Two murders linked together. The story goes that Catherine Foster was a
simple-minded woman who poisoned her husband with arsenic in November 1846,
weeks after their marriage at All Saints, Acton, near Sudbury. The crime was discovered when he vomited in the garden and the hens mysteriously died. She readily confessed to the crime; she had married him to please her
mother, and loved another man, so she cooked his suet dumplings in arsenic.
Curiously, her father, William Morley, was strongly suspected of robbery and murder just a few years previously.
She was hanged before a crowd of 10,000 people on the Market Hill at Bury, the last woman to be executed in Suffolk. She was just 18 years old.
Foxearth & District Local History Society
Bury and Norwich post
August 1st 1838.
Inquest at the Cock Inn at Lavenham on William Patrick, a pensioner,
Samuel Coe a farmer from Lavenham said that on Thursday evening at about
9-30 he saw someone standing by the direction post in Lavenham, he went
up to him and found it was a man hanging from the arm of the post, the
body was suspended by his handkerchief.
He cut him down and went through his pockets but no money was found in them.
James Roper of Lt Waldingfield,said he saw deceased lying down in the road about half a mile from Lavenham,he told witness he had been robbed of 7 sovereigns and 2 half crowns, witness asked him to turn out his pockets and he saw a hole in one, then he said he had lost his money and that if he had a horse pistol on him he would shoot himself.
Bury and Norwich post
December 15th 1846.
On Monday last an examination was held in our gaol at Bury before the magistrates in the case of Catherine Foster who was committed by the Coroner's inquest on a charge of murdering her husband at Acton. We understand a pudding bag was found and was subjected to examination and the remains of arsenic was found in the cloth.
Bury and Norwich post
March 27th 1847
Catherine Foster was indicted for the wilful murder of her husband, John Foster, by administering to him a quantity of arsenic.
The prisoner in the dock presented a most calm and collected demeanour. She was rather an interesting looking person and pleaded 'Not Guilty' in a firm voice.
Mr Gurdon presented the case for the prosecution, the prisoner stood charged with the crime of Wilful Murder. The prisoner had previously resided with her mother in Acton. She had been acquainted with the deceased for some two or three years and on Wednesday the 28th of October last year she was married to him.
They came to live with the prisoner's mother and the following Saturday she obtained her husband's permission to see her aunt at Pakenham and not returning to her husband as she had remained with her aunt for upwards of ten days a fortnight from the day she had married him.
At this time her husband was a strong healthy young man and working for Mr Meekings on his farm.
On the Sunday morning he complained to his sister of a headache but went to work as usual on Monday and Tuesday and appeared in good health and spirits. At 6 he left work accompanied by one of his fellow labourers who left him at his gate. The prisoner that day had visited her mother in law, Foster's mother and ate her dinner there and at about 5 o'clock in the evening remarked that she must go home, as it was dumpling night.
Her mother in law asked her if she gave John dumplings every night, she said no, but that night was dumpling night.
When the prisoner reached home her mother was out and her husband had not arrived, the only who could throw light on what happened was a boy of tender years, the prisoner's brother. Mr Gurdon said it was his duty to produce the boy in court and he would also tell the Jury that the boy had varied his statements; he had no hesitation in putting him in the witness box.
The boy stated, before the magistrates, that after she had mixed the dumplings he saw her produce a paper from her pocket and empty a dark powder in the basin, and as soon as she had done so she burned the paper: if this statement is true it accounted for no traces of poison being found in the house.
When Foster returned home, he went out into the yard to wash his hands and when he came in the little boy and his sister were eating their supper.
Foster's dumpling was then taken from the copper, it was in a cloth, and the prisoner took it out and gave him some of the dumpling. He would shew that before he finished the dumpling, he was taken violently ill and was obliged to go outside and wretch. The prisoner followed him out but shortly returned and that going out she took a piece of dumpling from the plate he had left.
About 7 o' clock the prisoner's mother, Mrs Morley, returned home. She was frequently engaged in washing in the neighbourhood and was so on that day and the day after.
Though only 7 o' clock the deceased was in bed and very ill, retching badly, he vomited into a basin, something of a dark colour and she emptied the basin into a ditch in the adjoining garden. He continued very ill the next morning, at about 8 o' clock the wife left the cottage to go to Mr Jones, the surgeon at Melford, the distance he was told was about two miles but Mr Jones would tell them that she arrived at his surgery at about 10 o'clock, it would certainly be unnecessary time for her to occupy in going two miles.
