Susan Barber was married in 1970.
Her husband Michael was a 24-year-old unskilled worker and his bride,
Susan, was 17-years-old and already had a daughter from a previous
relationship, although Michael thought the six-month-old daughter was
his. They lived in a pre-war terraced house in Osborne Road,
Michael had been in trouble with the police in the
past for car-theft and traffic offences and in 1972 he was again in
trouble, this time for indecently assaulting his six-year-old niece.
By 1980 the Barbers family had grown to three
children but far from being content Susan had been living a lie almost
since the day she was married. She had been involved with 15-year-old
Richard Collins, who lived three doors away since a few weeks after
the marriage. When Michael went off at 5am, to his job as a packer at
a local cigarette factory, Richard would wait for him to go and then
go around and get into bed with Susan while the bed was still warm.
On Saturday 31 March 1981 Michael left home at 4 am
to go on a fishing trip. He was going with some friends in the Thames
estuary. Conditions were bad that day and due to a high wind the trip
was cancelled. Michael returned home and found his place in bed, and
his wife, being kept warm for him by Richard. Michael turned violent
and hit them both.
The following Tuesday found them at their local
doctor's surgery where Susan wanted treatment for a bruise on her ear
where Michael had hit her.
The doctor offered to help resolve their marital
difficulties and Susan expressed a willingness to patch things up.
This didn't include cutting young Richard out her life though and she
stayed in touch secretly by letter.
On Thursday 4 June 1981, Michael complained of a
severe headache. The next day the headache was still present but now
was accompanied by stomach pains and nausea. By Saturday he was
feeling so ill that he called a doctor, who put him on a course of
antibiotics. By Monday Michael had breathing difficulties and was
admitted to Southend General Hospital where he was placed in intensive
care. On Wednesday 17 June he was transferred to Hammersmith Hospital
with a severe kidney condition.
The doctors were puzzled by Michael's deterioration
and, when no specific infection could be identified, the question of
paraquat poisoning was raised. Instructions were given for blood and
urine samples to be taken and sent to the National Poisons Reference
Centre for analysis. Due to a mix up it was believed that this had
been done and that a negative result had been received back.
Michael Barber died on 27 June. A post-mortem was
carried out by Professor David Evans and he was informed that tests
had disproved the paraquat poisoning theory. Major organs were
preserved and, although both pathologists suspected paraquat
poisoning, judgement was reserved until histology slides became
Michael Barber was cremated at Southend on July 3.
That very same night Richard moved in with Susan. Michael's employers
agreed that she should have a £15,000 death benefit plus £3;300 per
annum for each child and she received these in October.
By now Susan was having the time of her life.
Richard's place had been taken by another live-in lover and Susan had
purchased a CB radio and used the call-sign 'Nympho'. She soon became
the centre of a regular orgy of drink and sex. What she didn't know
was that the net was slowly tightening.
In September Professor Evans had received the
histology slides. These indicated that Michael had ingested a toxic
substance, probably paraquat. This was in contrast to the earlier
results. On investigation it was discovered that Barbers file did not
hold the results of the earlier blood analysis. It appeared that it
had never actually been carried out. Tissue samples were quickly
recovered from the mortuary and sent to ICI, the manufacturers of the
paraquat. Serum samples went to the National Poisons Unit. The results
came back quickly, both confirming the presence of paraquat.
Nine months after her husband's death Susan Barber
was arrested at her home. Richard Collins was arrested the same day.
Their trial at Chelmsford Crown Court began on
November 1 1982 with Susan Barber being charged with murder,
conspiracy to murder and of administering poison with intent to
injure. Collins was charged with conspiracy to murder. Both pleaded
not guilty. Susan Barber admitted putting the poison on her husband's
food but maintained that she didn't want to kill him, she just wanted
to make him ill so that she could get away without him coming after
her. They were both found guilty. Susan Barber was sentenced to life
imprisonment and Richard Collins to two years'.
Poisoned Pie in Essex
Steak and kidney pie laced with
weed-killer is a deadly recipe
By David Cocksedge - ObserverGroup.net
MURDER BY POISON is fairly common throughout the history of crime. But
after several such murderers were convicted and hanged, a strict
control of poisons was imposed in Britain in the 1920's. But this
insidious and painful method of murder surfaced again in one famous
case in 1982. The venue was the town of Westcliffe-on-Sea in Essex, a
quiet suburb of Southend on the southeastern coast of England.
