Thursday, September 22, 2011

Martha Ryckman, Canadian Serial Killer - 1887



Suspected victims: Mr. Rykman (husband), John Haskett (son-in-law), son Gray Rykman, Laura Rykman (d-in-l), Gray & Laura Rykman’s daughter, Mrs. Hendricks.

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FULL TEXT: The whole County of Lambton is stirred with excitement over a sensational poisoning case, which, if evidence be given to half the terrible stories told in connection with it, will throw light upon a series of the most terrible and unnatural murders ever committed in Ontario. The arrest on Good Friday of Mrs. Martha Jane Rykman on a charge of poisoning her sister-in-law, a Mrs. Hendricks, has revived the discussion of stories about the suspicious deaths of a number of the prisoner’s relatives which had previously been mentioned only with extreme caution. Mrs. Rykman is a widow about sixty years of age, who has lived at Thedford for a number of years with her children. last fall her married son, Gray Rykman, and his wife Laura determined to go Virginia for the health of the former, who was in consumption.

Nothing was heard of the trio for some time after they left Thedford. About December Gray Rykman wrote to friends in Thedford from the home of a Major Daniels in Virginia, where they were staying, telling the sickness and subsequent sudden death of his wife Laura. According to the letters of Gray, it appears that one day Laura was sick and her mother-in-law prepared for her a dose of salts. Immediately after taking the physic his wife got sick and vomited. His mother, who said she had also taken some of the medicine, took sick and vomited. Gray determined after this to return to Canada as soon as his wife could stand the journey. About a week or two after her first sickness Laura was again taken violently ill. She was found in the yard adjoining Daniel’s house lying across a wheel-barrow.

She was taken into the house and died in a short time. A doctor was attended her stated that death was caused by strychnine or arsenic. Gray Rykman and his mother returned from the home of Daniels, who is a brother-in-law of Mrs. Martha Rykman, to Thedford with the body, and it was interred in the family plot at Arkona on Christmas Day. Gray, who was very weak and low-spirited, continued to live with his mother at Thedford. Soon after his wife’s burial he sent for a Mrs. Hendricks, and it is stated that Gray Ryckman made a confidante of Mrs. Hendricks and told her matters concerning ther death of his wife. Three or four days after Mrs. Hendrick’s arrival at the Ryckman’s she was taken very ill.

She vomited and had severe pains about the stomach. A doctor who was called treated her for periontitis. She died three or four hours after taking sick. The death of Mrs. Hendricks, which was under circumstances somewhat similar to those attending the death of Laura Rykman, aroused the suspicions of the latter’s relatives, and Mr. Kenndey, an uncle of Laura living near Thedford, determined to have the case investigated. An order to exhume the body was secured from the Government and an inquest was commenced. At the inquest it was shown that Mrs. Rykman had, previous to leaving for Virginia, purchased at Munn & Co.’s drug store in Thedford eight grains of strychnine and bought an ounce of arsenic at Cornell’s.

A young man who is employed at Munn & Co.’s store, gave the evidence about the purchase of the poison. Mrs. Ryman said when she was going to leave it with Mr. Andrew Willoy, of Thedford, to poison rats with. Mr. and Mrs. Willoy state that they knew nothing about the poison. The inquest was adjourned pending the analysis of the contents of the stomach of the deceased by Dr. Ellis, of Toronto. After the adjournment Mrs. Martha Ryckman sent for Cornell, whom she told she did remember having purchased the poison on the day mentioned. She produced the packages of poison and asked Cornell to weigh them. Cornell weighed and found there was only three-quarters of strychnine and less than half the arsenic left.

Gray Rykman died soon after Mrs. Hendricks, last Friday. The inquest was resumed, and a report from Dr. Ellis which was read, stated that he has found traces of arsenic in the contents of Laura Ryckman’s stomach. The jury brought in a verdict to the effect that Laura Ryckman’s stomach. The jury brought in a verdict to the effect that Laura Ryckman’s death was caused by arsenic administered to her by Mrs. Martha Ryckman. No charge could be preferred against Mrs. Ryckman by the authorities of this country because the death of Laura Ryckman took place in Virginia, but steps were taken to have a charge laid against her by the authorities in Virginia and for Laura Ryckman was a handsome woman of twenty-one, and not subject to attacks such as she had in Virginia.

