FULL TEXT (1942 article on 1925 case): Never had Hardscrabble Valley known such stark, unreasoning terror. The God-fearing farmers, who scratched a frugal living from its grudging, stony soil, pulled up their horses when they met on the almost deserted roads. “Where will it strike next?” they asked, looking behind them as they spoke. “Who will be next to go?” Their frightened wives, gathering at ‘the bedside of a sick neighbor, for only a major catastrophe could get them to stir far from their own doorsteps, asked the same thing.
Why had the Evil One selected this remote county in northern Ohio for his unholy attention? Why had he picked their homes and areas to blast with fire and brimstone, themselves and their cattle with mysterious, agonizing death? What had they done to deserve this terrible affliction that was being visited upon them?
It was just 17 years ago, on New Year’s Day, 1925, that Satan or one of his emissaries first made his presence felt in the small community of Valley City, not far from the county seat at Medina.
New Year’s, along with Christmas, Thanksgiving and such few funerals as might be, were about the only times the Valley kinfolk and neighbors had a chance to get together In anything like holiday mood, and usually they made the most of it.
Fred Geinke, a prosperous, hard-working farmer, together with his wife Lily, their six children and several near relatives celebrated the day in traditional style with roast suckling pig, an apple in its mouth, mounds of steaming vegetables and four kinds of pie topped off with foaming glasses of not-too-hard cider.
They rose from the table, stuffed almost to overflowing, content and entirely unaware of their impending fate.
Sometime later a farm wife who lived across the road heard anguished screams coming from the Geinke home and hurried to investigate. What she saw sent her as fast, as she could go to the nearby home of Martha Hasel Wise, Lily’s niece.
“Quick, Martha!” the terrified woman cried. “It’s the Devil! The devil’s took all the Geinkes sick unto dying. Hurry! I’ll go for the doctor.”
Martha, better known to the entire Valley as the sick-nursing “Widow Wise,” hastily threw a shawl over her gaunt, bony shoulders, called to her children to stay, in the house, liked her rusty black dress to her knees, and ran.
The ghastly scene that greeted her in the Geinke parlor would have convinced a far less pious woman than Martha Wise that the Devil had indeed been at work there.
Nine-year-old Walter, his face contorted with pain, clawed feebly toward his mother’s side. As Martha, watched, he collapsed in merciful unconsciousness. Young Fred Jr. writhed in the grip of a monstrous fit. Two if the other children, Marie and Rudolph, were trying to rise but their legs wilted as though made of rubber at every attempt. The rest lay moaning piteously on the floor.
Exerting almost superhuman strength, the Widow Wise managed somehow to get them to bed. That done, she drew a pall of cold water from the well, tore towels into strips and gently bathed their sweat-beaded fore-ends with work-gnarled fingers.
She was so engaged when .two physicians arrived and quickly administered emetics, anxious neighbors rushed Marie and Rudolph, who seemed the sickest, to the Medina County hospital.
“Some kind of food poisoning,” it was agreed. “That big dinner—”
When all were resting easier, Martha, herself obviously on the verge of collapse, had to be treated also.
In a few hours, however, It looked as though the worst were about over.
In reality it was just the beginning. For a series of mysterious fires broke out up and down Hardscrabble Valley. Night after night haystacks burst into flames; houses caught fire, apparently without reason; barns burned to the ground, destroying horses and cattle.
People started to whisper: “It’s the Devil! There’s a curse on us. But why? Why?”
Cattle sickened and died inexplicably in the fields, in barnyards, in their stalls.
The Valley grew frantic at this new scourge, but there was more to come.
Things began disappearing from their homes—prized heirlooms, pieces of jewelry, knickknacks, even family portraits — as though snatched away by an invisible hand, and with never a single clew left behind.
All the superstitions they had inherited from their Old World ancestors came to the surface. Tales of ancient black magic and witchcraft commenced to circulate. They took to double bolting their doors at night. Few stirred outside after dark for fear of meeting the Evil One himself face to face. For the Devil was causing all this misfortune. They were sure of it.
Then on Feb. 9th, Fred Geinke, who had seemed well on the way to recovery, suddenly grew worse and died.
His wife, still bedridden as a result of her illness acquired on New Year’s Day, called in her niece, the Widow Wise, to take charge of the funeral arrangements.
Funeral arrangements in Hardscrabble Valley were a two-day chore. The whole house had to be cleaned, the musty parlor aired. Neighbors who came to pay their respects must be greeted. And there was the cooking to do in preparation for the friends and relatives who would come from far and near. Pies and cakes to bake; jars of pickles and relishes to be got up from the cellar. For funerals in the Valley, if not exactly gala affairs, were as nearly so as decency permitted.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Lily Geinke told her niece when it was all over.
Still the fires, the deaths of livestock and the strange disappearances of articles continued. And three days later, just after the family physician had predicted it would only be a short time now until she was fully recovered, Lily Geinke suffered an unexpected relapse and died in agony before the good doctor could be summoned.
He signed the certificate of death as due to coronary thrombosis, a form of blood clotting which stopped the heart. A veritable epidemic of the terrible “Devil’s Malady” broke out. Men, women and children were taken with sudden seizures the Valley’s over-worked physicians found difficult to diagnose.
The Geinke children were again stricken, Martha Wise’s two brothers and a cousin, Mrs. Rose Adams. Martha herself was rushed to the hospital where quick action by the doctors saved her, although she still had a badly infected and which, due to her rundown condition from work and worry failed to heal.
This brought the number of casualties since the first strange visitation of New Year’s Day to seventeen, to say nothing of the thousands of dollars in property losses and damage.