At Mr Jones's she stated her husband had a bowel complaint, she said nothing about sickness and Mr Jones supposed it was a case of English Cholera, which was common last summer and gave her tow powders for him.
She said her husband wished him to call, which he promised to do.
She returned home. Her mother had gone from the house about 10, leaving Foster very ill. The mother returned about 3 in the afternoon and found him getting worse and in fact about 4 o' clock he expired.
Mr Jones arrived at about 5, he was surprised about the death being so rapid, not having apprehended from the prisoner's account of the illness there was any serious danger and supposed English cholera was the cause of death. However the Coroner ordered a post mortem, which was made by Mr Jones and another professional gentleman in the neighbourhood.
On examination he thought he perceived what he called an ulceration of the vena cava, the bursting of which could cause death. He however took the precaution to take out the stomach to ascertain its contents; it was handed over to Mr Image, well known in Bury for his talent and experience. By him the stomach was subjected to a rigid examination.
on the first examination there was no doubt in his mind of the presence of arsenic, the stomach itself was boiled and analysed with results of the presence of a large quantity of arsenic. Other parts of the body were examined to see if they may be in a diseased state, but Mr Image would tell them that the cause of the mans death was poisoning.
The house in which the prisoner lived was the centre of three tenements under one roof, the left hand one was occupied by a man named Simpson and his wife, the other by a labourer. He would shew that upon the meadow, which adjoined the prisoner's garden, some chickens were the following morning seen feeding and the following morning all were dead. The crops of some of them were taken out and analysed and found to contain arsenic mixed with suet. He told them that the a piece of pudding was carried out by the prisoner when her husband had gone into the yard, a piece of pudding was found within a short distance of prisoner's door by Mrs Simpson in Mrs Simpson's garden, she crumbled it in her hand and gave it to a hen and the hen died. The hen's crop was analysed and found to contain arsenic.
He would shew that pudding cloths were taken by a police officer from the prisoner's house, one cloth proved to have contained arsenic the other did not or did any samples of flour.
He would shew that the union was not one of strong affection on her part and she used expressions both immediately after marriage and after her husband's death which did not shew she felt very happy in the married state, she made statements which were hardly consistent with the truth.
She stated her husband was very poorly on the Monday night but he would shew that he did not complain to his fellow workers on the Monday, on Tuesday he came to work and made no complaint that he was unwell, though to his sister in law he had complained of a slight headache on Sunday night.
It might be attempted to be shown that deceased had met with an accident by slipping from a waggon, one of his fellow workers said "Have you hurt yourself?" to which he replied "no" and went on with his labour of pitching trusses of hay.
It would be stated that he ate his supper heartily. He could not shew except by the evidence of the boy in what state he was in as soon as he ate it, but it would be clearly proved that by 7 0' clock he was found sick in bed, therefore sickness must have come on from the time of the supper.
He believed these were the principles on which they would be called upon to come to their verdict.
Here was a strong, robust, healthy young man who within half an hour of his supper was seized with all the violent symptoms of having taken arsenic and death ensuing. Neighbours were living by but not one was called in and no sort of alarm given. Mr Jones was told the man had only a bowel complaint, not that he was very seriously sick.
The prisoner did not apprehend (the construction would probably be put on her conduct by the Counsel for the defence) that he was seriously ill; on the other hand she was conscious of the fact that the man was suffering from the effects of what she had given him. The Jury he was sure would take all the facts into consideration. If they felt there was any doubt let them for God's sake give the prisoner the a verdict of acquittal. But if their reasoning and understanding convinced them she was guilty the oaths they had taken that day and their duty to their country demanded that they should return a verdict against her.
Elizabeth Foster, examined by Mr Sanders said
"I am the mother of the late John Foster, he was 24 years old, I last saw my son alive was on the day he married, I was not at the marriage but I saw him at 12 o' clock after the marriage. I was then at his wife's mother's house.
The marriage took place 3 weeks before his death; he was married on Wednesday the 20th of October at Acton Church.
The prisoner came to see me on Tuesday the 17th of November, the day before my son's death. My house is about a mile and a half from Mrs Morley's, where my son and his wife lived.