Michael and Susan
Barber moved into 29 Osborne Road shortly after their marriage in
1970, when she already had a six months old daughter. They had two
more children in spite of many quarrels but the marriage survived even
though Susan left her husband on two occasions. Michael Barber was
captain of a local pub darts team and one his players was one Richard
Collins, a young man who lived with his wife only three doors away
from the Barbers. Collins was considered a little na?ve by most but
was a popular character around town and was particularly well liked by
Mrs Christine Barber.
By 1981, their
friendship had developed so well that Mrs Barber and Collins had a
neat arrangement. After Michael Barber went to off work at a nearby
cigarette factory at 5am, Collins would call at the house and hop into
bed with Christine for a couple of hours before he also had to get to
work. The adulterous couple also met for extra-marital sex on other
occasions without Michael Barber being aware of what was going on.
Then on Saturday 23
May 1981 their seedy affair was discovered. Michael and a friend had
left at 4am to go fishing in the Thames estuary and, as they drove
away, Susan let her lover into the house. There was a strong wind
along the river that morning, which cancelled out the fishing trip.
Michael returned to the house just after 5am to find a terrified
Richard Collins naked in the bedroom, trying desperately to pull on
some clothes. In the matrimonial bed was Susan, also naked. It was a
scene straight from a Whitehall farce. Michael Barber however did not
see the funny side of it. He reacted physically, punching Collins in
the mouth. He then struck his wife hard on the right ear with the side
of his right hand. Collins fled and stayed away from Osborne Road for
two weeks, living with his brother in Southend.
The blow to Susan's
ear caused painful bruising, requiring medical attention. She and
Michael seemed at first to have patched up their personal problems but
within days were not even on speaking terms. The atmosphere in the
house became increasingly tense, though they remained living together
and communicating through their children.
On 4 June, Michael
had a severe headache whilst at work. He was given tablets to combat
the pain by a physician at the factory clinic. Two days later he
developed severe stomach pains and was violently sick. His wife called
the doctor who prescribed an antibiotic and a linctus, but his
condition continued to deteriorate. Michael was then dispatched to
Southend General Hospital by ambulance.
Michael Barber grew
progressively worse and within three more days was moved into
intensive care, placed on a ventilator and sedated. Tests suggested
that he was suffering from Goodpastures Syndrome, a rare disease, and
on 17 June he was moved to Hammersmith Hospital in west London where
specialist treatment is available for kidney ailments. In spite of the
increased medical care, however, he remained critically ill.
Susan had been
visiting her husband at Southend Hospital and when she was informed
that he was dangerously ill with a low chance of survival, she took
the news quite calmly. Meanwhile doctors at Hammersmith were unable to
diagnose Michael's illness until the question of paraquat poisoning
was raised by the registrar in respiratory medicine. The consultant
physician gave instructions that blood and urine samples were to be
sent to the national Poisons Reference Centre at New Cross Hospital in
south London for analysis. But due to an unfortunate administrative
error, the samples were not in fact sent to New Cross. When the doctor
concerned made a follow-up enquiry, he was fobbed off by hospital
staff suddenly keen to cover their mistake. He was told that the tests
had been negative.
Michael Barber died
on 27 June 1981, and his wife was telephoned with the news. The death
certificate gave the cause of death as cardiac arrest, renal (kidney)
failure and bilateral pneumonia. A post-mortem examination was fixed
for the following Tuesday. Professor David Evans supervised the
post-mortem, which was carried out by Dr Peter O'Brien. The major
organs were removed and, after samples had been taken for special
examination, the organs were placed in a labelled bucket, filled with
formalin, a preserving fluid. This was placed in the ante-room of the
mortuary. No firm conclusions were reached; though the pathologists
still felt that the findings suggested paraquat poisoning.
The body of Michael
Barber was cremated at Southend Crematorium on 3 July 1981. Richard
Collins attended the ceremony with Mrs Barber and he was seen crying
when the mourners went back to Osborne Road where Susan served food
and drinks. Abandoning his own wife, Collins moved in to live with her
that night. They were together for six weeks until Susan met another
man at their regular 'boozer' (public house) who soon replaced Collins
in her affections. The new lover moved in, and Richard was ordered
Hammersmith Hospital doctors examined the histology slides of the
organ samples taken from Michael Barber's corpse. They concluded from
these microscopic findings that the dead man had ingested toxin, most
probably paraquat. It was then decided to hold a clinical conference
into the whole history of the case.
