The extraordinary story of the brilliant young man whose knowledge of poisons was so advanced that he could he have become one of Britain's leading experts in the field. Instead, he used his knowledge to embark on a murderous career, earning himself the title, 'Teacup Poisoner'. On June 29, 1972, he received four life sentences at St Albans Crown Court. He said nothing as the judge sentenced him. Downstairs, he turned to his sister and aunt and said: “Forget all about me. I'm sorry for all the trouble I have caused you.” His name was Graham Young.
Every Boy Should Have a Hobby
Graham Frederick Young was born in Neasden, North West London on September 7, 1947, to Fred Young, a machine setter, and his wife Margaret. His mother developed pleurisy during pregnancy and died of tuberculosis. “Graham did not have the easiest of starts in life. His mother died twelve weeks after the birth, which meant that Young's father fostered him out to an aunt," says, Professor David Wilson. His elder sister, 8-year-old Winifred, was taken in by her grandparents. Young spent the first two years of his life with his aunt Winnie and uncle Jack. Graham grew close to his aunt and in 1950, his father remarried and he went back to live with them in a house on the North Circular Road. His new wife was a younger woman named Molly. According to Professor Wilson: “Young and the stepmother were almost at loggerheads immediately” and he seemed to bear some antagonism toward her.
He was an unusual, solitary child. Since the age of nine or ten, Graham Young had been stealing his stepmother's perfume and nail varnish to analyze its composition and sniff the vapours. When he passed his 11-plus, Fred Young bought his son a chemistry set as a reward. By then he had graduated from nail varnish remover to inhaling from a bottle of ether to get high. Young began carrying a bottle of acid around with him at school and managed to burn a hole in his blazer. He extracted gunpowder from fireworks and blew up a neighbours wall and a nearby hut. He fostered an interest in taboo subjects from an early age, poring over books like Sixty Famous Trials, of which his favourite chapter was about Victorian poisoner, William Palmer. He also regarded Dr Crippen as a role model and openly read Mein Kamf. By the age of 12, Young was extolling the virtues of Adolf Hitler and how he was “misunderstood” to whoever would listen.
Graham Young had few friends at John Kelly Secondary School and his habit of wearing an old swastika badge did not endear him to his contemporaries. Although he was a bright boy, his only interests were chemistry, forensic science and toxicology. “He was dangerous. He was evil and I was afraid of him” recalls his friend and classmate Clive Creager. Graham developed an interest in the occult and claimed to be part of a coven run by a man he had met at the local library. He would attempt to get his friends to smoke ether with him and to participate in occult ceremonies, sacrificing a cat on one occasion. The disappearance of several cats at this time suggests that it was a regular occurrence. Graham was a “very clever boy” according to Anthony Holden, author of The St. Albans Poisoner. He “was clearly educating himself into an expert chemist”. Young was unusually bright in an uncommon way. “Here we have a boy who almost from the start is isolated, is lonely, is obsessed with poisons and crucially obsessed with Nazism, “ says Professor Wilson “It was almost as if the writing was on the wall from Graham Young, from a very early age”.
Graham Young's interest in chemistry led him to befriend another science enthusiast named Christopher Williams. Young genuinely liked the boy and the two often ate their packed lunches together, occasionally swapping sandwiches. Graham began slipping antimony into the boys sandwiches. Williams was off school for days with a mystery ailment which doctors deemed to be a virus or bug. He suffered extended periods of vomiting, painful cramps and headaches. All this time, Young would keep meticulous notes. One day the boys visited London Zoo and Graham gave his friend some lemonade laced with antimony. Christopher Williams survived, only because Young was not able to monitor his victim when he was sick at home. Both boys were thirteen-years-old. Nobody would have suspected poison.
Crime author Agatha Christie published her book Pale Horse, around the time of Graham Young's first bout of poisoning. In the book, thallium is administered by the killer and this evidently inspired the boy. Using the fake ID of M.E. Evans, Young was able to convince two chemists that he was aged seventeen and that he needed them for “study”. He was able to cloak his murderous intentions beneath a veil of charm and maturity. He procured enough antimony, arsenic, digitalis and thallium to kill 300 people.
