The evil killings of the Potton poisoner, whose trial began today in 1843

PUBLISHED: 12:01 22 July 2018

A poster confirming the death of Sarah Dazley. Picture: Ronnie Pickford

A poster confirming the death of Sarah Dazley. Picture: Ronnie Pickford

Archant

Bedford Court of Assize, July 22, 1843. A Potton woman takes the stand, accused of poisoning her husband.

The marriage certificate of William and Sarah Dazley. Picture: Ronnie PickfordThe marriage certificate of William and Sarah Dazley. Picture: Ronnie Pickford

Sarah Dazley, the so-called ‘Potton poisoner’, had long been suspected of foul play after her second husband William Dazley had suddenly fallen violently ill and died.

But there was more to her crime than the muder she was being tried for.

Born Sarah Reynolds in 1815, she had lived a troubled childhood. Her father was jailed in 1825 for unpaid debts, and died not long after his release. Her mother had a string of affairs with men who visited the family home.

It appears Sarah was similar to her mother, as Ronnie Pickford from the Wrestlingworth History Society explains.

A poster confirming the death of Sarah Dazley. Picture: Ronnie PickfordA poster confirming the death of Sarah Dazley. Picture: Ronnie Pickford

“Sarah grew up to be a pretty and confident young woman,” he says.

“Such a good-looking woman is seldom without an admirer – and following in her mother’s footsteps, Sarah had numerous boyfriends.”

In 1835, she married Simeon Mead. The couple seemed happy at first glance, but this was not the case behind closed doors.

The pair had been at loggerheads, with Sarah’s flirtatious ways seemingly behind their move to nearby Tadlow. The death of their newborn son Jonah made the situation worse.

Then, in 1840, Simeon suddenly died. Sarah’s grief was seemingly short-lived, as she remarried just four months later. Her new husband was 23-year-old labourer William Dazley, with whom she moved to Wrestlingworth.

It was at this time that suspicion began to arise around Sarah. “As in her previous relationship, the couple seemed quite happy,” says Ronnie.

“Both were popular members of the community, although some of the womenfolk held their suspicions as to Sarah’s character.

“Others were sceptical of the circumstances surrounding Sarah’s family bereavements, which were a long-standing topic of village gossip.”

William was soon seen drinking heavily at one of the village’s pubs, much to Sarah’s chagrin.

In an argument, William hit Sarah – after which she told one of her lovers she “would do for anyone who hits her”.

A few days later, William was taken ill – vomiting and complaining of stomach pains.

Dr Sandell from Potton visited and prescribed him pills. William quickly began to recover. His wife continued to care for him, visiting Dr Sandell regualary to get pills for William. Or so it seemed.

On one such a trip, a woman reported seeing Sarah dispose of the perscribed pills and swap in something else. When confronted, she claimed she did not trust the doctor and had instead been to see the village healer.

Earlier that day, Ann Mead – Simeon’s sister, who was living with the couple – walked in on Sarah rolling her own pills. She assumed Sarah was trying to sweeten the taste of the prescribed pills.

Ann then went on to take one of these pills to reassure William, after he initially refused to take them. The pair fell violently ill, but survived.

“Sarah was now desperate,” says Ronnie. “She continued to feed her husband more and more pills in greater dosages, and reassured him that the pills were from Dr Sandell.”

William died on October 31, 1842 – and the subsequent inquest, Ronnie says, was a “farce”.

“No suspicious circumstances were deemed to surround the death, which was ascribed to an infection,” he says.

But suspicious locals informed the coroner, Mr Eagles, of their concerns – and when William’s body was exhumed, traces of arsenic were found. An arrest warrant for Sarah was issued.

After an extensive police search, officers arrested Sarah – who was found hiding in London.

At her trial, she claimed William had poisoned Simeon and Jonah – whose bodies were also found to have traces of arsenic – and that she had taken revenge.

But evidence and inconsistencies in her story meant she stood light chance of acquittal. The jury took just half an hour to convict her.

On August 5, 1843, Sarah – in front of a crowd of 12,000 – became the first person to be executed in Bedford for 10 years.

She had been described by the judge at her trial as “utterly heartless” – and that is how Sarah will be forever remembered for her crimes.

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