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Kenneth BARLOW





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Poisoner - Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 3, 1957
Date of birth: 1919
Victim profile: His second wife, Elizabeth Barlow, 30, pregnant
Method of murder: Poisoning (insulin) - Drowning
Location: Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in 1958. Released in 1984

On 3 May 1957 Kenneth Barlow who was a 38 year old male nurse called a doctor to his house in Bradford. When the doctor arrived it was to find Mrs Barlow dead. He was told by Kenneth Barlow that he had found his wife drowned in the bath. Mrs Barlow was two months pregnant and had previously complained of feeling unwell, she had vomited in bed and decided to take a bath to clean herself up.

Barlow said he had dozed off and when he awoke it was to find his wife still in the bath but with her head under the water. He had tried to revive her but to no avail.

The doctor could find no signs of violence and could almost believe the story except for the fact that her eyes were dilated which did not fit in with a drowning. The police were notified and after listening to his account of what had happened were deeply suspicious because both Barlow's pyjamas, and the bathroom, showed no signs of the wetness that would have been expected if Barlow's story of trying to rescusitate his wife were true.

When they searched the house they found hypodermic syringes but these were not exactly odd in the house of a nurse. Still it made them wonder. The dilated pupils suggested drugs and a post mortem was ordered but no drugs were found. Still not convinced they continued to search until two small puncture marks were found on one of her buttocks.

Tests were taken at the puncture sites which confirmed the doctors suspicions. She had been injected with Insulin. Much of the evidence at the trial consisted of forensic evidence. Kenneth Barlow was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released on licence in 1984 after serving 26 years. We shall never know why he killed his wife but it was probably to get out of an unhappy marriage.


Medicine: The Imperfect Crime

Monday, Sep. 08, 1958

Kenneth Barlow, a male nurse who often gave injections (including insulin) to patients in north of England hospitals, thought he had it figured out. Colleagues quoted him as saying: ''You could commit a perfect murder with insulin. It cannot be traced." Last year Barlow, 38. had his chance. His second wife. Elizabeth, was pregnant, and neither wanted the baby. He started to give her injections of ergometrine to induce an abortion. On a May night. Elizabeth Barlow, 30, was found drowned in the bathtub.

As Barlow told it to the police, she had returned to their Bradford home at lunch time from the laundry where she worked, done some housework, and gone to bed right after tea. At 9:20 p.m., Barlow said, he found she had vomited in bed, so he changed the linen. She took off her sweat-soaked pajamas and went to take a bath. He dozed. At 11:20 he awoke, found her in the tub, drowned. He pulled the plug and, said he, tried artificial respiration to no avail.

Death by Drowning.

When the pathologist arrived he found a little water still standing in the crook of the dead woman's arm. That hardly tallied with the story of vigorous efforts to restore respiration. And there was no sign that Elizabeth Barlow had splashed or struggled. Death was due to drowning, but she had let herself drown in a relaxed, apathetic if not comatose state. Why?

It took a whole crew of doctors, pharmacists and experts from the Home Office Forensic Science Laboratory, using 1,220 mice, 150 rats and 24 guinea pigs, to find out. After four puzzling days, a sharp-eyed pathologist found four injection marks in Mrs. Barlow's buttocks, two on each side. From each site he removed part of the underlying tissue for analysis, suspecting insulin. Barlow's boast had been half right: insulin is almost impossible to detect. But by extraordinarily ingenious methods described in the British Medical Journal, the drug sleuths found a way to prove that there had been 84 units of insulin in Mrs. Barlow's buttocks when she died, and 240 units may have been injected. She was no diabetic, had no need for any insulin.

Murder by Insulin.

The damning sequence brought out in court: Barlow must have switched from ergometrine injections to insulin. These made his wife stuporous and complaisant. Then he gave her still more. She sweated abundantly and vomited. Comatose in the tub. she made no effort to save herself as she slid under the water, which soon filled her lungs.

The verdict: murder: It was Britain's —perhaps the world's—first case of murder in which the aid of insulin was proved. Said the bewigged Mr. Justice Diplock: "But for a high degree of detective ability, [it] would not have been found out. Those responsible for the scientific research ... are to be very highly congratulated for [their] skill and patience." Barlow was sentenced to life imprisonment. The medical researchers are churning out bushels of data to help colleagues find the flaw in any such "perfect crime."


Kenneth Barlow

A doctor was called to the Barlow house in Thornbury Crescent, Bradford on 3rd May 1957. Kenneth Barlow told him that he had found his wife, thirty-year-old Elizabeth, drowned in the bath. She had previously complained of feeling unwell - she was two months' pregnant, had vomited in bed and decided to take a bath. Barlow said he had dozed off and awoke to find his wife with her head under the water. He had tried to revive her but to no avail. The doctor could find no marks of violence on the corpse but noticed that Mrs Barlow's pupils were widely dilated.

A post-mortem could find nothing amiss but police were suspicious because both Barlow's pyjamas, and the Barlow bathroom, showed no signs of the wetness that would have been expected if Barlow's story of trying to resuscitate his wife were true. Hypodermic syringes were found in the house but these were explained away by Barlow's occupation as a nurse. Four needle marks were eventually found on Mrs Barlow's buttocks. These, along with the dilated pupils and Barlow's story of his wife vomiting suggested insulin poisoning. Tissue samples were analysed and the presence of insulin was confirmed. A witness told of Barlow boasting that insulin could be used to commit the perfect murder and Barlow was arrested and charged.

Mrs Barlow was pregnant but neither of them wanted the baby. Barlow was trying to induce an abortion by injecting his wife with ergometrine, but switched the injections, with the substituted insulin making her drowsy and easy to drown.

There was a considerable amount of forensic evidence presented at the trial and there was very little that the defence could do to refute the charges. Barlow admitted injecting his wife to procure an abortion but could not explain the presence of the insulin as Mrs Barlow was not a diabetic. 38-year-old Barlow was duly found guilty of non-capital murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. It was the first documented case of murder by insulin. He was released in 1984, after serving twenty-six years, still maintaining his innocence.


Kenneth Barlow and his second wife, Elizabeth


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