She was a half-sister of Rev. Albert Kennedy, of Norwich. Mrs. Martha Ryckman is said to have in her possession a piece of paper on which is written, “Mother, be good to me, and you may have all I have got. Mel, be good to mother.” These words, the prisoner asserts, were written by Mrs. Laura Ryckman shortly before she died. The writing has been identified by Mr. and Mrs. Willoy, of Thedford, relatives of the Ryckmans. Mr. Willoy is the person referred to as Mel. This writing the prisoner holds, goes to show that Mrs. Laura Ryckman did not accuse Mrs. Ryckman of causing her sickness, and that they were on good terms. When the verdict of the inquest on Laura Ryckman’s body was known, John Hendricks immediately swore out an information for the arrest of Mrs. Ryckman, charging her with causing the death of his mother by poisoning. Dr. Cornell, a coroner of Thedford, opened an inquest at Arkona on Tuesday last on the body of Mrs. Hendricks, which was also exhumed. At this inquest Dr. McEdwards, of Arkona, said he had been called to treat Mrs. Hendricks the night she was taken sick at Mrs. Martha Rychman’s home. He had treated her for peritonitis and had given her opium in doses of from a half a grain and a half, some twenty or thirty minutes from eight till eleven o’clock. He then injected morphine. She was relieved and he left her for about an hour.

Returning, he found her suffering again and gave her more opium and injected more morphine. She became unconscious and never rallied. The result of the post mortem examination showed that there was no inflammation of the bowels and the organs were in a fairly healthy state, and the stomach was sent to Dr. Ellis for analysis. The inquest has been adjourned till Dr. Ellis’ report is received. Mrs. Martha Ryckman, who is now in the jail at Sarnia, will be detained till the jury returns its verdict, after which it will be known whether further proceedings will be taken against her or not. The prisoner and all her family were widely known in the county. They have been well liked and looked upon as respectable, well-to-do-people. The prisoner is a member of the Methodist Church in Thedford and generally took an active part in church work. A neighbor of the prisoner  said of her to-day, that whenever she attended a church meeting she was always talking to members or praying. Several other members of the Ryckman family have died under suspicious circumstances.

In 1876 the prisoner’s husband was taken suddenly ill and died. He was taken suddenly ill and died. He was not in bed a day during the sickness which caused his death. About three years later a son-in-law of Mrs. Martha Ryckman also died under suspicious circumstances. His name was John Haskett. By his death, his wife, who was consumptive and did not long survive her husband, came into considerable property. Mrs. Haskett, when she died, left the property to the prisoner to use for the benefit of an eighteen-month-old girl she (Mrs. Haskett) left. This child died about eighteen months after its mother, and Mrs. Martha Ryckman came into the property. A gentleman in Arkona said to your correspondent to-day: -- “There are eight bodies, members or connections of the Ryckman family, buried in that little graveyard on the hill, and it is a significant fact that by the death of each of them Mrs. Martha Ryckman derived some financial benefit.” There is a story to the effect that Mrs. Ryckman was engaged to be married to a man living near Toronto. Miss Saunders, an intelligent girl of fourteen living at Thedford, says she wrote letters some time ago for the prisoner, who could neither write nor read, to George Raney, of Peterboro. They were not amorous letters, but dictated as letters from one friend to another. A correspondence was kept up between these two parties, the prisoner getting letters addressed to an assumed name and sending letters to Raney through the Petersboro post-master. Raney, who is believed to be married, has since Mrs. Martha Ryckman’s arrest sent her letters to the County Crown Attorney at Sarnia. The prisoner is said to be very much downcast since her arrest.

[“Arrest of a Woman – On A Charge of Murder. – Martha Rykman Accused of  Poisoning Some of Her Relations – Bodies Exhumed For Examination.” The Capital (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), Apr. 23, 1887, p. 2]

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