Ten of Marie Becker’s eleven victims were wealthy widows.
FULL TEXT: SHADES were drawn some time ago in the parlor of the Ramacle home, in Liege, Belgium, and a wreath on the door told others outside to hush in the presence of death as did those friends and relatives who came in bareheaded to pay their respects. Mrs. Maria Ramacle had died suddenly after a violent attack of vomiting. What had she died of? Well, the nurse was a little vague about that, the family had to admit on thinking it over. ‘The subdued whispering in the parlor swelled into gossip, and the upshot was, at the last moment and on a wild hunch, that a post-mortem was performed and an inquest ordered. It was found that the woman had died of poisoning by digitalis – a drug extracted from foxgloves, used to strengthen the heart in small doses but deadly in large amounts.
Nobody was accused because it was not known whom to accuse. The police, if they had only put two and two together, might have had a suspicion, for the nurse was Mrs. Maria Alexandrine Petitjean Becker. Only the year before she had been warned by a judge not to treat patients any more with her “witch’s broths” made from herbs and minerals. The warning had been made after the suspiciously sudden death of Mrs. Lambert, a widow 67 years old.
But the authorities at last woke up when they received an anonymous letter soon after the Ramacle death, naming Mrs. Becker hi connection with the deaths of two other patients she treated — Francois Lange, 85, and Marie Weiss, 62.
Arrested , the prosperous nurse was found with a handbag containing digitalis.
One clue led to another, and one by one the bodies of her former patients were exhumed, and all of them showed traces of digitalis present.
After 19 months in prison she was tried and accused of nothing less than the wholesale murder of ten women, one man, and the attempted murder of five other persons. Pounded by a battery of ten skilled lawyers and 294 witnesses, and. faced by 1,800 pieces of evidence, she couldn’t avoid paying the penalty for her crimes and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Modern debunkers of history declare that Lucrezia Borgia, the Italian byword for intrigue and murder, was really a good-natured woman who has been a victim of unsupported calumny. And as Mrs. Becker, since her trial began at the Palace of Justice in Liege, has been named the “Belgian Borgia,” sentimentalists point out that she, like Borgia, is being sacrificed to prejudice.
The unemotional defendant contested all the statements of witnesses. Judge Fettweis was .finally moved to ask: “Everyone in the case is lying except you?” To this she said “Yes,” and nodded vigorously. Becker’s attitude throughout the proceedings has been that of a Deeply wronged woman – and if she is innocent she has indeed been wronged. She kept asking for the case to be hurried up as she had other matters to attend to. It was then pointed out to her that she still hadn’t cleared herself.
For example, the digitalis found in her purse. “I suffered from heart trouble,” she explained in court, “and I had to take it. I did not want my lover to know.”
The trouble is that doctors can find nothing wrong with her heart. As the judge put it, “in spite of your heart trouble you were known to go to dance halls and behave like a strong and flirtatious young woman. The druggist and chemist you name are dead, but the police have found no entries of your case in their registers.” Confronted with such evidence as this she croaked, “There is a hole in my memory.” The nurse who is 59 years old was up to ten years ago the wife of a respectable cabinetmaker, and was herself a milliner by occupation.
Then, something happened to change her life, and in 1932 she branched out into the – for her – more lucrative livelihood of being a nurse. She found patients hard to get at first.
It is asserted that she walked the parks, looking for prospects among the old women with whom she would get into conversation.
Usually there would be something the matter with the women, and Mrs. Becker would offer to cure it, the prosecution holds. About 20 accepted her services, gave her money and some left her large sums in their wills, it is alleged.
The motive for Mrs. Becker’s fantastic array of murders, as outlined by the Belgian authorities, was to get money to satisfy her extravagant whims and her lover, named Hody, 13 years younger than herself. In 1933, Mrs. Becker was secretly engaged to rich Lamber Beyer. He died in her arms November 2, 1934, and most of his fortune was found to be spent. Julia Bossy, who knew the truth, was killed four months later, the prosecution says. The list of those who allegedly died of “Becker indigestion” reads like a telephone directory.
In reply to all this evidence and her conviction, Mrs. Becker insists that everybody is against her and that there is really no case against her at all.
[“The ‘Belgian Borgia’ Tries To Explain How Eleven Trusting Patients Died,” The American Weekly (San Antonio, Tx.), Sep. 11, 1938, Magazine section of the San Antonio Express, p. 2]
Marie Becker’s trial began on June 7, 1938. The jury found her guilty of eleven murders and imposed the death sentence. But in Belgium capital punishment is automatically commuted to life imprisonment. She died in the Brussels prison of acute indigestion on June 19, 1942.
For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.