Thursday, September 22, 2011

Texas Serial Killer Agnes Orner & Her 6 Trials - 1911


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 6): El Paso, Tex.. Feb. 20. – Mrs. Agnes Orner was placed under arrest this afternoon following her return from the funeral of her little daughter who died Saturday afternoon under suspicious circumstances. Arsenic was found in the child’s stomach.

The woman's husband died here two years ago under what are said to have been suspicious circumstances, and one other child, and a trained nurse also died under the same roof with  suspicious symptoms.

Mrs. Orner was arrested in Globe, Arizona about three years ago on a charge of poisoning her children, but the case was dismissed mi account of insufficient evidence.

The woman is in the county jail.

[“A Female Poisoner In The El Paso Jail - Believed to Have Caused Death of Four Persons.” The Arizona Republican (Phoenix, Az.), Feb. 21, 1911, p. 8]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 6): El Paso, Tex., May 27.—Mrs. Agnes Orner, accused of causing the death of her 11-year-old daughter, Lillie, by poison, on February 18, was found guilty of murder in the first degree in the Fourth district court today and her punishment was assessed at life imprisonment. The jury was out four hours.

Mrs. Orner fainted when the verdict was announced and was removed from the court room to the jail on a stretcher.

~ Argued Her Own Case. ~

An unprecedented occurrence in local court annals took place today when Mrs. Orner, ignoring the protest of her attorney, went forward just before the charge was given to the jury by Judge Harper, and in an impassioned statement declared her innocence. She gave her version of the child’s death and declared “This is a most heinous crime which has been laid at my door and there is not punishment too strong for such a crime. You do not know if I am guilty but there is an Almighty Power in whom I place my trust and who knows I am innocent.”

~ Arsenic in Girl’s Stomach. ~

Lillie Orner died on February 18 after an illness of less than a day. Suspicion was directed to the mother and an analysis of the child’s stomach showed thirty-six grains of arsenic in it. The child had said before becoming unconscious. “If mamma had not put that stuff in my coffee I would be all right.”

Mrs. Orner’s husband, who was a Pullman conductor, died ago after a short illness two and years Mrs. Orner was tried shortly after on an insanity charge but was discharged after she had recited an original poem.

[“Mrs. Agnes Orner Convicted of  Poisoning Daughter By Giving Arsenic. - Makes A Plea To The Jury -  Calls God to Witness Innocence But Jury Assesses Imprisonment for Life.” San Antonio Light (Tx.), May 28, 1911, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): Pecos, Tex., Nov. 25. — The third trial of Mrs. Agnes Orner, charged with the murder of her daughter, Lillie, was begun here today. Mrs. Orner was convicted and given a life sentence at El Paso, but the supreme court reversed the case on the ground that the verdict of the jury failed to state in which degree she was found guilty. She was tried at Marfa and the jury failed to agree.

The defendant declared today she is confident of being acquitted. She is in better spirits, her acquaintances say, looks better physically than ever before, although she has been confined in jail for over two years.

Mrs. Orner’s daughter died suddenly on Feb. 18, 1911. Her husband died suddenly about a year previous, and another child died suddenly at Globe, Arizona, prior to that.

[“Woman Charged With Murder.” The Abilene Semi-Weekly Reporter (Tx.), Nov. 29, 1912, p. 5]

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FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): Van Horn, Tex., Oct. 8. – Mrs. Sadie Irwin, the first witness to be called Wednesday morning la the trial of Mrs. Agnes Orner, charged with the murder of her daughter Lillie, testified that she was introduced to Mrs. Orner by Tom Delany in 1910. Delany is one of the witnesses for the defence. Mrs. Irwin testified that on Monday afternoon after the death of Lillie Orner on Saturday, she was at the Orner home and that Mrs. Orner put her hands on Mrs. Irwin’s shoulders and said to her: “My God must I confess.”

The witness said she asked her “confess to what” but received no answer. The witness further testified that on the way home from the funeral J. D. Lea was taken violently ill from something he had eaten. She said she was not a friend of J. D. Lea and that she considered him just a “spunky little man.” The Witness’s ready answers and parries in wit furnished the only moments so far where intense seriousness was not apparent in the trial.