Graham Young now turned his attention to his family and concentrated on his 37-year-old stepmother Molly, whom he had hated since the age of three. She had destroyed his toy train set - for reasons that remain unclear. Young took pleasure in watching his stepmother in constant ill health, knowing full well that he was responsible. He enjoyed the control he had over others. “Through poisoning his family, he is able to establish that control,” says Professor David Wilson. In the early part of 1961, Graham Young was conducting a long-term experiment. He put antimony in the Sunday joint and watched what it did to his father, stepmother, and sister. Molly suffered vomiting, diarrhea, and intense stomach pain, which she initially dismissed as attacks of biliousness. Fred Young, 44, began suffering similar symptom for days at a time and that summer, 22-year-old Winifred Young was violently ill on a couple of occasions.
In November 1961, Winifred Young was served a cup of tea by her brother but threw it away after only a sip because it tasted sour. An hour later, she began to hallucinate on a train and had to be escorted off. Winifred was taken to hospital where the doctors concluded that she had been poisoned by belladonna. Meanwhile, the protagonist continued to make notes in his diary. Fred Young only suspected that his son contaminated the kitchen utensils he borrowed for his school experiments. He confronted Graham. But he only blamed his sister, claiming that she had been mixing shampoo in the family's teacups. Fred Young found nothing incriminating in his son's room and warned him to be more careful when messing about with “those bloody chemicals".
In the early months of 1962, Molly Young's condition deteriorated. She lost weight, suffered agonising backache, and her hair began to fall out. After a year of poisoning his stepmother with antimony, Graham Young spiked her evening meal with 20 grains of thallium which was enough to kill five or six people. The following day, Easter Saturday, Molly Young awoke with different symptoms. Her neck was stiff and she experienced pins and needles in her hands and feet. Molly went shopping but returned before lunchtime, while her husband was out at a local public house. Fred Young returned home to find his wife writhing in agony in the garden. Fred Young noticed his son staring intently from the kitchen window at the scene. Molly was admitted to hospital but the doctors could not fathom her symptoms. Her last words were simply that she just wanted to go home and make her family dinner. Just hours later, Molly Young was dead. A postmortem concluded that she had died from a collapsed bone in the spine, incurred from a car accident a year earlier. Molly was cremated at Graham's suggestion. After the funeral, Graham's uncle John began vomiting violently after eating mustard pickle sandwiches, spiked by his nephew.
Meanwhile, Fred Young had suffered permanent damage to his liver. So far, Graham had shown little remorse for his stepmother or the plight of his father. His sister Winifred had also been damaged by the poisoning. Young began placing larger and larger amounts of antimony in his father's food and drink. Fred Young had already begun to suffer similar symptoms to his deceased second wife, and was rushed to hospital where his son coolly observed him and continued to make notes. This time, the doctors diagnosed him as suffering from arsenic poisoning. “How ridiculous, not being able to tell the difference between arsenic and antimony poisoning” Graham responded disdainfully. When the boy began lecturing the doctors on which poison might be responsible, his father cried: “Get that boy away from me!”
Graham Young's chemistry teacher Geoffrey Hughes had his own suspicions about the eccentric teenager. He searched the boy's desk and found bottles of poisons, drawings of dying men, and essays about famous poisoners. Hughes duly contacted the police. Young was sent for what he believed to be a careers interview, but the interviewer was, in fact, a police psychiatrist who reported what the boy said to him. The police were waiting for Graham when he arrived home from school on the afternoon of 2 May 1962. They searched his pockets but found nothing. When Graham was asked to remove his shirt three small bottles dropped out. They contained antimony and Young was taken into custody where he made a boastful confession. They were his exit dose for which to commit suicide if he was ever caught. Young was arrested for attempted murder. At first, Graham denied everything, but broke down and confessed to poisoning his father and sister and his best friend at school. Molly Young had been cremated, so "It grew on me like a drug habit, except it was not me who was taking the drugs." Graham Young said. "I miss my antimony. I miss the power it gives me," he informed the psychiatrists, while on remand awaiting trial. Graham Young was fourteen-years and ten-months-old.
