A young boy is poisoned in school by a wicked doctor. The alleged subsequent haunting by the child forces the school to close. And the headmaster is in ruins. Below is an extract in two parts, the second next week of Jan Bondeson’s book, Doctor Poison
Some years ago, I read on a now defunct internet homepage about London’s spectral world, that a school in Wimbledon had been subjected to a prolonged haunting in the 1880s and 1890s.
A crippled boy who had been one of the students at this establishment had been deliberately poisoned and died in great agony.
Soon after, the other pupils saw his ghost and heard the whirr of his spectral wheelchair.
Not unnaturally, they demanded to leave the school at the earliest opportunity, and the parents were also reluctant to keep their children at such a sinister establishment.
The headmaster vainly tried to convince them that there were no longer any poisoners at the school, dosing the boys with noxious chemicals, but the pupils all left and the murder school was closed down as a result.
The ruined former headmaster had to become assistant in a shoe shop, selling footwear to the boys he had once taught; he eventually died mysteriously himself, being swept out to sea while bathing and drowning miserably.
But was there any truth to this story, which at first seemed too good to be true – yes, there certainly was!
George Henry Lamson came from a respectable American family.
His father was rector of the American Episcopal Church in Paris, and George soon became bilingual.
He graduated from his French school in the late 1860s, and went on to become a medical student, making excellent progress at the great Paris teaching hospitals.
At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the Rev. Mr Lamson became Chaplain to the American Ambulance, and George, who had studied medicine for several years in spite of his youth, became dresser to Dr John Swinburne.
Both of them distinguished themselves throughout the war, and remained in Paris during the Commune, before moving to Ventnor in the Isle of Wight to join the remainder of the Lamson family.
After graduating as a doctor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, he set up a practice in the State of New York, but it did not flourish.
After his adventurous father had got involved in the Balkan wars of independence, George joined him in Serbia and Romania, being twice decorated for his valiant service at the military hospitals.
After passing his final medical examinations in 1878, and obtaining a licence to practice in Britain, George Henry Lamson settled down in Rotherfield, Sussex, taking the large house Horse Grove for his practice, marrying Miss Kate George John in 1878 and fathering a daughter.
He also gained two ailing brothers-in-law, Hubert John who was afflicted with tuberculosis and Percy Malcolm John who suffered from severe scoliosis of the back, and lived at Blenheim House, a boarding school in Wimbledon.
In June 1879, there was a jolly family gathering at Horse Grove, with Hubert John coming to visit.
Although Hubert was far from well, he was obviously capable of locomotion and fit enough to travel.
There was tragedy when Hubert died suddenly and mysteriously during this visit.
Dr Lamson wrote his death certificate, giving the cause of death as pulmonary consumption and amyloid degeneration.
As a result of Hubert’s demise while still a minor, Mrs Kate Lamson inherited £479 in India Stocks and £269 in Consols, money that went into the doctor’s pockets since there was no Married Women’s Property Act back in 1879.
Delighted to have got his hands on some hard cash, he soon spent much of it on his various amusements.
Albeit an excellent military surgeon, George Henry Lamson found rural general practice pointless and dull.
He was fond of travel and holidays, and had a firm dislike for hard graft and honest toil.
Since his bedside manner was far from the best, the locals found him flippant, inattentive and unreliable.
He often showed his contempt for the trivial complaints he was presented with.
After his position in Rotherfield had become untenable, he spent the remainder of Mrs Lamson’s inheritance to buy another practice in Bournemouth.
The problem was that Dr Lamson had become addicted to morphine during his years as a military surgeon, and that with time, this addiction escalated out of control.
He became incapable of running his practice, claimed medical degrees and military decorations to which he was not entitled, and circulated libellous statements about the wife of a friend of his.
A bad business man, he accumulated considerable debts and eventually had to flee Bournemouth in disgrace as a bankrupt, leaving his wife and daughter behind in a cheap Chichester hotel.
George Henry Lamson returned to the United States, making futile attempts to combat his morphine addiction, before going to Shanklin to see his family.
After a jolly family gathering in August 1881, the cripple Percy Malcolm John became severely ill, groaning with pain and vomiting copiously.
Just beforehand, Dr Lamson had purchased a quantity of the potent poison aconitine.
The hapless Percy recovered from this attempt on his life, however.
As Dr Lamson sat brooding over his failures in Rotherfield and Bournemouth, and his futile travels to America, alone in his tiny hotel room in the London November gloom, he was becoming increasingly desperate.
Not long ago, he had possessed a comfortable house, a good medical practice, and a steady income. Now, he had neither of these things, and he was poor as a church mouse.
