His wife Annie, natural causes, suicide or poison?

Although Palmer seemed genuinely fond of Annie she saw less and less of him as his love for horses took over, not to mention his many lady friends. Poor Annie lost four out of five of her children.

In April 1854 William insured Annie’s life for £13,000 and had only paid one premium of £760 before she died. The Insurance was taken out with the Prince of Wales Insurance Company who subsequently offset some of the amount, £3000 with Scottish Equitable and the same amount with The Sun.

Dr. Knight a well respected Stafford doctor and one of Annie's guardians. A print dated 1854, the original is in the William Salt Library.
Dr. Knight a well respected Stafford doctor and one of Annie’s guardians. A print dated 1854, the original is in the William Salt Library.

On Monday 18th September Annie went with her sister-in-law Miss Sarah Palmer to a concert at Liverpool’s St. George’s Hall. She wore only a light summer dress and in was thought that she ‘caught a chill’. They slept that night in Liverpool and spent the following morning there before catching a train back to Rugeley. When she arrived home she appeared unwell and went straight to bed. The next morning Palmer took her breakfast of tea with sugar (no milk), and some dry toast. Soon after this the vomiting started. On Sunday the elderly Dr. Bamford was sent for and he thought it to be a case of English cholera and prescribed pills containing calomel and colocynth and an ‘opening drought’. Twice on the Monday another medical man, one of Annie’s guardians described in one article as ‘the near deaf Dr. Knight’ (see picture below), and described as ‘one of the antiquities of Stafford’ also visited her but she was too ill for them to hold a conversation. (In actual fact Dr. Knight was only 73 at the time). Dr. Bamford returned on Tuesday evening to find that only one pill had been taken. That was the last time he was to see Anne alive. One other medical man, Palmer’s assistant, Benjamin Thirlby also saw Anne. Witnesses stated that the only medicine that Palmer ordered for Annie was a small dose of diluted prussic acid to reduce the retching.

On Friday September 29th 1854 Palmer wrote in his diary “My poor dear Anne expired at 10 past 1”. Dr. Bamford and Dr. Knight signed the death certificate giving the cause of death as English cholera. At Annie’s funeral it is said that Palmer appeared greatly distressed. Annie’s body was placed in the family vault which is beside St. Augustine’s Church in Rugeley.

Print from the Illustrated Times 2 February 1856 of Dr. Bamford the Rugeley doctor who was over eighty years old. He signed the death certificates for eight of Palmer's 'supposed victims'.
Print from the Illustrated Times 2
February 1856 of Dr. Bamford the Rugeley doctor who was over eighty
years old. He signed the death certificates for eight of Palmer’s
‘supposed victims’.

There have been suggestions that she was in very low spirits after the death of four of her children and that she was extremely worried about her husband’s debts and that she might have committed suicide hoping that the insurance money would save the husband that she loved dearly. The death certificate gave the cause of death as English cholera and her age as 27. The death certificate was signed by a Dr. Bamford who was almost 80 years old and one of Annie’s guardians Dr. Knight who both accepted Palmer’s word about the symptoms and cause of death.

Inquest on Annie

After Palmer’s arrest, on December 15th 1855, on suspicion of poisoning John Parsons Cook there was a great deal of public interest. The Home Secretary Sir George Gray ordered that the bodies of his wife Annie and his brother Walter be exhumed and checked for poison. In each case a coroners inquest was carried out. Annie Palmer had been dead for 15 months and his brother 5 months.

On December 22nd 1855 the bodies of Annie and Walter Palmer were exhumed and brought to the Talbot Inn in Anson Street (not to be mixed up with the Talbot Arms where Cook died). The “viewing” of the bodies took place in the ‘commercial room which was the only room large enough to hold Dr. Monkton, Dr. Bamford, the Coroner and the 24 jurymen plus two coffins. Annie’s coffin which was made of oak was opened first. Although the body had been buried for fifteen months the body was still in fairly good condition and Dr. Monkton easily removed the stomach and intestines for analysis..

After Annie’s body was “viewed” Walter’s coffin was opened, for details see Brother Walter.

On Wednesday January 9th 1856 they were to hold the inquest on Annie Palmer but Dr. Taylor was not ready and it was adjourned until the 11th January only to be adjourned for one more day. On Saturday 12th January 1856, after small traces of a poison called antimony had been found in her body, the jury recorded a verdict of murder. William Palmer was not brought to trial for her murder having already been charged with the willful murder of Cook. In should be noted that antimony, whilst being a poison, can, in small doses, be used as an effective medicine.

Was Annie poisoned or, out of love for her husband, did she give herself poison knowing that her husband, who was so deeply in debt, might be saved by the money from the insurance? Or did she die from natural causes (it could be natural causes if her blood group was RH Negative and William’s RH Positive)? See possible explanation on the deaths of four of his five children.