Charles Bravo


Charles Bravo
Charles Bravo
Born 1845
Died April 21, 1876(1876-04-21) (aged 31)
Balham, London

Charles Bravo (1845 – 21 April 1876) was a British lawyer who was fatally poisoned with antimony in 1876. The case is still sensational, notorious and unresolved. The case is also known as The Charles Bravo Murder and the Murder at the Priory.

It was an unsolved crime committed within an elite Victorian household at The Priory, a landmark house in Balham, London. The reportage eclipsed even government and international news at the time. Leading doctors attended the bedside, including Royal physician Sir William Gull,[1] and all agreed it was a case of antimony poisoning. The victim took three days to die but gave no indication of the source of the poison during that time. No-one was ever charged for the crime.

Contents

Background

Charles Delauney Turner was born in 1845, the son of Augustus Charles Turner and Mary Turner, and took the surname Bravo from his stepfather Joseph Bravo. He became a barrister and by the time of his marriage to Florence Ricardo (née Campbell) he had fathered an illegitimate child.

His wealthy wife Florence had previously been married, in 1864, to Alexander Louis Ricardo, son of John Ricardo MP but had been separated from her first husband because of his affairs and violent alcoholism. She in turn had had an extramarital affair with the much older Dr James Manby Gully, a fashionable society doctor who was also married at the time, and she had fallen out of favour with her family and society. Ricardo died in 1871 and Florence married Charles, a respected up and coming barrister, on 7 December 1875, terminating her affair with Gully.

Police enquiries in the case revealed Charles's behaviour towards Florence as being controlling, mean, violent, and a bully. The marriage was unbalanced where power was concerned. Florence was wealthier than Charles and had opted from the start to hold onto her own money, an option provided by new laws in England at the time (Married Women's Property Act 1870), and this led immediately to tensions within the marriage.

Their relationship was stormy and the poisoning occurred four months into the marriage. In a BBC docudrama, Julian Fellowes Investigates: A Most Mysterious Murder, Julian Fellowes investigates the suspects; the household, Florence herself, her former lover Dr Gully, the housekeeper Mrs Cox and the likelihood of suicide. It also portrays Charles Bravo as a particularly crushing Victorian husband, totally lacking in feeling to staff, animals and his wife, his unreasonable treatment going beyond even the social expectations of the submissive woman in Victorian society.

A hypothesis is that Charles Bravo was slowly poisoning his wife with small cumulative doses of antimony (she had been chronically ailing since shortly after their marriage).[2] It theorises that he wanted to control her fortune from the start and this was one way he would get his hands on it. When treating himself with laudanum for toothache before bedtime, it proposes that he inadvertently used the bottle of antimony to medicate himself.

The housekeeper Mrs Cox reportedly told police Charles admitted using the poison on himself when they were alone together, later changing her statement in the dock to deflect suspicion from herself to Florence.

His death was long, lasting from two (Ruddick) to three (Fellowes) days and painful. It was particularly notable that he did not offer any explanation of his condition to attending doctors, suggesting he had some personal implication to hide, not being the type to protect others.

Other investigators have offered different suggestions as to what happened to cause his death, including suicide, murder by the housekeeper, Mrs. Cox, whom he had threatened to sack, murder by his wife, and murder by a disaffected groom whom he had discharged from employment at the Priory.

Aftermath

Two inquests were held and the details were considered to be so scandalous that women and children were banned from the room while Florence Bravo testified: the searching cross-examination launched the career of the lawyer George Henry Lewis. The first returned an open verdict. The second inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder; however, nobody was ever arrested or charged.

The household broke up after the trial ended and the twice widowed Florence moved away, dying of alcohol poisoning two years later.

The novel (and later film) So Evil My Love by "Joseph Shearing" (pseudonym of Marjorie Bowen) both have elements of the Bravo poisoning in the plot.

The novel Below Suspicion by John Dickson Carr also has elements of the Bravo case in the first murder.

References

  • Bridges,Yseult How Charles Bravo Died Jarrolds (1956)
  • Diamond, Michael (2003). Victorian sensation. Anthem Press. pp. 176–180. ISBN 1-84331-150-X. 
  • Emsley, John, The elements of murder: a history of poison Oxford University Press (2005) ISBN 0192805991. P.233
  • Jenkins, Elizabeth Six Criminal Women Sampson Low, (1949, 1951)
  • Juxon, John Lewis and Lewis: The Life And Times of a Victorian Solicitor Ticknor & Fields, (1984, 1985) ISBN 0-89919-277-7. P.115-139: Ch.12: 'The Torturer"
  • Ruddick, James Death at the Priory Atlantic Books (2002) ISBN 1-903809-44-4 .
  • Williams, John Suddenly at the Priory Penguin Books (1989)

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