Thursday, April 17, 2014

Margarete Jäger, German Serial Killer of Eight – 1835


Note: Sources in three languages employ a great variety of spellings of the two women’s names. “Margarete Jäger” and “Sibille Catherine Renter” have been chosen as the most likely proper German forms.

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FULL TEXT: The Swabian Mercury of 29th March, contains the following article, dated Mentz, 24th March:— A frightful crime is now brought before the Court of Assizes. Margaret Jaeyer, a widow, and servant to S. K. Rentner, also a widow, both about thirty-eight years of age, are accused; the first of having killed by poison eight persons, all of whom, except one, were her near relations: the latter, of having poisoned her husband at the instigation of her servant. According to the indictment, Margaret Jaeyer poisoned, in May, 1825, her uncle; in June, 1826, her mother, sixty-eight years of age; in December, 1830, her father, seventy years old; in August, 1831, her husband; in December, the same year, her three daughters, two, five, and ten years and, lastly, in August, 1833, the husband of her mistress, with her assistance. She is said to have done all this with so much caution, that no suspicion whatever was excited by the deaths of all the seven persons, and an investigation into the causes of the death of the eighth victim, would, perhaps, have led to no result had not the criminal (so it is stated in the indictment) been led by her heated fancy to make a confession, induced, as she avers, by a spectre which appeared to her, and so terrified her, that she confessed all the dreadful crimes that she had committed on the eight parsons. We have received the following account, dated 27th, March, one o’clock, A. M.— The jury has left the hall. It has found M. Jaeyer guilty on six of the eight counts in the indictments. Both M. Jaeyer and Katharine Rentner are sentenced to death. M. Jaeyer, as a parricide, must also stand on the scaffold in her shift, barefooted, and covered with a black veil, while her sentence is read to the people: her right hand will then be cut off, and she will be executed on the spot—Dutch Papers, 1st April.

[“Poisoning On A Frightful Scale.” The True Sun (London, England), Apr. 4, 1835, p. 2]

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FULL TEXT: We quote this case in fall, though some of the details are rather too minute for many of our readers; but if we omitted them, the narrative would be imperfect. The cases are thus recorded in a French Journal:

A case of extraordinary depravity came on before the Court of Assizes of the Hesse-Rhenane (Mayence), on the 22d March last, and occupied the court for the four following days consecutively. It was the trial of two women, each charged with having poisoned her husband, and one of them with having, in addition, poisoned her father, her mother, three of her children, and her paternal uncle. The judicial annals afford few instances of so shocking a series of crimes as that developed in the Court of Mayence in these five days.

Gregoire Toll, and his wife Regina Hof, working people at Abenheim, in the province of the Hesse-Rhenane, the ci-devant department of Mont-Tonnere, were entitled to some considerable property upon the death of Mathias Toll, the brother of Gregoire. They had both the reputation of honest and industrious people. They had two children; a son, as a conscript, entered the French service in the year 1811, and disappeared in the Russian campaign; and a daughter named Marguerite, one of the two prisoners, who, in the absence of her brother, conceived the idea of getting possession of the inheritance, to which she would be eventually entitled, by the most infamous means. Having naturally a taste for pleasure, and the advantages of a handsome face and beautiful person, Marguerite devoted herself to fetes-champetre and other light amusements; in the enjoyment of which she was encouraged by her parents, of whom she was the idol; and when, with all their economy, they could not supply the means, she contrived to procure them by clandestinely selling the fruit or other produce of the farm, the necessary concealment of which led to falsehoods, and from thence hypocrisy became the prevailing feature in her character.

At one of these fetes-champetre she became acquainted with Leonard Jaeger, a farm servant at Abenheim, whom she married in August, 1811, against the will of her parents. Of this marriage there were seven children. Her dissipation and aversion to industry brought trouble into her family, and frequently caused a quarrel between her and her husband. Jaeger, despairing of her amendment, gave himself up to debaucheries, to enable him to indulge in which he contracted usurious engagements with some Jews, and thus the patrimony of Marguerite was dissipated in the lifetime of her father and mother, whose reproaches only inflamed the rage of their son-in-law, and caused him frequently to treat his wife with great brutality. Once, when cracking his whip in a passion, he cut out one of his eyes, and shortly after, in a fit of intoxication, he broke a leg. The least contradiction made him mad, particularly if it related to domestic affairs.

