Monday, February 22, 2016

Martha Grinder, Pittsburg Serial Killer Executed in 1866


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Mrs. Grinder, the Pittsburgh prisoner, has bean convicted the first degree. On the announcement of the jury’s verdict, on Saturday, she remained, to all appearances, perfectly unmoved and unconcerned. Her case is one of the more singular [in the history] of crime. She seemed actuated with a desire to poison people merely for the sake of doing so, having no pecuniary or revengeful motive for making away with her victims. She would volunteer to become a nurse accidentally came in and obstructed nor operation, says the Pittsburg Gazette, she grew jealous and got them out of the way as soon as possible, generally with a dose into poison not quite sufficient to kill instantly. It seems to have been no part of her plan to kill any one outright, as that deprived her of the luxury of witnessing the tortures which accompany slow poisoning, and hence her doses were limited, and intended to be cumulative. It is to this fact that many of her victims escaped with life, circumstances having intervened to put them beyond her reach before she had time, according to her plan, to complete their destruction.

[Untitled, The Cambridge City Journal (In.), Nov. 9, 1865, p. 2]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): The Troy “Times” contains the following account of Mrs. Martha Grinder, the poisoner, whose sufferings on the gallows, owing to an insufficient drop, and the faulty arrangement of the fatal noose, were terrible to witness: “Mrs. Martha Grinder, who was executed in Pittsburg on Friday last, will stand out as one of the most noted criminals of the world. She was professedly a religious woman, and of kind and agreeable manners, and while manifesting a tender and affectionate interest in her victims, was constantly dosing them with poison. Her confession, just before she was led to the scaffold, discloses some of the horrid deeds she had perpetrated, and confirms the testimony upon which she was convicted.

It appears that Mrs. Grinder, in June last, began the systematic poisoning of an acquaintance, a Mrs. Mary Caroline Caruthers, who, with her husband, had been visiting at her house. Both the latter were subjected to her attempts; but the husband succeed in surviving the effects of the poison. It was his evidence on the trial which afforded the most convincing proof of Mrs. Grinder's guilt. The poison, which the medical autopsy revealed to be arsenic and antimony, was administered in coffee during a period extending over five weeks, or until the first day of August, when the victim died. The husband objected to the metallic taste of the coffee, but still was unsuspicious of any crime, and so was the physician. At length Mr. C. had his suspicions aroused by other facts, that his wife had been foully dealt with, and, accordingly, on the 25th of August last, he preferred the necessary complaint against Mrs. G. who was taken into custody. The other facts alluded to were of a most startling nature, and reveal the culprit in the light of a most wantonly cruel monster.

The death of Mrs. Caruthers caused an investigation of circumstances which, in their cursory occurrence, they had not received, and though the particular crime mentioned above was the only one which the prosecuting attorney saw fit to arraign her, there are fearful histories in her record of guilt. At the time referred to the unusual number of deaths which had taken place at her house, or among her acquaintances, was remarked. Samuel Grinder, her brother-in-law, after his return from the war, was attacked like the other victims, and died in great agony. A little child, left to her care, as also her own child; a domestic, Jane R. Buchanan; Mrs. Caruthers and her sister, Mrs. J. M. Johnston, had all died in the same mysterious manner.

Her motive is a mystery. Money does not appear to have been the incentive, though previously, hearing that a rich relative had left a large property to her child, she played out the Burdell-Cunningham role, and was detected. A jury of physicians pronounced her not insane. Previous to her execution she confessed to the poisoning of Mrs. Caruthers and Miss Buchanan, but denied the other charges. She was born in 1833, married at the age of nineteen, at Louisville, Ky., and removed to Louisville about six years ago. Her horrid sufferings on her execution have been well described.

[“The Borgia Of The Century.” Reprinted from The Troy Times (N.Y.), Montana Post-Supplement (Virginia City, Montana Territory), Mar. 3, 1866, p. 1]

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ARTICLE 3 of 3: EXCERPTS from an article published in 1910:

Pittsburg’s arch murderess slew her victims for the pleasure of seeing them die. She planned her work with deadly patience, and thought no labor too hard that brought to her the chance of seeing some unsuspecting man, woman or child, writing in the horrible agony of dissolution, brought about by the poison she had administered.

LIKED TO SEE SUFFERING

There was not the slightest motive of gain or animosity in any of her murders. She killed them, and admitted so at the last, simply for the love of taking life, and of seeing suffering.