~ Neighbor of Mrs. Orner Testifies. ~

Mrs. A. J. Tyra was the next witness. She testified that she lived next door to Mrs. Orner at the time of the death of Lillie and that she had seen Lillie in the yard the morning of the day she died and had also seen her in the window the afternoon she died, and that she seemed then to be a well and healthy child.

~ Dr. C. P. Brown Recalled. ~

 Dr. C P. Brown was recalled by the state to testify as to the contents of the prescription which he left when he called at the Orner home the day of the child’s death. He said it contained serum of oxlate and cocaine and that there was no arsenic in it.

~ Says Meat Killed Her Dog. ~

Mrs. N. B. Larock testified that she lived at the same house as Mrs. Tyra at the time of Lilly’s death. She said that she went over to the Orner home shortly after the death of the child, and Mrs. Orner told her that Lillie had been taken suddenly sick and had died from some cause unknown to Mrs. Orner. She testified that J. D. Lea threw away some meat that had been on the table in the Orner home, and that her dog ate the meat and a few minutes thereafter the dog went into convulsions and died. She also testified that she had offered on Sunday to prepare a meal for Mrs. Orner and asked Mrs. Orner if she would like to have some of the meat which was on the table warmed over and served and Mrs. Orner said she did not care to eat any of it.


~ Mrs. Orner Talked of Poisons. ~

Lee Newman testified that he had been to Mrs. Orner’s house about two years before Lillie’s death and that while there Mrs. Orner told him that she knew of a deadly poison which could be administered to a person with fatal results, and no doctor could discover what the poison was.

Mrs. F. A. Pope then testified that she had known the defendant for about two years before the child’s death, Mrs. Pope had Lillie stay at her home for a few weeks while Mrs. Orner was sick, and that during a conversation about that time, Mrs. Orner mentioned that she was a trained nurse and that Mrs. Orner went and got a medicine case full of vials and picked out one of the vials and said: “That is a deadly poison and after it has been administered no doctor on earth can detect it.” J. W. Brown’s testimony, given at the first trial in El Paso, was then read. Brown is the deputy constable who arrested the defendant immediately after the funeral of Lillie Orner. He testified that as soon as he met Mrs. Orner she said to him: “Have you got a warrant for me.”

~ State to Finish Its Case. ~

Court adjourned at noon till two o’clock to await the arrival of Dr. W. L. Brown, of El Paso. Joseph N. Nealon who is conducting the state’s case, announced to the court that the state would finish its case Wednesday afternoon.

~ Tells of Arsenic In Child Stomach. ~

Dr. L. B. Rogers, the first witness Tuesday afternoon, testified at length as to the tests made on the Internal organs of Lillie Orner the day after her death, which showed the presence of arsenic in large quantity. He further testified that arsenic was one of the most common poisons and was very easily obtainable at any drug store. He also testified that “rough on rats” and other proprietary compounds were composed largely of arsenic and were commonly used.

~ Rule Is Suspended. ~

During Dr. Rogers’s testimony, judge Jackson acceded to the request of the numerous witnesses in the case and suspended the rule which requires all witnesses to remain out of the court room while the evidence is being heard, and permitted the witnesses to come In and hear Dr. Rogers’s evidence.

Dr. Rogers was followed by Robert Brooks, now an apprentice printer on the El Paso Herald. Brooks was the messenger who had testified on former trials that on the day of Lillie Orner’s death he carried medicine prescribed by Dr C P Brown from Ryan’s drug store to the Orner home and tint Mrs. Orner declined to pay for it, so the medicine was not delivered. On examination here, he could not state when it was that he delivered the
medicine to the Orner home, nor could he identify Mrs. Orner as the woman whom he saw there and who declined to pay for the medicine. His failure to be able to be as specific as heretofore amused the defendant, who was much more composed during Brooks’s testimony.

