At the age of 17 Palmer had been sacked for stealing while working as an apprentice with a pharmacist, his life of crime had begun. He was later to be sacked again, after it was discovered that he was operating an illegal abortion clinic.
He carried on with his fascination for medicine, and eventually qualified as a doctor at St.
Bartholomew's hospital, London. Setting up practice as a GP in his native Staffordshire he married, and soon had a child from one of the servants.
His married suffered through this,. as well as gambling and drink, his practice also started to suffer. As Palmer's debts, mainly through horse racing, increased, members of his family started to decrease.
First to die was his mother-in-law, then his wife, who had been insured for £13,000 his brothers demise followed. Four of his children also mysteriously died, along with several of his known creditors.
November 1855, Palmer finally came unstuck after killing
his friend, John Cook, they had gone racing together,
Cook took a drink of brandy and claimed it was burning
his throat, he later told friends he believed Palmer
tried to poison him.
The two often went horse racing or drinking
together, and on one occasion after Cook was ill, a
friend sent soup over to help his recovery, the
chamber-maid had some 2 spoonfuls and was ill, but the
soup still made its way to John cook who was
consequently violently sick. When the soup had been
delivered, it was Palmer who first had hold of it.
21st November 1855., Palmer gave
Cook 2 pills, that he said would aid Mr Cook's recovery,
the pills contained strychnine that Palmer had brought
earlier that day from some of Me Cooks betting winnings.
Within hours of taking the pills Cook
complained he was was suffocating, he died in agony at
Mr Cook's wealthy family demanded an autopsy. Poison was found and Palmer was duly accused of murder.
15th December 1855, An inquest found
no evidence of poison, but the leading doctor still
stated that it was his belief that Cook had been
The jury at the inquest delivered their
verdict stating that the "Deceased died of poison
wilfully administered to him by William Palmer";
14th May 1856, Trial at the old
26th may 1856, the jury took just an
hour to find palmer guilty of murdering John Cook.
The judge sentenced him to death.
Saturday 14th June 1856 he was hanged at Stafford jail in front of an audience of more than 50,000 onlookers, hanged by chief executioner
Palmer was buried beside the prison chapel.