The Ottery arsenic mine, near Emmaville in northern New South Wales, closed as a commercial venture in the 1930s. Arsenic was once used heavily in rural Australia as sheep and cattle dip, weed killer and for curing animal skins. It was said that stock drinking from the creeks around Emmaville had no need to be treated for ticks and lice. However, the line between efficacy and a fatal dose was so narrow that the dips were banned in the 1980s.
Of course as Arsenic is a deadly poison, it has a long history of use in more sinister situations. Remember the movie Arsenic and Old Lace?
In October 1941 the disused Ottery mine featured in the Australian press due to a strange case of attempted murder. Five members of the same family became ill after ingesting the poison.
CAKES, WITH A CUP OF TEA
Local couple Darrell Myers and his wife Vera had only been married for about eighteen months, but were separated. Vera and their little daughter were living in a make-shift shack behind the home of her parents, Thomas and Ethel Staines. It seemed Myers was not providing for his child properly and at one point Vera had taken out a maintenance order against him. Despite this, relations between the couple had been reasonably good. Oddly enough, Thomas and Ethel’s marriage had also started out in rocky circumstances. In 1910 Thomas had been charged with abducting Ethel, who was only 16 at the time.
But I digress. Twenty seven year old Myers was living nearby at Tattersall’s pub in Emmaville, where he worked as a general handyman. He visited his wife and child several times a week.
Myers’ brother Alan was away in army camp at Greta, but had been on friendly terms with Vera before he enlisted. Tension arose when Alan wrote to Vera, who showed the letter to her husband. If she was trying to arouse jealousy she succeeded. Darrell Myers was furious and said it must not happen again. He contacted his brother and told him not to write any more letters.
Two days later, on October 15, Darrell Myers visited his wife and her parents. Vera’s maternal grandfather Henry Foreman was also there, along with her uncle, Raymond Foreman. Vera was busy baking cakes, and asked her husband to fill the kettle from a rainwater tank, ready to make tea. Myers helped put his little girl to bed then left. The others ate the freshly baked cakes and drank tea. It was noticed that the cakes tasted as if they had ginger or pepper in them, and that the tea was bitter. Soon they were all feeling ill.
It seems that Vera and her uncle were less badly affected and they went to see the local medical officer Dr Babbage. By the time he returned to the house with them Mr and Mrs Staines and Henry Foreman were in a serious condition . He concluded they were suffering from arsenical poisoning and treated them accordingly. Fortunately they responded well, probably because they had ingested such a large amount that they were physically sick before the poison could take full effect.
The next evening Vera Myers told her husband that the doctor thought they had been poisoned. His flippant response was, ‘Oh, did any of you kick the bucket?’ Vera told him it was no joking matter, which he soon discovered was all too true.
The police had been informed and Darrell Myers found himself charged with five counts of attempted murder.
Detective Sergeant Ramus of the Sydney CIB was the chief investigating officer.
Ramus interviewed Darrell Myers, who denied having put arsenic in the kettle or into the cake. He said that his wife had put too much liquid in the cake mix, and that he had merely added some flour.
The Government Analyst found traces of arsenic in the kettle, teapot ,cake bowl and cake mixture. It was also found in dirt removed from below the tap of the water tank.
Arsenic was also detected on Darrell Myers’ shirt, trousers and in an overcoat pocket. He claimed to have a valid explanation for this. The licensee of the hotel, Noel Perske, had recently used arsenic from the Ottery mine to kill weeds on a local golf course. Myers was present when the weeds were treated, although Perske did not remember the accused man handling the poison. Afterwards, Myers was asked to store the left over arsenic . He put the tin in the room next to the one he was occupying at the pub.
When the case went to trial, Vera Myers was informed that legally she did not have to testify against her husband, but nevertheless she did so. The odd thing was that despite this, she was visiting Myers while he was in custody, and writing lovingly to him;
One explanation for this is that Vera may have been feeling somewhat responsible for her husband’s situation. On November 21, the Barrier Miner published the following piece;
SYDNEY , Thursday.- In a fit of jealousy a hotel groom ws alleged to have ttempted the murder of five persons, including his wife, on October 15, by putting arsenic in the tea ad a cake. This was stated by the police at Emmaville Court today when Darrell Raymond Myers (27) was charged. Police allege that Myers took the action when he believed his wife was paying attention to other men.
During the trial in Sydney, Vera’s uncle Raymond claimed to have seen Myers throwing a matchbox in the fire before he left. The inference was that this had been the container for the arsenic. Thomas Staines testified that he had used tank water earlier in the day without ill-effect. Judging by the evidence presented, things looked bleak for Meyers, but his lawyer insisted the evidence was all circumstantial. He asked the jury to consider why a man who clearly loved his child would put her in any danger? Mind you, young Arlene had already been put to bed before the tea and cakes were served.
The jury retired to consider their verdict, but were back within half an hour with a most surprising verdict of NOT GUILTY.
‘I am pleased to know that he is free’, Vera Myers told reporters , as she embraced her husband outside the court. Whether the rest of her family felt the same way is unknown. One can only hope that the couple resolved their differences and lived happily ever after.