She was an expert in administering the poison, her skill no doubt being gained by her long practice, and she graduated her doses so as to cause her helpless victims the greatest and most protracted suffering. Their deaths were always, it is said by persons who remember, of a most horrible character, enough to move a heart of stone.

• • • • • •

Her confession was a remarkable revelation of human depravity. She had become obsessed with the liking for scenes of moral agony, and her mania went even farther, making her revel in coming into contact with dead bodies, which she loved to handle and prepare for burial.

In the early stages of this monomania she tried to satisfy her cravings of bereavement, and by assisting in bathing and dressing the remains. These natural deaths came too infrequently to satisfy her, however, so she desperately started out to manufacture funerals by supplying the dead bodies.

[“Martha Grinder, Arch Murderess Of Pittsburg – Women Who Poisoned Men, Woman and Children for Pleasure of Witnessing Their Dying Torments, Hanged – Monomaniac Carried Death In Her Pocket,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Nov. 15, 1910, p. 5]

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A booklet was published on the case in 1866:

Martha Grinder, The Life and Confessions of Martha Grinder, the Poisoner ..., J.P. Hunt & Company, 1866, 23 pages

A different listing of the pamphlet gives a different title and page count:

The Grinder poisoning case : the trial of Martha Grinder, for the murder of Mrs. Mary Caroline Carothers, on the 1st of August, 1865 : being a full and complete history of this important case. Pittsburgh, Pa. : Published by John P. Hunt & Co., [1865 or 1866?], 36 pages

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Mary Caroline Caruthers (Carothers), died Aug. 1, 1865
Mr. Caruthers (Carothers), survived
Samuel Grinder, brother-in-law, died
Jane R. Buchanan, her servant, died Feb. 28, 1864
Baby Grinder, died circa Jul. 7, 1865
Mrs. J. M. Johnston, Caroline C’s sister
First husband
The family of Mrs. Marguerite Smith
Un-named unwed mother, poisoned and robbed; related to a “bogus baby scheme”)
Miss Huges – disabled by poison (a case discovered after the execution)

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Sources for victims who are not reported in most accounts:

A) The Smith Family –

EXCERPT: There was also evidence to show that Mrs. Grinder had poisoned the family of Mrs. Marguerite Smith, who lived next door to Mrs. Caruthers, by a bowl of soup. The family was composed of the mother and six children, all of whom but one of the soup, and here, as before, all who eat were immediately taken sick, one, a child, dying.

[“Execution of Martha Grinder – Mrs. Grinder makes full Confession.” The Globe (Huntington, Pa.), Jan. 24, 1866, p. 2]

B) Miss Hughes –

[“The Pittsburg Poisoner – Another Victim – A Curious Case.” Newbern Journal of Commerce (N. C.), Nov. 15, 1867, p. 3]

C) Un-named Unwed Mother –

[“The Wholesale Pittsburgh Poisoner. – More About Mrs. Martha Grinder - A principlal in a Bogus Baby Case – Mysterious Death of Miss J. R. Buchanan – Body to be Exhumed To day – Additional Developments.” (from the Pittsburgh Commercial.), The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (N. Y.), Aug. 30, 1865, p. 2]

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EXCERPTS from an article published in 1910:

Pittsburg’s arch murderess slew her victims for the pleasure of seeing them die. She planned her work with deadly patience, and thought no labor too hard that brought to her the chance of seeing some unsuspecting man, woman or child, writing in the horrible agony of dissolution, brought about by the poison she had administered.

LIKED TO SEE SUFFERING

There was not the slightest motive of gain or animosity in any of her murders. She killed them, and admitted so at the last, simply for the love of taking life, and of seeing suffering.

She was an expert in administering the poison, her skill no doubt being gained by her long practice, and she graduated her doses so as to cause her helpless victims the greatest and most protracted suffering. Their deaths were always, it is said by persons who remember, of a most horrible character, enough to move a heart of stone.

• • • • • •

Her confession was a remarkable revelation of human depravity. She had become obsessed with the liking for scenes of moral agony, and her mania went even farther, making her revel in coming into contact with dead bodies, which she loved to handle and prepare for burial.

In the early stages of this monomania she tried to satisfy her cravings of bereavement, and by assisting in bathing and dressing the remains. These natural deaths came too infrequently to satisfy her, however, so she desperately started out to manufacture funerals by supplying the dead bodies.

