The case of the poisoned chocolates

Revenge is sweet in this family story of chocolates, strychnine and death from over a century ago. I told a version of this tale on West Bremer Radio.

When ninety-six-year-old George Frederick Chapman passed away in Lowood, Queensland, on the 16th of September 1919, he died a satisfied man. He left four sons, three daughters, two farming properties, and from the bank had just withdrawn £800 pounds cash, which is almost half-a-million dollars in today’s money.

George Chapman Snr

George had appointed his second daughter Caroline of Lowood, and youngest son Thomas from Brassall in Ipswich, as executors of his estate.

But upon the reading of the will, weird things started to happen. Caroline received in the post an anonymous letter and a mourning band that had been worn at the funeral. A card and a mock version of the will was found left on the father’s grave.

Things took a decidedly deadly turn when a box of chocolates, wrapped in brown paper and purportedly from old Aunt Naomi in Logan, was delivered to Caroline’s home.

Lowood Cemetery

Caroline offered one of the chocolates to a friend who complained that it tasted extraordinally  bitter. The chocolates were handed into the police and three of them were found to contain the poison strychnine. That was more than enough to kill whoever ate them.

Suspicion was cast upon the oldest son George Chapman Junior of Sandy Creek, near Coominya. That’s because although he was the oldest of seven children, he was the only one not to benefit from the will. He had been totally disinherited.

When his wife died in 1913, George Senior re-wrote his will for what he thought would be the last time. About three years later, his daughter Caroline returned from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia with her goldmining husband Frank Lehners. It was at around this time that old George revoked his 1913 will, and made another, this time disinheriting his oldest son George Jnr.

It was George Jnr’s wife Annie Chapman who took offence at her husband being cut off without a penny. Annie blamed her sister-in-law Caroline for having exercised undue influence over the father shortly before his death.

Annie was arrested and charged in the Brisbane police court with sending chocolates containing strychnine through the post with intent to kill. Detective senior sergeant John Donnelly prosecuted. He later became a private investigator known for having a client dress as a woman while they shadowed an estranged wife together.

Detective John Donnelly

Annie’s defence team engaged Doctor Thomas Cooney from Ipswich. Dr Cooney examined Annie at the Goodna mental asylum and said that she had “certain physiological irregularities”. He said this meant that after she had suffered from influenza, which she claimed to have done, it was possible that she wasn’t able to control her actions.

Annie was committed to face trial in the Supreme Court before the chief justice Sir Pope Cooper. She pleaded not guilty. The jury was locked up for two consecutive nights. After retirement of about three hours, they returned a verdict of guilty with a recommendation of mercy. The judge said that the crime warranted imprisonment with hard labour for five years, but Annie was released with just a five year good behaviour bond of £160.

Sir Pope Coopr

Annie may have had the last laugh.

Not only did she get off lightly with attempted murder, but around ten years after her poisoned chocolates case, the youngest son and executor of the will Thomas didn’t profit from the will at all. He was declared bankrupt and remained an undischarged bankrupt for up to fifteen years.

Annie was alleged to have told her arresting office that “revenge is sweet.” She might have been right in this case.


Photo credits:
Brown paper parcel – Barewalls.
George Frederick Chapman – Daily Mail, Brisbane, 29th November 1919 page 6.
George Frederick Chapman, Lowood Cemetery – Find a Grave added by Anne – here lies.
Inspector John Donnelly, CIB Officer in Charge, Queensland Detectives, 1920 – Queensland Police Museum PM0079.
Sir Pope Cooper, Chief Justice of Queensland 1903-1921 – National Library of Australia.


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