Dr Lamson entirely lacked employment and occupation, something that did not agree with him, and we all know who it is who finds work for idle hands to do.
Had the doctor been classically minded, he would have been reminded of the legend of the once-famous Byzantine general Belisarius, said to have been reduced to a blind beggar in his old age, having to ask passers-by ‘Date obolum Belisario’ – ‘Give a coin to Belisarius’.
Dr Lamson had once had power over life and death, the wounded Serbian and Romanian soldiers relying upon him for their recovery like if he had been something of a deity.
Now, he was just yet another penniless, unemployed vagabond, struggling to keep his head above water among London’s unwanted flotsam and jetsam.
Once more, George Henry Lamson thought of Percy Malcolm John, upon whose demise his wife would inherit much money.
In December 1881, he visited the school in Wimbledon and persuaded Percy to swallow a gelatine capsule, with the words “Here, Percy, you are a swell pill-taker; take this, and show Mr Bedbrook [the headmaster] how easily it may be swallowed!”
When Percy died in agony the same evening, the doctors present suspected that this was a case of murder.
Dr Lamson had fled to France, but due to the lack of money and morphine, he did not carry out his plan to hide in France, but returned to London to face the music, hoping that the poison he had made use of could not be detected.
When Percy had been autopsied, samples of various organs had been kept for analysis, however, and the forensic scientists found that he had been poisoned with the uncommon vegetable toxin aconitine.
This sealed the fate of Dr Lamson. He was found guilty of murder, sentenced to death, and executed at Wandsworth Prison on April 28 1882.
During his criminous and wasted life, the doctor had accomplished some good but also much wickedness; short and evil had been his days, as he stood on the scaffold counting one or two more seconds, the longest-lasting in his life, waiting for the drop to open.
The police detectives, and even Lamson’s barrister Montagu Williams, felt certain that Dr Lamson was a double murderer, having poisoned both his brothers-in-law for the sake of profit.
Comparing his murderous career with those of the prolific medical killers Palmer and Pritchard, it indeed seems likely that Dr Lamson murdered Hubert John as well, and got away with it.
As a military surgeon, he had seen that life was cheap, with the wounded soldiers dying like flies.
Now both Hubert and Percy were invalids, crippled by tuberculosis and scoliosis, worthless and parasitic existences whose sufferings should be put an end to, he must have reasoned, like hastening the death of a badly mutilated soldier.
Perhaps the greatest mystery in the Lamson case is why he did not wait until he had Percy under his influence at the Chichester hotel, where the invalid could be given some ‘medicine’ with complete security, before Lamson signed the death certificate himself.
At Blenheim House School, all was not well after the execution of Dr Lamson.
Many parents objected to keeping their sons in a notorious murder school, and although the headmaster Mr Bedbrook tried to convince them that there were no longer any murderous doctors on the premises, dosing the boys with noxious chemicals, he was soon in serious difficulties due to the lack of pupils.
It did not help that there were rumours that the ghost of Percy was haunting the murder school.
Nervous young boys swore that they had seen his spectre, and heard the whirring of the wheels of his spectral wheelchair.
The murder school was still Blenheim House School in 1884, but by 1888, it had become St George’s College; it was still operational as late as 1894.
In the end, Mr Bedbrook had to lease the school to King’s College, London, as a boarding-house for boys, but the deal was a very unfavourable one, and poor Mr Bedbrook had lost his livelihood.
In 1898, he took King’s College to court for allegedly breaking the original agreement, but lost his case and was condemned in costs.
In the end, Mr Bedbrook had to take a job as an assistant in a boot shop to provide his wife and five children with food on the table.
To earn a meagre living, he sold footgear to the former pupils he had once taught Latin and Greek.
In the summer of 1921, when William Henry Bedbrook went bathing at Southsea, he was swept out to sea and drowned miserably.
‘Famous poisoning case recalled – Aconite in Dundee Cake for Schoolboy!’ exclaimed the Dundee Evening Telegraph, reporting on the sad demise of the 75-year-old former schoolmaster.
His wife Rose survived him until 1928, and he is likely to have descendants alive today.
The haunted murder school no longer stands, having been destroyed many years ago.
There may well be some truth in the story that Lamson thought the aconitine was an untraceable poison, but nevertheless, he had taken one risk too many and this would lead to his downfall.
Through his escalating morphine abuse, George Henry Lamson had created a fearsome Golem in his own image, a perfectly amoral creature capable of killing with coolness and premeditation.
This once brave and promising young doctor had become both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, both Frankenstein and murderous Monster, as he sped towards his doom from Wimbledon’s haunted murder school on a Highway to Hell.
This is an edited extract from Jan Bondeson’s book Doctor Poison (Troubador Publishing 2021).
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