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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 1, 1878
Date of arrest: 4 days after
Date of birth: 1834
Victim profile: His wife Elizabeth Dyer, 26
Method of murder: Poisoning (by inserting opium into her food)
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Calton Prison on May 31, 1878

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Chantrelle, Eugene Marie

Eugene was a French born school teacher from Edinburgh who poisoned his wife Elizabeth by inserting opium into her food. He had taken out an insurance policy the previous year for one thousand pounds which included a clause for accidental death. He tried to disguise the poisoning by making the death look as if it was the result of a broken gas main in the bedroom. Traces of opium were found in vomit stains on his wife's night gown and Chantrelle was arrested and charged. Found guilty he was hanged at Calton Prison by William Marwood on the 31st May 1878.  He was forty four when he died.


Eugene Marie Chantrelle

Chantrelle was a French born schoolteacher from Edinburgh who was tried for poisoning his wife. He was born in Nantes in France in 1834. He had an excellent education, and studied at Nantes Medical School. In 1848, during the French Revolution, he appears to have lost all his money and left the medical school. He attended medical classes in Strasbourg and Paris, but despite showing promise does not seem to have taken up a medical position.

In 1851, having developed republican sympathies, he joined protesters in Paris and received a sabre wound. The rise of the Napoleonic party forced him to travel to America, then northern England, and in 1866 he arrived in Edinburgh. As he was a cultured man, and an excellent linguist, he soon gained connections in the educational world. He wrote books on the French Language, which were adopted as textbooks. He also tutored in French, German, Latin and Greek.

Chantrelle obtained a teaching post at a private school called Newington Abbey. Here he met and formed an inappropriate relationship with a pupil, Elizabeth Cullen Dyer. To hide the shame, he married Elizabeth in 1868 when she was sixteen. The first of four children was born two months after the wedding. Chantrelle abused and bullied Elizabeth in every way possible, and on occasion she returned to her mother, and on others called the police. She once contacted a lawyer about divorce, but shrank from the exposure such a move would have caused at the time, and her deep affection for the children caused her to stay.

Chantrelle's drunken, abusive and immoral habits began to tell on his professional work. He started to get into difficulties with money. His favourite threat against his wife was that he would poison her, although it is doubtful that he meant this until his money worries suggested a way of benefiting through her death. In October 1877 he took out an insurance policy on her life for £1000, to be paid in the event of her accidental death. He had gone to some trouble to be sure that he understood the meaning of "accidental death" in the policy. His wife now lived in fear of her life.

On New Year's Day 1878 Elizabeth Chantrelle became unwell. A servant girl, given the day off, returned next morning to find her mistress unconscious. She called her master, who asked her if she could smell gas. She could not, but later there was a smell of gas, and she turned it off at the meter. Elizabeth was eventually taken to the Royal Infirmary, where despite suggestions that she had been poisoned by coal gas. Professor Maclagan came to the conclusion that the symptoms were of narcotic poisoning and not gas. Elizabeth died later that afternoon without regaining consciousness.

Although a post mortem could find no trace of narcotic poisoning, it did show that Elizabeth had not died of gas poisoning. However, the servant girl had seen stains of vomit on Elizabeth's nightdress, and examination of these did show the presence of opium.

Immediately after Elizabeth's funeral on 5th January 1878, where Chantrelle behaved in a very emotional manner, he was arrested. The case then went to trial. The case took some time to prepare as there was a huge amount of evidence, with 115 witnesses and 198 productions. Chantrelle was charged with poisoning his wife by administering opium in orange and lemonade. The trial began on 7th May 1878. There was much public interest.

Chantrelle pleaded not guilty. The trial lasted four days. It was proved that Chantrelle was acquainted with the use and effects of poison, that he had opium in his possession, that he had tried to explain his wife's death by other means than poison, that his protestations of innocence before he been accused of anything, were suspicious, that the fractured gas pipe in his wife's bedroom had been deliberately broken, that he had treated his wife cruelly and had threatened to poison her - the defence had little ammunition to help Chantrelle. The jury reached a "guilty" verdict in an hour and ten minutes. The death sentence was passed.

There was disquiet about some members of the jury, and the lack of poison in the body caused comment. Chantrelle maintained that the stains on his wife's nightclothes were put there to incriminate him, although he could not say by whom. A public petition was sent to the Home Secretary stating that evidence at the trial had been circumstantial. The Scotsman published details of meetings being held to protest at the death sentence. This was all to no avail, and Chantrelle was hanged at Calton Prison on 31st May 1878. A plaster cast of the head was taken for scientific purposes for use at the Phrenological Museum. Chantrelle never admitted his guilt.



1834 - Eugene Marie Chantrelle was born in Nantes, France the son of a shipowner

18?? - Eugene attended Nantes medical School

18?? - Eugene attended medical classes in Strasburg and Paris

1851 - Eugene developed communistic tendencies and opinions (aged 17)

1851 - Eugene sailed to America after the success of the opposing Napoleonic Party

1851 - Elizabeth Dyer born (18.07.1851) daughter to John James Dyer and Elizabeth

1862 - Eugene moved to England: Newcastle and Leicester

1866 - Eugene moved to Edinburgh

1866 - Started teaching at the Private School: Newington Academy, Edinburgh

1866 - Met Elizabeth Dyer as a 15yr old student at Newington Academy, Edinburgh

1868 - Married Elizabeth at St Giles Cathedral (11.08.1868) 18 months after they had first met

1868 - First son born 2 months later (22.10.1868) Eugene John Chantrelle

1870 - Male child born (18.04.1870)

1871 - Male child born (29.05.1871): Louis? (seven yrs when mother died)

1876 - James Ernest Chantrelle born (06.12.1876)

1877 - Financial hardship

1877 - October 18th Eugene took out £1000 life insurance with “Star Accident Insurance Co. Ltd” on Elizabeth; payable only in case of accident

1878 - January 1st Elizabeth complained of illness

1878 - January 2nd unconscious, taken to the Royal Infirmary, died

1878 - January 5th funeral, Eugene arrested immediately after and charged with murder

1878 - 3rd post-mortem because symptoms did not tally with supposed gas poisoning

1878 - Evidence of stains on nightdress found to be opium

1878 - January 22nd Chemical analysis first report

1878 - January 28th Inventory of bottles found at 81a George Street

1878 - March 4th Chemical analysis second report

1878 - Trial over four days May 7th – May 10th

1878 - Found guilty of murdering his wife

1878 - May 31st Executed in the confines of Calton Jail and buried in the grounds



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