Lizzie Poole and the Mysterious Case of Poison Porridge
The Kennedy household of Kemptville rose early in the morning and sat down to a belly-warming breakfast of porridge prepared by their Home Girl, 15 year-old Lizzie Poole. John Kennedy had left the house earlier to attend to some work. His brother, Alex Kennedy and his wife, Ann, sat at the table that morning with young Lizzie.
Three hours later, Alex Kennedy was dead. Lizzie and Mrs. John Kennedy became violently ill. Neighbours arrived and fearing they’d been poisoned fed the two women egg whites which produced vomiting. Both were taken to the hospital where Mrs. Kennedy died.
The porridge was found to contain rat poison which was not found in the store of uncooked oatmeal.
The Ottawa Journal reported in March 8, 1893 – “In the Kemptville poisoning case, suspicion fastened on the little girl, Lizzie Poole, from the fact that a few days previously Mrs. Kennedy gave her a whipping for the alleged taking of some money. Some of the villagers thought that the girl, from motives of revenge, might have put poison in the porridge, but this is disproved, from the fact that the girl is stated to have eaten of the porridge herself and was very ill.”
Was Lizzie Poole a murderer? Had she despaired of life so much that she wanted to take her own life along with the Kennedy’s lives?
Newspapers referred to Lizzie as the “adopted daughter” of Mr. and Mrs. John Kennedy, immigrants from Scotland. Neighbours may have thought she was adopted but this is unlikely. Lizzie had lived with the Kennedys since she arrived in Canada in 1888 at age 10. She came from Quarriers, a Scottish home for orphaned and impoverished children. Her group was accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Quarrier and was one of the first to arrive at Fairknowe in Brockville, Quarrier’s newly built distribution home.
The only person in the Kennedy home, besides Lizzie, to survive the poisoned porridge was John Kennedy who wasn’t home at the time. He stood steadfastly in Lizzie’s defence throughout the investigation that followed. He reported that his “wife often quarrelled with the little girl.” As for the money that had been allegedly stolen, he believed his wife took it and blamed the theft on Lizzie. He stated emphatically that he believed “the little girl was innocent.”
Neighbours said that Lizzie was closely attached to the Kennedys and they to her. But, no one knows how Lizzie really felt about the Kennedys. She testified during the investigation and admitted to making the porridge but said she had no idea how the rat poison got into it.
Staff from Quarrier’s took Lizzie back to Fairknowe in Brockville. She’d been with the Kennedy family for five years.
Then suspicion fell on John Kennedy since he was the only family member not present at the poison porridge breakfast. His brother’s will was said to be the reason he wanted him dead. But, no one could come up with a reason why he would want his wife and young Lizzie dead.
In the end, the investigation concluded without any charges being laid against anyone. Opinion was divided for and against Lizzie and for and against John Kennedy.
The Ottawa Journal reported (March 17, 1893) “There are very few new developments in the sad poisoning case in connection with the Kennedy family. As to whom the guilty party is, this continues to be a mystery.”
Is it possible that Lizzie hated her life with the Kennedys? That Mrs. Kennedy’s constant reprimands discouraged her and filled her with hatred for everyone in the household? She may have felt that death, even her own death, was the only way out.
We’ll never know. The poison porridge case will always remain a mystery. What happened to Lizzie Poole after she left the Kennedy’s? This too is a mystery. Quarrier’s may have sent her back to Scotland or she may have married and stayed in Canada.
Lizzie Poole and the case of the poison porridge remains a mystery.
Quarrier’s still exists today in Scotland as an organization that supports families and adults with disabilities. From 1888 until 1930, Quarrier’s brought 4,418 children to Canada.