My turn to make a brew: the case of the Teacup Poisoner

Archive picture of Bovingdon poisoner Graham Young
Archive picture of Bovingdon poisoner Graham Young

A recent evening at the Hemel Hempstead Local History & Museum Society focussed on the the notorious Bovingdon poisoner Graham Young.

Margaret Wood, who gave this part of the Villains of Dacorum programme, recounted that Graham Frederick Young was born on September 7, 1947, to Fred and Bessie Young.

Sadly his mother died three months later – perhaps her early death was a cause for his later behaviour.

Graham was put into the care of his aunt and uncle, until his father remarried in 1950.

Graham was fascinated by chemistry, and by the age of 13 his knowledge of toxicology was such he was able to convince local chemists that he was 17, allowing him to purchase quantities of poisons for ‘study’ purposes.

Keen to put his knowledge to the test, his first victim was a fellow science pupil. His victim was lucky to survive, probably because Young could not monitor him while he was being looked after at home.

In 1961, at the age of 14, he decided to focus on a group to whom he had unlimited access – his own family.

Young’s aunt, who knew of his fascination with chemistry and poisons, became suspicious. He was sent to a psychiatrist, who recommended contacting the police.

Young was arrested on May 23, 1962, confessing to the attempted murders of his father, sister and a friend.

He was detained under the Mental Health Act in Broadmoor Hospital, after being assessed as suffering from a psychopathic disorder.

It was stipulated he should be detained for 15 years, but after only eight he was released as an out-patient to a psychiatric clinic in Slough, where he attended a job training centre.

In April 1971, he applied for a job as a storekeeper at John Hadland Laboratoriesin Bovingdon. The company wrote to the Slough clinic requesting a reference, but no mention was made of the fact that Young had poisoned members of his own family, nor of his time in Broadmoor.

Soon after Young began work his foreman, Bob Egle, grew ill and was taken to hospital, where he died eight days later.

Some months later, another worker called Fred Biggs fell mysteriously ill after drinking tea. He was taken to hospital, and examined by seven doctors before being transferred to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London, where he died.

Other employees fell ill, apparently with food poisoning, or what became known as the ‘Bovingdon Bug’.

Young poisoned about 70 people during the next few months, none fatally.

However, with two sudden deaths and so much illness, a meeting was called by the company, addressed by the firm’s doctor, during which Young boasted to the doctor of his knowledge of toxicology.

When the police went to Young’s bedsit, they discovered a phial of thallium and his diary. The latter contained damning evidence, noting the doses he had administered, their effects, and whether he was going to allow each person to live or die!

His trial, which started on June 19, 1972, lasted ten days. Young, dubbed ‘The Teacup Poisoner’ was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Young died in his cell at Parkhurst Prison in 1990, aged only 42 – a sad and unusual Dacorum story.