The Young Poisoner

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Image retrieved on on September 22nd, 2013.

Young grew up to be a strange, solitary child, obsessed with crime and murder, and particularly with Dr. Crippin and Hitler. He dabbled in the occult and probably killed a number of cats. He also developed a keen interest in chemistry, quickly outstripping the school curriculum. By age 14 his knowledge of toxicology enabled him to convince local pharmacies that he was much older, allowing him to get his hands on dangerous substances including antimony sodium tartrate, atropine, digitalis, aconite, and thallium acetate. He decided to test his burgeoning expertise on fellow pupil Christopher Williams, feeding him a cocktail of poisons that made him seriously ill, but was frustrated by the fact that he could not observe his victim's sufferings. Young resolved to test his skills closer to home, and set about poisoning his entire family.

In November 1961 he put atropine in his sister's teacup and was nearly discovered when she blamed him for her subsequent illness. Meanwhile he was already poisoning his stepmother, Molly, with regular small doses of antimony sodium tartrate. She suffered intermittent illness until April 20, 1962 when Graham slipped a large dose of thallium into her evening meal. The next day her husband found her wreathing in agony while Graham looked on. She died later that night, her death misdiagnosed as a spinal-chord problem. Molly's cremation helped ensure that Graham evaded detection, while his father seems to have been unable to countenance the idea that Graham could be responsible, even when he too came down with attacks of vomiting and stomach cramps and was diagnosed with antimony poisoning.

Eventually Young was rumbled by a chemistry teacher who discovered that his school desk was full of poisons and alerted the police. The young poisoner was assessed by a psychiatrist, arrested, and sent to prison after admitting to some of his crimes - although not the murder of his step-mother. He was committed to Broadmoor - Britain's maximum-security prison for the criminally insane - as the third youngest inmate in its history.

Psychopaths are cunning and manipulative, and Young seems to have realized that if he ever wanted to be released he would have to fool the authorities that he was cured. In practice he was almost certainly still poisoning people. Soon after he arrived at Broadmoor a disturbed prisoner apparently committed suicide by cyanide, and it was rumored that Young had extracted the deadly substance from laurel bushes in the grounds. By 1971 he had convinced two psychiatrist that he was a reformed character, even as he warned a nurse that he intended to kill one person for every year of his incarceration.

Excerpt taken from pages 165-166 of Poisons an Illustrated History by Joel Levy

Graham Young, murderer, poison, atropine, cyanide, herb