Every time Mrs. Beatrice Bolton became violently ill she went to hospital and speedily recovered. But as soon as she was back home she became ill again. So ill, finally, that in June, 1955, she died. A post-mortem settled the cause – arsenic poisoning.

The police decided that Mrs. Bolton’s husband Walter, 69, who managed a farm at Rusthall, Wanganui, on New Zealand’s North Island, had administered the poison, stealthily, dose by dose, over many months. When they looked for a motive, they discovered that Bolton had had a three-month affair with his wife’s widowed sister Ivy, 59, at the beginning of 1955.

No one had ever seen Bolton give his wife poison, and because he was a sheep farmer, arsenic proliferated in his sheep dips, and could possibly have been transmitted to his wife by natural means. Plenty of people came forward to say he adored Beatrice, spent considerable sums of money on her nursing care, and was always overjoyed when she came out of hospital.

Beatrice was often ill, it seems. She spent her last few weeks alive being nursed by Ivy, who said she had not paid much attention when Beatrice complained of her tea tasting funny. “She complained of everything – all the food. It was very, very hard to please her.”

Despite the paucity of evidence, the jury at Bolton’s trial in Wanganui found him guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to be hanged. Almost certainly what persuaded the jurors was his affair with Ivy – an affair that was now to cost him his life.

Bolton went to the scaffold in Auckland Prison on Monday, February 18th, 1957. Because there had been a moratorium on capital punishment, he was the first man to be hanged in New Zealand for 20 years. It proved to be a botched job. When the executioner pulled the lever Bolton did not fall far enough, and hung writhing over the drop while he slowly died of strangulation.

No doubt mindful of that, the New Zealand Government abolished the death penalty in 1961. Walter Bolton was the last man to be hanged in that country.