[“Martha Grinder, Arch Murderess Of Pittsburg – Women Who Poisoned Men, Woman and Children for Pleasure of Witnessing Their Dying Torments, Hanged – Monomaniac Carried Death In Her Pocket,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Nov. 15, 1910, p. 5]

***

A booklet was published on the case in 1866:

Martha Grinder, The Life and Confessions of Martha Grinder, the Poisoner ..., J.P. Hunt & Company, 1866, 23 pages

A different listing of the pamphlet gives a different title and page count:

The Grinder poisoning case : the trial of Martha Grinder, for the murder of Mrs. Mary Caroline Carothers, on the 1st of August, 1865 : being a full and complete history of this important case. Pittsburgh, Pa. : Published by John P. Hunt & Co., [1865 or 1866?], 36 pages

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EXCERPT: On the 15th of September the body of Samuel Grinder was exhumed, having been buried at Leechburg. A subsequent analysis showed that he had died from poison. He was a soldier, and was home on furlough, during which time he visited his brother George, and while there was poisoned. Before he died he said to his brother, “She [Martha Grinder] has poisoned me, and will poison the whole Grinder family.”

[“The Pittsburg Poisoner – Execution of Mrs. Grinder.” The Union and Dakotian (Yankton, South Dakota), February 17, 1866, pp. 1-2]

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FULL TEXT: Pittsburg can claim the unwelcome distinction of having produced one of the most horrifying types of female poisoner that ever darkened the pages of criminal records.

In Martha Grinder, who was hanged in the Allegheny county jail yard. January 19, 1866, there was revealed one of the most fiendish monomaniacs since the time of the unthinkable Borgias.

Mrs. Grinder’s case has nothing in common with the Schenk poisoning, save in the fact that she used arsenic, which, it is alleged, was administered to the millionaire pork packer by his wife, who years ago worked as a domestic for several families in her husband’s native town.

If Mrs. Grinder had perpetrated her crimes in these times of close communication between every corner of the world, the whole story would still be talked about. But it had all happened almost 44 years ago, in the infancy of telegraphy, and it has been forgotten years ago in all its disgusting details, by everyone except the very few who had occasion to come into touch with case in one capacity or another.

~ LIKED TO SEE SUFFERING. ~

There was not the slightest motive of gain or animosity in any of her murders. She killed them, and admitted so at the last, simply for the love of taking life, and of seeing suffering.

Martha Grinder indulged this frightful mania until she had caused the death of about a dozen people. Then, and not till then, did suspicion raise its eye to her. Suspicion, once directed against her, overwhelming circumstantial evidence piled up, although at first it was thought that she was absolutely innocent.

Mrs. Grinder lived in the old Ninth ward, and was regarded by her neighbors as an estimable and most kindhearted person.

One of her predominating characteristics was her keen sympathy for bereaved families. In cases of sickness she was always among the first to volunteer her services as nurse, and she could always be relied on to assist in the neighborly task, which was commonly practiced in those days, of “laying out” the body. There was seldom a funeral at which she was not conspicuous among the mourners, and the family which death had robbed of a father, mother or child, always felt a certain amount of comfort in the acknowledge that Mrs. Grinder felt for them.

For several years this went on, and the sympathetic, helpful Mrs. Grinder was often employed in these melancholy duties, not as a paid attendant, but as a kind, big-hearted friend. At last, however, it was noted that almost invariably when Mrs. Grinder had anything to do with a case of sickness, the patient died, and it gradually was observed that the deaths were suspiciously similar.

~ REVRLATION OF DEPRAVITY. ~

It is all a matter of record now, how she was arrested and formally charged with murder in October, 1865, and found guilty of an almost impossible degree of unnatural crime on October 28 of the of the same year. She was sentenced to death November 25 and executed the following January.

Her confession was a remarkable revelation of human depravity. She had become obsessed with the liking of scenes of moral agony, and her mania went even father, making her revel in coming into contact with dead bodies, which she loved to handle and prepare for burial.

In the early stages of this momomania she tried to satisfy her cravings by always being on hand in cases of bereavement, and by assisting in bathing and dressing the remains. These natural deaths came too infrequently to satisfy her, however, so she deliberately started out to manufacture funerals by supplying the dead bodies.

She was by no means an educated woman, but she knew that arsenic was a deadly poison, and she decided to make that her agent of death.