In October 1981 Susan
Barber reaped the financial benefits of her husband's death. She
received £15,000 in death benefit plus a refund of pension
contributions for each of her three children. This enabled her to
expand her social life, and soon another regular at the pub moved in
with her at Osborne Road. When Susan told her latest paramour that
Richard Collins owed her money, the man decided to act as a debt
collector for her. Following an angry exchange, the man brutally
assaulted Collins and was later arrested, tried and given a custodial
sentence for the crime.
Susan meantime bought
a CB radio and became well known on the local airwaves. She had a
somewhat warped sense of fidelity, and soon met another man, known to
the police for drug offences and 'black magic' rituals. Besides
drinking parties, there were now 'blue' video shows held at the Barber
house where her new lover also took up residence.
Towards the end of
January 1982, doctors and experts at Hammersmith Hospital had
concluded their clinical examination in the Barber case. They noted
that no examination had been carried out by the National Poisons Unit
because the samples had never been sent there as instructed. Samples
of tissue from the major organs, still lying in the bucket in the
mortuary eight months later were now sent to ICI Ltd, the makers of
The results were
conclusive: paraquat was found in both the serum and the tissue. On 15
February 1982 a consultant at the Royal Post Graduate Medical School
forwarded a letter to the Southend Coroner and the local police
informing them that Michael Barber had died painfully from a deadly
Inspector John Clarion of the Essex Police now took charge of the
case. He was faced with some difficulties because of the delays and
errors that had been made. The whole history of Michael Barber's
illness had to be researched and everyone concerned - doctors, nurses,
analysts, laboratory technicians and porters - had to be interviewed
and all the scientific tests repeated. Professor James Cameron then
looked at all the evidence and made a forensic judgement of the
histology samples. He agreed with the conclusions of all previous
experts. This was a clear case of murder.
Meantime, the police
were gathering a mass of damming evidence against Christine Barber.
Richard Collins quickly admitted that he had been told by Mrs Barber
of her intention to murder her husband. She had once even asked him to
cut the hydraulic brake lines on Michael's car. He also recalled being
present when the two of them returned from Hammersmith Hospital when
Susan, having been asked by the medical staff about poison, poured the
contents of her husband's medicine bottle down the kitchen sink.
Finally, Susan Barber
confessed. She told police that she resented her husband finding her
with Collins on the day of the ill-fated fishing trip and resolved
then to end their marriage. She admitted that one evening she had put
Gromoxone (a weed-killer) into her husband's meal of steak and kidney
pie, and then watched him eat it. When nothing happened immediately
she gave him another dose, and, soon afterwards, when he had been
prescribed medicine for his sore throat, she gave him some more - in
the medicine. She had found the Gromoxone in the garden shed, where
her husband had stored it after working for a landscape gardening
On Monday, 5 April
1982, Susan Barber and Richard Collins were arrested and charged with
conspiracy to murder. They appeared in the dock at Chelmsford Crown
Court before Mr Justice Woolfe the following November. Both pleaded
guilty. Collins, on whose behalf strong evidence of good character was
given, was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
maintained that she had had no intention of killing her husband but
"just wanted him to suffer as I have suffered." In sentencing her to
life imprisonment (ten years) for the murder of Michael Barber, Mr
Justice Woolfe said, "I cannot think of a more evil way of disposing
of a human being."
Pie, the Barber Case' by Tom Tullett, Grafton Books)
Getting rid of Michael
Susan Barber wasn't going to let her husband ruin her love life
By Max Haynes - Toronto Sun
January 9, 2000
In 1970, Susan and Michael Barber tied the knot in
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England. Pretty Susan was only 17 years old,
but had been to the well prior to her marriage, if you get my drift.
You see, Susan brought more to the union than good looks and a
convivial disposition. She brought a healthy six-month-old daughter
and an itsy bitsy secret. Although her new hubby thought the baby was
his, Susan knew very well that the child's biological father was a
Right off, I should tell you that Michael was not
the salt of the earth. Blimey, no. He had previously been in hot water
for stealing cars, but for the first 10 years of his marriage he
seemed to have settled in nicely. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same
for Susan. Just a few doors removed from the Barbers' digs on Osborne
Rd., there lived virile, 15-year-old Richard Collins.
Susan lured the lad into her bed. Having once
tasted of the forbidden fruit, Richard couldn't get enough of the more
experienced Susan. Michael, now 37 years old, would toddle off to work
each morning at 5 a.m. Quick as a bunny, Richard would be at Susan's
side doing all those things boys and girls have been doing since Eve
nibbled on that apple.
