“I am not guilty of this crime”
On 27 July 1881 James Maybrick, a 50-year-old cotton merchant from Liverpool, married 18-year-old Florence Chandler, an American from Alabama. They lived in America for three years before relocating to England, settling in Liverpool. They had two children. James Maybrick’s family disapproved of the match and he was a typical Victorian husband, domineering and short-tempered. He also fathered several illegitimate children. Florence found solace and companionship in the arms of Alfred Brierley, a friend of her husband. They quickly became lovers and in March 1889 spent a weekend together in London. When Florence returned to Liverpool, Maybrick was furious and not long after cut her out of his will. The couple bumped into Brierley at Aintree on Grand National Day and when they went home Maybrick blacked Florence’s eye.
On 28 April Maybrick fell ill with vomiting and diarrhoea. Florence told the doctor that he had been taking a white powder. Thirteen days later, on 11 May, James Maybrick died. A love letter to Brierley had been intercepted by Alice Yapp, one of the family servants, and passed on to Maybrick’s brother.
An examination on 13 May found traces of arsenic in Maybrick’s body and Florence was arrested the next day. Further investigation unearthed the fact that she had bought three dozen arsenical flypapers from chemists. At Liverpool on 31 July 1889 Florence went on trial, accused of murdering her husband. The various medical experts could not agree on the cause of death because Maybrick had been a hypochondriac who took many different drugs. Florence claimed she had used the arsenic as a cosmetic. The judge Mr Justice Stephen’s summing-up was weighted against Florence because of her adultery and she was found guilty and sentenced to death. She said, “Although I have been found guilty, with the exception of the intimacy with Mr Brierley, I am not guilty of this crime.”
Battlecrease House, Aigburth, Liverpool, England
Saturday 11 May 1889
The death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment and Florence was released on 25 January 1904. She moved back to America and died on 23 October 1941. Mr Justice Stephen went mad and ended his days in an asylum. In 1992 a story broke that a diary, purportedly written by Jack the Ripper, had surfaced in Liverpool. The author of the diary was said to be James Maybrick who had known of Florence’s infidelity and had taken his revenge in Whitechapel, London.