She had her dinner with us, nothing was said about her husband until about 4 o' clock when she said she must be going as this was pudding night. I asked her if she made pudding for John every night, she said no but would make one tonight. She said nothing to me about him being unwell.
The next day, in consequence of what I had heard, I went to my son's house, I got there a little before 4 o' clock and found he was dead. His wife was sitting before the fire when I went in, Her mother (Mrs Morley) was there. I spoke to the prisoner and said 'Dear me, my poor child is dead , did he ask for me?'
She said 'yes he did, three or four times: And he also wished to see his sisters and brother'.
I said 'and you never sent for me?'
She replied, 'No, he was very bad and I could not leave him and there was no-one to send for him'.
I conversed with Mrs Morley in her presence who said he had been bad all night with purging upwards and downwards and that when she came from Sudbury she thought him very ill but not dangerously so. She told me he died on her shoulder.
While I was there, Mr Jones the surgeon came in, it was about 6 o' clock. He asked the prisoner what her husband ate for supper, she told him dumplings and potatoes. He asked what he had to drink and she said, 'I made him some tea'. My son was in very good health when he was with me."
Cross examined by Mr Power---
"I have known the prisoner since she was a little girl. My son knew her while she was at the Charity school in Acton and used to walk with her then.
She went into service after she left school and my son used to go and see her while in service, She is not yet 18, I think it is 2 years after my son went to see her while in service.
My son was very anxious to marry, my daughters did not go to church, nor did I, but we dined with them on the marriage day. I never went to from the day of the marriage to the day of my son's death, I always made a pudding for John's supper while he lived with me.
When I got to the prisoners house on Wednesday, she was sitting by the fire and appeared to have been crying."
"I am a labourer and work for Mr Meeking a farmer at Chilton. John Foster worked with me; he was at work with me on the Tuesday before his death. We got our meals together about half past ten in the morning and half past three in the afternoon. He had bread I believe. He appeared well after these meals and went to work again. We left off work at 6 in the evening. I accompanied him on his way home and left him against his gate, he appeared in good spirits and sang on his way home."
William Steed said
"I also work for Mr Meeking. John Foster worked on the same farm. I saw him the day before he died, he did not complain of illness and worked the same. About a fortnight before his death, Pleasance, Foster and I were loading hay. One of the trusses slipped off the wagon and Foster came down with it.
I said 'John, I am afraid you have hurt yourself!' and he said ,
'No, very little'..
He then went pitching and Pleasance to trussing. I never heard him complain of being hurt. On the Monday before his death he complained about a headache and said 'I never feel well on Monday morning, a day's rest does not suit me'.
Foster seemed always in good health and as strong and blooming young man as I ever saw".
Examined by Mr Power---
"I recollect his marriage, he was always in the good spirits and happy to the day of his death. He did fall from a wagon, which was loaded all except one truss but was all right."
Susan Foster said said
"I am sister to the deceased. I had seen my brother on the Sunday before his death. I came from Acton Church with him. He complained of a headache but appeared all right.
I next saw him after his death on the Wednesday. I had met Mrs Morley coming from Sudbury; she told me my brother had been very bad. When I got to the cottage the prisoner and my Mother were there. I asked prisoner what my brother had for supper, she said a piece of dumpling, a few potatoes and a little tea and that he was taken violently sick about 7 and went to bed a little later".
Maria Morley examined by Mr Sanders
"I am mother of the prisoner, the deceased and his wife lived with me from the time of the marriage. On the day before his death, I went to Mrs Upsons at Acton Green to wash. I went about 6-30 in the morning.
I returned home a little after 7 in the evening. The deceased was in bed and complained about a pain in his side, which he had for a fortnight. My daughter went for some brandy and I gave him some gruel with a little brandy in it but what she gave him came up soon after, he was sick in the hand basin which I got for him, the contents I emptied on the dunghill, there is a small yard behind my house, close by my door, that is Mrs Simpson's premises.
We live in the middle of three cottages. The dunghill is on the left of the back door. The contents were highly coloured-I compare them to coffee.
Foster continued to be sick now and then about every half hour until the prisoner and I went to bed. We went to bed between 11 and 12. Foster was downstairs in a little low room.
I went upstairs and asked Foster's leave to let his wife go with me. He said there was no room with him and he was so poorly she had better.
