[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
Who that has reached middle life has not heard of Palmer the Poisoner? He was a medical man who resided at Rugeley, and murdered his friend Cooke, by the administration of strychnine.
If my memory serves me correctly, this was the case in which the celebrated Dr. Alfred Swaine Taylor, the eminent Toxicologist, was found to be at fault in the application of the proper tests, in the proper manner, for ascertaining the presence of strychnine in the stomach of the deceased. Palmer had displayed great skill in the mode in which he had administered the poison, with the object of leaving little or no trace of it in the body after death.
At the trial there was considerable conflicting evidence between the medical witnesses, but Palmer finally was found guilty and hanged.
Subsequent to his death it was generally believed, if not actually proved, that he had caused the death of various other persons, including his old mother.
If this were so, the motive which instigated him to such an unprecedented series of crimes apparently was to obtain money to pay his gambling and horse racing debts and expenses.
Four or five years prior to his trial for the Rugeley murder, he paid a visit to the Isle of Man, where his brother and family resided. While here, he made thy acquaintance of Mr. Spurrier, a gentleman who resided at St. Catherine's, in the village of Onchan. Sportier was a bachelor with plenty of means, and of excessively convivial habits. He drove a splendid pair of bays, generally tandem. Many a time, as a youth, have I seen them dash along, resplendent in their silver-mounted harness, Spurrier seated on the box, with Palmer by his side. This went on for some weeks. Upon the last occasion of their driving together, Mr. Samuel Harris, who subsequently became High-Bailiff of Douglas, and who then resided at Thornton, on the Peel Road, told me that he saw them pass his house on their way to Peel. That drive had a memorable ending. Spurrier, Palmer, and one or two others dined together at the Marine Hotel, Peel, since burnt down. When dinner was finished, the evening far spent, and some of the wonderful feats had been recounted which they, in their day and generation had severally achieved, Palmer affected to make light of what Spurrier had boasted that he could do, and offered to bet him £50 that he could not swallow twenty raw eggs within a given space of time. Spurrier, not being quite himself, at once accepted the bet. The mad attempt was made, though I do not quite remember whether all the eggs were swallowed, but this I do know, that Spurrier had an alarming attack of illness, was carried to bed, and died before morning, Palmer remaining with him the whole night.
The matter was hushed up; no inquest was held, and poor Spurrier, who was a bachelor and had no relatives in the Isle of Man, was taken to his home at Onchan, and then buried in the Parish Churchyard.
There was a rumour at the time that shortly before his death Spurrier had had on his person a thousand pounds in Bank of England notes, but they were never forthcoming. There was not the slightest cause to suspect Palmer, or any of the gentlemen present, they being quite above suspicion. When, subsequently, Palmer was tried and convicted for the murder at Rugeley of his friend and companion, public opinion in the Island strongly leaned to the conclusion that Spurrier had been done to death and robbed of the thousand pounds.
In this world the accuracy of this opinion will probably never be ascertained.