In the 1950s there was a crime wave in Sydney, Australia. Rat poison containing thallium, banned in the rest of the country and most of the developed world but freely available in Sydney, was used in a spate of poisonings. This easily administered poison was found in every corner shop in the rat-infested city, and once the media got a hold of the story it became a tabloid sensation, and a convenient way to get rid of anyone. More than a hundred people were poisoned in just over a year.

Recipe For Murder is a documentary that tells the true story of three women who were notorious poisoners; Yvonne Fletcher, Caroline Grills and Veronica Monty. With no colour, taste or smell, thallium was poisonous to humans and rats alike, and made the perfect weapon of choice. These women used it, and they weren’t the only ones — they were just the high-profile cases who were caught.

Taking the pulp crime style and running it, the documentary mixes re-enactments with slow-motion walking, vintage stock footage, noir music, talking-head interviews and slick graphics. While slightly heavy-handed and overly dramatic, it effectively tells a sinister story of an elderly serial killer granny, a battered housewife, and a mother-in-law cougar (did they have those in the 1920s?) and the fact that it’s a true story just adds to the sinister tale. A compelling narrative and music score by composer Antony Partos (Animal Kingdom) are definite assets.

We can never really have enough historical Australian documentaries. We’re constantly told stories from America or Europe, if we don’t take the time to look at our own past, who will? This documentary takes to the task rather well. Maybe slightly hampered by a limited source material, it effectively uses what footage exists and appropriate period costumes to make shortfalls less apparent.

The details: Recipe For Murder airs tonight at 8.30pm on ABC1.