After I had been in bed a half an hour I went to see him. He appeared very comfortable and was asleep so I went back up again. The prisoner afterwards went down, about a minute or two I heard her ask him how he was, he replied 'Much the same'.
She stayed some time with him then returned to bed. I heard deceased moving about 4 the next morning. I went downstairs, my daughter too. I found he had got out of bed and fallen down. My daughter and I helped him back into bed. He said he felt dizzy and could not stand. He asked for something and I gave him some peppermint tea, in a little while he was sick. I remained with him until about 6 in the morning when my daughter came down.
We had our breakfast. Prisoner went out at about 8 as near as I can guess. She said she was going to Mr Jones the surgeon at Melford. I stayed in the house until about 10.
I left then went to Sudbury on business, not washing. I did not when I left think him dangerously ill. When I left for Sudbury my daughter did not come in. I left my son, brother of the prisoner, a little boy named Thomas Morley in the house, he was 8 last July.
I returned home about two in the afternoon. Deceased said he was much the same and wished to get out of bed to have it shifted. I got him out of bed. Afterwards as I was lifting him he appeared to me as though he was fainting. He went down on his knees. I had hard work to get him on a chair; he never revived anymore before he died.
I ate something that day ("Wednesday" in my house, I never ate anything on the Tuesday at home as I ate at Mrs Upson's. I ate bread and butter and a bit of cheese and two or three roasted potatoes cooked the night before.
I remember my daughter being married. She went away on the Saturday after being married on the Wednesday. Her husband had given her leave to stay a month and heard him say before she left 'Are you going to stay the month?'
she said 'Not as long as that!'
He had wished to marry before she went out. She went to her aunt's at Pakenham. She never had any chance to go there before, she being in service.
She left service about three weeks before she married. Acton is 14 miles from Bury, and Pakenham is 4 from Bury.
She came to Bury and met her aunt there; she went by carrier's cart to Bury and by horse and cart to Pakenham."
Maria Morley cross-examined
My daughter is 18 in June. I had known her husband before he married her, all his lifetime. My daughter was at Acton school, he used to go and see her then. She was 14 when she left school. He was always hanging about after her. Shortly before she school, Foster told me he would like to have her. I said he must not think of that as she was too young and he replied that it did not signify, he could wait some few years.
When she was at Acton school I had seen him and her talking together, never saw them walk together. I made no objection to the young man but that she was very young.
My daughter went to service first at Mr Wade's at Waldingfield, two and a half miles from Foster's house. He used then to go to Great Waldingfield church and I have seen them walking home to her master's. She remained at Mr Wade's for nearly two years and when she left she was little more than 16 years.. She then went to service at Mr Bird's at Bulmer, 4-5 miles from Acton. I heard from Foster that he had gone to see here frequently and used to come and see me and tell me how she was and my other daughter who also lived at Bulmer. "
Mr Gurdon objected to this line of examination.
His Lordship decided that it might be proceeded in. Witness continued
my daughter seemed happy and comfortable while the courtship was going on. She remained at Mr Bird's not exactly a year. While at Mr Bird's she only had one day's holiday. Her aunt often asked her to go to Pakenham for a holiday. When she came home in September, she and Foster seemed very happy. I never heard my daughter express any disapprobation at being married.
I had asked her to wait a year but Foster was very eager, not having a comfortable home, his sister's both had chance children and they annoyed him and he wanted away.
She wished to go to her aunt's but he pressed her to get married first. /p>
The policeman found the letters now produced in John Foster's own box.
They are in my daughter's writing. I thought the cholera was the matter with him. I had been taken the same way myself, I was sick and thought brandy would relieve him. I had no idea that he would die or I would not have left him. I sent word by Susan Foster to his mother that I would not have left him if I could have avoided it. It was at his request that the prisoner slept with me on the Tuesday night.
I saw the prisoner after the examination at the gaol. Mrs James, the turnkey's wife was present. This was directly after the magistrate's examination. My little boy slipped in with me. He had two small cakes with him. He offered one to his sister. She took it but returned it again saying she did not like taking it from him and said 'You good for nothing little boy, why did you tell such stories'..
I was before the Coroner at Acton Crown the Saturday after the decease. My little boy was also before the Coroner. After that the policeman took him to Boxford and kept him there a fortnight and a day".