The trial began on 6, July 1962 at the Old Bailey. Graham Young entered a plea of not guilty and he was vigorously defended by Jean Southworth who likened him to "a drug addict, to be pitied for his obsession”. Psychiatrist and senior medical officer at Ashworth, Dr. Christopher Fysh gave a more convincing account and he was supported by consultant Dr. Donald Blair “I would say he (Young) was prepared to take the risk of killing to gratify his interest in poisons. He is obsessed by the sense of power they gave him. I fear he will do it again”. But his prophetic words would not be heeded. Both specialists concluded that Graham Young was a dangerous psychopath. He was found guilty. Because of his age, the judge decided to send Young to a mental hospital for the criminally insane. He was sentenced to be detained at Broadmoor maximum security hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire with an order that he was not to be released without the permission of the Home Secretary for 15 years.
The Victorian Asylum
Graham Young was the youngest person to be committed to Broadmoor, since 1885. At Broadmoor, he did not come under the prison system so was not restricted. “He lived very much in a fantasy world at first … All he would talk about were his poisons” a nurse at the hospital recalled. One of his inmates was a man named John Berridge. Graham wrote letters to his sister, expressing irritation at his loud snoring in the communal dormitory. Within months of Young arriving at Broadmoor, John Berridge was dead of cyanide poisoning. Young was said to have extracted the poison from laurel bushes in the hospital yard. But his confession was not taken seriously, and Berridge's death was recorded as suicide. On another occasion, staff's coffee was found to contain Harpic bleach, and from then on they would joke to inmates:"Unless you behave, I'll let Graham make your coffee”. Graham grew a Hitler mustache and made hundreds of wooden swastikas to wear around his neck. Young used the library for research; studying poisons and general medicine. He read William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Dennis Wheatley's series of disquieting novels on the occult and Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Young deduced that if he was ever to leave Broadmoor, he would have to change his behaviour. By the end of his fifth year at Broadmoor, he had become the model patient and convinced Dr. Edgar Udwin who was responsible for his rehabilitation that he was a reformed man. Despite this, two whole packets of sugar soap went missing at Broadmoor in 1968. The contents were later found in the communal tea urn. Nevertheless, Graham Young had seemingly transformed himself into the model patient and in June 1970, after nearly eight years in Broadmoor. Dr. Udwin reported to the Home Office that Young had experienced “profound changes”. He "is no longer obsessed with poisons, violence and mischief.” announced Dr. Udwin.
On 16 June 1970, Graham wrote to tell his sister Winifred that the “estimable Edgar" – referring to Dr Udwin - hoped to discharge him later that year. He was granted home visits and spent a week with his sister Winifred who was now married to Dennis Shannon and had a little boy. “Guess what, your friendly Frankenstein is coming to stay with you next week,” he wrote to her, in an infamous letter. The week passed uneventfully enough and Graham even expressed remorse for what he had done in a reflective moment. Graham Young hoodwinked Dr. Unwin into believing he was now fit to return to society and was certified as “cured”. He celebrated by making a chilling threat to a psychiatric nurse: “When I get out, I'm going to kill one person for every year I've spent in here”. Although the comment was recorded on his file, nobody paid it any heed. Graham Young has since been diagnosed as having a schizoid obsessive personality.
Angel of Death
Graham Young was twenty-three years old when he walked free from Broadmoor on 4, February 1971. Winifred Young was more forgiving than her father, and he went to stay with and her new husband Dennis in Hemel Hempstead. Upon his release, Graham visited the scenes of his crimes and made a sentimental journey to the chemists where he had originally procured his poisons. He took pleasure in the reaction of his old neighbours. Within a week of his release, he began training as a storekeeper in Slough and moved into a hostel nearby. 34-year-old Trevor Sparkes was a fellow hostel resident. He was soon exhibiting the familiar symptoms of Young's former victims. Graham helpfully suggested that a glass of wine might help, but the man's condition only worsened. Trevor Sparkes was an avid football player, and was taken ill when his legs gave way at a match. He never played football again and would experience “diabolical pains” for years to come. Around the same time, another man claimed to have had a drink with a man who fitted Graham Young's description. He later committed suicide after experiencing excruciating pain. No connection to Young was made at the time.
Shortly after, Graham found a job as a storekeeper with John Hadland's Ltd, a photographic instrument firm in Bovington, Hertfordshire. He started his new job on 10 May 1971.