On March 31, 1981, Michael rose early to go on a
fishing trip with a friend. When a storm came up, he and his buddy
gave up fishing and returned to their respective homes. Michael walked
into his home unexpectedly. You're absolutely correct. He found his
wife stark naked in bed with the equally embarrassed Richard.
There was only one thing to do. Michael slugged
them both. Richard quickly dressed and hastily excused himself.
Susan swore she would never again stray from the
straight and narrow. Her marriage meant more to her than any
neighbour. Michael believed her, but he was making a mistake. Susan
and Richard continued their affair.
It was in June 1981 that Michael first began to
have pains in his tummy. A doctor prescribed some pills. Next day,
Michael felt even worse. For nine days he suffered from stomach pains,
nausea and a throat that felt as if it was on fire. By June 15, he was
having a great deal of trouble breathing. The following day he was
rushed by ambulance to Southend General Hospital, where he was
admitted to the intensive care unit.
Susan, surprisingly calm at her husband's sudden
illness, visited the hospital and was informed that Michael was
seriously ill. In time he was transferred to Hammersmith Hospital,
where they were better equipped to treat kidney problems. Susan again
loyally visited her husband. This time, she was accompanied by
Richard, who sensibly remained in the parking lot while Susan paid her
Doctors desperately conducted tests in an attempt
to diagnose Michael's illness. When nothing seemed to work, one of
them suggested sending samples of Michael's blood and urine to the
National Poisons Reference Centre for analysis.
On June 27, Michael died. Death was attributed to
cardiac arrest, renal failure and bilateral pneumonia. A post mortem
was conducted. Examining officials were told that the tests for poison
were negative. Major organs were removed from the body and samples
taken for histology slides. The organs were then placed in a bucket of
formalin, a preservative. There they reposed in the mortuary anteroom.
Michael's body was cremated. Susan, accompanied by
the ever-sympathetic Richard, attended the service. After the brief
ceremony, Susan served cucumber sandwiches, delicious chocolate
cookies and tea at her home. When the mourners left, Richard moved in.
Life had taken a turn for the better for Susan. As
summer faded and fall arrived, with its promise of a happy holiday
season just around the corner, she was informed that she was to
receive a death benefit amounting to #2,300 pounds from Michael's
employer. In October she jettisoned Richard and took another lover.
Footloose and fancy free, our Susan became a
regular at the local pub, spending her newfound wealth with the
enthusiasm of a drunken sailor. Unknown to her, a nosy professor was
studying those histology slides. He concluded that they indicated the
presence of an ingested toxin, probably the herbicide paraquat. At the
same time, a doctor at Hammersmith Hospital discovered that no samples
of blood and urine were ever sent to the National Poisons Reference
Centre. The doctor checked further. The poisons centre confirmed that
they had never received any samples pertaining to a Michael Barber.
There had been a major foul up.
Amazingly, after eight months, Michael's organs
were found in the original bucket of formalin in the mortuary
anteroom. New samples were immediately dispatched to the poisons
centre, as well as to the manufacturer of the herbicide. Both reported
that the samples contained poison. The entire matter was turned over
Detectives delved into the herbicide and its uses.
They learned that the basic product was available under various trade
names. The strongest and most widely used was called Gramoxone. Only
farmers and others who could prove a genuine need for the product
could purchase it. The manufacturer, Imperial Chemical Industries,
informed police that, because of several accidents, they had
introduced a stenching agent, which gave off an offensive smell, as
well as an emetic which induced vomiting if the poison was
Police discovered that Michael had once worked for
a gardener. Neighbours said he kept a container of Gramoxone in his
On April 5, 1982, nine months after her husband's
death, Susan was arrested at her home and taken into custody. Richard
was located at his place of employment at a warehouse. He too was
Both accused gave statements to police. Susan
revealed that shortly after Michael struck her, she had taken
Gramoxone from the shed and had put some in his dinner, which had
consisted of steak-and-kidney pie. She was disappointed when nothing
happened. Undaunted, she repeated the dosage. When Michael developed a
sore throat, she laced his medicine with more poison. That seemed to
do the trick.
Richard agreed that he had known of Susan's
intentions, but had not taken an active part in the killing. He
revealed that Susan had suggested that he fix the brakes of Michael's
car so that he might meet with a fatal accident. He talked Susan out
of that scheme, pointing out that it was too risky.