"I remember John Foster marrying my sister. I lived then with my mother at Acton and my sister Catherine lived there too".
Maria Morley ( recalled by his Lordship)
"I lived in my cottage for 7 years. I am a widow and have been for 3 years. Before Foster married my daughter and came to live with me, only this little boy and another little girl (named Hannah Morley) my daughter lived with me. She went to her aunt's at Pakenham on the day her sister came from Pakenham. After that no one lived at my cottage except myself, Catherine and her husband and Thomas".
Thomas Morley continued,
"I remember my sister going away only two or three days after she married, I don't remember my brother in law being taken ill or dying. I saw John just after he died; it was in the evening. I was at home before he came home. Catherine was also at home before John came home.
I had my supper that night at home
(witness appeared so confused he was taken up by his Lordship's side).
"I was not at home all day as I went to school, which is against our house. Mrs Ward keeps it; she is a young lady. She teaches me to reading out of the bible and spelling. I learn to spell out of Carpenter's spelling book. I go to the school about 9 in the morning and come away at 3 in the afternoon. I come home to dinner at 12. I generally have bread and butter for dinner. I sometimes have cheese.
I recollect John Foster dying. I had bread and butter that day for dinner. He died in the evening. I stopped at home on the morning of that day because my sister went for the doctor. There was nobody in the house except John Foster and me. I stayed in his room for a little while with him. I gave him some tea, which my mother had made in the morning".
His Lordship apprehended the object for which he had the witness by his side was answered. He was only a little frightened at first but now appeared recovered.
"the bread and butter I had the day before he died was put out by my sister. I came home from school to have it. I went back to school after I had it. I had water to drink. When I came back from school my sister Catherine was come home. I had some supper that night. I had a dumpling for supper. My sister gave me the dumpling. I saw her make it. I had begun to eat it before Foster came in. I saw my sister get her supper. She had not begun hers before John came in. I ate my supper sitting beside my sister near the fire. I put my plate on my lap. I had some potatoes also for supper and some tea to drink. I had not long begun my supper when John came in. John had a dumpling for supper; my sister gave it him. She got it out of a large boiler on the fire. There was a bag tied round the dumpling."
By his Lordship---
"There are two boilers; only one was used that night. My sister took the cloth off the pudding; I did not see what she did with the cloth. She put the dumpling on the plate. I had not finished my dumpling then, I ate as much as two fists. After my sister put the dumpling on the plate, I saw John eat some. A net was used to boil the potatoes in."
By Mr Gurdon----
"I saw the dumpling was boiled in the boiler. It was not long before John came in and my sister took the other one out of the boiler. John sat at the table to eat his and my sister sat with him. I saw him eat some dumpling.
By his Lordship,
"why did you not get some of his dumpling?".
" I did".
"Who helped you to it?",
"my sister. The dumpling I had was not boiled in a cloth, it had nothing on it. My sister took it out with a fork. She took the cloth off".
By Mr Gurdon----
"The plate she put the pudding on was the table. I saw John eat of the dumpling he had. He was not ill until after supper. I saw him when he was ill, he went into the yard, I did not hear him complain of being ill. I sometimes go to bed after supper. I cannot tell the time. When he went in to the yard my sister went with him. I don't know whether he was sick before mother came home. When my sister went out into the yard she did not take anything with her. There was no pudding left, John ate it all. I saw John go to bed. My sister had some flour of her own and there was also flour of my mother's. All was kept in a kneading trough. None of my mother's flour was used that day. My sister's flour alone was used. I saw my sister make the make the dumpling, which was boiled in a cloth. She made it in a dish. I don't know if my sister had anything in her pocket. I saw her put salt beside the flour in the dish. I went to bed soon after my mother came home".
Mr Power said he had nothing to ask the witness.
"was there any of the dumpling thrown away?".
"You began to eat some dumpling before John came home. You told me you ate a quite thick bit".
"My sister had a piece too".
"Was all the dumpling eaten?"
"And none thrown away?"
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yes. Directly John came home he went into the yard to wash his face and hands".
"While he was out what did your sister say to you? Come tell the truth. Look at me and say and speak the truth, what did your sister say?"
"Do you mean to say before God that is the truth?"
Mr Robert Jones.