A wave of mass hysteria swept the Valley. Where would the Devil strike next?
Who would be next to go? What—oh, what have we done to deserve all this?
County Prosecutor Joseph Seymour and Sheriff, George Roshon had not lie en idle during these two awful months. Hard-headed men, they scoffed at the idea that Satan was on the loose in Hardscrabble but they had practically no definite clews to go on.
Although they had grilled the entire Valley without result they had picked up little things here and there that they were painstakingly but surely piecing together into a pattern. If a fiend were responsible for this orgy of violence and terror it was a human one. Of that they were convinced. To begin with they knew Mrs. Sophie Hasel, Lily Geinke’s 72-year-old sister, and mother of Martha
Wise, had died suddenly three weeks before New Year’s.
Further, it was a significant fact that most of the strange seizures had taken place in households belonging either to the Hasel or the Geinke families.
They knew, too, that a certain person’s children had been warned not to drink water at Mrs. Sophie Hasel’s place or at that of Fred Geinke.
“Could poison have caused the deaths?” they asked the attending physicians eagerly.
“Yes,” the doctors agreed.
“Certain poisons—arsenic, for instance—might have caused them.”
Sheriff and prosecutor had to cover a lot of ground but they finally established that the person who had warned the children had recently made two purchases of arsenic “to kill rats.”
Prosecutor Seymour obtained a court order for the exhumation of Lily Geinke’s body. An autopsy was performed,
“Arsenic all right,” the coroner reported. “Enough of it to kill a dozen people.”
Prosecutor and sheriff questioned those closest involved once more but got nothing.
“I’ve told you all I know,” Martha Wise said, a break in her voice, “I wish I could help you. Mother, Aunt Lily, Uncle Fred—”
“You’d better go up to Cleveland for a couple of weeks and have that infection treated, Martha,” Prosecutor Seymour said gently, indicating her still-bandaged arm.
“And get a good rest. You’ve been through a lot.”
She left the following day, March 1st. Two weeks went by. Not a single fire, no one strangely sick, nothing reported missing throughout the entire Valley. Sheriff and prosecutor nodded grimly.
“Got Martha Wise!” Seymour said.
Rain drummed steadily on the roof of Sheriff Roshon’s car the night he drove the Widow Wise back from Cleveland. It was drumming on the tin roof outside the proctor’s window as she sat down and faced him across his desk.
“We know you did it, Martha,” he said.
“Why not confess and get it off your conscience?”
“You’re wrong, Mr. Seymour. I would never a done such a thing.”
He told her about the arsenic in Lily Geinke’s stomach, showed her the druggist’s register of her purchases, explained how they knew she’d warned her children not to drink water at “grandma’s or Uncle Fred’s.” Still she shook her head in stony-faced denial.
For several minutes they faced each other across a silence broken only by the rain on the roof. Then Mrs. Ethel Roshon, the sheriff’s wife, took a hand.
“Listen, Martha. Do you hear those raindrops? Do you hear what they’re saying?
They’re saying: ‘Drop-drip-drip. You-did-it. Drop-drip-drip. You-did-it.’ You did it, Martha! You know you did! Listen to it, Martha. It’s the voice of God. He’s telling you to tell the truth!”
The Widow Wise listened—and then she broke.
“Oh, my God,” she moaned. “Yes, I did it. I put arsenic in the water bucket. But it was the Devil told me to. He came to me, laughing and grinning, while I baked my bread. He came to me when I was a-hoin’ in the fields. He kept telling me to do it while he follered me in the meadow. It was the Devil done it.”
She looked down at her work-gnarled hands.
“They told me I had no business wantin’ to get married again. Said I was old and ugly. They laughed at me when that young fellow threw me over. I hated them and the Devil said: ‘Kill them!’ And I did.”
Her eyes lighted with unholy glee.
“I liked their funerals. I could get dressed up and see folks and talk to them. I didn’t miss a funeral in twenty years. The only fun I ever had was after I kilt people.”
She signed a complete confession.
At her trial defense lawyers tried to prove she was an epileptic and had been insane since birth, but the jury did not agree with them.
They found Martha Hazel Wise guilty and she was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Ohio State Penitentiary for Women at Marysville where she still is today. No one ever knew how she set all those fires and committed her mysterious thefts. Perhaps the Devil did have a hand in those terrible months after all.
[Ben Nelson, “The Devil In Hardscrabble Alley,” The American Weekly (magazine section of the San Antonio Light) (San Antonio, Tx.), Jan. 4, 1942, p. 9]
For more cases, see Sicko Nurses
Sophie Hasel (mother of Martha Wise), poisoned on Nov. 27, 1924, Thanksgiving evening, died December 13, 1924.
Fred Gienke, (uncle of Martha Wise), poisoned on Dec. 31, 1924, died February 1925.
Lily Gienke (Fred’s wife, poisoned on Dec. 31, 1924, died February 1925.
Nov. 27, 1924, Thanksgiving evening, several members of the family, poisoned, survived.
Several children of Martha’ Wise’s uncle poisoned on Dec. 31, 1924, recovered.
NOTE: “Female serial killers are rare” is a false stereotype that was invented in the late 20 the century. This faulty claim based on the fact that, due to prejudice and chivalry, criminologists have traditionally avoided looking at female styles of criminality seriously and thus fail to put devote adequate resources to research the topic. The introduction of fallacious Marxian theories in the post-1960s period has exacerbated this state of affairs by fostering outright distortions and censorship in the study of female violence among scholars.
SEE: “Three women Who Admit Poisoning 29 Persons,” syndicated, Lock Haven Express (Pa.), May 1, 1925, p. 2
For more cases, see Sicko Nurses