Date: 28 Mar 1955
Jean Crabtree was found dead in her bed from a Soneryl overdose on 28 March 1955.
An open verdict was returned after it was heard that it could not be determined how she had come to take the drugs.
She was the daughter of a chemist and a chronic invalid. Jean Crabtree had been an invalid since childhood and had lived in the upstairs bedroom above a chemists shop and it was not known how she could have got down into the shop to get drugs as she was generally considered too weak to do so on her own.
At her inquest her parents were questioned at length by the Coroner over Jean Crabtree's physical ability to go downstairs and the accessibility of the drugs in their shop.
Jean Crabtree was found to have had approximately 30 grains of buto-barbitone, the main active ingredient in Soneryl, in her organs and bloodstream with 20 grains being noted as a lethal dose for most people with people in poor physique being affected by much less.
When the Coroner summed up at the inquest he noted that before he could find a verdict that someone had killed themselves that he had to be satisfied that there was no other reasonable solution. However, he also noted that if an open verdict was returned that it might be interpreted that he did not believe the version of events that Jean Crabtree's parents had provided and added that he did believe that they had taken every precaution to prevent Jean Crabtree from accessing the drugs in the shop. He said, 'I do believe the parents and I think they took every possible precaution. How she obtained this drug and took it is a matter of speculation and I am not going to make that speculation. I therefore find that Miss Crabtree died by buto-barbitone poisoning, there being no further nor sufficient evidence to satisfy me how it came into her possession, which is an open verdict'.
Jean Crabtree was found dead in her bed at her home on 28 March 1955. Following her death some of her organs were sent away to the North Western Forensic Laboratory for examination after which it was determined that she had died from buto-barbitone poisoning.
The pathologist that examined her organs and determined that she had had about 30 grains of buto-barbitone in her system said that that represented a total of about 20 Soneryl (buto-barbitone) tablets.
The pathologist that carried out her post mortem noted that he had found nothing in Jean Crabtree's condition that would have made her incapable of getting up to get the drug. He added that she might also have saved the drugs up as they were given to her each day or else taken them from the drug cupboard, but noted that that was mere speculation.
However, Jean Crabtree's father disagreed with the suggestion that Jean Crabtree might have gone downstairs, stating that she was in too weak a condition to have done so.
Jean Crabtree's father described the layout of the house, stating that all the living quarters were upstairs apart from the dining room which was downstairs. He said that at the right-hand side in the shop there was a closed door and that the Soneryl had been kept there in a locker and added that he did not think that Jean Crabtree would have had the strength to open the locker although accepted that the locker was not locked.
When Jean Crabtree's father was asked when the last time Jean Crabtree had been in the chemist shop he said that she was in rarely and that the last time would have been about two or three weeks earlier and that she would not have been in there alone. The Coroner questioned Jean Crabtree's father over whether or not Jean Crabtree might have been left alone in the shop, even for a few minutes, suggesting that there must have been some time when they were there together when he might have had to leave the shop to go into the dining room for other supplies, but Jean Crabtree's father said that he was absolutely sure that Jean Crabtree had not been left alone in the shop at all since the previous October.
The inquest also heard that Jean Crabtree's father was certain that Jean Crabtree would have been, in her weakened state, unable to open the ball catch on the door that led from the house to the shop even though there had been no locks on the door to prevent her from doing so if she had been able.
When Jean Crabtree's father explained how drugs were given to Jean Crabtree, he said that instead of giving her the bottle, he would give her one or two tablets each day as required although he noted that his wife occasionally gave her her tablets. When the Coroner asked what sort of system they had in place to prevent his wife having given Jean Crabtree a tablet and then him giving her another, Jean Crabtree's father said that if his wife gave Jean Crabtree a tablet that she would tell him so.
After hearing the evidence regarding Jean Crabtree and her inability to go downstairs and the way she was given her tablets, the Coroner said, 'I don't want to distress you about that, but it is clearly not the case. Either she as stronger than you contemplated and had no fear of making that journey downstairs sometime on Sunday night and getting the overdose which killed her, or she had, from time to time, failed to take the dose that had been given to her and had put it into something in her room and was storing them up unknown to you. Can you suggest any third possibility?', to which Jean Crabtree's father said he could not.
When Jean Crabtree's mother gave evidence, she said that she could not remember the last time that she had given Jean Crabtree her tablet. She added that she could not account for any occasion where Jean Crabtree might have been given a tablet twice and had been able to store one of them but noted that Jean Crabtree did have her own private things that she might have stored them with if she had been saving tablets.
She also agreed with her husband on the issue of Jean Crabtree having found it difficult in going downstairs saying, 'I don't think she would have dared go downstairs, and that’s the truth'.
After hearing the evidence, the Coroner said that the case had caused him considerable difficulty. He said, 'It has caused me considerable difficulty because I am satisfied that both Jean Crabtree's father and mother are decent, respectable people who believe they are telling the truth. Certain it is that they have taken every possible care, in my view, of this girl. But accepting that on one side, I have also got to accept another situation which is somewhat difficult to explain in view of that on the other. And that is that there is no doubt whatever that the cause of death was an overdose of buto-barbitone and that is most likely to have taken the form of Soneryl. That particular commodity in a chemist’s shop is not on the list of drugs which have to be kept under lock and key'.
The open verdict was then returned.
see Nelson Leader - Friday 29 April 1955