to say that the latter handed the widow a cheque for £60, and some loose cash which he had found in the pockets of the deceased. On Mrs. Bladen expressing her surprise at the smallness of the amount, her husband having left London, as she believed, with £200 in his pocket. Palmer replied that, since Bladen had been in Rugeley, he had been betting heavily, and had been unfortunate. Poor Mrs. Palmer was greatly agitated when she heard of Bladen’s death, and exclaimed, “My poor mother died when on a visit here last year – and now this man. What will people say?”
What will people say, indeed! Beyond these deaths , there were also other grounds for suspicion. Of five children, the offspring of their marriage, four died in infancy – last in January, 1854. Er, too, a few short months had gone by, it was destined to be the poor mother’s turn.
*1Mrs. Thornton was Palmer’s Mother-in-law