February is “Scorned Lovers” month on History Witch! And here’s the perfect profile to kick this theme off. And by “perfect” I mean really creepy, disturbing- and it involves chocolates.
Cordelia Botkin (1854 – 1910) was born in Missouri and moved to California with her family. She married a man named Welcome Botkin (that’s right… Welcome) and had a son. While married, she met a man named John Preston Dunning while hanging out at Golden Gate Park. They were both married, and she was 9 years older than he was (she was 41 at the time). Dunning was the Superintendent of the Associated Press’s Western Division bureau in San Francisco.
Dunning’s wife found out about the affair, took their daughter, and moved back home to Dover, Delaware. Dunning and Botkin continued their affair- but John was a heavy drinker and it ended up costing him his job. After three years, he was re-hired and transferred to cover the Spanish-American war. He broke up with Cordelia and told her he had reconciled with his wife. He was leaving for Cuba. Botkin was devastated to say the least.
Hell hath no fury…
Mrs. Cordelia Botkin sent horrible letters to Dunning’s wife, detailing the affair. And then… hoo boy, and then she sent (anonymously) a box of chocolate candies to Mrs. Dunning. The note only said “With love to yourself and baby. Passionately fond of candy.” Well, as you can guess, the candies were poisoned with arsenic. Mrs. Dunning and her sister suffered a horrible death. Four additional victims (family members- all sitting on the porch enjoying the candy together) managed to survive.
Cordelia was brought to trial but denied her guilt. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. She died in 1910 in San Quentin. John Dunning’s career was destroyed as the case made national headlines.
Be sure to check the return address on those Valentine’s Day deliveries!!!!
There is a quirky little trailer for a movie about this case here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxqgKVEnK74
More in-depth article here: http://www.historicalcrimedetective.com/candy-from-a-stranger-the-cordelia-botkin-case-of-1898/