Friday, June 26, 2009

I had never heard of Graham Young before reading the delightful book "The Wimbledon Poisoner" by Nigel Williamson. In that book, the narrator is determined to poison his wife and takes inspiration from the infamous poisoner Graham Young. Because Young was caught and sent away twice for poisoning people, it wouldn't seem as if he would be the best roll model for aspiring poisoners.

An interesting film made about the Young case is titled The Young Poisoner's Handbook. Graham Young was born in 1947 in north London. He was apparently very intelligent and became interested in chemistry and poisons. In his teens, he started to poison his family. He kept a detailed notebook where he jotted down details of how his stepmother, father and sister were reacting to the poisons. Eventually, his stepmother died and he was arrested and sentenced to Broadmoor. While incarcerated, he came to the attention of a new psychiatrist who was anxious to help cure him, mainly by analyzing Young's dreams. With the doctor's help, Young was released after serving only 9 years.

Upon his release, Young began working at a company that made photography supplies. No one on the outside was told about his previous record. It seemed as if Young was determined to lead a blameless life, until, as chance would have it, a co-worker showed him a cabinet full of his favorite poison, thallium. After that, whenever anyone was especially rude or sharp with Young, he would give them a dose of thallium in their tea. Before long, numerous people at the company fell ill and several died.

Because many of Young's co-workers were becoming ill, the company believed that there was something in the building that was causing the illnesses. It was Young himself who suggested that people might be ingesting poison. This led the authorities to take a closer look at him, and he was again arrested, convicted and sent to prison.

I'm not sure how closely the film followed the real events in Young's life, but his early poisoning of his stepmother was almost understandable. The stepmother was portrayed as being prone to attacking him as soon as he walked in the door over real or imagined misdeeds.

The film attempts to be something of a black comedy, with incongruous, upbeat music played at strange times (including at one point "Low Rider," the theme to the George Lopez show). The stepmother's suffering was played almost for laughs, as her puzzled and somewhat horrified family looked on while she steadily declined in health. Still, it was interesting to see how easily Young was able to obtain poisons, and his dispassionate observations of how his victims suffered.
Final Verdict for The Young Poisoner's Handbook: Three Gherkins for being an interesting look at a true crime figure


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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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