~ Coffee Testimony Read. ~

The state then read portions of the testimony of Mrs. Edith Evans, the witness who was at the Orner home just before Lillie Orner died. Mrs. Evans is now in California. The state did not offer the portion of Mrs. Evans’s testimony wherein she testified that Lillie Orner had said to her shortly before the child’s death that “I would have been all right if mama had not put ‘that’ in the coffee.” This latter statement, alleged to have been made by Lillie Orner, has heretofore been admitted

In evidence over the objection of defendant. It was this statement by Mrs. Evans which at the first trial caused the defendant Mrs. Orner, to make an argument to the jury over the protest of her attorneys, to the effect that it was castor oil which had made Lillie sick.

[“Witness In Mrs. Orner’s Case Says Woman Cried ‘My God, I Mist Confess,’” El Paso Herald (Tx.), Oct. 8, 1913, p. 2]

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FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6): Austin, Texas, Jan. 5. – The court of criminal appeals today affirmed the case of Mrs. Agnes Orner from El Paso county, appellant today affirmed  the case of Mrs. Agnes Orner from El; Paso county, appellant having been given a life term in the penitentiary on conviction of the murder of Lillie Orner, her daughter, by poisoning.

In appealing the case many assignments of error are made but none of them were sustained.

After discussing the various points assigned as error, the court today said: “However, the testimony as a whole and that of the state without doubt was amply sufficient to show that appellant was guilty of the crime for which she was convicted and that no other person than she killed the deceased.”

Judge Davidson dissented, but has not yet filed his dissenting opinion.

• ~ • ~ • ~ •

Mrs. Agnes Orner, convicted and given a life sentence in the penitentiary on the charge of murdering her daughter, Lillie, aged 11 years, will have to serve out the sentence. The court of criminal appeals, to which the case was carried by her attorneys following her conviction in the 34th district court, today affirmed the case and ended Mrs. Orner’s five year fight for liberty.

Mrs. Orner has 20 days in which to file a motion for the rehearing before the court of appeals. If this is denied, the sentence will then be executed. The court of criminal appeals is the court of last resort in a criminal case.

Mrs. Orner’s little daughter died on February 19, 1911, surrounded by mysterious circumstances, following a few months after the sudden death of Mrs. Orner’s husband. After investigation, Mrs. Orner was arrested and indicted. It was brought out at the trial that neighbors had heard Lillie say: “Marma, you know you killed papa.” [note: “Marma” in the original text]

~ First Trial Held Here. ~

Mrs. Orner’s first trial was held in El Paso and she was convicted and given a life sentence. The court of criminal appeals reversed the case because the jury found her “guilty of murder as charged in the indictment,” when it should have read verdict “guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the indictment.”

The defendant was then allowed a change of venue to Midland for a new trial, which resulted in a hung jury. From Midland the case went to Marfa for a third trial, with the same result. Pecos witnessed the fourth trial, and Van Horn the fifth, each in turn resulting in a hung jury. The sixth trial of the case came to El Paso and conviction resulted in a life sentence. It is this sentence which the court of criminal appeals today affirmed at Austin.

Mrs. Orner has been defended by funds raised by a Swedish society of Minneapolis, where she formerly lived. She was a trained nurse and a widow before coming to El Paso.

~ Married Third Time. ~

Following the death of Order, it developed at one of her trials, Mrs. Orner went to Los Angeles and was married in that city. She declared in her trial that she was not in her right mind at the time of the wedding and was inveigled into it under the influence of drugs.

Mrs. Orner in now in El Paso county jail, where she spends her time writing poetry and songs and doing fancy work. She has always stoutly protested the charge of poisoning her child and has several times fainted in court when details of the death of the child were being recounted. She was asserted that she was the victim of enemies in the prosecution.

The remains of her child and of her husband were both exhumed for examination of the viscera following her arrest, and poison was found in both bodies, according to the chemists who made the examinations.

Orner was a Pullman conductor between El Paso and Los Angeles at the time of his death, and carried insurance in the Maccabees.

