Thursday, September 22, 2011

Serial Killer Lizzie Halliday Was Known in New York State as “The Worst Woman On Earth” - 1893

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Monticello, N. Y.,  Aug. 24 – Sheriff Harrison Beecher, whose name is familiar to the readers of newspapers in connection with his office as Sheriff of Sullivan County during the trial of Lizzie Halliday, the triple murderess, is suffering severe pain from a swollen hand, the result of a bite from that notorious prisoner. The case of a peculiar one, inasmuch as nearly two months have elapsed since it occurred. On June 27, as the Sheriff was taking her from the courtroom after the sentence had been pronounced by Judge Edward she turned upon him with tigress ferocity and planted her teeth in his hand. Anticipating an attack of a similar nature, the Sheriff had provided himself with gloves, which he wore all the time. The teeth entered the glove and produced abrasion of the akin, but nothing was thought of it at the time. Three or four weeks since the scratch began to itch and burn. A few nights ago the Sheriff was awakened by a severe pain in the injured member, since then he has suffered acutely and now the swelling is extending toward the elbow. Should it continue to swell, it is thought that it will result in the loss of the arm.

[“Poisoned By Mrs. Halliday’s Bite. – The Sheriff County In Danger of Losing His Arm.” New York Tribune (N.Y.), Aug. 25, 1894, p. 5]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Mrs. Lizzie Halliday, upon whose head rests the guilt of slaying six men and women, added a seventh victim to her list the other day in the Hospital For Insane Criminals at Matteawan, N. Y., when she stabbed her nurse, Miss Nellie Wicks to death.

For ten years this strange and diabolical woman, once a gypsy queen, led a career of murder, theft, and arson, but of all her crimes this was perhaps the most fiendish.

Miss Wicks, a graceful and pretty young woman, had been in the asylum is nurse a little more than a year. Mrs. Halliday manifested for her a peculiar fondness. The girl, touched by the woman’s apparent affection, did all in her power for the unfortunate creature.

Lizzie Halliday had no object, so far as could ever be learned, for the previous murders she had committed. For this one she had a reason. Miss Wicks was going away from the asylum. She had arranged to take a course at the New York hospital to fit her as a trained nurse, and Mrs. Halliday, in her insane affection, had determined that the girl should not go.

A peculiar feature of the tragedy is that for days Mrs. Halliday, wandering about the “harmless ward,” a room 40 by 60 feet in size, had been whispering threats against Miss Wicks to the other patients. These threats came to the ears of the superintendent, but he did not think them serious.

Miss Wicks had the utmost faith in the crazed Lizzie Halliday. She felt sure the woman had a genuine affection for her and that she would not harm her. Passing through the ward, she nodded kindly to Mrs. Halliday and others of the inmates. She did not see that the woman was following her noiselessly.

Miss Wicks unlocked a door leading to a retiring room and entered. With a quick spring Mrs. Halliday was beside her, wrenched the keys from her and locked the door on the inside. Before a word could be uttered by Miss Wicks the maniac sprang at her and bore her to the floor. The nurse fell face downward, and the woman fell astride her shoulders as she reached down and plucked away a pair of small scissors that were banging at Miss Wicks’ girdle.

With these she began stabbing her victim to death. In all she inflicted more than 200 wounds on the face and body of the girl, and yet she struck no vital part, and the suffering victim lived until by purest accident rescue came, but too late to save her life.

It was fully fifteen minutes after Miss Wicks had entered the retiring room when Miss Mary Doyle, another nurse, found the door locked. She listened at the keyhole and heard groans and chuckles and muttered words. Looking about the ward, she missed Mrs. Halliday, and, suspecting that something was wrong, she called Dr. Bearn, an interne.

The doctor tried to open the door with his own key, but found there was a key in the lock on the other side. With the aid of other attendants he tried to break down the door and, failing, went through a corridor and then through the linen room, which communicated by another door with the retiring room.

