March 7, 1910
San Francisco, California
Cordelia Botkin (pictured) dies in prison
Botkin had been involved in an affair with John Dunning for three years before his wife, Mary, discovered the infidelity. Mary took their daughter and moved to Dover, Delaware, roughly 2,900 miles (4,670 km) away.
John and Botkin continued their affair for some time, during which point John casually mentioned to Botkin his wife was living in Dover with a Mrs. Corbaley and had a fondness for chocolates. Eventually, John was called away to report upon the Spanish-American War after which, he informed Botkin, he would be joining his family in Dover.
In a reportedly jealous rage, Botkin began to send anonymous, threatening letters to Mary, one of which included taunts that the writer had seen Mary’s husband “constantly with this Interesting and Pretty woman. Who, by the way, is an English woman.” In Summer of 1898, Botkin also purchased arsenic from a druggist, though she did not immediately use it. On July 31, 1898, Botkin purchased chocolate bonbons from a chocolatier and a handkerchief from a French novelty shop. The candies were laced with arsenic and a letter was written reading: “With love to yourself and baby. Mrs. C” (the “Mrs. C” is thought to have been chosen by Botkin to represent Mrs. Corbaley). The package was mailed on August 4 and arrived five days later.
Mary did not suspect poisoned candies to be delivered to her, likely because this was the first known case of a killer mailing poison to a victim, and, despite the package being only signed “Mrs. C” with no return address, she began eating the bonbons and sharing them with guests. Mary, her sister Ida Deane (or Dean), Ida’s two young children, and two friends ate the sweets, though only Mary and Ida ate a large quantity. The others did not care for the bitter taste and consumed only small portions, which saved their lives.
All those who ate the chocolates became violently ill. Mary died the day after she received the candies, on August 10, while her sister died the following day.
John came to Dover at the news of his wife’s death and, upon reading the letters Mary had received, implicated Botkin after recognizing the handwriting. Investigators questioned people in San Francisco and multiple people remembered selling the ingredients of Botkin’s plan to her, including the druggist, chocolatier, and novelty store clerk. Additionally, a postal clerk distinctly remembered Botkin mailing the parcel, as the package was addressed to Mrs. John Dunning and the clerk’s name was John Dunnigan.
Botkin was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and given a life sentence. She died on March 7, 1910, at the age of 56. Her death certificate listed her cause of death as “Softening of the brain, due to melancholy”.
Monroe, Heather. “The Heinous Crimes of Cordelia Botkin.” Medium. Accessed: March 7, 2020. https://medium.com/@hlemonroe/the-heinous-crimes-of-cordelia-botkin-552d7d9e51d6 (image source)
Nelson, Ben. “The Case of The Fatal Charmer.” The American Weekly. August 9, 1942
“Famous Poisoner Is Dead.” The Sun [Baltimore, Maryland]. March 9, 1910
“Noted Murderess Cordelia Botkin Dies In Prison.” The Fresno Daily Republican. March 8, 1910
“Mrs. Botkin Is Indicted For Murder.” The Examiner [San Francisco, California]. October 29, 1898
“On This Evidence Mrs. Botkin Will Be Tried.” The Call [San Francisco, California]. September 15, 1898