cup-of-tea-1The last time I was in England, I took my family for a Traditional Afternoon Tea at one of London’s top hotels.  Individual pies, sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, all accompanied by a large pot of tea, is one of the most pleasant, if not refined, ways to spend an hour or so of an afternoon.  Of course us Brits drink more tea per capita that anywhere else in the world.  Living in America, I have felt it my solemn duty to instruct my American friends in how a proper pot of tea should be prepared (hint: the water has to be boiling!).

While I am perfectly content with just milk and sugar in my tea, Graham Young experimented with other additions to the beverage. Born in North London, just after the Second War in 1947, Graham was a strange child, solitary in his habits and socially awkward with peers, classic symptoms of a budding sociopath. At school, Young’s interests lay in chemistry, forensic science and toxicology.

Graham Young The Teacup Poisoner

Given the shallow coverage of these topics at school, Young turned to textbooks, devouring any material he could find in the local library. Young’s knowledge of toxicology was so comprehensive, that by the time he was 13 years of age, he convinced a local chemist that he was actually 17 years old and obtained several poisons, including antimony, digitalis, arsenic, and thallium from him for “study” purposes. What Young meant was that he wanted to study the effects of poisons on his family members.


In November 1961, when Young was 14 years old, he put atropine in his sister, Winifred’s, morning cup of tea. Because of its bitter taste, Winifred only took a few sips of the tea before she threw it away. However, she had consumed enough poison to cause her problems. On the train to work, Winifred began to hallucinate, and by the time she got to work, Winifred was on such a state that her boss immediately sent her to the nearby Middlesex General Hospital, where she was diagnosed with atropine poisoning. 1961 also saw the publication of Agatha Christies novel, The Pale Horse, in which the poison thallium was given prominence, and Graham took this novel as a textbook for further experiments on his family.   By the Spring of 1962, Graham had killed his stepmother with antimony and thallium, and sent his father to the hospital with severe antimony poisoning. Graham’s complicitness in these poisonings may have gone unnoticed, had his chemistry teacher not found poisons and texts about poisons in Young’s school desk. Young confessed to murdering his stepmother and was detained under the Mental Health Act at Broadmoor, a secure hospital for the criminally insane; he was one of Broadmoor’s youngest inmates.

Young used his time at Broadmoor to further his studies on toxicology, even to the point of learning how to extract cyanide from Laurel bush leaves found in the hospital grounds; cyanide he used to kill fellow inmate John Berridge.