Friday, 7 October 2016
The Patchwork Poisoner
Hello all, and a warm welcome to a slightly spine-chilling post!
Blogposts are few and far between here at the moment, but what better reason to put in an appearance than a new challenge starting at A Vintage Journey. The brilliant Anne is our host for October and she would like us to Make It Spooky.
I picked up an 8x8 Regions Beyond paper pad on sale at Michael's as well as a small set of Tim Holtz Halloween stamps, so fortunately I was able to join in with the spookiness.
And really this tag is all about the story (though there are a few making-of details right at the end if you're interested).
As I cut and layered my patchwork collage of ephemera, the story of the Patchwork Poisoner wove itself out of my imagination and into the tag... read on if you dare!
This rather formidable looking woman is Lilian Grace Brewer. Well, as far as anyone can tell that was her original name. As you will hear, she was married many times, and often changed her first names too, so it's hard to know for sure.
We would know nothing at all of Brewer and her history were it not for the efforts of one John Franklin Whitlock, a journalist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, who, in 1907, noticed a curious coincidental pattern in the reporting of some deaths stretching back over a number of decades; deaths which, until then, had not been linked in any way.
The murders were geographically remote from one another. In some cases, poison was confirmed as the cause of death - though different poisons were used in each incident.
Since poisoners tend to stick to a preferred poison, this varying use of substances - as well as a lack of communication between officers of the law in different states and substantial time delays between the deaths - meant nobody made any connection between them.
Some deaths were not even regarded as suspicious until Whitlock's investigations resulted in a series of exhumations - more than seven - taking place from Ohio via Illinois all the way to North Dakota, confirming poisons ranging from Carbolic Acid to Formaldehyde as the causes of death in each of these unfortunate gentlemen.
The thing which first caught Whitlock's attention in two or three reports he happened upon, was the mention of the bodies - all those of moderately prosperous, middle-aged men - being found laid out peacefully in their beds, warmly wrapped in what were clearly newly completed patchwork quilts of beautifully intricate design.
As he dug further into this curious coincidence, he started to uncover evidence of a decades-long murder spree by one woman - Lilian Grace Brewer.
He was able gradually to piece together her modus operandi, and in the resulting newspaper story - an exclusive for the Cincinnati Enquirer which was later syndicated nationwide - he dubbed her "The Patchwork Poisoner".
Lilian Grace Brewer would arrive unobtrusively in a small but prosperous town to take up a post as a teacher or librarian, or sometimes - in a more direct approach - as the governess in the household of a widower.
Before long, her calm demeanour and upright character would attract the attention of a lonely older gentleman, and a quiet wedding would take place.
That wedding certificate would also serve as the death warrant for the unfortunate man. Once married, Lilian would begin sewing her patchwork quilt and, as she gathered her fabric swatches she would also be gathering sufficient supplies of whatever poisonous toxin she had decided to use in this case.
Upon completion of the patchwork - which might be a work of months or sometimes even years - she would deploy her poisons, tuck her husband securely in his bed under the quilted work of art, and leave the town as quietly as she had arrived.
If John Franklin Whitlock's evidence is to be believed, she carried out this pattern of behaviour at least a dozen times over nearly three decades, and possibly even more often than that. As far as he could discover, she never benefited financially from the killings. By the time probate was proven, Lilian Grace Brewer - or whatever name she was going by at the time - was long gone.
We can only assume that she found some sort of satisfaction in her patchwork poisonings.
Perhaps she selected her victims deliberately because she felt they deserved their fate for some reason.
What it was which made her adorn each body with a patchwork quilt of reportedly exquisite design will remain forever a mystery. In one form or another, she was an artist, and this was her work.
So that there's not too much mystery about this tag, here are a couple of details. I've used the Tim Holtz Autumn stencil in the background layers, and the fluffy white "cobweb" is made of my tumble-dryer softening sheets after they've been through the cycle. (I've no choice about tumble-drying, I'm afraid... I'm in a hotel with nowhere to hang the clothes up!)
The advertisements, photo and labels in my patchwork collage are all from the Regions Beyond paper pad, and the textured black paper which forms the frame and the topping came as the wrapping around the fragranced candles I bought to make the hotel room a little cosier.
Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you want some more Halloween inspiration, do hop over to A Vintage Journey and see what my fabulous team-mates have been creating. We hope you will come and Make It Spooky with us this month!
Belladonna (noun): In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.
I see poisoners—so calculating, so cold-blooded—as most like the villains of our horror stories. They’re closer to that lurking monster in the closet than some drug-impaired crazy with a gun. I don’t mean to dismiss the latter—both can achieve the same awful results. But the scarier killer is the one who thoughtfully plans his murder ahead, tricks a friend, wife, lover into swallowing something that will dissolve tissue, blister skin, twist the muscles with convulsions, knows all that will happen and does it anyway.
From The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum
I'd like to enter this in the Simon Says Stamp Monday Challenge where the theme this week is Halloween
NB All names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of my own fevered imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. I really hope there's nobody resembling my Patchwork Poisoner out there...