Also Known As: “Aunt Thally”
Born: 1888 or 1890
Died: 1960 (Peritonitis from a ruptured gastic ulcer)
Active: 1947 to 1953
Method of Disposal: Thallium
Consequence: Life Imprisonment
- Christina Louisa Adelaide Mickelson (step-mother)
- Angelina Thomas (family friend)
- John Lundgren (husband’s brother-in-law)
- Mary-Ann Mickelson (sister-in-law)
- Eveline Lundgren (sister-in-law and widow of John Lundgren)
- John Downey (Eveline Lundgren’s son-in-law)
- Christine Downey (Eveline Lundgren’s daughter)
There is nothing more comforting than a hot cup of tea, especially when a family member is feeling unwell. Caroline Grills (also known as Aunt Thally) understood this, and was always on hand to provide endless cups of tea and cakes. She dutifully attended to each sick relative, making their imminent demise much more comfortable than it otherwise may have been.
Caroline was also an astute homemaker, and when she noticed her home becoming infested with vermin, she did what any self-respecting homemaker would do. She went straight to the local chemist and bought a substance called “Thallrat”. It was an effective method of removing the rat problem temporarily, and there was a lot of the poison remaining.
Being that she lived in frugal times, Caroline naturally looked for more effective uses for the substance, whose main ingredient was thallium.
Her father had died not long beforehand, and he had bequeathed to her the family home in his will. There was just one catch. Her occupation of the home was reliant on the death of her stepmother, Christina Mickelson, because Christina had been given lifetime tenancy in the home as part of the same will. Unfortunately, it didn’t look as though Christina would be obliging in that respect any time soon. It looked like Caroline would need to wait her turn.
Aha! This would kill two birds with one stone. She could put the excess thallium to good use, and upgrade to the family home at the same time.
So Caroline selflessly gave her time, visiting Christina at the house, and providing an endless supply of tea. On one such visit, Caroline decided to spice up the elevenses with some of the surplus Thallrat. Of course, she didn’t tell Mrs Mickelson of the sneaky addition to her tea; that wouldn’t have been proper. One does not speak of their kitchen secrets to others, lest they be copied.
In hindsight, the use of thallium to ‘spice up’ tea drinking wasn’t such a secret after all. Caroline was in fact only one of 5 people who utilised this particular ‘additive’ for nefarious means.
Soon the inevitable occurred, and Caroline, along with her husband Richard, quickly settled into her rightful place in the family home. Luckily for Caroline, Christina had been elderly, and when people become elderly their hair tends to fall out. As you well know. Ultimately, there was little surprise at her passing.
Because of her unwavering care and attention, Caroline’s reputation as a caring benefactor of the infirm was strong among her peers.
Having adjusted to life in her new abode, Caroline’s mind now turned to the idea of a ‘home away from home’. As luck would have it a close family friend, Angelina Thomas, had declared on a number of occasions that her home in the Blue Mountains of Sydney would belong to Caroline and Richard upon Angelina’s passing. Once again, Caroline saw to it that she visited Angelina on a regular basis, always taking with her homemade baked goods and of course, the Thallrat.
Now, with two houses to her name, Caroline was living the Australian dream. She had created a comfortable lifestyle for herself, but living the dream apparently left her with a lot of time on her hands, despite the large family of children and grandchildren to keep her busy. Her favorite pastime was to tend to those around her who were ill, but it seemed that unwell family members were thin on the ground after the deaths of Christina and Angelina. And Caroline still had so many doses of Thallrat, she didn’t know what to do.
In short order, two more people were treated to Caroline’s loving attention. John Lundgren, Richard’s brother-in-law, fell ill and died while on holiday with the Grills’. Soon after, Mary-Ann Mickelham, Caroline’s sister-in-law, succumbed to a similar illness. Both had developed sudden and unexplained cases of alopecia prior to their deaths, and Mary-Ann also went blind. It was all very perplexing.
Despite the possibility that the illness could be contagious, Caroline unwaveringly stayed by the side of each family member as they steadily grew worse. She even spoon fed Mary-Ann, in an effort to keep her strength up with soups and casseroles made with her own hand.
The now-widowed Eveline Lundgren, wife of the deceased John Lundgren, became increasingly worried when she began to exhibit the same symptoms as her spouse had. Once again, Caroline was on hand to make Eveline as comfortable as possible during this trying time. The cups of tea brought for her by Caroline were calming, especially after her sight failed. She eventually became so ill it was evident that confinement in hospital was in order. Once under the care of doctors, Eveline improved to the great relief of the family.
Eveline’s daughter and son-in-law Christine and John Downey, on the other hand, were becoming concerned for different reasons. They were also both feeling unwell in the same fashion, and had partaken of the tea prepared by Caroline. Moreover, the local broadsheet had been carrying stories of people who had died recently. As it turned out, these people had exhibited the same symptoms as those close to Caroline. As it also turned out, the common result seemed to indicate murder was afoot.
As stated earlier, Caroline’s secret ingredient was apparently no secret.
Now, it is not polite to point fingers. Well, unless some sort of proof can be found, after which time all bets are off. After Eveline came home from the hospital, Caroline resumed her palliative care. John noticed one day Caroline slipping something into his mother-in-law’s tea. He managed to procure the drink, and gave it to police. Thallium was detected, not a moment too soon for the ailing Lundgren/Downey family. After exhumations and autopsies were finally done on a couple of Caroline’s previous ‘patients’, she was unceremoniously charged with lots of terrible accusations. Oh, the shame!
Richard dutifully supported his wife throughout her ordeal. She was only charged, in the end, of attempting to do away with Eveline. Evidently, the judiciary and executive arms of justice must have figured that at her age, one successful charge alone would be sufficient to consider any result a life sentence.
Caroline’s excuse, that she was just being nice, surprisingly didn’t wash, and she was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
While incarcerated, she endeared herself to others in such a way that she was affectionately renamed “Aunt Thally”. One would assume, though, that any request made by her to work in any prison work area involved in the preparation of food or drink, would have been politely declined.
As though the police had been reading tea leaves themselves, the life sentence was exactly what Caroline got. In 1960, she was rushed to hospital, soon after succumbing to complications after a ruptured gastric ulcer.