Thursday, September 22, 2011

Martha Grinder, Pittsburg Serial Killer Executed in 1866

EDITOR'S NOTE: Historical crime statistics are not yet well-collated I have learned. In 2007 criminologist Peter Vronsky (book “Female Serial Killers”) published the longest list of female serial killers ever compiled. I have, from researching mostly old newspapers, come up with more than 600 (I stick to the 3-victim minimum, a 2-victim list would be much longer).

A glance at the Female Serial Killer Index (in progress) will give an idea of how much of the history of female criminality has been ignored.

Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America offers a more bite-sized sample illustrating the same idea -- that most of these cases have been completely ignored by the criminologists who write the expert assessments of criminal behavior and profiles.


Martha Grinder is another female serial killer that has not yet appeared on lists of serial killers, despite the fact that she was executed. – 6 Victims: 3 women, 2 children, 1 man

FULL TEXT: 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]


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


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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