On July 25th, 1905, Arthur Devereux stood trial for the crime of murder. It was alleged that he had poisoned his wife, Beatrice. It was also presumed that at the same time he had murdered his two-year-old children, twins Evelyn and Lawrence, although he was not tried for their murders. The case aroused a public sensation: a cunning and evil man was judged guilty in the court of public opinion before the case even commenced.
Arthur Devereux was trained as a chemist and worked in a pharmacy near Hastings on the English south coast; he also promoted a patent toothache cure. It was in Hastings that he met and later married Beatrice (nee Gregory). The couple shared a son with whom Arthur was said to be delighted. Later Beatrice bore the twins, with whom Arthur was said to be less happy. The twins suffered from rickets and could neither walk nor feed themselves.
Financial pressures on the family were significant. They moved to north London from where Arthur, desperate for an improved position, made an application for a post in Coventry as an “indoor assistant”, for which role, he knew, a married man would not be considered. In his letter of application Arthur enquired as to whether a 34-year-old widower with one six-year-old son at a boarding school would be suitable. This letter was used as a key item of evidence by the prosecution; it was sent the day before the bodies of Beatrice and the twins were “discovered” by Arthur Devereux himself.
Here is what the jury heard from the prosecution:
It was claimed that Arthur Devereux had used chemicals that he kept in the home and administered poison to his wife and the twins. Then he had put the three bodies into a large tin trunk and carefully sealed the bodies to avoid the noxious smell of decay. He arranged the removal of the trunk, along with some of the furniture from the house, to be placed into storage. He informed the warehouse manager that the trunk contained various chemicals which, since he had now passed his examinations, he no longer required. Devereux informed the warehouse manager that he would collect and dispose of all his items in due course. He then went off to work in Coventry leaving instructions that no-one was to see or touch his belongings.