Bill MacFarland

Essex County, New Jersey
Date of Alleged Crime:  October 17, 1911

William Allison MacFarland, also known as “Bill,” took cyanide home from the plant where he worked. He used it to make a solution of the poison for his wife, who had used it to clean her jewelry and silverware. Bill explained he had taken an almost empty bromide bottle and poured the contents into another bromide bottle, which was almost full. He then funneled the poison solution into the now empty bromide bottle. To avoid any possible confusion, he affixed a poison label on the bromide bottle containing the cyanide. Bill then placed both bottles on a bathroom shelf.

Ten days later he took an overnight trip to New York with his 6-year-old son. When he returned, his wife was dead from cyanide poisoning. The couple's two-year-old daughter was with her, playing with toys on the floor. It was Bill's contention that despite his precautions, his wife must have had a headache and, from force of habit, grabbed the familiar bromide bottle without looking at the label. In this way, she took the deadly poison. Bill dismissed suicide as a theory. It was clear that Bill had no hand in his wife's death as he was in New York.

In the course of their investigation, police discovered that Bill was having an affair with a former secretary, Flo Bromley, who lived in Philadelphia. Armed with a motive, police came up with a new theory of how the murder could have taken place. If, after showing the poison bottle to his wife, Bill had switched the poison label, his wife would have consumed the contents of the now deadly unmarked bottle. When he discovered the body the next morning, Bill could have removed the poison label and returned it to the correct bottle.

Bill was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife. It was revealed that Flo had threatened to expose Bill to his employers if he did not divorce his wife and marry her by October. It was further disclosed that Bill's home life was not as harmonious as he had led investigators to believe. His wife knew of his affair with Flo and did not like it one bit. However, it was impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bill had intentionally switched labels in order to poison his wife.

Bill's lawyers expanded on this flaw in the prosecution's case. They explained, Bill's wife had been duly warned of the danger by her husband, and if she died as a result of ingesting poison, in no way has murder been committed. Despite this argument, the jury, after deliberating all night, found Bill guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

During the trial, prosecutors had given the jury love letters between Bill and Flo to read during the trial. Bill was granted a new trial because his defense was not given the opportunity to explain and interpret these letters. The retrial jury felt there was reasonable doubt and acquitted Bill.


Reference:  News Column

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