A fearful sight met his gaze. The nurse was still lying on the door, and upon her was seated Mrs. Halliday, still using the scissors with terrific effect. She was furious at being interfered with and fought the doctor and attendants with the utmost ferocity. It was not until she was felled to the floor that she gave up the battle.

She was at once placed in solitary confinement, and the unconscious form of the nurse was hurried to the emergency ward, where all that was possible was done for her. But she lived only twenty minutes.

[Murder By A Maniac - Lizzie Halliday, Ex-Gypsy, Adds a Seventh Victim to Her List - Stabs Nurse With Shears - Horrible Crime of Crazy Woman In Hospital For Insane Criminals at Matteawan, N. Y., The Logansport Pharos (In.), Oct. 17, 1906, p. 7]



FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Fishkill, N. Y., Oct. 4. – Lizzie Halliday, a life prisoner at the state hospital for the criminal insane at Matteawan, today murdered Miss Nellie Wickes, an attendant at the hospital, with a pair of scissors. The murder was cunningly devised and brutally executed.

Mrs. Halliday, who is forty-five years old, has been an inmate of the hospital since September, 1893. She was committed after she had murdered her son, husband and two women of Newburgh. Since her incarveration she has broken out in several fits of violence and attacked inmates and nurses.

In the last year she has been more tractable, and Dr. R. B. Lamb, the hospital superintendent, believed her mania for violence had been conquered.

Miss Wickes came to the hospital twelve months ago from her home in Bay Shore, L. I. She was twenty-four and pretty. She was assigned to the ward in which Mrs. Halliday was confined. Mrs. Halliday became greatly attached to her.

Miss Weeks [sic*] a week ago told Mrs. Halliday that she intended to leave the institution to take ip professional nursing. The murderess was downcast. She regarded the nurse for a moment and then, in a tone of cold deliberation, exclaimed: “If you try to leave me I will kill you.” “Oh, no, I guess not,” said Mrs. Wicks, laughingly. “You wouldn’t harm me.”

~ A Second Warning. ~

Mrs. Halliday again, in a sinister tone, warned her not to leave. She became sullen and avoided the other inmates. For hours at a time she would sit alone in a corner of the corridor, her eyes fixed upon the floor. The nurses had not seen her in such a good mood in months.

Mrs. Halliday kept close watch upon Miss Wickes. Every time the nurse left the room the murderess would tap her foot impatiently. When she would return Mrs. Halliday would settle back in her chair and her eyes would snap viciously.

Miss Wickes approached Mrs. Halliday at 6 o’clock this morning and slipped her arm around the woman’s waist. I’m going to leave today,” she said. “I want to remember me and not make any trouble.”

Mrs. Halliday turned away. Tears came to her eyes. Then she drew herself up to her full height, her lips moved convulsively, and she remarked in a low tone: “You’d better not try it.”

Miss Wickes left the corridor a few minutes later and went into a dressing room adjoining. In a moment Mrs. Halliday was upon her. She snatched the keys From Mrs. Wickes’ belt, then locked the door. Seizing Miss Wickes by the throat, she hurled her to the floor. Miss Wickes, alone in the room with the murderess, made a desperate fight for her life. But she was no match for the maniac.

~ The Murder. ~

Throttling the nurse, Mrs. Halliday snatched a pair of scissors from Miss Wickes’s belt. With a frenzied cry, she sunk the sharp blades again and again into the nurse’s throat. Miss Wickes’s screams brought half a dozen to the door.

Dr. Lamb was summoned, and he opened the door with a duplicate key. On the floor lay

Mrs. Wickes, gasping her last breath. Mrs. Halliday stood by a window, calmly watching the death struggles. A maniacal smile of triumph lighted her face.

“She won’t leave me now,” she said, and laughed as she spoke.

Miss Wickes was hurried to a cot, but died within an hour without recovering consciousness. Mrs. Halliday laughed gleefully when told she was dead. Superintendent Lamb had Mrs. Halliday locked in a room and placed under special guard. She sat gazing with amused interest out of the window. She seemed to know precisely what she had done, but was indifferent.

When Coroner Goring asked her why she had committed the murder she replied: “She tried to leave me.”

