The First American Woman to Face the Death Penalty in the UK was Actually Innocent
Florence Maybrick was also related to two Jack the Ripper suspects.
Florence Chandler was just seventeen when she sailed aboard the Baltic liner from American to Liverpool, England. Onboard was 41-year-old James Maybrick, a cotton trader. During the voyage, the couple became close and spent much time together alone, which was not common in 1880.
By the time the couple disembarked in Liverpool, they were engaged to be married. The wedding would take place in London a short time later.
The couple then went back to America, where they had two children. Having become a family, they decided they should return to Liverpool.
However, it was not her youthful good looks or his business prowess that made them famous; it was the murders associated with them. The Maybricks were a family plagued with accusations of murder.
Early Married Life
James Maybrick was a hypochondriac and a drug user, something we can presume Florence knew nothing of when she married him. One of his preferred drugs was arsenic, and he would boast too many friends about the poison he would ingest. He was also an adulterer; some say he had a mistress and five children living in London. He visited them frequently, leaving his young wife at home alone.
Florence liked the finer things in life. Money had never been a problem, as her father had been a rich man. She wanted to spend money, and this did not stop when she arrived at her Battlecrease House in Liverpool. When her husband tried to stop her spending, citing financial problems, this did not stop Florence. Instead, she borrowed money using land her father had left her and jewellery as collateral.
The Maybrick’s Marriage Starts to Crumble
Despite this lavish lifestyle, she was still not happy. Florence missed the social life of America and was lonely with her husband being away so often on ‘business.’ It was then that she met Alfred Brierley, a friend of her husband’s. The young cotton trader stole her heart and her virtue. But, unfortunately, the affair was not to last.
When Maybrick found out his wife had been on a romantic weekend with her lover in London, he became enraged, beating his wife, causing her to need help from a doctor. It was then that reports state that Florence found out about his mistress; there are also questions about whether she found out about another secret Maybrick was hiding. Was Maybrick Jack the Ripper? Still, the couple chose to stay together, and Maybrick agreed to pay off his wife’s debt.
Two things happened after this to change the course of both their lives. First, Maybrick became unwell, and second, servants observed Florence soaking flypaper in her room.
James Maybrick Murder Victim?
Maybrick’s health started to deteriorate, and many doctors could not find the cause for his ill health. So worried was his family that his brother Michael came to visit him. Michael spoke to the servants and was told about the flypaper soaking. Flypaper in those times contained arsenic. Florence said she had heard arsenic was good for the skin, which was why she was soaking the paper.
When James Maybrick died on 11th May 1889, an autopsy was carried out. Results showed that James had arsenic in his system, although they doubted it was enough to kill him. The coroner stated that his wife, Florence, was responsible for his murder.
Florence on Trial
Florence was arrested shortly after and put on trial. Unfortunately, due to legislation, she was not allowed to take the stand in her defence. So Florence sat there whilst the prosecution told everyone about her adultery. They went into detail about the lover Florence had taken; however, they failed to mention that James had a mistress and was very partial to taking arsenic himself.
The jury convicted Florence without a second thought, and she was sentenced to death by hanging. She was the first American woman put to death in the UK. This was not the end of her story, though.
The Campaign of One Man
Sir Charles Russell, her defence solicitor, believed that Florence was innocent and campaigned for her release. Forty- eight hours before her execution, her sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Russell did not stop campaigning there, and fifteen years later, Florence was released in 1904.
His murder, though, was not the last time that James Maybrick made the papers. In 1992 a diary was found, claiming to be written by James Maybrick, where he admitted to being Jack the Ripper. It was clear that he would have been in the Whitechapel area at the time, as he had a second home there. Was this the secret that had led Florence to kill her husband? Was James killing prostitutes as an act of revenge against an unfaithful wife?
Maybrick’s and Jack the Ripper
In an even stranger twist of fate, James is not the only Maybrick to have been linked with the identity of Jack the Ripper. His brother Michael was a very popular composer at the time, performing under the alias of Stephen Adams has also been connected to the legend. Michael travelled extensively with his work and was in London at the time of the Ripper murders. However, he was also identified in other cities worldwide where violent murders towards women were committed. So was it that the Ripper murders never stopped they just went abroad?
Although both claims against the brothers being Jack the Ripper are denied and primarily proven to be false, it is fair to say that the Maybrick brothers had darkness in their lives. The innocent Florence was drawn to this world and may have entered the darkness herself, killing her husband. Florence returned to America on release, but never saw her children. She died in the 1940’s alone and broke.