Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cruel and Bloodthirsty Patty Cannon: Early American Serial Killer - 1829

“According to historian Carol Wilson, Cannon confessed to nearly two dozen murders of black kidnap victims, and died in prison as a suicide while awaiting trial.” [Wikipedia; Carol Wilson, Freedom at Risk, University of Kentucky Press, 1994/2009 (paperback), p. 37]


FULL TEXT: The moss-grown roof speaks of age and decay, says the Atlanta Constitution, speaking of the ruins of Patty Cannon’s abode on the Maryland and Delaware State line; and as the winds sigh and moan around its dilapidated gables they seem to whisper of robberies and murders, and every deed of darkness. It makes one shudder to gaze upon it, and as he hurries by there comes over him an irresistible impulse to to be, I can tell you. Why, I can recollect back, and reassure himself that he is not followed by the spirit of evil which seems to brood over all its environments. He fancies as he speeds along that ho hears the shrieks of those who have perished within its lonely walls, and fears all the while that some dire and awful form may stalk forth from its hiding place and lay its dread hand upon him ere he can hurry away from this playground of unquiet spirits. This house, now more than a century old, is pointed out as having been the dwelling place of a cruel and bloodthirsty woman, known as “Patty Cannon,” who emigrated from Canada and made her home there, together with her mother and sisters, but with these we have no concern.

Possessed of rather a coarse style of beauty, with brilliant black eyes, hail as black as the raven’s wing, and cheeks like red roses in June, but. with harsh and masculine voice and unfeminine manner, she played the role of a Princess, thinking, no doubt, that by this means she would bring to her feet some gallant knight, whose great wealth might minister to her consuming desire to dress extravagantly and lead a life of ease and luxury. Her capacity in this respect was not gratified, however, for failing to realize the dream of her imagination, she finally married a very commonplace admirer, and thus became the notorious “Patty Cannon” of this story. This marriage having failed to give her the wealth she coveted she fell upon another plan—a cruel and remorseless one—to achieve the object of her desires, and many are the stories still told in that locality of her snares and machinations to entrap into her power the ignorant and unsuspecting blacks from far and near, that she might make merchandise of them and live in luxury upon the price of their liberty.

Those of her captives that could not be profitably disposed of wore roasted alive, and those who stood in the way of her plans were ruthlessly murdered. Many peddlers who in those days were wont to travel through that section and vend their wares to the country people are said to have met with a bloody death at her hands, when she would possess herself of their money and other valuables and bury their bodies in the vaults of the cellar underlying her dwelling. Unsuspecting travelers asking shelter for the night, unconscious of the danger, were murdered in their beds, and even the blood-stains upon the floors of the building still bear witness of her crimes. The house still stands as it was built, partly in Maryland and partly in Delaware, and there are about the various apartments to this day many traces of its former occupant, though recently it has undergone alterations and passed into other hands. The exact crossing place of the stream which she forded in going on her expeditions is still remembered and pointed out to all curious inquirers.

But how, for so long, was the queen of darkness enabled to continue her reign of terror! Was there no avenging Nemesis to palsy her ensanguined hand and mete out the punishment so long delayed? The solution is easy. To the ignorant she was not a woman endowed with the ordinary human attributes: she was a spirit of evil, whose movements were uncontrolled by any limitations of time or distance. The more intelligent believed her to be in league with a band of thugs, who executed her fiendish decrees and shared the spoils of her bloody warfare. The hand of justice knew not where to strike till, emboldened by life-long successes, she took no pains to conceal her villainies, but relied solely upon the chances of escape which the peculiar location of her dwelling afforded.

When process for her arrest was issued in one State she sought refuge in the other, thus managing for a time to thwart all efforts to capture her. But the end drew near. The whole community was bent upon her destruction, and there was no longer a single chance to escape. She was at last hunted down and placed in close confinement to await trial for the many outrages which had gone so long unpunished. Here she did not long remain. To her death by her own hand was far mere to be desired than a trial certain to result in conviction. Fearing that justice might one day overtake her in her career of guilt, it was her habit to carry about her person a vial containing poison. From this she took the fatal draught which ended her wretched existence. But even this was not sufficient to dissipate the fears of many dwellers in that secluded neighborhood. In all such places a century ago ghosts, witches and hobgoblins were dreaded realities. It was vain to persuade these simple folks that “Patty” was no more. To them she was still existent, and this act of self-destruction was only one of her old tricks to baffle the efforts of those who sought to hold her in chains. Her power to do evil was in no way lessened, and her reappearance about her old haunts was something to be daily looked for. Thus for long years her name remained a spell of power and of might, and mothers well understood that a hint of Patty’s return would strike terror into the hearts of children and in a twinkling bring the most refractory urchin to his senses.

[“Cruel Patty Cannon. - The Criminal Career of an Ambitious and Bloodthirsty Woman.” Iowa State Reporter (Waterloo, Io.), May 19, 1887, p. 5]


EXCERPT: On one occasion one of the negro women had a little child about five years old sometimes subject to fits, and in these fits the child used to scream in a terrible manner. It happening to have one of these fits while in Lucretia Cannon's house, she became so enraged upon hearing its cries, that she flew at the child, tearing the clothes from off the poor victim of her wrath, beating it at the same time in a dreadful manner; and, as if this was not enough to satisfy her more than brutal disposition, the child continuing its cries, she caught it up and held its face to a hot fire, and thus scorched the child to death in her own hands burning its face to a cinder, she then threw it in the cave in the cellar. 

[p. 16: Anonymous, Narrative and Confessions of Lucretia P. Cannon (1841), New York.]


Excerpt from Wikipedia

In 1829 bodies were discovered on the farm property Cannon owned in Delaware by a tenant farmer doing plowing there. In April, 1829, she was indicted on four counts of murder by a grand jury of 24 white males:

an infant female on April 26, 1822
a male child on April 26, 1822
an adult male on October 1, 1820
a "Negro boy" on June 1, 1824

The indictments were signed by the Attorney General of Delaware, James Rogers. Witness Cyrus James stated he saw her take an injured "black child not yet dead out in her apron, but that it never returned." James had been purchased by Cannon when he was only seven years old, and had grown up in her household and participated in her crimes.

Cannon died in her cell on May 11, 1829, at an age estimated to be between sixty and seventy years old. Sources differ on whether she was convicted and sentenced to hang before her death in the cell, and on whether she committed suicide or died of natural causes. The Entailed Hat, or Patty Cannon’s Times (an 1884 novel by George Alfred Townsend) attributes her death to self-administered poison.

Her body was initially buried in the jail's graveyard. When that land became a parking lot in the 20th century, her skeleton, along with those of two other women, was exhumed and reburied in a potter's field near the new prison. However, her skull was separated from the rest of her remains and put on display in various venues, and loaned to the Dover Public Library in 1961.





For similar cases, see: Female Serial Killer Bandits


For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America (as of January 20, 2014, the collection contains 61 cases)


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