Monadnock Moments No. 69: Poison in the Sugar

During the summer of 1901, the Joseph Byron family, consisting of himself, his wife and mother, lived on the Branch Road in Roxbury, New Hampshire.  On Sunday evening, August 4, Byron’s wife and his mother became dizzy and weak soon after eating supper.  Both women were soon very sick, with the older woman eventually losing consciousness.
Mr. Byron called for Dr. Prouty of Keene who arrived early the next morning.  The women were still very sick.  Dr. Prouty felt that the symptoms were of opium poisoning and treated the women accordingly.  Byron’s wife told the doctor that both she and her mother-in-law had complained of the bitterness of their tea at supper the previous evening.  Mr. Byron had not complained about the tea, but had taken his without sugar.  A fine white powder was found in the sugar bowl.  Byron’s wife recovered, but his mother died on the following afternoon.
Because of the unusual circumstances, an inquest was held.  Dr. Carleton Smith of Harvard Medical School examined the stomach of the deceased and found that it contained morphine.  The powder taken from the sugar bowl was morphine as well.
No motive for the poisoning could be found.  Joseph Byron was not viewed as a suspect.  The sugar bucket at the Byron house, recently filled at Keene, contained no morphine.  Only in the sugar bowl on the table was morphine found.  The family had been away from the house on Sunday afternoon, during which time the kitchen and sugar bowl were unattended.  In the end, the coroner’s jury could find no evidence as to who had placed the morphine in the sugar.  Their verdict read, “the deceased came to her death by poisonous morphine taken from a sugar bowl for the purpose of sweetening her tea, and placed in the sugar bowl by parties to us unknown.”