The case of the 'walnut whip' police assassin

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The Independent Online

When a box of "walnut whip" chocolates arrived on the desk of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1922, he believed them to be a gift from his daughter, Beryl. But within minutes of eating a few, Brigadier-General Sir William Horwood was in agony, the victim of a hitman who had laced the sweet with weedkiller.

When a box of "walnut whip" chocolates arrived on the desk of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1922, he believed them to be a gift from his daughter, Beryl. But within minutes of eating a few, Brigadier-General Sir William Horwood was in agony, the victim of a hitman who had laced the sweet with weedkiller.

The story of Walter Tatam's plot to kill Sir William was reported in records released yesterday by the National Archives. Sir William survived, however, and eventually found evidence that convicted Tatam, of Balham, south London, of the attempted assassination, along with other attempts on senior officers involving chocolate eclairs.

Sir William initially had no cause for suspicion about the chocolates because his daughter had called earlier that day to let him know that she had put a box in the post for him. Her package arrived 15 minutes after Sir William fell ill, which prompted him to re-examine the poisoned walnut whips, which had arrived in a soap box with a Balham postmark, adorned with a white and green ribbon.

While his assistant, Edith Drysdale, was convinced that he had eaten "a musty walnut", he used his magnifying glass to examine the sweets and decided that he had been poisoned. According to the records, he said: "My God. Perhaps I have been doped!"

Tatam's motive was never discovered, but he was charged with intent to commit murder. In court he said he heard voices coming from hedges, and was found to be insane.

The records were made public through the Archive Awareness Campaign, which aims to promote knowledge about the information held in the UK's 2,000 archives.