Things went on in this state until the death of Mathias Toll, the brother of Gregoire, and uncle of Marguerite Regina Hof, the wife of Gregoire, after languishing for some time inconsequence of the misconduct of her son-in-law, died in 1826, and Gregoire, the father, died 1830. The deaths of these persons, who were in years, appeared natural events, but the catastrophes which succeeded excited suspicion. Leonard Jaeger died in August, 1831, aged 37, and in the December following the grave opened for three of his daughters, aged three, five, and ten years, respectively. It was generally reported that symptoms of poisoning were discovered in the last of these deaths. The widow Jaeger conducted herself with unpardonable levity on the death of her husband, and several expressions used by her were related, which showed the little affection she felt for her children. The magistrate of Abenbeim enjoined the Justice of Pence to investigate the case. The body of Catherine Jaeger was disinterred. It was inspected by professional men. The contents of the stomach and bowels were analysed by chemists, but no trace of poison was found, and the inquiry led to no further result.

These proceedings might have been a salutary warning to Marguerite Jaeger if her depravity had not led her to another crime. The annihilation of the little patrimony which she derived from her father and mother reduced her to the necessity of putting her two surviving children out to service, the two others having died in 1829.

Towards the end of July, 1833, she herself entered as servant into the family of Jean Philippe Renter, an innkeeper at Worms. He was a man of substance, with a wife and four children, but this family was also a prey to conjugal strife. Renter by degrees neglected his business, and gave himself up to intoxication. Quarrels with his wife frequently succeeded, which she bore with resignation, but there was no reason to presume that she meditated to relieve herself from her situation by an attempt on the life of her husband, whose health was visibly on the decline from the immoderate use of spirituous liquors. This horrible idea, as appeared in the sequel, was suggested to her by the widow Jaeger.

Renter fell suddenly sick on the 27th of August, 1833, and was carried off in two days. A few weeks afterwards the widow Jaeger herself was conveyed to the Hospital of Worms. Her malady was considered very dangerous, and despairing of her recovery, she made a discovery to the physician of the hospital, which left no doubt that Renter had perished by poison. The Commissary of Police soon visited the widow Jaeger, and interrogated her, and received from her a fresh confession. Contrary to expectation she recovered, and repeated the same story. The investigation, commenced in the year 1831, after the suspected deaths of the three children, was resumed. This unnatural mother, wife, and daughter, explained in full detail the means employed for the destruction of her victims. Her method did not consist, like that of common poisoners, in throwing arsenic in powder into their food. She boiled a certain quantity of arsenic in a pint of water, strained the liquid when cold through a piece of linen, and mixed this water in a glass of wine, a cup of milk, or some broth, and the result was, the arsenic thus extremely divided could not be discovered in the intestines of the person to whom it was administered. Professional men to whom she explained her diabolical process made an experiment with it upon a calf and a pig. These animals died with astonishing rapidity, and their bowels on examination presented no trace of poison.

Being interrogated as to the manner in which 6he was initiated in such secrets, she pretended at first that a diplomatist, sent from a foreign power, and decorated with several orders, having lodged for some time at the inn of Renter, had communicated to her this convenient mode of getting rid of an enemy, and at the same time securing impunity for herself. More lately she said it was her own father who had imparted to her the secret; that burning with a desire to appropriate to himself the succession to the property enjoyed by his brother Mathias, he had taught her how to get rid of her uncle. That with this view he had studied the use of poisons, and discovered things which the ablest chemist considered impossible.

This woman, in her defence, displayed extraordinary presence of mind, and answered every objection; but she could not deny that she had taken the lives of her father, mother, and husband, although she employed the most singular artifice to palliate those horrible crimes. As to her children, she pretended they had been poisoned through mistake. She kept in reserve a decoction of this arsenic, prepared after a method which a person unknown, or her father himself, had shown her; and that her daughters, finding this bottle, had the curiosity to taste it, so that she had nothing to reproach herself with on account of their deaths. The life of the innkeeper of Worms she said she attempted only from compassion for the woman Renter, and after long entreaty.

The woman Renter was far from agreeing on this point with her accomplice. If •he was to be believed, she was ignorant that the fatal beverage contained arsenic. She thought it was only a drug to cure him of his passion for brandy.