"I am a surgeon living in Melford. I knew John Foster and had previously known his wife, the prisoner. She came to my house on Wednesday the 18th of November about 10 o' clock in the morning. I was at home and saw her. She said 'I come for John Foster who has a bowel complaint and he wishes you to send him something and if you come that way he would like to see you.'
I did not know she was married to him-she did not say she was his wife. I ascertained that afterwards.
I gave her two powders. I mixed them myself. They were mercury with chalk and rhubarb.
In the afternoon of that day I passing Foster's cottage and as I promised I would, prisoner told me he was living at her mother's cottage. I called at about 5 o' clock.
I found him dead.
I was certainly surprised at that. I looked at the body. It was warm. The mother said in the prisoner's presence that Foster had a sickness as well as a bowel complaint.
I asked what he had eaten for supper. I understood he had dumplings, potatoes and some tea.
I was passing the next day and called. I asked to see the linen in order that I might ascertain what passed through his bowels.
The sheets were shown me, from inspection I would say he died from bilious diarrhoea or English Cholera after what had been told me the day before I had no suspicion whatever then.
On the Saturday I appeared before the Coroner, Having on the Thursday had no intimation from him. I went to Foster's cottage on the Friday. Mr Mason was with me. I made a post mortem examination. I remarked nothing unusual about the body externally. I examined the body internally. The stomach externally was in a healthy state; internally it contained about 2 oz of fluid. There was no food. The flow of blood was small but I doubt alone that would cause death but having no suspicion I thought it was the cause of death. The inflammation of the kidneys and the rupture of the vena cava was to a small extent".
By Mr Sanders
"I removed the stomach and a portion of the intestines that day and took them home for safety. I was afterwards ordered by the Coroner to take them to Mr Image, which I did on the November 23rd. I took them in a jar.
Up to the time of the inquest I had no suspicion of poison. Suspicion was excited at the inquest. On the 23rd , I was in the presence of Mr Image when a partial analysis of the stomach was made and was satisfied that traces of arsenic were found.
On Monday, November 23rd I received from George Poole of Acton, two jars".
By his Lordship---
""Mr Image took away some mucus from the intestines. I had met Mr Image at Acton churchyard. The coffin was opened in my presence.".
Cross examined by Mr Power---
""I knew prisoner before she came to me. I did not know she was engaged to Foster. A bowel complaint is often accompanied by sickness"..
Re-examined by Mr Gurdon---.
"A person with vena cava could not go home singing". .
Mary Jarvis--- .
"I live at Acton and know Poole's pightle or paddock running up to the back of Foster's cottage. I remember the 18th of November when Foster died. I had been passed the cottage that morning. I saw a hen and chickens picking about close to Foster's cottage. They were Mr Poole's fowls. These chickens trespass about different gardens". Eliza Musson, servant to Mr Poole at Acton, .
Eliza Musson, servant to Mr Poole at Acton, .
"I remember the day Foster died. About 11 that day I went to look for eggs and found three chickens dead in my master's barn. I gave them to my mistress. They were quite cold. I saw the chickens alive this morning".
Mrs Poole. .
" "My husband has the meadow adjoining the garden of the deceased. I received from the last witness some dead chickens the morning Foster died. After receiving them I went to look for the others. I found them all quite ill. There were eight chickens altogether and the hen died by night time". .
George Poole. .
"I came home about six o' clock on the 16th. My wife showed me the dead chickens. I went to look at the others. Two were dead in the morning and the other two died during the day. I opened their crops and gave them to Mr Jones. I also gave him another pot, which I received from Mordecia Simpson. The pot with the crops was the largest"..
George Green, constable of Melford .
" "On Monday the 24th of November I searched the house where Foster died. I went with Sergeant Rogers to get a sample of flour, he took it in my presence from the kneading trough, and Catherine Foster was present. I took a sample of flour, which Maria Morley said was her flour. There were three pudding cloths on the sacks or bag of flour, which Catherine Foster called hers. I asked prisoner which cloth she boiled the pudding in that night; she carefully looked at them and selected two, which she said she was sure it was one of them. This was done in Roger's presence. I delivered them and a sample of flour to Richard John Clark, clerk to the High Constable". .
Richard John Clark .
"I received two cloths from the last witness, which I delivered to Mr Image, I also received two parcels containing flour from George Green, which I gave to Mr Image". .
E.W.Image esq .
