Mrs. Johanna Blume, a 77-year-old widow, owned a house in Fulham, London, where she lived with her granddaughter. Getting to know her, Richard Brinkley, a 53-year-old carpenter, fancied her home and devised a scheme to obtain its possession.

First he cultivated Mrs. Blume’s acquaintance. Then he drew up a will in her name, in which she left him her entire estate. To obtain her signature on the document, he folded it so that it appeared to be a blank piece of paper. Then he told Mrs. Blume he was collecting signatures for a seaside outing. “It’s going to be a wonderful day out,” he told her. “You’ll enjoy every minute of it.”

She peered at the piece of paper and signed it between the two crosses Brinkley had thoughtfully added in pencil. In the same way he then obtained the signatures of two witnesses, Reginald Parker and Henry Heard, who signed their names below Mrs. Blume’s.

Her death followed two days later, and Brinkley promptly produced the will and claimed her property. Her 21-year-old granddaughter accepted that the will bore Mrs. Blume’s signature, but she decided to challenge it, and went to a solicitor. He wrote asking Brinkley to prove the document’s validity, adding that he wished to see the will’s witnesses.

The solicitor subsequently saw Reginald Parker, who said he had no recollection of witnessing a will, let alone seeing Mrs. Blume sign any document.

Informed that the will was to be contested, Brinkley went to see Mrs. Blume’s granddaughter, offering to marry her if she would accept the will’s terms and drop her solicitor. But the granddaughter wasn’t interested in marriage, least of all to a man more than twice her age.

His proposal rejected, Brinkley decided to eliminate his two witnesses, starting with Parker. On the pretext of buying a bulldog Parker had for sale, on APRIL 20th, 1907, he went to see him at his lodgings in Croydon, taking along a bottle of stout which he placed on a table while they went out to look at the animal.

In their absence Parker’s landlord Richard Beck entered the room with his wife and daughter. Seeing the bottle of stout, they decided to sample it. Moments later they collapsed, Beck and his wife dying shortly afterwards, their daughter recovering in hospital.

The stout was found to be laced with prussic acid, and when Parker told the police that the bottle had been brought by Brinkley he was arrested on suspicion of causing the Becks’ deaths. Detectives found a vet who had supplied Brinkley with prussic acid to destroy a dog. They also found the off-licence assistant who had sold Brinkley the bottle of stout.

Convicted at Guildford Assizes of the Becks’ murder and the attempted murder of their daughter and Parker, Richard Brinkley was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on August 13th, 1907.

And Mrs. Blume? When she was exhumed, the police were confident that prussic acid would be found. But there was no trace of any poison. So her death was either an extraordinary coincidence or Brinkley somehow outwitted the pathologist Bernard Spilsbury who examined the body.