Unsolved Murders

Kusel Behr

Age: 47

Sex: male

Date: 31 Mar 1926

Place: Lyndale Hall, 368 Finchley Road, Hampstead

Kusel Behr was found dead from strychnine poisoning.

He was a member of a firm of egg importers.

Before he died he had been in ill-health for about a fortnight.

He died after drinking some tea that was brought up to his room.

He was married in 1909 and his wife was 33-years-old when he died. They had four children, two boys age 15 and 6 years and two girls age 13 and 9 years.

Up until 1923 he had been generally in good health but at the end of December 1923 he had a bad attack of bronchitis and went to Nice for five weeks to recover.

His widow said that she went into hospital for an operation on 24 February 1926 and came home on 17 March 1926. Shortly after she said that he had an influenza cold and didn't look well saying that he couldn't swallow anything and felt hot and funny. She said that he then went to bed at 8.30pm. Sometime after he complained of feeling giddy and became hysterical, laughed and complained that his legs were becoming stiff.

She said that the next day Kusel Behr came home from work at 6.30pm and asked her to get him a doctor quickly. She said she telephoned for a doctor and that Kusel Behr told her that his mouth was getting stiff and that he had a bitter and dry taste. She said that she gave him a glass of clean water from the bath tap and that Kusel Behr said 'Don't put anything near my mouth. It is like electricity. I cannot stand it'.

Then on the morning of 31 March 1926 his wife brought him up a glass of tea while he was in bed. She said that Kusel Behr drank about three-quarters of the tea and that then the glasses that she and Kusel Behr had used were taken down by the maid.

She said then that Kusel Behr said 'My legs are getting stiff, I feel giddy, and I have a funny taste in my mouth. I believe I am getting my old spasms back again.’.

Kusel Behr's wife then sent for the doctor and Kusel Behr's brother and waited with him until they arrived. However, he didn't speak again and by the time the doctor arrived he was dead.

A doctor said that the cause of death was strychnine poisoning and that more than a fatal dose was found in his body.

His wife said that a while before Kusel Behr's death they had quarrelled over her new motor-car that she had bought in 1925, and that he had thrown her onto a chair and caught hold of her throat until the maid came in and smacked him around his face. She said that she had had a nervous breakdown after the quarrel and was told by her doctor that she would have to undergo another operation within three or four months. She said that the doctor advised her to take a sea voyage and to get as much sunshine as possible and good air. The operation was to remove a tumour in the right side of the stomach and she had had four similar operations previously.

However, she said that Kusel Behr refused to give her any money for the voyage but upon receiving £200 in her bank for the rent of her house in Shanghai she decided to go there and sell it for £4000, thinking that the sea voyage would strengthen her for her operation. On the day that she had received notification from the bank Kusel Behr left home for Berlin and she immediately made arrangements to proceed to Shanghai herself.

However, after having left for Berlin he sent his wife a cheque for £50 which was noted as being strange considering that he had just seen her prior to his departure and had refused to give her money.

She said that she didn't tell Kusel Behr that she was going to Shanghai, or her children, saying that if she had he would have raised difficulties and said that she didn't tell her children either because she didn't want to upset them.

She said that after leaving home she wrote to her children from Liverpool Street Station and then again from Cololbo and then when the boat reached Shanghai she sent a cable. However, she found out that once she got there that she couldn't sell her property and so she cabled Kusel Behr asking for £300 which he sent so that she could return home. She returned and Kusel Behr met her at Cherburg and gave her a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of perfume and seemed pleased to see her again.

She said that on the way back she had an attack of internal pains and immediately upon returning home she called for the doctor and a specialist and made arrangements to go into a nursing home at 17 Park Lane on 24 February 1926 where she underwent an operation the following day.

She left the nursing home on 17 March 1926 and the following evening Kusel Behr had his first seizure similar to that from which he died on 31 March 1926.

