Caroline Grills – Grumpy Granny Grills

Caroline Grills, born Caroline Mickelson (1890 – October 1960), was an Australian serial killer. She was the daughter of George Mickelson, labourer, and his wife Mary, née Preiers. On 22 April 1908 she married Richard William Grills, a labourer; they had five sons and a daughter. Two of the boys died tragically, one as a result of typhoid contracted while working as a lifesaver at Maroubra beach. The Grills moved into a succession of rented houses in the city and the Randwick area, during which years Richard was employed as a real-estate agent. After the death of her father in 1948, Caroline inherited and moved into his home at Gladesville. Known as Aunty Carrie by her extensive family, she was a short, ‘dumpy’ woman who wore thick-rimmed glasses. She frequently visited her in-laws and friends, making tea, cakes and biscuits for them. After these visits many of her relatives became very ill and displayed the symptoms of thallium poisoning including loss of hair, nervous disorders, progressive blindness, loss of speech and eventual death. Caroline’s relatives usually recovered when she did not visit. They were not alone. In 1953 Sydney was in the grip of thallium panic. From March 1952 until the arrest of Grills there had been forty-six cases of reported thallium poisoning, involving ten deaths. Caroline Grills was a most unlikely multiple murderer, being a 63-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She was charged with having murdered by poison four distant relatives, using what was then the virtually untraceable thallium. The method was not uncommon in the 1950s – the mother-in-law of prominent Balmain rugby league footballer Bobby Lulham was acquitted of poisoning him. It had made him very ill but did not kill him. Watch Deadly Women bad granny

A suspicious son-in-law of one of her intended victims, already blind as a result of a previous poisoning, noticed Grills carrying a cup of tea. She placed her hand into her dress pocket and put it over the cup as if dropping something into the tea. The son-in-law switched the cup, poured the tea into a bottle and gave it to police. It contained a lethal dose of thallium. Grills became a suspect in 1947 after the deaths of three family members: her 87-year-old stepmother Christine Mickelson; relatives by marriage Angelina Thomas and John Lundberg; and sister in law Mary Anne Mickelson. Authorities tested tea she gave to additional family members (Christine Downey and John Downey) on 13 April 1953, and detected thallium.  On 11 May 1953 Grills was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of her sister-in-law Mrs Eveline Lundberg and Lundberg’s daughter Christine, both of Redfern. All of the victims were in-laws. Police speculated her poisoning spree began in 1947 with the murder of her stepmother. Exhumation of the bodies of two victims revealed traces of thallium. While the police believed a strong circumstantial case existed to substantiate murder, they only proceeded with the original charge of attempting to murder Mrs Lundberg. At her trial in the Central Criminal Court, Grills professed her innocence, claiming police pressured her and that she ‘helped to live, not kill’. Her behaviour in court, marked by outbursts of laughter, reinforced ideas that she was a malevolent killer. On 15 October 1953 she was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to death. watch periodic table of videos

Although her appeal was dismissed by the Court of Criminal Appeal in April 1954, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She was admitted to the State Reformatory for Women where she spent the next six and a half years. She became affectionately known as “Auntie Thally” to other inmates of Sydney’s Long Bay prison. In October 1960, she was rushed to the hospital where she died from peritonitis from a ruptured gastric ulcer. Her husband, daughter and three of her sons survived her. ‘Aunt Thally’ remains an enigma. The undercurrents of envy, anger or revenge that pushed her to kill so many of her family can only be guessed at. Senior Crown Prosecutor Mick Rooney, QC, alleged she was “a killer who poisoned for sport, for fun, for the kicks she got out of it, for the hell of it, for the thrill that she and she alone in the world knew the cause of the victims’ suffering“. She was a disquieting case, a matronly figure who did what all favourite aunts were meant to do—serve tea and cakes.  watch poisoning the boss

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