Buchanan Poisoning Trial


The trial of Dr. Robert W. Buchanan was held in 1893 and was one of the great American trials. He was charged with the murder of his wife, Anna Buchanan, a New York brothel keeper, by morphine poisoning. The trial is most significant due to the fact that it is one of the earliest trials to be argued almost exclusively on forensic science testimony.

In 1892, Dr. Buchanan's wife Anna died suddenly of a stroke, however friends insisted there had been foul play and pointed the finger at her husband who stood to inherit $50,000. Two years earlier, Buchanan had closely followed a similar case of morphine poisoning, and had been heard to call the defendent Carlyle Harris a "stupid amatuer" for not knowing how to avoid the telltale pinpoint pupils that would indicate a morphine overdose. With rumors swirling, the body of Anna Buchanan was exhumed and her organs tested for the presence of morphine. The analyis confirmed suspicions and Buchanan was arrested and charged with murder.

During the trial, the prosecution demonstrated how a victim's eyes could be given drops of atropine to counteract the narrowing of the pupils caused by morphine poisoning by bringing in a cat and injecting it with a fatal dose of morphine and then the drops. This gruesome spectacle did much to drive the point home for the jury. That combined with a nurse's testimony stating that she had seen Buchanan dropping medicine in his wife's eyes during her final hours, and Buchanan's own self-absorbed testimony sealed the case. After 28 hours, the jury found Robert Buchanan guilty of murder and he was sentenced to death. He was electrocuted on July 2, 1895 in Sing Sing.

Murder Trials
Buchanan Poisoning Trial