About 6.30pm on 18 March 1926 Kusel Behr returned from business to find his wife still in bed. He had dinner served to him on a small table by her bedside but didn't eat much and complained of feeling cold. His meal had consisted of a little salmon and he had said 'I can't swallow anything'. He then had some tinned peaches after which his wife suggested that if he wasn't feeling well that he should go to bed which he did at about 8.30pm. Kusel Behr's wife said that Kusel Behr said 'I feel funny and cold', and so she called for the doctor.

The doctor gave Kusel Behr some Spasmaligim injections and stayed with him until about 12.45am on 19 March 1926. One of the injections of Hyoscine included some morphine. Kusel Behr had complained of stiffness to the doctor and of partial loss of power in his legs, as well as a very powerful contractions and spasms of his legs coming every few minutes. The doctor said that he could find no traces of organic disease and instructed his wife to give Kusel Behr a tea-spoonful of salts at 6am. However, he had no bowel movements and at 8am his wife gave him the juice of an orange because he had complained that his mouth was dry, however, he had vomited very considerably as a result but nothing in the vomit could be found other than small pieces of orange and liquid like water.

At 9am the doctor called for another doctor but they could not say what the cause of his illness was. At 6pm later that day a specialist was called in and said that he thought that Kusel Behr was suffering from a Sleepy Sickness and suggested a lumbar puncture which was taken but with a negative result.

Kusel Behr improved a little but complained of pains in his spine and had a nurse in attendance with him until 27 March 1926 at which point the doctor said that that he found Kusel Behr greatly improved so much so that he discontinued calling on him and Kusel Behr was allowed to get up and the nurses dispensed with.

On 28 March 1928 Kusel Behr went out by himself for a walk for about 15 minutes and in the afternoon he went out again for a walk with his wife for about 45 minutes, and then after for an hour's drive in their motor car.

He still complained of pains in his back but went out again on 29 and 30 March 1926. By that time he was eating fairly well again and drank red wine with his dinner although he was usually in the habit of drinking whisky or gin and Apollinaris water but the doctor had told him not to drink whisky.

Then at about 9pm on 30 March 1926 while in the drawing room Kusel Behr became red in the face and took hold of the arms of his chair. When his wife asked him 'Do you feel bad' Kusel Behr said 'I am all right, I am going to bed'.

Kusel Behr's wife said that at 10.45pm Kusel Behr was still awake when she went to her bed and said that Kusel Behr got up from his bed and went to her bed for about an hour during which Kusel Behr was feeling fairly well and they had intercourse.

She said that at about 7.45am on 31 March 1926 she woke up to find Kusel Behr also awake, and said that he told her that he had been up since 6am and that he had had a good sleep for about 6 hours. She said that she then got up and went downstairs in her dressing gown and ordered a glass of tea for Kusel Behr and a glass of hot water for herself.

She said that Kusel Behr remained in bed and asked her to prepare his bath and that whilst she was doing that she saw the maid outside on the landing at the door with the tea and water. She said that she then took the tea into their room and placed it on a pedestal at the side of Kusel Behr's bed and then left the room to attend to one of their son's who was in bed in the next room suffering from German Measles. She gave him some tabloids which he took with a cup of tea that had also been made by the maid and had come from the same pot that Kusel Behr's tea had been brewed in.

She said that when she went back to their room she found Kusel Behr cleaning his teeth over a wash basin and that whilst he was doing that she collected the glasses and handed them to the maid. There was a small quantity of tea left over in Kusel Behr's glass which was not unusual for him.

She said that she then went back into the bathroom and found that Kusel Behr was not there and then went back into the bedroom and Kusel Behr had gone back to bed having not taken his bath. She said she asked him what was wrong and said that he said 'I feel giddy, and I would not go into the bath'. He then said 'I have got a funny taste in my mouth. My legs are getting stiff, and I think I am getting those old spasms again'. At that time Kusel Behr was lying on his back gripping the mattress with both hands and telling his wife to fetch a doctor quickly.

