Toronto Sun

Sunday, January 9, 2000

Getting rid of Michael

Susan Barber wasn't going to let her husband ruin her love life

Toronto Sun

In 1970, Susan and Michael Barber tied the knot in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England. Pretty Susan was only 17 years old, but had been to the well prior to her marriage, if you get my drift. You see, Susan brought more to the union than good looks and a convivial disposition. She brought a healthy six-month-old daughter and an itsy bitsy secret. Although her new hubby thought the baby was his, Susan knew very well that the child's biological father was a previous boyfriend.

Right off, I should tell you that Michael was not the salt of the earth. Blimey, no. He had previously been in hot water for stealing cars, but for the first 10 years of his marriage he seemed to have settled in nicely. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Susan. Just a few doors removed from the Barbers' digs on Osborne Rd., there lived virile, 15-year-old Richard Collins.

Susan lured the lad into her bed. Having once tasted of the forbidden fruit, Richard couldn't get enough of the more experienced Susan. Michael, now 37 years old, would toddle off to work each morning at 5 a.m. Quick as a bunny, Richard would be at Susan's side doing all those things boys and girls have been doing since Eve nibbled on that apple.

On March 31, 1981, Michael rose early to go on a fishing trip with a friend. When a storm came up, he and his buddy gave up fishing and returned to their respective homes. Michael walked into his home unexpectedly. You're absolutely correct. He found his wife stark naked in bed with the equally embarrassed Richard.

There was only one thing to do. Michael slugged them both. Richard quickly dressed and hastily excused himself.

Susan swore she would never again stray from the straight and narrow. Her marriage meant more to her than any neighbour. Michael believed her, but he was making a mistake. Susan and Richard continued their affair.

It was in June 1981 that Michael first began to have pains in his tummy. A doctor prescribed some pills. Next day, Michael felt even worse. For nine days he suffered from stomach pains, nausea and a throat that felt as if it was on fire. By June 15, he was having a great deal of trouble breathing. The following day he was rushed by ambulance to Southend General Hospital, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit.

Susan, surprisingly calm at her husband's sudden illness, visited the hospital and was informed that Michael was seriously ill. In time he was transferred to Hammersmith Hospital, where they were better equipped to treat kidney problems. Susan again loyally visited her husband. This time, she was accompanied by Richard, who sensibly remained in the parking lot while Susan paid her respects.

Doctors desperately conducted tests in an attempt to diagnose Michael's illness. When nothing seemed to work, one of them suggested sending samples of Michael's blood and urine to the National Poisons Reference Centre for analysis.

On June 27, Michael died. Death was attributed to cardiac arrest, renal failure and bilateral pneumonia. A post mortem was conducted. Examining officials were told that the tests for poison were negative. Major organs were removed from the body and samples taken for histology slides. The organs were then placed in a bucket of formalin, a preservative. There they reposed in the mortuary anteroom.

Michael's body was cremated. Susan, accompanied by the ever-sympathetic Richard, attended the service. After the brief ceremony, Susan served cucumber sandwiches, delicious chocolate cookies and tea at her home. When the mourners left, Richard moved in.

Life had taken a turn for the better for Susan. As summer faded and fall arrived, with its promise of a happy holiday season just around the corner, she was informed that she was to receive a death benefit amounting to #2,300 pounds from Michael's employer. In October she jettisoned Richard and took another lover.

Footloose and fancy free, our Susan became a regular at the local pub, spending her newfound wealth with the enthusiasm of a drunken sailor. Unknown to her, a nosy professor was studying those histology slides. He concluded that they indicated the presence of an ingested toxin, probably the herbicide paraquat. At the same time, a doctor at Hammersmith Hospital discovered that no samples of blood and urine were ever sent to the National Poisons Reference Centre. The doctor checked further. The poisons centre confirmed that they had never received any samples pertaining to a Michael Barber. There had been a major foul up.

Amazingly, after eight months, Michael's organs were found in the original bucket of formalin in the mortuary anteroom. New samples were immediately dispatched to the poisons centre, as well as to the manufacturer of the herbicide. Both reported that the samples contained poison. The entire matter was turned over to police.

Detectives delved into the herbicide and its uses. They learned that the basic product was available under various trade names. The strongest and most widely used was called Gramoxone. Only farmers and others who could prove a genuine need for the product could purchase it. The manufacturer, Imperial Chemical Industries, informed police that, because of several accidents, they had introduced a stenching agent, which gave off an offensive smell, as well as an emetic which induced vomiting if the poison was inadvertently swallowed.

Police discovered that Michael had once worked for a gardener. Neighbours said he kept a container of Gramoxone in his shed.

On April 5, 1982, nine months after her husband's death, Susan was arrested at her home and taken into custody. Richard was located at his place of employment at a warehouse. He too was arrested.

Both accused gave statements to police. Susan revealed that shortly after Michael struck her, she had taken Gramoxone from the shed and had put some in his dinner, which had consisted of steak-and-kidney pie. She was disappointed when nothing happened. Undaunted, she repeated the dosage. When Michael developed a sore throat, she laced his medicine with more poison. That seemed to do the trick.

Richard agreed that he had known of Susan's intentions, but had not taken an active part in the killing. He revealed that Susan had suggested that he fix the brakes of Michael's car so that he might meet with a fatal accident. He talked Susan out of that scheme, pointing out that it was too risky.

On Nov. 1, 1982, in Chelmsford Court, Susan stood accused of murdering her husband. She admitted placing the poison in his food, but claimed she had only wanted to make him ill. She said, "I got it from the shed from a container. I gave it to him in his dinner mixed with the gravy. I gave him the second lot because the first did not seem to work."

Susan Barber was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Richard Collins was charged with conspiracy to murder. The presiding judge pointed out that he had not taken part in the planning or the carrying out of the murder. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to the relatively light term of two years imprisonment.

Copyright © 2000, Canoe Limited Partnership.