ON THIS DAY – June 14, 1913


Few more remarkable cases have come before the Criminal Court than that which was heard in Melbourne on June 14, when Elizabeth Louisa Barry, aged 28 years, an employee in a tearoom in “The Block,” and Clarice Cowell, aged 20, a saleswoman at Cole’s Book Arcade, were charged before Mr. Dwyer, P.M., at the City Court, with having conspired to murder Florence May Ring. Mrs. King, Who lives at Ascotvale, and who is the wife of a clerk in the parcels office, at Flinders street station, when interviewed on the previous day, told an extraordinary story. “On Saturday night, June 7,” she said, “a strange woman knocked at my front door, and explained that she had brought a parcel for me from my husband’s sister. I took her inside, and the parcel contained blouses for myself and a jumper for my little baby, Bruce. She complained of not having had any tea, though it was after 8 o’clock at night. My little, boy jumped out of bed and ran into the dining room to us. The woman at once declared that she did not like children. I then took her into the breakfast-room, and set the table to give her some tea. My little boy meanwhile played about the house. She gave him a date cream, but he did not eat it. She begged me to join her in the tea, and I poured myself out a cup. When I did this she looked at Bruce and said, ‘It’s time you were in bed.’ I took the hint, and carried him into his room, being only away from the woman for a few minutes. “When I returned she was still eating, and, on sitting down at the table again, “I noticed that my tea, which did not contain milk, had a peculiar scum floating on the top of it.” I sipped it, “and remarked, “What a horrible bitter taste this tea has.’ I noticed a peculiar pink powder around the cup on the tray cloth, and I at once be came suspicious. This, with the bitter taste of the tea, prompted me not to touch it, and when the woman went away, soon afterwards, I left it on the table just as it was until my husband came home from work. I then told him of my suspicions. On the Monday following my husband took the powder to the Government analyst, who stated that it contained enough strychnine to poison ten men. “On Tuesday I went to Cole’s Book Arcade, and asked for a young-woman assistant there, and when she came I said to her, ‘I am not dead yet.’ She said, ‘I don’t understand you.’ I replied, ‘No; but you will before long.’ Then I went to the Detective Office, and told them exactly what I am saying now. “I have only one woman enemy in the world, and she will be so until I die. About six weeks ago Cowell came to the house, and almost banged the front door in. When I went to the front she was standing with her back to the fence, and, of course, we had a fight. Blows were struck, and the woman fainted. Then my husband said for his sake to bring her inside. I did, and when she recovered we continued the fight in the dining-room. She pulled my hair out, and the silk blouse she was wearing was torn to pieces, and before she was able to leave the place I had to patch it together for her. My husband first met her 12 months ago. He is in a position at the window in the parcels office, where he is meeting strange people all day.” As a result of allegations similar to the above the arrests were made. A distressing scene occurred when the accused women were brought into court. They were weeping hysterically, and their cries could be heard beyond the precincts of the courtroom. Eventually they were both in a state of collapse. Detective Napthine stated that he had obtained a confession from Barry that she had conspired with Cowell to poison Mrs. King. Cowell admitted afterwards to him that this was true. She told the detective that King had ruined her, and had absolutely broken her heart.  A remand was granted till June 20, and the women were then sent to the gaol hospital for treatment.