THIS is perhaps the most staggering murder case ever to involve Bournemouth, yet it is almost forgotten today.

A doctor went from a war hero to a bankrupt drug addict and used the ‘Queen of Poisons’ to kill his disabled brother-in-law for an inheritance.

He fled to Paris but returned to stand trial at the Old Bailey, and US president Chester A Arthur tried to reprieve him from the gallows.

The case of Dr George Henry Lamson – the Wimbledon poisoner – is remembered even today but his Dorset connection is largely forgotten.

The killer was an American who moved to Bournemouth around 1878 and took up residence as a GP in Beaumont Terrace on Poole Hill.

The row of houses still exists although hidden away by the modern shopfronts from Monkberrys bar to Ace Taxis.

At this point, Bournemouth was an emerging high society playground and the New Yorker must have been quite a catch for a host or hostess.

During the previous eight years he had served with distinction during the wars that ravaged Europe and the Balkans.

He won the Legion of Honour for his work in the Franco-Prussian war with the French Ambulance Corps during the 1870-71 siege of Paris, the first of many such medals.

He was credited with cutting death rates by 30 per cent in his ambulances while serving with the Romanian Army during that country’s war of independence.

But a chestfull of medals was not the only thing he brought back from the Balkans.

He also returned with a secret addiction to morphia, the medical pain reliever from the same source as heroin.

Dr Lamson lived just a few yards from Parr’s Chemist, now used by Foxes Lettings, whose records show it regularly dispensed morphine to hotel visitors.

Research by Bournemouth University shows upper class addicts would use Bournemouth as a quiet place to feed their addiction.

Dr Lamson evidently tried to become a pillar of the community. He got a commission into the 1st Bournemouth Hants Artillery Volunteers.

He was a candidate for the medical officer of Bournemouth, and testimonials from armies all over Europe described him as universally well liked.

But he began to run up debts as he struggled to retain his rich image by moving to a new detached house.

He took up residence in Hursley in Poole Road, which has now been demolished and replaced by Midland House.

His landlord, Rebbeck’s Estate, – who still trade today – were left £40 out of pocket for rent, and they were just one of many.

The most each debtor received was a self-pitying letter blaming a sudden illness – and a cheque that invariably bounced.

His Bournemouth branch of the Wilts and Dorset bank stopped honouring his cheques, and his trail of debts included porters, accountants, wine merchants and strangers on the steam ship.

William Stevenson, editor of the Bournemouth Observer, lost £100 when Dr Lamson secretly sailed to America.

Desperate for money, completely wrapped up in his addiction, his mind turned to his wife’s semi-paralysed brother.

Percy Malcolm was confined to a wheelchair, but during his time at Blenheim House School in Wimbledon was said to be cheerful and friendly.

The curvature of his spine was gradually increasing but he was physically fit and one of the brightest boys.

The 19-year-old – who had previously visited Dr Lamson in Bournemouth – was the inheritor of enough money to sustain him in comfort for the rest of his life.

If he died, the money, around £3,000, would go to his two sisters, including Dr Lamson’s wife.

That sealed his fate.

Dr Lamson arrived on the evening of Saturday, December 3, 1881, for what he described as a brief visit before he left to see his father in Florence.

The headmaster of the school noted how emaciated Dr Lamson looked since his last visit.

The trio enjoyed some tea, sherry and slices of Dundee cake before Dr Lamson produced some capsules that he said would help with nausea.

He got the boy to try one, saying: “Here, Percy, you are a swell pilltaker, take this and show Mr Bedbrook how easily it may be swallowed.”

As soon as the pill had slipped down, Dr Lamson was off to catch his 7.32pm train, remarking to the head-teacher that Percy’s spine seemed to be getting worse and he “did not think he would last long”.

Percy didn’t last long but only because he had been poisoned with Aconite, sometimes called the ‘Queen of Poisons’.

He was found around an hour later lying on the floor beside his bed in great pain and violently retching up a black fluid.

He had to be held down because he was thrashing around so much in agony then lost consciousness and died at 11.30pm.

Suspicions immediately fell on Dr Lamson. The newspapers picked up the story and news soon reached the killer in his Paris bolthole.

He returned to London maintaining his innocence.

He had been taught Aconite was undetectable — but forensic science had improved since his student days.

A specialist made extractions from specimens of Percy’s vomit, stomach fluid and urine – and then tasted them on his own tongue.

Each gave a taste and burning sensation in the throat that was peculiar to Aconite. An extract from one pill was injected into a mouse and killed it in just over four minutes. A chemist identified the drug in capsules recovered from Percy’s room.

Dr Lamson was put before the magistrates and when bail was refused reality hit home.

A reporter described how: “His fortitude forsook him and he cried wildly: “I shall go mad!”

The trial began at the Old Bailey in February 1882, and 35-year-old Mr Lamson was carefully studied by those in court.

He was 5ft 8ins tall, wore a close-cropped fair beard and whiskered moustache and dressed in a frock coat.

Police reports say he was of ‘excitable temperament and vivacious manner of speech’.

He wrote notes incessantly, laughed at a couple of lighter moments, and followed the proceedings with the calm air of a barrister.

One of the few times he was said to show emotion came when he saw his wife and his eyes filled with tears.

The evidence against him was strong – not least because a London chemist sold Lamson Aconite days before the death.

His defence was two-fold – that there was no definitive proof Aconite was the poison, and no proof he administered the dose.

The jury took 25 minutes to return their verdict to a crowded courtroom the faces of several – ghastly pale and tear stained – showed what was to come.

At the word ‘Guilty’, Lamson was said to clap his hands together and for moment despair, before recomposing himself.

When asked if he had anything to say, he replied: “Merely to protest my innocence before God.”

He gave a slight bow to the judge and was almost lifted from the dock by prison warders.

The execution was set for April 4, but then came the intervention of the US president thanks to his New York friends, and perhaps those of his father, the American clergyman for Florence.

President Chester A Arthur asked for a delay so that certain affidavits could be produced from America. They claimed he had a mania for administering Aconite during his wartime service and that relatives had died in asylums.

The date with the gallows was only delayed. There had been no plea of insanity during the trial and the sentence stood.

During his final days in the cells, Dr Lamson admitted for the first time that he been addicted to drugs and all but admitted the murder.

He said his mental state had “collapsed” and he hoped his brain would be examined after death to understand the abuse of drugs.

Newspaper reports described Friday morning, April 28, 1882, as heavy and dull. Gusty breezes blew around the yard as Dr Lamson rose at his usual time of seven for a final breakfast of coffee, eggs and toast.

At 8.45am, as he prayed with the chaplain, the first bell tolls began to sound and he was brought out into the open air and a light rain.

He gazed at the small group of reporters and calmly accepted his fate as Marwood, the executioner, tied him up.

One account, published in the Bournemouth Visitors Register, records his final moments.

“Marwood then led him immediately over the drop and put on the white hood.

“As the executioner did this, the unhappy man was observed to close his eyes and his body swayed to and fro as if his nerves had at last failed him.

“In a moment the fatal bolt was pulled and the convict shot into eternity.

“He died without struggle, hardly the movement of a muscle taking place, the neck apparently being broken.”

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the case is that Dr Lamson was more afraid of facing up to his debts and addiction than he was afraid of murder and the noose.

His father wrote a letter to the London newspapers saying all his debts could have been cleared and medical help arranged if only he had said the word.