[“Slayer Of Four Killes Her Nurse – Stabs Young Woman With Scissors After Fight Behind Locked Door. – Laughs When Victim Dies. – In Hospital for Insane for Murder of Her Husband, Son and Two Women.” The Leavenworth Times (Ks.), Oct. 3, 1906, p. 8; * the original contains two different spellings in the text: “Weeks” and Wickes”]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4, with factual errors corrected): July 15, 1918 – Lizzie Halliday, who in 1893 killed her husband, an imbecile step-son, and two women near Burlingham, Sullivan county, in New York state – and during her long term of imprisonment at Matteawan State Hospital, attempted, in 1895, to murder one of her attendants and nine years later succeeded in murdering another.

The career of Lizzie Halliday, known for many years as “the worst woman on earth”, because she killed those who loved her, is one of the most remarkable in American criminal history. Born with the desire to kill, the woman exacted a heavy toll of lives before she was finally sent to Matteawan. And once in the institution she took – or attempted to take – the lives of the only two women who pitied and befriended her.

For more than twenty years Lizzie Halliday was the most dreaded of the inmates of the women’s hospital at Matteawan. In 1895 she attempted to murder attendant Catherine Ward, by strangulation. In 1906, when she killed Nellie Wickes [or “Wirks], stabbing her in the face more than 200 times with a pair of scissors, she had been closely guarded to prevent another display of her craftsmanship.

She was Elizabeth McNally, born in Ireland fifty-seven years ago [in 1861], and came to this country in 1887 [?], where she married Charles Hopkins. Hopkins died suddenly and the only son of the couple found his way into a Pennsylvania institution.

The woman married Artemas Brewster. He died within a year and his widow married Hiram Parkinson, from whom she separated. George Smith was her next husband. After trying to poison him she fled to Bellows Falls, Vt., where she was the wife of Charles Pleysteil for two weeks.

She burned a small store in Philadelphia for the insurance and served two years in the penitentiary. Later in Newburgh she married Paul Halliday, a septuagenarian with an imbecile son. Her first step was to set fire to the Halliday home, burning to death her newly acquired step-son.

In 1893 Mr. Halliday disappeared. A search of the cellar revealed the bodies of Margaret McQuinlan and her daughter, Sarah. A day or two later Paul Halliday’s body was found buried under the house. She is also suspected of having murdered a peddler named Hutch some time earlier.

Gov. Flower commuted Lizzie Halliday’s sentence of death after a commission of doctors had pronounced her insane.

[“Notorious Woman Dies – Lizzie Halliday Had Earned Terrible Name Of ‘Worst Woman On Earth.’ – She Murdered Six Persons – Husband, Step-son, 2 Friends And Two Attendants In State Hospital.” The Daily Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica), Jul. 15, 1918, p. 1 (spelling error in orig. “Holiday”)]












1857 – Born: Eliza McNally, Ireland (ref: Schechter).

1887 – arrived in the US.

Before 1887 – Murdered a man in Belfast, Ireland.

1887? – Charles Hopkins, husband #1, “died suddenly”; possible murder.

Year? –George Smith, husband #2, attempted murder, poison, survived.

Year? – Charles Pleysteil, husband #3, for two weeks. Bellows Falls, Vt.,

Year? – Artemas Brewster, husband #4, died within a year of the marriage.

Year? – Hiram Parkinson, husband #5, separated.

Mar. 17, 1888 – convicted of arson, Philadelphia, Pa. under the name “Maggie Hopkins.”

1890 – Peddlar Hutch, suspected murder. (source: Nov. 5, 1893)

May 1890 – Paul Halliday, husband #6, married.

May 6, 1891 Lizzie burns Halliday house. (noted in Mr. H. memorandum book)

May 26, 1891 – Lizzie burns Halliday barn. (noted in Mr. H. memorandum book)

May-Jun. 1893 – John Halliday, crippled step-son, burned to death in the “old mill” residence of Mrs & Mrs. Halliday & John, arson fire set by Lizzie. She was arrested and sent to insane asylum at Middletwon.(date source: Schechter)

Aug. 30, 1893 – Margaret McQuillan murdered.