The Jury found both prisoners Guilty— the former of having poisoned her father, mother, her paternal uncle, her husband, and her three daughters, and both as accomplices in the poisoning of Renter, and the Court passed upon them sentence of death.

[These cases are by no means clearly stated, nor satisfactory to medical jurists. They are within the range of possibility, though exceedingly improbable. The frequent administration of small quantities of arsenic mixed with food might induce gastroenteritis, but that very small quantities could cause a death in two days, as in the case of Renter, is contrary to the observation of the most experienced physicians and toxicologists. We have stated in our translation of the Practical Formulary of Hospitals, that Fowler's solution administered freely in agues often destroys life; but not so suddenly as in one of the cases above related. These cases remind us of the slow poisoning in former ages, if we except the case of Renter.—Ed.]

[“Extraordinary Case of Poisoning With Arsenic, in: Michael Ryan, ed., The London Medical and Surgical Journal; Vol. VII., 1835, p. 403]

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The illustrated English broadside contains an edited version the same text as the True Sun newspaper article, adding the following poem:

A Copy of Solemn Verses.

In this dark and lonesome cell,
To-morrow doom’d to die,
‘We offer up our prayers to God.
For mercy now we cry.

Though our offence is very great,
For which we cease to live,

His goodness reach to all who ask,
And seek Him to forgive.

Our crimes are of the deepest die;
Such foul unheard-of crimes,
Surpassing all was ever known
Before at any time.

Father and Mother, Children three,
Husband and Uncle too,
A deady poison was prepar’d,
‘Twas certain death, tho’ slow.

The dreadful tortures they endur’d,
No mortal tongue can tell,
But when our victims ceas’d to breathe
Conscience became a hell.

Comfort and Peace affrighted fled
From our accursed place,
The Spectres of the Murdered dead,
Grinn’d daily in our face.

At length we could no longer rest,
Beneath our guilty load,
Straightway our guilty deeds confess’d
Out monstrous deeds of blood.

Oh! Foe such foul inhuman deeds
Will our two lives atone?
Nothing on each can make amends
The injury we have done.

The torments keen and agony
That now we feel within,
Are sure we feel within,
Are sure to haunt the guilty mind,
Who lives in shame and sin.

A vast eternity now soon
Will fill our wond’ring sight,
Our earnest prayers are may it be,
All in the realms of light.



[“Eight persons murdered!: A father, a mother, two husbands, three children and an uncle, all poisoned by Margaret Joyer, and Katharine Rentner, for which horrid and monstrous crimes, they have been executed.” Published 1835, London, J. Catnach, Printer, 2 & 3 , Monmouth-Court, 7 Dials. Broadside, 1 sheet]

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3. Archives du droit criminal (Archiv. Des Criminal rechts); 1835, cah. 4

Assizes de Mayence; procès de Marguerite Jager et de complice Sybille-Catherine Renter, accuseées d’impoisonnement.

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[Revue étrangere et francaise de legislation et d’économie politique, par une réunion de jurisconsulates et de publicists francçais et etrangeres publie par M. Boelix, Tome Troisieme – IIIe anée. Paris, Chez Joubert, Librarie-Éditeur. 1837; p. 728]

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FULL CITATION:

Verhandlungen des Assisenhofs in Mainz über die der Giftmörderin Margar. Jäger und ihrer Mitschuldigen Sibille Cath. Renter zur Last gelegt. Verbrechen. geh. Gr. 8. Mainz. (Kinze.) 1835. n. 10 sgr.

[O. A. Walther, Hand-Lexicon Der juristischen literature des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts. Weimar, 1854. Verlag von Ferd, Jansen & Comp., p. 119]

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Another English language source for the same article using the spelling “Jaeger”:

[“Horrible Crimes.” From The Swabian Mercury (Mar. 29, 1885), Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (London, England), Apr. 5, 1835, p. 2]

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Poison deaths:

May 1825, her uncle.
June 1826, her mother, 68.
December 1830, her father, 70.
August, 1831, her husband, Jäger ("Jaeyer")
December 1831, daughter, 2
December 1831, daughter, 5
December 1831, daughter, 10
August, 1833, Renter ("Rentner"), the husband of her mistress, with her assistance.

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For more cases of this type, see Serial Baby-Killer Moms.

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