How exciting life was in Bury St. Edmunds in the mid-19th century! That at any rate was the view of Mrs. Catherine Foster. Although she was only 18 and had been married less than a month, she was already fed up with matrimony, and thirsting for all the wonderful things her dream town of Bury St. Edmunds could offer.

Her husband John, 24, who had been her childhood sweetheart, unfortunately played no part in her fantasies. To fulfil them, she decided he must go. After a tea of dumplings and potatoes on November 17th, 1846, he became violently ill and died a couple of hours later. A doctor diagnosed cholera, and he was duly buried.

But when the Fosters’ chickens all died the next day, someone remembered that Catherine had dumped the dead man’s vomit in a ditch from which the chickens habitually drank. John Foster’s body was then exhumed and found to be full of arsenic. Traces were also found in the bag Catherine had used to boil the dumplings, in the ditch and in the chickens.

Her eight-year-old brother Thomas told the county assize court that he had gone to live with the Fosters and saw his sister sprinkle white powder on the dumplings, and afterwards she burnt the packet. “She told me that she’d never really loved Mr. Foster,” he said.

The unhappy teenage bride was hanged on Saturday, April 17th, 1847, before a crowd of 10,000 outside the prison at Bury St. Edmunds, the town she imagined to be full of wild excitement. In a death-cell confession she said she poisoned her husband because she wanted to be free of him and enjoy life in the county town as a single woman.

The local newspaper report regretted that Catherine showed little contrition, adding sententiously: “In minds of this class, however, it is extremely difficult to judge of inward feeling by outward appearances, even in the last crisis of human life.”