In the 60’s it was not nearly so difficult to obtain poisonous drugs, and chemicals as it is now, and she was able to provide herself with an abundance of arsenic. To be ready for an emergency she carried arsenic loose in the deep pocket which women used to wear in their dresses. In addition she kept a liberal supply of it at home.

This fiend in human guise made no distinction in choosing her prey. Round-faced, happy childhood never awoke a tremor of pity in her breast. The strong, full-blooded man, working happily for the wife and family he loved seemed just as proper a subject for her venomous care as did the white hatred, feeble old men and woman, totering to the grave [sic]. One and all, old and young, she killed without mercy, simply to gloat at them as their horrible sufferings convulsed them until life was extinct.

~ POWDERED ARSENIC ON FOOD. ~

Should a child, for instance, contract any of the simple maladies of childhood, Mrs. Grinder on hearing of it, would hurry to the house and ask if she could not do something to help.

“I know you are busy without having to take care of this poor little thing, she would say to the hardworking mother, for it was a poor, hardworking section of this city, “and you know I have little to do at home. Let me help you, I’ll nurse him, while you do the house work, cook you something to eat, and look after the house, it’ll be a pleasure to me.”

In the large majority of cases, this neighborly offer was taken advantage of, and the murderess was thereupon installed in the house. From her coming, the patient’s doom was sealed.

Mrs. Grinder, if she was in the sick room, was a model nurse, faithfully carring out the attending physician’s orders, and giving the medicine regularly, but in addition she always dropped in a little pinch of arsenic on food, mixing it in the butter with which she spread the hot toast, dissolving a few particles of it in the milk or tea, or sprinkling it on the meats or in the soups.

It was the same when adults fell sick. It was patient happened to be the housewife, Mrs. Grinder’s kindly offere always eagerly accepted by the distressed husband. If the man of the house fell sick. Mrs. Grinder’s offer to help the overworked wife was just as welcome. She was an accomplished actress, and hypocritical to a dgree. Her kind words and acts were as highly prized as her bustling eagerness to help the work. More than that, she proved herself a friend in need, by purchasing delacies and expensive medicines with money of her own.

She was an expert in administering the poison, her skill no doubt being gained by her long practice, and she graduated her doses so as to cause her helpless victims the greatest and most protracted suffering. Their deaths were always, it is said by persons who remember, of a most horrible character, enough to move a heart of stone.

~ HER VIGOROUS DEFENSE. ~

They failed absolutely to bring her to repentance and had she not finally been detected, she would probably have continued her murderous career many years longer.

She retained counsel, and made a vigorous legal fight for her life, at first protesting her innocence. The defense was able, and every means was availed of to secure her acquittal, the power of challenge of jurors being excercised to the extent that the existing panel was ordered by the court to bring in 10 additional talesman, from which a jury was finally selected.

James P. Sterrett was the president judge, Judges Thomas Mellon and E. H. Stowe being also on the bench. The jury soon found a verdict of “Guilty of murder of the first degree.”

The court record thus describes the close of this famous trial:

 “John M. Kirkpatrick, Esq., moved that the court pronounce judgment against her, and upon this it is forthwith demanded of the said Martha Grinder, the prisoner at the bar, if she has anything to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced against her, who nothing further says unless as before she had said, whereupon the court pronounced against her, who nothing further says unless as before she had said, whereupon the court judgment as follows: “The sentence of the law is that you, Martha Grinder, the prisoner at the bar, be taken hence to the jail of Allegheny county, whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and that you are dead, and may God in His infinite goodness, have mercy upon your soul.”

The final record in the gruesome case is the affidavit of Sheriff John H. Stewart, died January 20, 1866, setting forth that in pursuance of the warrant of the governor he did on the 19th day of January, 1866, execute Martha Grinder in the jail yard of Allegheny county.

[“Martha Grinder, Arch Murderess Of Pittsburg – Women Who Poisoned Men, Woman and Children for Pleasure of Witnessing Their Dying Torments, Hanged – Monomaniac Carried Death In Her Pocket,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Nov. 15, 1910, p. 5]

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http://unknownmisandry.blogspot.com/2012/02/female-serial-killers-of-19th-century.html

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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http://unknownmisandry.blogspot.com/2013/03/female-serial-killers-executed.html

More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed

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http://unknownmisandry.blogspot.com/2014/07/sadism-female-serial-killers.html


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[Orig: Sep. 22, 2011; Feb. 22, 2016: 1,964 v]

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