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Caroline GRILLS






A.K.A: "Aunt Thally"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 0 - 4 +
Date of murders: 1947 - 1953
Date of arrest: May 11, 1953
Date of birth: 1890
Victims profile: Christine Mickelson, 87 (her stepmother) / Angelina Thomas, 84, and John Lundberg (relatives by marriage) / Mary Anne Mickelson, 60 (sister in law)
Method of murder: Poisoning (thallium)
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Status: Sentenced to death on October 15, 1953. Commuted to life imprisonment. Died in prison on October 6, 1960
photo gallery

Caroline Grills, born Caroline Mickelson (1890 – October 1960), was an Australian serial killer.

Grills became a suspect in 1947 after the deaths of four 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 had given to two additional family members (Christine Downey and John Downey) on 13 April 1953, and detected the poison thallium.

Grills appeared in court charged with four murders and three attempted murders (the third being Eveline Lundberg, Christine Downey's mother) in October 1953. She was convicted on 15 October 1953 and sentenced to death, but her sentence was later changed to life in prison. She became affectionately known as "Aunt 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.


Grills, Caroline (1888–1960)

By Stephen Garton

Caroline Grills (1888?-1960), poisoner, was born probably in 1888 at Balmain, Sydney, daughter of George Mickelson, labourer, and his wife Mary, née Preiers. On 22 April 1908 at the district registrar's office, Balmain South, she married, with her father's consent, Richard William Grills, a labourer; they were to have 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.

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 Mrs Christine Downey, both of Redfern; the attempt had been made with thallium, a poison commonly found in rat bait. The symptoms of thallium poisoning included loss of hair, nervous disorders, progressive blindness, loss of speech and eventual death. Both Downey and Lundberg suffered these symptoms for some time, recovering only when Mrs Grills 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. In the few months after her arrest there were further reported cases of thallium poisoning, among them one of a prominent footballer.

Further investigation led police to charge Grills with four murders and one attempted murder. All of the victims, with the exception of a friend of her mother, were in-laws. Police speculated that her poisoning spree had begun in 1947 with the murder of her stepmother. Exhumation of the bodies of two victims revealed traces of thallium. While the police believed that 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 that police had pressured her relations to convict 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. 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.

Rushed to Prince Henry Hospital, Grills died of peritonitis on 6 October 1960 and was cremated with Anglican rites; her husband, daughter and three of her sons survived her. 'Aunt Thally', as she was popularly known, 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. She was a disquieting case, a matronly figure who did what all favourite aunts were meant to do—serve tea and cakes

Australian Dictionary of Biography


Thallium poison case in 1953

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.

"Seven people were the recipients of charity and kindness from Aunt Carrie [as she was known]," Tedeschi said. They had died or suffered the nasty effects of thallium poisoning. Sometimes she had a financial benefit to gain, sometimes none.

A suspicious son-in-law of one of her intended victims, already blind as a result of a previous poisoning, one day noticed Grills carrying a cup of tea. She placed her hand into her dress pocket and then put it over the cup as if dropping something into the tea.

The son-in-law switched the cup, surreptitiously poured the tea into a bottle and gave it to police. It contained a lethal dose of thallium.

The bodies of two of Grills's previous victims were exhumed and found to contain traces of thallium. Two others thought to have been poisoned had been cremated. Police found traces of thallium in the pocket of the dress Grills had worn on the day she tried to give the cup of tea to the last victim.

Senior Crown Prosecutor Mick Rooney, QC, alleged that 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". The jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty of murder. Her death sentence was commuted to life and she died in 1960.


Caroline Grills was notorious for using rat-bait ingredient thallium to poison family members

September 19, 2012

"AUNTIE Carrie" Grills became known as "Auntie Thally" after claims that she murdered four members of her family and tried to kill others with poison.

She would often visit relatives bearing home-baked goodies and tea, which police believe was laced with rat-bait ingredient thallium.

In 1953, grandmother Grills, 63, was charged in NSW with attempted murder over the poisonings of her sister-in-law Eveline Lundberg, and Lundberg's daughter Christine Downey.

Both victims had exhibited symptoms common in thallium poisonings, including hair loss, increasing blindness and loss of speech.

The poisonings came to light when a family member spied Grills reaching into her dress pocket and dropping something into the cup of tea she was carrying.

He switched cups and took a sample of the tea to police, who tested it and found it contained thallium.

Investigators then examined the deaths of other members of Grills’s family, including her stepmother Christina Mickelson in November 1947.

In January 1948 a relation of her husband, Angelina Thomas, became another suspected victim.

Her husband’s brother-in-law John Lundberg died in late 1948, and one of her stepmother’s friends died the following year.

Throughout 1941 and 1942 various family members became ill, including Mrs Lundberg, but all survived.

One of those who had been sick, John Downey, read a story in a newspaper in October of 1952 about poisonings, raising his suspicions about “Auntie Carrie”.

Then, when he saw her putting something in a tea cup he went to police.

Investigators exhumed several bodies and found traces of thallium in two, while others had been cremated and could not be tested for poison.

At a coroner’s inquest, witnesses recalled Grills bringing them drinks, and how eager she was to help with preparing food and tea.

Mrs Lundberg described how her hair had started to fall out and she had slowly gone blind.

The coroner found Grills responsible for several deaths. She was charged with the murders of Mary Anne Mickelson, 60, Christina Louisa Adelaide Mickelson, 87, and Angelina Thomas, 84.

But in the end those cases were dropped, and Grills was convicted only of the attempted murder of Mrs Lundberg, in October 1953.

The jury deliberated for just 12 minutes.

On hearing the verdict Grills declared: "I helped to live, not to kill."

Soon afterwards thallium was banned from sale.

Grills was sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life in prison, and she died in 1960.



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