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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 06:35 GMT
Victorian whodunnit solved
Charles Bravo
Charles Bravo suffered a very painful death

In 1876 a young barrister named Charles Bravo was found poisoned at his south London home.

The murderer has never been caught and in Victorian England it sparked outrage as the public played a national game of real-life Cluedo.

Was it the wealthy wife, Florence, who resented Bravo's brutal sexual advances?

Or the housekeeper, whom Bravo was about to dismiss from service?

The Priory house
The Priory was the finest home in Balham

Or was the murderer (as Agatha Christie suspected) Florence's ex-lover, the physician James Gully?

Many theories have been put forward since then, but author and historian James Ruddick says that he has solved the case after uncovering new evidence.

Bravo was killed at his home The Priory, in Balham, which was then an idyllic village in Surrey.

The poison potassium antimony had been slipped into his bedside glass of water.

Florence Bravo
Florence was said to be beautiful and glamorous

On his death bed Bravo failed to say who might have poisoned him and remained strangely calm during his last agonising days.

Detectives took his ambivalence to mean that he had committed suicide.

It was only discovered in the 20th Century that antimony itself caused this reaction.

Suspicions were aroused when during the coroner's inquest (the court is now the Bedford Arms pub in Balham) details of an earlier relationship between Bravo's wife, Florence Bravo and surgeon Dr James Gully, came to light.

Pregnancy fear

She had had an abortion, carried out by Dr Gully, which in Victorian times shocked the public who were glued to their newspapers for all the titillating details.

The inquest also heard that Bravo and Florence argued a lot about him controlling her lifestyle and about having children.

He wanted them but she was wary. She was ill after suffering two miscarriages and was scared a third pregnancy would kill her.

Another suspect was the maid, Mrs Cox.

Mrs Cox
Mrs Cox was evasive on the night of the murder

She was a widow with three children, but Charles was about to sack her to save money.

Reports at the time said she was evasive on the night of the murder and told police that Bravo had spoken about committing suicide, which he had not.

Mr Ruddick said: "Of the three suspects Dr Gully is the one that can be eliminated the first.

"He was nowhere near the scene and his butler had said he had given his blessing to Bravo and Florence's marriage, despite people saying he was bitter and angry about their marriage."

Lost documents

Mr Ruddick has also found out that Mrs Cox stood to inherit a fortune from the West Indies.

He discovered documents in the Jamaican national archives which show that she owned three vast plantations.

So that leaves Florence.

Mr Ruddick said: "Antimony was used by women in Victorian times to control their husband's alcohol addiction, which in small quantities would make them sick, and Florence had previously been married to an alcoholic.

Times article
The public were fascinated with the case

"So she had plenty of experience with the poison.

"I think on the night of the murder, Bravo wanted sex but Florence was scared that a third pregnancy might kill her.

"In Victorian times women had no right to deny their husband sex and in these circumstances she resorted to poison.

"But she couldn't have done it alone. Mrs Cox must have got rid of the glass and then misled the police.

"It's a tragic story which highlights how poor a woman's standing was back then."

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