Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On the last day of July in the summer of 1922, stenographer Lillian Goetz left the office of her employer and walked to a popular lunch spot, the Shelbourne Restaurant and Bakery. Along with its sandwiches, it was known for its freshly baked berry pies. Lillian chose the huckleberry pie for dessert--an unfortunate choice. She died that day, along with five other people, poisoned by arsenic in the pie.

An investigation ensued, resulting in the discovery of arsenic in the pie. Accidental poisoning by lax exterminators was ruled out. Instead, police believed the poisonings had been deliberate. The lead suspect was a baker at the Shelbourne who thought he was about to be fired.

In 1922, arsenic was still easy to acquire. It was used in rat poison and even in health tonics. Forensic science had come a long way since the 1800s, and death by arsenic could be proved in many cases, but pinpointing a killer was still a matter of detective work. In the case of the Shelbourne poisonings, the police weren’t able to prove the baker was responsible and he was never charged.

Many people's lives were changed that summer day. If the baker was guilty, he got away with murder. If he was innocent, I imagine he suffered the rest of his life under a cloud of suspicion.

I initially read about this incident in a book called The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. It’s a fascinating read about many poisons. You can also read her blog article about this incident, which contains more interesting information about Lillian and how her murder affected her family.


  1. Great article. Thank you so much, Candice!

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