Ex-spy’s wife killed herself with cyanide

PUBLISHED: 14:18 22 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:51 22 January 2014

Fire service tape has been used to seal off this property at Dalditch. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref exe 6731-04-13SH

Fire service tape has been used to seal off this property at Dalditch. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref exe 6731-04-13SH

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Inquest hears of intriguing secret life of Budleigh Salterton couple

Fire service tape has been used to seal off this property at Dalditch. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref exe 6728-04-13SH Fire service tape has been used to seal off this property at Dalditch. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref exe 6728-04-13SH

A Budleigh Salterton pensioner drank deadly World War Two chemical cyanide to commit suicide, an inquest heard on Wednesday.

Widow Noreen Orange, 85, of Nuthayes, in Dalditch Lane, had been married to a wartime spy who served in intelligence and was said to work for the Russians during World War Two.

Childless Mrs Orange, a retired journalist, was found dead in her bed in February last year after drinking a deadly mix of potassium cyanide.

A handwritten note left next to the small bottle containing the brown liquid poison – often used by the Germans as a genocidal agent in World War Two – told of her intention to end her life.

It is thought the deadly chemical had been stored in the couple’s garage.

The brown bottle found on a bedside table next to the pensioner was clearly labelled potassium cyanide.

The inquest heard how Mrs Orange’s husband, John, who served in the army at Sandhurst and worked in intelligence, had been a spy in the war for the Russians.

An intensively private couple, John, who spoke fluent German, kept secret a gunshot wound he received in the war and ‘rarely’ spoke of his wartime background.

It was revealed he spent six months hiding in a loft space in Vienna during the conflict.

The court heard how ‘possessive’ Mr Orange would wait at the gate of their home, looking at his watch, if his wife went out alone.

Family and friends of Mrs Orange say she took her own life for fear of becoming a burden – or going into a home - once her health began to deteriorate.

The inquest heard how Mrs Orange, who was suffering from skin cancer, plus back problems, had hinted of her intention to commit suicide, telling friends she would not be around in the springtime.

In her suicide note – written days before she drank the lethal chemical - she apologised for taking her own life, saying she was suffering as a result of a long-term illness.

Mrs Orange’s body was discovered by her niece, Sarah Richards, and her husband.

Mrs Richards said her aunt’s health and mindset changed after the death of her husband, family, and dog.

She believed her aunt planned her suicide ‘in detail’, but would have shied away from cyanide had she known the after-effect of the chemical on anyone coming into contact with the deceased, or house – which was quarantined for several weeks.

Coroner Elizabeth Earland, who was unable to carry out a post mortem because of the deadly chemical, said she was satisfied Mrs Orange intended to take her own life after ingesting potassium cyanide. She recorded a verdict of suicide.

Speaking after the inquest, niece Sarah Richards said: “Noreen was somebody that was very intelligent in her own right. John was absolutely devoted to her.

“He was definitely a patriot. He would have been in the British Intelligence.

“I didn’t become aware he was involved in that level until I found some old military maps when we were clearing out the house. He was a very private person and he didn’t tell people what he got up to.”

She said the couple were married for more than 60 years, having met when they were working on a newspaper.

Mr Orange was an expert on clocks: auctioneers Sotherby’s and Christie’s used him as a consultant.

He dreamed of studying medicine, but his hopes were thwarted by the outbreak of war.

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