On Nov. 1, 1982, in Chelmsford Court, Susan stood
accused of murdering her husband. She admitted placing the poison in
his food, but claimed she had only wanted to make him ill. She said,
"I got it from the shed from a container. I gave it to him in his
dinner mixed with the gravy. I gave him the second lot because the
first did not seem to work."
Susan Barber was found guilty of murder and
sentenced to life imprisonment. Richard Collins was charged with
conspiracy to murder. The presiding judge pointed out that he had not
taken part in the planning or the carrying out of the murder.
Nevertheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to the relatively
light term of two years imprisonment.
The Barbers were married in 1970.
Michael was a 24-year-old unskilled worker and his bride, Susan, was
seventeen years old and brought with her a child of a previous
liaison, though Michael thought the six-month-old daughter was his.
They lived in a pre-war terraced house in Osborne Road,
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. Michael had had previous encounters with the
law, for car-theft and traffic offences and in 1972 he was again in
trouble, this time for indecently assaulting his six-year-old niece.
By 1980 the Barbers had three
children and Susan had a regular lover in the shape of
fifteen-year-old Richard Collins, who lived three doors away. When
Michael went off at 5am to his job as a packer at a local cigarette
factory, Richard would nip round and hop in next to Susan while the
bed was still warm.
Saturday 31st March 1981, saw
Michael up even earlier. He was going on a fishing trip in the Thames
estuary with some friends and he had left home by 4am. Conditions were
dangerous in the estuary due to a high wind and the trip was
cancelled. Michael returned home and found his place in bed, and his
wife, being kept warm for him by Richard. Michael hit them both and
Richard got out quickly.
The following Tuesday found the
couple at their local doctor's surgery where Susan wanted treatment
for a bruise on her ear where Michael had hit her. The doctor offered
to help resolve their marital difficulties and Susan expressed a
willingness to patch things up. This did not include cutting young
Richard out of her life though and she stayed in touch secretly by
On Thursday 4th June 1981, Michael
complained at his works' clinic of a severe headache. The next day
stomach pains and nausea accompanied the headache. By Saturday he was
poorly enough to call a doctor who prescribed an antibiotic. Monday
saw Michael with breathing difficulties and he was admitted to
Southend General Hospital and placed in intensive care. On Wednesday
17th June he was transferred to Hammersmith Hospital with a severe
The doctors were baffled at
Michael's deterioration and, when no specific infection could be
identified, the question of paraquat poisoning was raised. Junior
staff were instructed to obtain blood and urine samples and to send
them to the National Poisons Reference Centre for analysis. It was
understood that this had been done and that a negative result had been
Michael Barber died on 27th June.
Professor David Evans carried out a post-mortem and both he and his
pupil were informed that tests had disproved the paraquat poisoning
theory. Major organs were preserved and, although both pathologists
suspected paraquat poisoning, judgement was reserved until histology
slides became available.
Michael was cremated at Southend
on July 3rd. The same night Richard moved in with Susan. Michael's
employers agreed that she should have a £15,000 death benefit plus
£300 per annum for each child and she received these in October. By
now Susan was having the time of her life. Another live-in lover had
taken Richard's place and Susan had purchased a CB radio and used the
call sign 'Nympho'. She soon became the centre of a regular orgy of
drink and sex. What she did not know was that the net was slowly
In September Professor Evans had
received the histology slides. These indicated that Michael had
ingested a toxic substance, probably paraquat. He sent his report to
the renal unit. This caused some dismay as they had been told that the
tests for paraquat had been negative. It was decided to hold a
conference in January 1982, to sort out these anomalies. A doctor
preparing material for the conference noticed that Barber's file held
no notes about the examination of samples. Inquiries made at the
National Poisons Reference Centre revealed that the samples had never
been sent for analysis. Tissue samples were quickly recovered from the
mortuary and sent to ICI, the manufacturers of paraquat. Serum samples
went to the National Poisons Unit. The results came back quickly, both
confirming the presence of paraquat.
Nine months after her husband's
death Susan Barber was arrested at her home. Richard Collins was
arrested the same day. Their trial at Chelmsford Crown Court began on
1st November 1982 with Barber being charged with murder, conspiracy to
murder and of administering poison with intent to injure. Collins was
charged with conspiracy to murder. Both pleaded not guilty. Susan
Barber admitted putting the poison on her husband's food but
maintained that she did not want to kill him, she just wanted to make
him ill so that she could get away without him coming after her. They
were both found guilty. Susan Barber was sentenced to life
imprisonment and Richard Collins to two years' imprisonment.