[“Mrs. Orner Must Spend Life In Prison – Guilty Says Appelate Court – In Passing On Her Appeal, Judges Assert There Is No Doubt Of Her Guilt. – Tried Six Times, Convicted Twice – Was Accused Of Poisoning Daughter, Following Sudden Death of Husband.” El Paso Herald (Tx.), Jan. 5, 1916, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): Austin, Texas. Dec. 7. – A conditional pardon was granted today by acting governor Johnson to Mrs. Agnes Orner, of El Paso, convicted at El Paso in 1915 on the charge of murder by poison of her little daughter, Lillian, and given a life term in the penitentiary.

Conditions under which the pardon was granted are that Mrs. Orner leaves El Paso and does not go back there.

This is quite a noted case in that it had been tried six times. In the first trial, at El Paso. Mrs. Orner was given 99 years in the penitentiary, while four of the trials which were held at other places than El Paso, all resulted in hung juries.

~ Ten Years In Prison. ~

The last time the case was tried, in 1915, a life sentence was imposed. The crime for which Mrs. Orner was convicted occurred at El Paso In 1911 and before she reached the penitentiary she had served 5 years in jail and has also served virtually five years in the state penitentiary. In recommending the pardon, the board of pardons was divided. Judge William Knight dissented, while chairman Frita R. Smith, the other member, made a favorable recommendation on the ground that the woman was convicted on circumstantial evidence.

~ Has Tuberculosis. ~

Mrs. Orner was pardoned on the ground that she is suffering from tuberculosis.

The woman was tried first at El Paso in 1911, when J. M. Neslon was district attorney. When her conviction was reversed, she was granted a change of venue and was tried successively at Midland, Marfa, Pecos and Van Horn and then the case was brought back to El Paso, after the juries had failed to convict her in each of the other trials. W. W. Bridgers was district attorney the last time she was tried, and secured her conviction.

~ The Alleged Crimes. ~

On February 13[?], 1911, Lillie Cordovia Orner died suddenly. The mother, who lived at 608 North Ochoa street, was arrested on a charge of murder and after a preliminary hearing before Justice E. B. McClintock, remanded to jail without bond to await action of the grand jury.

On July 27, 1910, after an illness of six hours, the child’s father. Alfred F. Orner, Pullman conductor, died in the same manner. On August 9. 1910, Mrs. Orner was arrested on a charge of lunacy, but was acquitted three days later before a jury in probate court.

[“Mrs. Agnes Orner Pardoned After Serving Five Years For The Death Of Her Daughter,” El Paso Herald (Tx.), Dec. 7, 1920, p. 1]

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5 VICTIMS:

Mrs. John Hughes, died circa Mar. 1908
Baby; Globe, Arizona
Baby; Minneapolis, Minnesota
Lillie Cordovia Orner (11), died Feb. 18, 1911
Mr. Orner, husband, died Jul. 27, 1910

CHRONOLOGY

1908 – circa Mar., death of Mrs. John Hughes
1908 – Arrested for poisoning children; not tried; lack of evidence.
1909 – Jul. 27 – death of Mr. Orner, husband
1910 – Aug. 9 – arrested charge of lunacy, acquitted Aug. 12
1911 – Feb. 18 – death of daughter, Lillie Cordovia Orner (11)
1911 – Feb. 20 – arrested at cemetery during funeral for murder of Lillie
1911 – May 24 – 1st trial begins; El Paso, 25th District Court
1911 – May 27 – convicted, sentenced to 99 years (some sources say “life” sentence)
1911-12? (date?) – New trial awarded on appeal on error of not stabling degree of murder
1912 – Aug. 21; Sep. 19 – 2nd trial, Marfa, Texas
1912 – Dec. 4 – 3rd trial, Pecos, hung jury on Dec. 4
1913 – date? – 4th trial, Pecos
1913 – Oct. 6 – 5th trial starts, Van Horn
1913 – Oct. 12 – 5th trial ends, Van Horn; hung jury (8 acquit; 4 convict)
1915 – date? – 6th trial, El Paso, 25th District Court, begins.
1915 – Mar. 12 – 6th trial, El Paso, 25th District Court; convicted, sentenced to life
1916 – Jan. 5 – court of criminal appeals affirms sentence
1920 – conditional pardon; she is required to leave El Paso and never return

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