24th February 1911

Murder inquiry ends with suicide

A Scottish murder led to a Guernsey suicide. The gruesome tale behind the deaths captivated the press in February 1911.

Mr and Mrs Hutchison had invited friends to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary with a dinner at home on 3 February. They ate, and the ladies went to the drawing room while the men stayed at the table to smoke. They had coffee, but soon the guests were falling ill.

Fourteen of the eighteen guests were soon crying out in pain. Mr Hutchinson and one other – the one who had supplied the coffee from his own shop – died in the early morning. The only guests who didn’t fall ill were the three who hadn’t touched the coffee.

Murder by poisoning

Investigations soon revealed arsenic in the coffee. There was no arsenic in the coffee on sale at the shop, so it must have made it into the cups when the drinks were made.

Police questioned Mr Hutchinson’s sons, John and Herbert, both of whom said they had no idea there was any arsenic in the house. Yet, further enquiries led the police to issue a warrant for 24-year-old John’s arrest. John Hutchinson was having financial problems, and a bottle of arsenic was missing from the chemist’s shop where he worked. Police put two and two together, but by that point John had already left Scotland for London.

They sent out a description, which rang bells in Guernsey, and Guernsey police closed in on him on the morning of Monday 20 February. As they entered the room where he was sitting in a St Peter Port hotel, he fled up a staircase. There, he took a swig from a small bottle, the contents of which quickly killed him.

The later inquest, on 24th February confirmed his cause of death. According to a report in the Gloucester Citizen, he’d drunk a bottle of prussic acid. The doctor who spoke at the enquiry said that he’d consumed enough acid to kill 16 people.

Hutchinson’s movements were later traced, and he’d come to Guernsey by way of Jersey, where he’d hidden in a hotel claiming to have pneumonia. This was a ruse so he didn’t need to go outside where someone might recognise him.

A long journey and a disguide

He’d stopped in London on his way south and sent a suicide note back to his family telling them they’d find his body floating in the Thames. This was likely a ruse to put police off his scent. In reality, he’d carried the prussic acid all the way from Scotland, perhaps never intending to use it.

Although he’d grown a beard since the killings, and was using an assumed identity, his real name was on one of his bags and had a Scottish cheque book.

The Scotsman reported on 25th February that his funeral has taken place on Guernsey the previous day (24th February). The officers who had tried to arrest Hutchinson were in attendance, with around 100 others.


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Other events that occured in February