“When Graham arrived, it was understood that he had come from some rehabilitation as a result of a mental breakdown. He didn't strike one as exceptional. He was very dark, somewhat glum, very articulate, clearly very intelligent and obviously conveyed through one means or another knowledge of chemistry and we, those who were curious, asked him what he had done in the past and he said well I was actually a failed chemistry student or a pharmacist” recalls former co-worker Anthony Oldham “I do remember colleagues saying one day as we were discussing him generally, just don't get him on the subject of Hitler and the Nazis because it's a favourite topic and he'll be off on one basically and we did smile about it and keep well clear of that”.
Graham Young was good-looking and slightly built, with dark brown hair and piercing eyes. He had a peculiarly formal, deferential mode of speech and in many of his photographs appears brooding and intense. The most famous image, which he chose as a media photo at his trial, shows a glowering Young staring at the camera. According to author Anthony Holden, Graham Young was scowling because he thought he had been cheated out of some money by the coin-operated photo booth where the picture was taken.
Within days of Young's arrival at Hadland's, people began to fall ill. “People were taking time off, either one or two days or whatever and then things started to get more serious” says Anthony Oldhams, a work colleague at Hadland's “I remember when I was in one of the buildings looking out, and somebody came rushing out of the doors and was violently ill on the grass outside which, looking back on it at the time, we thought there's something extraordinary going there”
41-year-old Ronald Hewitt was about to leave the firm but stayed on a few weeks to train the new boy. 59-year-old foreman Bob Eagle and 60-year-old Fred Biggs also befriended the young man, lending him cigarettes and money for his bus fare. Eagle was soon taken ill, suffering from diarrhea, nausea, extreme backache and numbness in the tips of his fingers. Over a period of two months, Eagle was constantly admitted to a hospital, where doctors failed to diagnose his condition. And when he returned to work, Bob Eagle confided in his friend Graham Young. “Eagle was very ill, I think it was probably the thallium, very horrible effect on him in terms of sensitivity of his skin, giving him violent hallucinations” recalls Anthony Oldhams “he was having nightmares out of hell with this”
On 7 July 1971, eight days after being admitted, Bob Eagle died in St Albans hospital. The cause of death was attributed to broncho-pneumonia and polyneuritis. "Its very sad, that Bob should have come through the terrors of Dunkirk only to fall victim to some strange virus” declared Graham Young. He even visited Eagle's widow and convinced her that cremation was the best option these days. The company director chose Young to accompany him to the funeral on behalf of the company because he and Eagle had been friends. “So Graham sat in the crematorium, watching the evidence literally go up in smoke,” says Anthony Holden, author of The St Albans Poisoner.
Graham Young targeted ten of his work colleagues at Hadland's. Ronald Hewitt had begun suffering from similar symptoms to Bob Eagle. Over the next three weeks, he suffered no fewer than twelve bouts of this mysterious illness. Hewitt left the firm eight days after Bob Eagle's death. In September 1971, 60-year-old Fred Tipps fell ill at Hadland's suffering from similar symptoms to Bob Eagle and Ronald Hewitt. Also that month, an import-export manager named Peter Bock fell ill after drinking tea with Graham Young. The following month, David Tilson, a clerk, Jethro Bart, a storeman also fell foul of what was coming to be known as the “Bovington bug”. Both men grew worse and Tilson began to lose his hair. Diana Smart developed stomach cramps, nausea, and other symptoms. Two months after Eagle's death, Young turned his attention to the store manager, Fred Biggs. He had been working at Hadland's for four years and had become friendly with Graham Young. He soon began to suffer symptoms similar to the victims. Jethro Batt, 39, was a fellow storeroom worker. One evening, Young made him a cup of coffee but Batt threw it away complaining it tasted bitter. "What's the matter? D'you think I'm trying to poison you?” asked Graham Young. Twenty minutes later Jethro Batt vomited and felt intense pain in his legs.
"F (Fred) is responding to treatment," Graham wrote in his diary. "He is being obstinately difficult. If he survives a third week he will live. I am most annoyed." On 19, November 1971, Fred Biggs succumbed to his illness. On the one hand, Young presented himself as a friendly work colleague, on the other, he administered poisons to his work colleagues and kept meticulous notes in his diary. Graham Young coolly observed these people suffering at his hands. He was cold and calculated killer who remained detached from his handiwork.
