1786: Danish murderer uses sneaky arsenic method


In the late 18th century a Danish physician, C. M. Mangor, delivered a curious report to Copenhagen’s Royal Society. It concerned a series of “fiendish murders”, carried out by an unnamed farmer living near the capital. According to Mangor, the farmer had gone through three young wives in the space of a few years. Each wife had been in good health but died within a day or two of contracting similar symptoms. The farmer’s own behaviour also aroused local suspicions. Six weeks after the death of his first wife he married a servant girl – however she lasted but a few years before falling victim to the mystery ailment, allowing the farmer to marry yet another maidservant. Eventually, in 1786, wife number three died from the same malady:

 
“About three in the afternoon, while enjoying good health, she was suddenly seized with shivering and heat in the vagina… Means were resorted to for saving her life but in vain: she was attacked with acute pain in the stomach and incessant vomiting, then became delirious, and died in 21 hours.”
 

Arsenic and old lace underwear... a bizarre method of dispatching three wives

Arsenic and old lace underwear… a bizarre method of dispatching three wives

At this point Dr Mangor, then serving as Copenhagen’s medical inspector, arrived to investigate. He discovered the farmer had been poisoning his wives by “introducing a mixture of arsenic and flour on the point of his finger into the vagina” after sexual intercourse, a theory supported by Mangor’s postmortem examination:

 
“Grains of arsenic were found in the vagina, although frequent lotions had been used in the treatment. The labia were swollen and red, the vagina gaping and flaccid, the os uteri gangrenous, the duodenum inflamed, the stomach natural.”
 

The farmer was arrested and placed on trial. To prepare for his testimony Dr Mangor conducted a number of experiments on cows. “The results clearly showed that when applied to the vagina of these animals”, he wrote, “it produces violent local inflammation and fatal constitutional derangement”. The farmer, as might be expected, was found guilty; his punishment is unrecorded but it seems likely he was executed. The number of cows to die in the name of vaginal-arsenic justice is also not recorded.


Source: Dr C. Mangor, “The history of a woman poisoned by a singular method” in Transactions of the Royal Society of Copenhagen, v.3, 1787; Sir Robert Christison, A Treatise on Poisons &c., London, 1832.

1696: Salmon’s anti-nymphomania lemonade


William Salmon (1644-1713) was an English apothecary, quack physician and author. Salmon was born in London but little is known of his upbringing. In his late teens Salmon set up a medical practice in Smithfield, treating all manner of illnesses and injuries for a low fee. He had no formal education but was a busy autodidact, accumulating and digesting a large collection of medical texts. In time Salmon became part-physician, part-showman and part-salesman, flogging his own brand of cure-all pills and draughts. In 1671 the self declared ‘Professor of Physic’ published his first medical book, Synopsis Medicinae. It was the first of more 25 books published by Salmon during his lifetime, almost all of which were copies, translations or adaptations of earlier works. In 1696 Salmon released The Family Dictionary, a simple medical guide for household use. One instalment provides a cure for ‘trembling members’:

nymphomania

William Salmon, London’s self styled medical professor and procurer of fine pills

 
“If the members tremble and shake, that you cannot at certain times hold them still… anoint the parts where you find the trepidation with powers of lavender and drink two drams of water made with man’s or swine’s blood, brought to putrefaction… This must be frequently repeated for a month’s time.”
 

For gout, Salmon suggests a poultice of hot kite’s dung, camphor and soap. Freckles can be removed by mixing blackbird droppings with lemon juice and smearing on the affected areas. One of Salmon’s more interesting ‘cures’ is his recipe for anti-nymphomaniac lemonade:

 
“Lemonade: Scrape lemon peel, as much as you think fit, into water and sugar, and add a few drops of the oil of sulphur, with some slices of lemon, observing always to put half a pound of sugar to a pint of water. This is very wholesome for the stomach, creates appetite and good digestion… And in the case of the distemper called furor uterinus ['uterine fury' or nymphomania] take the feathers of a partridge, burn them for a considerable time under the party’s nose, so that the fume may ascend the nostrils, and drink a quarter of a pint of this lemonade after it.”
 


Source: William Salmon, The Family Dictionary, London, 1696.