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The Murder of Dr. Chapman


murder-of-dr-chapmanAnyone who’s read Slip Into Something Victorian for a time knows that I’m fascinated by murder.  Can’t tell you why, but I’m drawn to read about it, thus the Lizzie Borden blog and a few others.  Today, it’s Dr. Chapman, which isn’t technically a Victorian murder, having occurred in 1832.  But I figure that’s close enough, and certainly the story of it went on into the Victorian Era.  This information came exclusively from the book, The Murder of Dr. Chapman, by Linda Wolfe–great book!

Basically it’s the triangle love story that ends up in tragedy, one we’ve heard time and time again.  Wife falls in love with another man, husband ends up dead.  Here are some of the facts of the the story-which is true, of course! 

1.) The wife, Lucretia was a teacher and mother. At the time of the murder was approximately 43 years old.  Her lover, Lino, was approximately 22. In today’s parlance that makes Lucretia a cougar.  A murderous one.  Or a woman in the throes of a horrible mid-life crisis. 

2.) Lino was Cuban. 

3.) Lino was living at the Chapman’s home at the time of the murder, with Dr. Chapman’s approval.  He was a conman,  who told the Chapmans his father was a Mexican general and the governor of California.   The Chapmans believed him. 

4.) The doctor attending Dr. Chapman believed that he was suffering from Cholera Morbus (the  Cholera that killed massive amounts of people had yet to hit the U.S, or England for that matter.  Cholera Morbus was a summertime illness and I personally suspect it was food poisoning brought on by poor food preservation).  It was considered a mild stomach complaint.  Except that he got worse and worse and it killed him. 

5.) Nine days after Chapman died, Lucretia and Lino married.  Lino declared that he needed money for their honeymoon.  He took from her jewelry, silver, horses and left for Philadelphia and other cities to sell it.  She never saw her items again, although technically they weren’t hers anymore regardless.  What was her husbands became hers-then became Lino’s when she married him. 

6.) It was after this the Lucretia started to realize she may have been taken for a ride.  Investigation revealed he was not where he said he was, he appeared not to be who he said he was, and she sent letters scolding him for both.  One letter unfortunately fell into the hands of the police with the line  “But no, Lino. . .I am constrained to acknowledge that I do not believe that God will permit either you or me to be happy this side of the grave.”   That and other circumstances brought about the arrest and trial of both Lino and Lucretia for murder. 

7.) A pharmacist testified in court that Lino bought a quarter pound of arsenic.  The doctor who attended Chapman testified that it was possible that arsenic poisoning had caused a majority of the symptoms of the “illness”  that killed Chapman. That and the autopsy conducted with the “opinion” of an expert was all that they could go on to determine if Chapman died of arsenic poisioning.  There was no forensic test at this period that could be conclusive.  The Marsh Test to detect arsenic, was not used successfully in a murder trial until 1840. 

8..) The two were tried separately.  During her trial, the public by and large believed that Lucretia was innocent.  Much of the more damning information was kept from her trial and she was acquitted. 

9)  The damning testimony came out at Lino’s trial.  He was convicted and later hanged.  The damning testimony came before the public, who changed their minds about Lucretia.  Whether guilty or not-you can read the book and make your own decision-she lost credibility with the public and lost all her pupils.  Between that and Lino’s spending before she stopped it, she eventually lost everything.  She drifted off into obscurity and died ten years later flat broke.

These are the facts and it’s a far more interesting story than what I can put out in bullet points.  For those interested in the criminal justice system and Philadelphia it’s very interesting to see how it worked at this point in time.   As for me, well reading any Victorian history is useful, and this particularly so because it helped solidify some ideas for a future book.  Hint-there will be arsenic!



  1. Isabel Roman says:

    On a Lizzie Borden side note, you know you can’t buy that movie any more?

    Now Dr. & Mrs. Chapman. Fools. But then I’m such an untrusting person. I love the bullet points, though, all very interesting. You do have the greatest fascenations.

  2. K.-Marie says:

    How very interesting.

  3. I’m sorry, I’m just struck by the names.

    Lucretia? And they didn’t know immediately she was a murderer?

    And Lino? You couldn’t tell from a mile away that he was a con man?

    Although, this may well be why those names are synonymous with murderers and con men. Ah, the benefits of hindsight!

    Great post!

  4. Great story, Dee! I’m sure it’ll get those wheels turning in your mind.

  5. […] is also known as “the Summer Complaint” and was originally considered the illness that killed Dr. Chapman. It was implicated in some small degree in the deaths of Lizzie Borden’s parents.  Cholera […]

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