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Learn about the shocking murders uncovered in The Husband Poisoner and other books by Tanya Bretherton.


The Husband Poisoner documents a series of murders that struck at the very heart of domestic life in Sydney. Just after World War II, hundreds of people were struck down by a mysterious illness. Symptoms included acute gastric distress, crippling nerve pain, paralysis and blindness. It took five years (from 1947–1952) for doctors, police and government scientists to identify a pattern: Sydney’s health crisis was caused by the active ingredient in a newly available rat poison called Thall-Rat.

Thall-Rat was produced in liquid form and sold in small glass vials as a form of pest control. Sydney residents were encouraged to bait wheat or meat with a few drops of Thall-Rat and leave it in a dark place for rodents. Thallium, the key active ingredient in Thall-Rat is a highly toxic heavy metal that is deadly to humans, even in small doses. It blocks nerve impulses and metabolic processes. Thallium can affect the lungs, heart, liver and kidneys and if ingested it totally destroys the nervous system.

Thallium offered women a unique opportunity to get away with murder. It was tasteless, odourless and colourless and a few drops could be added to each meal. In every documented case of thallium killing, the victim unwittingly ingested the poison in the food that had been prepared for them.

The most prolific thallium killer in Australia’s history was Caroline Grills, an unassuming suburban housewife and grandmother. It is rumoured that Caroline used thallium to poison as many as eleven close family members who lived in the lower north shore and inner suburbs of Sydney.

The first person in Australia who was convicted of murder by thallium was Yvonne Butler. Yvonne lived with two different husbands between 1947 and 1952 at her terrace in Newtown. Yvonne murdered both husbands by poisoning them with Thall-Rat.


Map of Sydney containing key locations from Tanya Bretherton's books

  1. 1904: Alicks & Ellie Sly Murder-suicide, corner Watkin & Wilson St Newtown (The Suicide Bride)
  2. 1923: Baby in a  suitcase washed ashore at Athol Bay, Mosman (The Suicide Bride)
  3. July 1932: Hilda White found naked under a fig tree in Centennial Park (The Killing Streets)
  4. December 1932: Iris Marriott found naked in a grove of  Coral trees at Queens Park (The Killing Streets)
  5. December 1932: Bessie O'Connor found naked in Royal National Park, Sutherland.
    (The Killing Streets)
  6. 1947: Gerrish st Gladesville. Caroline Grills murders her stepmother with thallium (The Husband Poisoner)
  7. 1947: Yvonne Butler  poisons her first husband Desmond with thallium, at their home in Ferndale st  Newtown (The Husband Poisoner)
  8. 1952: Yvonne Fletcher poisons her second husband Bertram with thallium at their home in  Ferndale st Newtown  (The Husband Poisoner)
  9. 1953: Veronica Montanari  poisons her son in law, rugby star Bobby Lulham, in his home on Hinkler Avenue, Ryde (The Husband Poisoner)
  10. 1953: Caroline Grills poisons several members of her extended family over an extended period in Great Buckingham Street, Redfern  (The Husband Poisoner)

Learn more about Sydney's thallium killings in The Husband Poisoner, out now.

  • The Husband Poisoner - Tanya Bretherton

    Shocking real-life stories of murderous women who used rat poison to rid themselves of husbands and other inconvenient family members. For readers of compelling history and true crime, from critically acclaimed, award-winning author Tanya Bretherton.

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