Thursday, September 22, 2011

Polly Frisch, New York State Serial Killer - 1858

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Alabama, N. Y., Jan. 30. – A case of poisoning has been under investigation in this town for a few days past, which, if substantiated, exceeds in atrocity any case in the annals of criminal jurisprudence.

Some time in July, Henry Hoag, a responsible citizen of this town, died quite suddenly. About six weeks after his death, a little daughter, five or six years old, died after an illness of only 24 hours. Suspicions of foul play were entertained by some, but no action was taken in this case. Last spring an infant child (born subsequent to Mr. Hoag’s death) died after a short illness. Suspicion was again aroused, but nothing was done. Last fall another child, some two years old, died under still more suspicious circumstances. A post mortem examination was had, but the chemist to whom the child’s stomach was sent bad become satisfied that the death of so many members of the family, under such circumstances, required further investigation, and the bodies of all of them were exhumed, and the stomachs of the first, and a portion of the duodenum of the last secured, upon analysis, arsenic was found in them all.

Suspicion at once pointed to the wife and mother, as the person who administered the poison, and she was arrested, and is now in our county jail at Batavia, awaiting the action of the grand jury, which sits next week.

Since her husband’s death she has been married again to a man by the name of Frisch, who lived with her but a short time – some difficulty having arisen between them.

Some years since, three other of her children died, quite suddenly, with symptoms almost precisely similar to the last one, and, it is inferred, that she poisoned them also, from the fact that she confessed that she poisoned the first one, but that she did it accidentally, and through mistake. Altogether it is one of the most horrid cases on record. That a woman would poison her husband may not be incredible, but that a mother would poison, deliberately, one after another, six of her own offspring, seems too inhuman for belief. I will give no opinion of her guilt or innocence, as her case will soon be brought before the proper tribunal for investigation.

[“Poisoning in Genessee County,” The Lorrain County Eagle (Oh.), Feb. 23, 1858, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Albany, Dec. 9. – In 1859 Polly Frisch was indicted in Genessee County for killing her husband and two children by poisoning them with arsenic. Four trials were had [error: there were five], upon the last of which she was convicted and sentenced [on September 8, 1859] to be executed. An application was made to Gov. Morgan for clemency.  He caused an investigation to be made by an expert, who reported that the prisoner was insane, and her sentence was thereupon commuted [on October 27, 1859] to imprisonment for life. [The date of execution had been set at November 2, 1859.]

She was at first sent to the prison at Sing Sing, but afterward was transferred to the Kings County Penitentiary, and has now served an imprisonment of more than thirty-three years. Dr. Homer L. Bartlett, for many years attending physician at the penitentiary, has assured Gov. Flower that whatever might have been her mental condition at the time of the commission of the crime or afterward, she is now and for many years has been perfectly sane, and there is no reason to believe that she will ever become otherwise.

During her imprisonment at the penitentiary she has been employed almost constantly in the hospital, where she has been of great service. She is now quite old and feeble, and a very strong appeal has been presented to Gov. Flower for her pardon. The District Attorney who prosecuted her recommended some years ago that she be released, and several persons of the highest respectability have undertaken to provide her with a suitable home.

The Governor therefore pardoned the woman.

[“Polly Frisch Pardoned – She Had Been In Prison For More Than Thirty-Three Years.” New York Times (N.Y.), Dec. 10, 1892, p. ?]


EXCERPT from 2000 book (Article 3 of 3): About the year 1848-1856 Alabama Center was the scene of a crime committed by a woman, Polly Franklin who married Henry Hoag about 1844. Their children Rosa and Viola, died suddenly, and soon the father died, then another child Frances, followed him. After the death of Mr. Hoag, his widow married Otto Frisch, but soon was deserted by him. About this time suspicion was aroused, and S.E. Filkins (counselor) caused an investigation to be made, which revealed the fact that some of her family had died from the effects of poison, large quantities of arsenic having been administered to them. She was arrested and tried three times, and being finally found guilty was sentenced to be hung, but was eventually imprisoned for life.

[Cindy Amrhein & Ellen Lea Bachorski, Bread & Butter: The Murders of Polly Frisch, 2000, Morris Publishing]

Review of the book on History Sleuth


A source from 1869:  Marvin H. Bovee, Christ and the Gallows: Or, Reasons for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, 1869, Masonic Publishing Company, New York, N. Y. , pp. 121-24

In Google Books, full text available


On November 9, 1857, Polly Frisch, then in her early thirties, was arrested by Genesee County Sheriff Alvin Pease.

Michael Keene, “The woman who poisoned her family,”, May 17, 2012


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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