"I am a surgeon residing in Bury. I remember Mr Jones of Melford bringing me a stomach and some fluid. It was in a jar. It was secured being tied on. Mr S. Newham was there. I proceeded to make an analysis of the contents of the jar that day. Mr Jones stayed to see the analysis. At first we were not aware what the suspected liquid contained. We tested for a base and we believe arsenic was the suspected fluid. We then proceeded to test it by Reinsch's test for the purpose of ascertaining whether it was arsenic or not. It gave me an unequivocal evidence of arsenic. Gummous fluid is bloody mucous, the secretion of the stomach itself.. The next test we applied was the Marsh's test by which arsenic was also detected. No doubt was left in our minds. We were able to produce its metallic state by both tests. We gave over that day, as the light was poor. We put the stomach in the pot again and tied it up. I had at this time also received two from Mr Jones on the 26th. Mr Jones and I repeated the experiments to prove it was arsenic. Having succeeded in obtaining the metallic grey coating on copper foil, the copper foil was thus coated was removed from the tube and washed in a bent reduction tube and open at both ends and perfectly dry. The flame of the spirit lamp was applied to the part of the tube containing the metal. The metallic crust of the arsenic was quickly obtained by means of Marsh's apparatus. I was directed by the Coroner to have the body exhumed. I exhumed the body at Acton church. I saw the coffin opened. I examined the body first and afterwards scraped the intestines and took away what I found there. I examined the other material organs of the body. The kidneys were congested and inflamed. The inferior vena cava was not there. I saw it after the examination at the Inn".
By his Lordship ----
"Foster was a very healthy, fine robust young man, particularly so it struck me.
Together with Mr Newham I scraped the intestines to the same analysis as others. It was almost like testing arsenic its self. I have heard the description of the way John Foster suffered before his death. These are the usual symptoms of arsenic poisoning. I believe death ensued in consequence of something he had for supper. The crops of the fowls both contained huge quantities of arsenic and fatty suet and grease".
his Lordship ----
""Can you form any professional opinion whether the pudding the deceased ate produced all these effects?"
" "Oh there must have been a large quantity indeed." .
Mr Samuel Newham-- .
"I am house surgeon at the West Suffolk Hospital. I was present when Mr Image did his analysis. I agree with the opinions he formed and the answers he has given." .
Mary Ann Chinery .
"I live with my grandfather, William Pawsey who lived in the adjoining cottage to John Foster. I remember John Foster dying. I remember the gentlemen coming to make an examination of the body. The prisoner came into my grandfather's cottage while the surgeons were examining the body. She asked to be allowed to sit there, as she could not bear the thought of being in when poor John's body was being opened.
I heard her tell my grandfather if she had gone to Bury before she married she would not have married at all"
"Mrs Foster was crying when she came into my cottage. I never said anything to her. I first mentioned what I heard to Mrs Simpson. I went before the Coroner. I was out plaiting the greater part of the day when Foster died". .
William Pawsey .
"I live at Acton, I am nearly 70 years old. My cottage is next door to Maria Morley's. I know the prisoner; I remember her being married. I remember her coming home from Bury. She came home on the Wednesday night. I saw her next morning. I said to her "you have got back from Bury then".
She said she wished she had never come back from Bury and would not have come if she was not married as she had a good place in Bury. I
never heard from anyone in the house that of him being ill. I heard a noise as if someone falling in that house about 4 in the morning and a couple of groans came onto my pillow as if somebody was dying"
Sarah Simson, wife of Mordecal Simpson. .
"I live in the cottage adjoining to John Foster. I was at home all that day. I was friendly with the deceased.. I first heard of him being dead about four o' clock. Several people began to arrive then"
This was the case for the prosecution.
Mr Power addressed the jury for the defence.
He said the duty he was now about to perform was the most difficult he ever had to deal with. He knew that throughout the county handbills had been circulated of the description he had in his hand and she had been held forth as the murderer of her husband and trusted that when all evidence had been shown that prejudice had failed etc....