His wife called the doctor and his brother. While she was waiting for them to arrive she gave Kusel Behr some drops of brandy and water and also rubbed his wrists and forehead with it. She said that he complained of a dry and bitter taste in his mouth and she gave him a small piece of orange. She said that she remained with him but that he didn't speak and then she found that his pulse had gone and there was no sign of life.

She said that about twenty minutes or half an hour had elapsed from the time that she had found him in bed after leaving the bathroom and the time of his death.

His wife also said that Kusel Behr was in the habit of taking drugs which were kept in the bathroom but that she was not aware of whether or not he had any poisonous drugs. She said that he used the drugs for the purpose of obtaining sleep and that he used to bring them from Germany.

She said that he had no real worries.

Whilst the police were carrying out their investigations they showed Kusel Behr's wife a Booths Dry Gin bottle but said that she had never seen it before. She also said that she had no idea whether there was any strychnine in the house.

She said that on the morning of his death she had no knowledge of him having anything else other than the glass of tea. She also said that it was about ten minutes after he had had the glass of tea that he had first complained of having the bitter taste in his mouth and that she didn't hear him moan before she had brought the tea to him.

When a pathologist examined the contents of the medicine cabinet in the bathroom he found one bottle labelled Endometritis which contained chocolate coated tablets that he stated contained extracts of Nux-Vonnica which he said contained one twelfth of a grain of strychnine in each tablet. However, he said that Kusel Behr would have had to have taken 48 of the tablets to have given himself a fatal dose. He said that as far as he could see there were no other medicines that contained strychnine in the bathroom.

A policeman presented a long list of drugs to the inquest which was 5.5 pages long and stated that exhaustive enquiries had been made at Chemist and Druggists throughout the Metropolitan District to ascertain if strychnine in any form had been supplied to any person residing at Finchley Road or to any person connected to Kusel Behr's place of business but had found nothing.

A policeman who searched the property said that he found nothing of any suspicious nature anywhere in the house other than the bottle of Booths dry gin and the drugs/medicines from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

After his death Kusel Behr's wife found out that she didn't benefit under Kusel Behr's will.

The Coroner's jury returned a verdict that 'Kusel Behr died from Strychnine poisoning. How administered, unknown'.

Kusel Behr was a Lithuanian subject and carried on his business with his brother under the name of Behr & Mathew, Egg Importers, Bank End Wharf, Southwark. Their principle business was the import of eggs from China for distribution in Europe. Kusel Behr's life was not insured.

The house he lived in on Finchley Road was a very large residence which he owned himself. It was the last house on the right-hand side in the Parish of Hampstead and bordered on the parish of Handon.

After Kusel Behr and his wife were married they travelled extensively and resided in America, South Africa and for seven years in Shanghai. They had come from Shanghai to London in May 1923.

Kusel Behr travelled extensively for his business and was in good health until he was treated for bronchitis in November 1923 for which he recuperated in Nice for five weeks. Kusel Behr's wife had initially told the police that Kusel Behr was of temperate habits and said that their married life was fairly happy, but after the police carried out their investigations they determined that that was not true and when they later questioned Kusel Behr's wife they found out that they had had serious disputes over money and that after one of those disputes in November 1925 Kusel Behr's wife had left for shanghai without telling Kusel Behr while he was away in Germany and without saying goodbye to their children.

In the Police files a cover note for some attached statements stated:

'A most interesting and difficult case. Upon the whole it looks as if this man had doctored the gin himself and either deliberately or by mistake, overdone the doctoring. Every effort has been made locally and throughout the Metropolis to trace a purchase of strychnine without success. It will be interesting to see what conclusion the Coroner’s Jury comes to but upon the whole I do not think that this man was murdered.'

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see Gloucester Citizen - Thursday 20 May 1926

see Sheffield Independent - Friday 21 May 1926

see Sunday Post - Sunday 04 April 1926

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Friday 09 April 1926

see Derby Daily Telegraph - Friday 14 May 1926

see National Archives - MEPO 3/855

see Kilburn West Hampstead Blog

see National Library of Scotland