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The Black Widow

Travelling in South Australia this week, it seems that all the state is abuzz with the death of a man called Kenneth Perry.

Who was he? He was the last surviving husband of Emily Perry, known as The Black Widow.

The case truly is bizarre.

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Emily was first charged in 1981 with the attempted murder of Kenneth, who was her third husband. He had become violently ill for no apparent reason. He could not stop vomiting and had trouble walking.

Doctors found arsenic in his system, and while Kenneth was recovering, Emily was arrested.

But Kenneth himself refused to believe that his wife was trying to kill him. He used to walk into court with her, holding her hand. He gave evidence in her defence, saying the arsenic in his system may have come from his hobby, restoring old musical instruments, including pianolas. Arsenic could also be found in the pianola rolls, which he collected:

Maintaining his love and support for her, he repeatedly said he was astounded by the actions of police and found their “ridiculous’’ accusations against his wife almost laughable.

The problem for Emily - and this was Louisa Collins's problem, too - was that her second husband, Albert Haag, had also died of arsenic poisoning.

Emily told the court that Albert had been using an arsenic-based poison to spray weeds. She also suggested that he may have committed suicide. If that were not enough, one of Mrs Perry's brothers also died suspiciously; and one of her former defacto husbands died of an overdose.

Emily was found guilty of the attempted murder of Kenneth and sentenced to 15 years jail. She served less than a year, after taking the case all the way to the High Court, where Justice Lionel Murphy, amongest others, criticized police for their handling of the case an 'an appalling departure from acceptable standards.'

Police who believed sincerely in her guilt refused to give up, and Emily was then charged with Albert's murder but the case with withdrawn, because too many witnesses had died.

Emily herself died in 2012, aged 85, still distraught at being known as The Black Widow.

Now her devoted third husband, Kenneth - the man she stood accused of trying to kill - has died too, closing the curtain on one of South Australia's most extraordinary series of trials.

Photograph courtesy News Ltd shows Emily and her third husband Kenneth, who refused to believe that she had tried to kill him.

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