A medical inquiry was held into the working conditions at the firm and a meeting ensued with the entire workforce in the canteen. Dr. Arthur Anderson, who led the investigation, made himself available for questioning. He was bombarded by one particular employee. “Graham Young then piped up and started asking questions, and they were very technical terms he was using” remembers Anthony Oldham “I suppose in a sense we weren't so surprised because of this past experience he had” The suspicions of the management were aroused. “Young says too much and reveals this knowledge of poisons, indeed he suggests to the authorities, have you considered thallium poisoning and it is that over-eagerness to be part of the story, to be at the forefront of what is happening that leads to Young being arrested,” says Professor David Wilson. The management at Hadland's decided to look into Young's past and discovered that he had been released from Broadmoor the year before after being committed for poisoning his family.
Graham Young was arrested at Alma Road, in Sheerness, Kent, at 11.30 pm on Saturday, November 21, 1971. He was spending the weekend with his father and aunt and was making a sandwich at the time. “Which one are you doing me for?” Graham Young asked as he was led away. His room at the hostel in Hemel Hempstead was searched. They found his walls decorated with pictures of Hitler and other Nazi leaders, and unsettling drawings of emaciated figures holding bottles marked poison, clutching their throats as their hair fell out. Bottles, vials and tubes were lined along the window sill. Under his bed, they discovered the incriminating diary, loftily titled 'A Student's and Officer's Casebook'. Tests were carried out on the organs of Ben Biggs and the ashes of Robert Eagle, revealing that Biggs had ingested over 100 grams of thallium tartrate. 1 gram of the poison could be fatal. Graham Young was rearrested less than a year after leaving Broadmoor. He confessed to poisoning six people, two of whom had died. “I could have killed them all if I wished, as I did Bob Eagle and Ben Biggs, but I allowed them to live” he declared. Young seemed resigned to his fate but he laughed mockingly when asked to make a written statement.
The Teacup Poisoner
On 17 June 1972, Graham Young stood trial at St Albans Crown Court, charged with the murder of Bob Eagle and Ben Biggs and several counts of attempted murder. He was delighted at the media hype that surrounded his trial and attempted to unnerve the jury by appearing sinister. But he was less than enamoured with the sobriquet the 'Teacup Poisoner,' which he felt belittled his skill and knowledge. He thought 'World Poisoner' more appropriate.“His demeanor was very arrogant, detached. Like one of those dictators who doesn't recognise the court. He sent me notes across the court that said, 'make me so famous that I wind up in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds. I want to go down in history as a really famous murderer” recalls Anthony Holden, who was present at the trial. "He was very proud of being the first person to use thallium in a poisoning case in Britain," Young's defence lawyer Peter Goodman, remembers, "For him the whole thing was one big chemistry experiment, and I suppose the trial was an experiment in seeing if he could use his knowledge to argue his way out of it”.
The defense called one witness, Graham Young, and he remained cool under questioning. Young pleaded not guilty, and it was evident that he was having the time of his life at the trial. "He was clearly a very intelligent fellow, but he also came across as incredibly creepy. You didn't want to make eye contact with him because he just had this unnerving aura about him," says Susan Nowak, who was in court to report on the trial for The Watford Observer. Young's diary would prove to be the most damaging evidence against him. Incriminating extracts of his diary were read out in court:
'F (Fred) is now seriously ill. He has developed paralysis and blindness. Even if the blindness is reversed, organic brain disease would render him a husk. From my point of view, his death would be a relief. It would remove one more casualty from an already crowded field of battle'.
Graham Young continued to protest his innocence and asserted that the diary was an “exposition of a theory I outlined, somewhat fancifully, for my own amusement”. He had no idea how the body of Bob Eagle and the ashes of Ben Biggs came to carry doses of thallium. “Your expressions of regret at Mr Biggs's death were pure hypocrisy?” John Leonard QC, prosecuting, said: “His death satisfied you.” “No. I can see very little satisfaction to be derived from a death like that” Graham Young replied. On Thursday, 29 June 1972, Graham Young was found guilty of murdering Bob Eagle and Fred Biggs, and the attempted murder of Jethro Batt and David Tilson and of poisoning Ron Hewitt and Diana Smart. He was acquitted of poisoning Peter Buck and Trevor Sparkes. There was a sensation when young's past convictions were revealed."You looked at the jury, and the blood drained from their faces when they heard about his previous convictions. The verdict had not been a foregone conclusion, and they were probably thinking what if we'd let this maniac out onto the street?” remembers Susan Nowak. Asked if he felt any remorse, Graham Young replied: “What I feel is the emptiness of my soul”. He made no reaction as he was sentenced to life imprisonment by Justice Eveleigh. Downstairs he asked to see his Aunt Winnie and sister Winifred. “Forget all about me” he told them “I'm sorry for all the trouble I have caused you”.
