How Did James and Elspeth Die in Saltburn?

Oliver Quick becomes the owner of Saltburn after the deaths of Sir James Catton and his wife Lady Elspeth Catton in Emerald Fennell’s psychological drama film ‘Saltburn.’ When Oliver’s first summer in the estate ends, James and Elspeth grieve the deaths of their son Felix and daughter Venetia. Elspeth asks Oliver to stay with her to deal with the loss and absence of her children but James realizes that his son’s friend should disappear from the estate for his wife to move on from the deaths. When Oliver returns to the estate, death follows him once again as Elspeth dies in front of him! SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Hiding Piece of the Puzzle

Sir James Catton most likely dies of illnesses that conquer him in his old age. It is extremely unlikely that Oliver has anything to do with James’ death since he is away from Saltburn at the time. If he wants James to die, there’s no reason for him to wait for more than a decade and a half after the deaths of Felix and Venetia, especially since he has captivated Elspeth enough to have her on his side. Rather than leaving Saltburn, he may have alerted Elspeth about James’ wish to have him gone and made her make him stay in the estate to kill the patriarch. Thus, it is safe to say that James’ death is not a part of Oliver’s master plan.

However, James’ death turns out to be essential for Oliver to fulfill his mission: to become the lord of Saltburn. After reading about James’ death, Oliver realizes that Elspeth is all alone in her estate, which is what he needs for him to bring his master plan back into motion. He plans his “accidental meeting” with her at a café after the death of his husband and offers his condolences to her to earn his place back in her heart. As someone who is dealing with the vulnerability caused by the loss of all of her loved ones, Elspeth falls into Oliver’s trap and invites him back to Saltburn to fill the void created by James’ death.

James’ absence/death can be seen as the hiding piece of the puzzle Oliver tries to solve to earn Saltburn. Although he is forced to wait for more than fifteen years to fulfill his desire, he gets what he wants through the death of Elspeth.

The Final Murder

Oliver kills Lady Elspeth Catton by removing her from life-support. After James’ death, Oliver moves to Saltburn to become Elspeth’s “third child.” As a mother who gets forced to accept the untimely deaths of both of her children, she must have considered Oliver as her son. He may have masterfully pretended to be a loving and caring son to fill her heart with love for him. That can be the reason why Elspeth passes her fortunes, including Saltburn, to Oliver. She must have seen it as an act of rewarding the man who “sacrifices” his life to share it with an old woman who has nobody to love.

Once Saltburn is bequeathed to Oliver, Elspeth ends up on her deathbed with life-support keeping her alive. Since she is healthy at the time of meeting Oliver at the café, it is possible that the latter fast-tracked the deterioration of her condition. When Oliver first arrives in Saltburn, it is Elspeth who laughs at him first for being a man without any fortunes to his name. Upon hearing the condemnable words she says about him, Oliver may have wanted to see her perish day by day rather than killing her outrightly. He must have used poison or any other substance to kill her body inch by inch.

Oliver ultimately kills Elspeth after telling her the truth that he murdered Felix, paved the way for the death of Venetia, and ensured Farleigh would never be a concern for him. These truths are the secondary punishments he gives her for looking down on him when he first arrives at her estate. While a nearly-dead Elspeth realizes that she has been backstabbed by her third child, assuming that her brain hasn’t died for good, Oliver finishes his plan by removing her from the last bit of oxygen that makes her live.

Read More: Why Did Oliver Lie About His Parents in Saltburn?