He would call upon the jury to convict the prisoner should the motive be proved. Was the marriage an unfortunate one? What was Foster's conduct? He was a young man in the prime of life, uncomfortable at home and anxious to be established, She was a young girl , only 14 or 15 years old at Acton school who was the choice of his heart. What was her conduct? It was, as far as he could establish, that of a being who returned his affection and were frequent companions when at service both at Bulmer and Waldingfield, he went to the church which she attended. She wrote to him and his learned friend must have been aware of these letters as they were found in Foster's box by the police. These letters were written long before any transaction could have been contemplated and must therefore be shewn if there had been any want of affection on her part etc....
Her husband said 'take a month' when she went to Pakenham, she returned in 10 days, shewing anxiety. To return to the roof she had quitted etc.....
His Lordship summing up, which occupied two hours, said he was sure the jury with himself the feeling of the learned Counsel etc.etc etc....
The jury requested permission to retire, in about quarter of an hour they returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. The prisoner on hearing the verdict betrayed no symptoms of emotion. The learned Judge ordered her to be taken from the dock and the Court broke up a little before 7 o'clock.
Bury and Norwich post
March 29th 1847. .
The court met at nine and Catherine Foster was brought up to receive judgement.
His Lordship after having put on the black cap, proceeded to pass sentence. He said
"Catherine Foster, you have been found guilty of the crime of murder. It is sufficient to state that you were married on Wednesday the 25th of October. On the following Wednesday your husband died in consequence of the administration of poison. It is impossible to doubt that you prepared the food and that you administered to him, it was your hand that put the poison in the food, not only your hand did the deed but your heart and mind had meditated that act and that it was wilfully done for the purpose of producing death of the individual you so lately married and towards whom at the altar of God you formed a connection the most sacred and divine that any human being can enter upon. I may add that I entirely concur in the verdict, which the jury pronounced".
"It is my melancholy duty to pronounce the sentence of the law against you that requires that your life should be forfeited for the crime you have committed. I would advise you to make the utmost use of the short time you will remain in this world. Seek peace and mercy where now alone you will be able to find them". "It remains to me but to pass the judgement of the law, that you may be taken from this place from which you came and thence to the place of execution and there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead and that your body be buried in the precincts of the prison in which you shall last be confined. And may the Lord in his infinite mercy have compassion on your soul".
The prisoner bore the sentence almost unmoved, merely applying a handkerchief to her eyes at the conclusion. We understand that she has since been more affected but not in a very great degree.
Subsequently to the verdict, Mr Image, whose skilful analysis and lucid statements of the results, so formed an all important a portion of this case, explained to the learned Judge that the pudding cloths had been washed and rinsed before being given up, But boiling for hours would have been necessary to extract all the arsenic. Indeed on first steeping it in boiling water for the analysis, no arsenic was obtained.
Bury and Norwich post
March 31st 1847
Catherine Foster was sentenced to death for the murder of her husband at Acton. It is stated by a contemporary that the prisoner's grandfather was executed for murder and after having committed the deed he hanged the man by a rope on a finger post at Lavenham to suppose he committed suicide.
We heard another part of the story that referred to the father of Foster,
that on the night of July 18th 1838, William Kilpatrick or Patrick as he
was known, was found tied to a direction post at Lavenham by a rope
through his neckcloth and quite dead but still warm.
At the inquest it appeared he received his pension in Lavenham and with another man named William Morley, at 6-30 that night he was found lying in the road intoxicated saying he had been robbed of 7 sovereigns and that if he had a pistol he would shoot himself and that he would never go to Sudbury again
A surgeon said he had bruises and was bleeding from the mouth but no sign of strangulation. A verdict of hanged himself was returned but a great deal of suspicion prevailed in the neighbourhood but nothing transpired to fix a charge on Morley.
"Another local sensation which made a deep and lasting impression was the
public hanging of Catherine Foster. She was a young married woman who
lived in a little cottage near the Church at Acton.
She fell in love with another man and poisoned her husband by putting arsenic in his food. He vomited in the garden. A day or so later some of their chickens died and investigation showed that arsenic was the cause. They had eaten the vomit.
Mr. Robert Bixby, the baker in Hall Street, told me how he and a few friends had walked to Bury to witness this hanging. He said it was a deeply moving sight. The poor woman who was only 18 years of age, gave a heart rending speech from the scaffold imploring other young women, who may be te'mpted as she was, not to follow her example, but to stand firm and stick to their marriage vows. Catherine Foster was the last woman to be hanged in public in Bury. This was in 1847."
Melford Memories by Ernest Ambrose (1878-1972) p 35