Graham Young was sent to Parkhurst maximum security prison, on the Isle of Wight. A few years later, he got his wish when his waxwork joined Dr Crippn in Madame Tussauds Chamber of Horrors in London. At Parkhurst, Young was befriended by Moors murderer Ian Brady. They bonded over a shared fascination with Nazism and were kindred spirits in this respect. Brady and Young played chess every day, with Young favouring the black pieces and beating Brady every time. "He sometimes grew a Hitler mustache, fastidiously trimming it with a razor until the skin around it was red raw and the prison staff had to stop him.” Ian Brady remembered later in his book. He was clearly infatuated with the good-looking young man, likening him to the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele. Brady perceived Young to be genuinely asexual and suggested that this was another example of him exercising power over the herd."Power and death were his aphrodisiacs," he asserted. According to Brady, the only music Young liked were Jeff Waynes War Of The Worlds and Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles, and he would amuse himself by reading the obituaries in The Times. "It was difficult not to empathise with Graham Young." Ian Brady pronounced.
“I wouldn't even sit on a table with him in case he'd dusted it with something” remembers Bobby Cummines who served time with him “that's how dangerous he was”. Other inmates feared Graham Young. “He made the Krays or any of your bad men look like amateur street fighters” adds
Cummines. Not even the prison vicar would meet up with him and the prison guards did not feel safe around him. Young became completely isolated in prison.
It transpired that while he was at Parkhurst, Graham Young was approached by cosmetics companies keen to enlist his knowledge of chemicals to enhance their products. “He could have been a force for forensic investigation, on the right side of the law” believes author Anthony Holden “But he had this deadness to normal human interaction. He had no compunction, no remorse, no guilt about inflicting terrible pain and some cases death”
On the evening of 1, August 1990, wardens making a routine visit to Graham Young's cell, found him lying crumpled on the floor. He was rushed to the prison hospital but was found to have died of a heart attack. He was 42.
According to Bobby Cummines, some prison officers were alleged to have said that prisoners had murdered Young. While there were prisoners who said that it was the prison officers who did it. The likely method being poisoning. "I wonder if he tried to do the same poisoning tricks he pulled off in Broadmoor, only someone took offense this time,” suggests Peter Goodman. "Who in his right mind...would want to spend an indefinite period incarcerated with a man who could extract poison from a stone - or in this case, perhaps, iron bars - in order to kill some time by doing just that to his everyday companions?" says Anthony Holden.
But it is probable that Graham Young took his own life. It is a view held by Professor David Wilson and even Ian Brady. “He was somebody who recognised that the rest of his own life was going to be spent behind bars and took the ultimate form of power and control over his own life by gaining access to whatever poison he was able to find. Poisons that he would be able to kill himself with” says Professor David Wilson.
Peter Goodman offers a unique view of Graham Young. He was driven by a misguided scientific obsession, coupled with a total absence of empathy for others. "I don't think he had any ill will towards the people he killed, he just had no morals. The reason he poisoned those closest to him was simply that he could closely observe the symptoms. He was a deranged scientist essentially." says Goodman. It is now believed, that Graham Young was on the autistic spectrum.
In 1995, a motion picture loosely based on Graham Young's life was released in movie theatres worldwide, The Young Poisoner's Handbook was a black comedy directed by Benjamin Ross, and starring Tobias Arnold in the leading role. In November 2005 a 16-year old Japanese schoolgirl was arrested for poisoning her mother with thallium. She claimed to be fascinated by Graham Young after seeing the 1995 motion picture. She kept an online blog, similar to Graham Young's diary, recording dosage and reactions. Her mother remains in a coma.