THE HOLLOWED CHOCOLATE
from Memoirs of a great detective: incidents in the life of John Wilson Murray (1904)
compiled by Victor Speer
A CALL to Galt awaited Murray on his return from Thessalon and the search for Maud Gillespie. Great excitement prevailed in the county of Waterloo. Many people were terrified; others were infuriated. A fiend was among them spreading death and planning the extermination of whole families. No one had any clue to the mysterious one’s identity. It might be a stranger, it might be a neighbour; it might be a person of high estate or it might be a creature of low degree. None knew, and there were myriad suspicions. It was as if an avenging angel or a deadly devil were abroad in the county, lurking to slay and escape unseen, leaving no trace of the manner of death. A victim arose in the morning well and happy, and fell lifeless before noon without a sign of sickness or an intimation of the end.
“The climax came when little Meta Cherry, the three-year-old daughter of John Cherry, a prominent mill-owner of Galt, died in a sudden and mysterious way,” says Murray. “I went to Galt, a prosperous town near Berlin, in the county of Waterloo It was September 1888. Several persons were sick, as if a plague were upon them. I looked at the little child. She seemed startled, even in death, as if the hand that thrust her into eternity had seized her roughly and scared her. I talked with John Cherry, and he told me of a box of chocolate drops that had come through the mail. He showed me the box. A few of the chocolates were gone. Meta had eaten them. I took one out, and carefully scraped the chocolate off with a knife-blade. I found on the bottom of the chocolate a spot where a cavity had been bored, and this had been filled with a whitish substance, unlike the cream candy of the chocolate, and the hole then had been sealed deftly by glazing over the bottom with more chocolate. I took the contents of the box, and sent the chocolates to Professor Ellis for analysis.
“I examined the box minutely. It revealed no clue, simply an ordinary pasteboard box. The wrapper in which it came showed a label pasted over an old address. The address on this label was printed with a soft lead pencil. I steamed the label to get at the address underneath it, but it had been washed out and scraped away, except for the one word ‘Miss.’ The package had been mailed in Galt. On inquiry I learned that similar packages had been received by the Rev. John Ridley, minister of the Church of England in Galt, and by Miss May Lowell and Mrs. Lowell, daughter and wife of Charles Lowell, proprietor of the Queen’s Hotel in Galt. The boxes were quite small, and the inscriptions were alike as to the soft lead pencil. The packages had been dropped in the mail when no one was around, and the sender had vanished unseen.
“Professor Ellis reported that the cavities in the chocolate drops were filled with strychnine. This established clearly the intent of the poisoner to kill many people, and wipe out a number of families.
“I spent days gathering all the gossip of the town for generations back, hearing all the tales of trouble, and searching for some secret feud or some deadly hatred that would supply a motive for the deed. I ransacked ancestral closets for family skeletons, and I poked in all the after-dark affairs and twilight scandals since the days when the oldest inhabitants were gay young folk, fond of walking hand-in-hand through the gloaming. I ran down secrets that distressed dear old ladies, and left them in tears. I heard confessions of errors of youth that had lain locked in gentle bosoms for many kindly years; in fact, for a time I was an old Paul Pry Gadabout, poking my nose into other folk’s business, until I felt I had sifted the lives and winnowed the chaff from the wheat in the collective career of the entire community. Every town has its chamber of horrors, where the sad episodes of indiscreet living are laid away to crumble in darkness, and the town of Galt has no more than its share of secrets of the passing generations. I found nothing in the long-gone years to throw light on the crime. There was no venerable hatred sufficient to inspire the murder of a little child. So I turned to later years, and for entanglements of recent months.
“In the meantime, about the middle of October, I arrested Hannah Boyd at Thorold. Hannah was a fine-looking girl, and had been living as a domestic in the Queen’s Hotel, of which Mr. Lowell was proprietor. Later she removed to Thorold, and worked for a family there as Hannah Bond. Her home was in Hamilton. I kept her a week, and interviewed her thoroughly, particularly as to the family life of the Lowells, and whether she knew of the receipt of the package of chocolates by Mrs. Lowell and Miss Lowell, and whether she ever had heard of any trouble with the Ridleys, the Cherrys, and the Lowells. I was satisfied after these interviews with Hannah that she had no guilty knowledge, and that she had nothing whatever to do with sending the packages.
“I did develop promptly a strong suspicion as to the person who did send the poison packages. I searched the drug-stores through Canada, and examined the poison-books in all of them, and went so far as to describe to some of the druggists the person I suspected; but I found no clue that would hold in a trial as sufficient evidence to convict anybody. It is one of the most aggravating cases of my entire experience, yet I hold steadfast to my first impression.”