Sep. 2, 1893 – (on or about) Sarah Jane McQuillan, 20, murdered.

Sep.4, 1893 – bodies found: Margaret McQuillan, Sarah Jane McQuillan, in barn under straw in hayloft.

Sep. 6?, 1893 – Paul Halliday’s body found beneath floorboards in their home. Shot with 32-calibre 5-shooter; Burlingham, Sullivan County. Body was mutilated.

Sep. 8, 1893 – Lizzie Halliday arrested for the three murders.

Nov. 14, 1893 – Attempted murder by strangling of  Mrs. Beecher, sheriff’s wife.

Dec. 12, 1893 – sets fire to bedclothes; cuts own throat with broken glass. “I thought I would cut myself to see if I would bleed.”

Jun. 21, 1894 – 5:00 p. m., Monticello, N. Y, convicted of murders of Margaret McQuillan, Sarah Jane McQuillan. Jurors believed she was shamming insanity.

Jun. 22, 1894 – Sentenced to death, electric chair at Monticello in week beginning Aug. 6.

Jun. 27, 1894 – Bites Sheriff Harrison Beecher’s hand, through glove, causing serious infection.

Jul 16, 1894 – medical commission rules insanity.

Jul. 26 (?), 1894 – Death sentence Commuted New York Governor Flower.

1894 – sent to Matteawan State Asylum

Aug. 30, 1895: attempt to strangle Catherine “Kate” Ward, attendant at Matteawan State Asylum.

May 1901 – Lizzie applies for veteran’s widow’s pension, for Paul Halliday’s service.

Sep. 27, 1906 – Nellie Weeks (Wickes, Wirks) murdered, attendant, stabbed more than 200 wounds on the face and body of the girl; Matteawan State Asylum.

Jun. 27, 1918 – Lizzie Halliday dies at Matteawan State Asylum.

1918 – Called: “The Worst Woman on Earth.”














For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


For more Violence by Women cases involving axes and hatchets, see: Give ‘Em the Axe


For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America (as of January 20, 2014, the collection contains 61 cases)


MORE: Female Serial Killers & Arson



  1. If you're going to post a story like this to "prove misandry" in this case, at least know what you're talking about. Lizzie Halliday was VERY mentally ill. This was a very unusual case, and she was insane. She was sentenced to death originally, but it was later commuted because she was very, very mentally troubled and, more fittingly, put in a mental institution, where she spent the rest of her life.

    A lot of your posts have MANY issues, but this one takes the cake. You can't condemn misandry in a case where a woman has sincere mental illnesses. This case has NO misandry in it; this case has a mentally ill woman who murdered a lot of people, WOMEN INCLUDED, because of her mental illness. NOT because of a hatred of men. To claim otherwise is MISLEADING and FALSE. If you acknowledged that in your post, though, it would lose integrity, especially in the context of your entire blog, so that's why I'm mentioning it here. If you choose to reply, I hope you acknowledge the truth and please don't take this comment down just because it proves the truth in this case.

  2. A person's imagination that this post has been created to "prove misandry" is not based on any evidence. The Halliday post is one of hundreds of posts used to document that claims such as "female serial killers are rare," "female serial killers typically use less violent means to murder," based on counts of under a hundred cases (assuming falsely that such brief lists are comprehensive), are inaccurate. The implication is that, since female criminality has attracted so extremely little attention from scholars, that since all criminological generalizations have been based on false assumptions that proper research on the history of violence by women. The use of the term "mental illness" is vague. One should expect collections of serial killer cases to contain criminals who are categorized as either "mentally bill" or who have a "personality disorder."

    Censorship in the university of studies of female criminality is, I could argue misandrist. This is a "meta" issue, so to speak.

    The point that violence against women by women is common, is often extremely brutal, and is ridiculously understudied, and as general matter (apart from individual sensational cases) ignored by the media, is another point worth making.