FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Daytona, O., Oct. 14. – Mrs. Mary Belle Witwer, who has been held as a suspected wholesale poisoner, was arraigned in police court this afternoon on the charge of murder in the first degree.
The affidavit was sworn to this morning by Chief Detective Frank McBride, and it is charged that she did willfully, purposely, and by means of poison, kill and murder Anna C. Pugh by them and there knowingly, purposely, and unlawfully administering a large quantity of poison, arsenic. When arraigned before Police Judge Snelker, Mrs. Witwer entered a plea of not guilty.
The hearing was set for 9 o’clock Friday morning. Before then Professor Howard of Columbus will have reported in his examination of the remains of two alleged victims of Mrs. Witwer – Mrs. Anna C. Pugh and Frank D. Witwer.
~ Meets the Challenge Calmly. ~
Mrs. Witwer displayed little sign of emotion in court. The prisoner was told today of the Middletown report that she had been married five times instead of four, and that had deserted her after a brief time, taking $400 of her money. She denied the story. There has been little found by the police in their investigations.
The affidavit was filed today upon instructions from Coroner Hatcher and Chief of Police Whitaker, who, it is understood, had arranged with her attorney to either take this action or to release her.
Mrs. Witwer is seen by no one now except her attorney and the detectives. She declines all interviews.
~ Suspected of Causing Eighteen Deaths. ~
Although Mrs. Mary Belle Witwer is suspected of poisoning not fewer than eighteen persons – men, women, and children – among them four of her husbands, there is not at this
The analysis of telltale organs of two of the dead will be concluded within a few days, and then, if no poison is found, the woman must be set free. If these persons did not die of poison is found, then beyond all doubt all of the others died natural deaths.
~ Her Story of Her Career. ~
In Mrs. Witwer’s own recital of the facts of her career she has told of the deaths of seventeen persons with whom she came in contact, has acknowledged to four husbands, all dead. According to investigation, she had still another husband, who left her a few days after the marriage ceremony and is still alive. She also lived with a person not set down in her story, who also died suddenly.
Mrs. Stowe became the housekeeper for Witwer, and was married to him on March 10 last. On July 4 Witwer was a corpse, having succumbed to acute stomach trouble.
At the time of the illness of Witwer the doctor was puzzled over the strange actions of his patient. He would apparently grow better than worse. The afternoon of the night her died Witwer was seemingly so much improved that his physician expressed the belief that he would get well to Mrs. Witwer. When summoned again that night the suffering man in convulsions and passed away in terrible agony.
A grewsome incident that the investigation has brought out is that when her husband, William Stowe, died in Middletown Mrs. Witwer held the light for the doctor who made the autopsy, and she performed the same service for Dr. Broidenbach when he performed the autopsy on Witwer.
[“Mrs. Witwer Now Held For Murder – Arraigned in Dayton, O., on Charge of Killing Anna G. Pugh With Poison. – Other Crimes Suspected – Death of Seventeen Persons to Be Laid to Her if Present Case is Proven. – Woman’s Strange Career.” Chicago Tribune (Il.), Oct. 15, 1901, part 2, p. 1]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Hitherto the city of Dayton has been famous for its soldiers’ home, but now it figures in the newspapers as the home of Mrs. Mary Belle Witwer, who, if half the allegations made against her by professional and amateur sleuths are true, is the life destroyer par excellence of the beginning of the twentieth century, although some of the crimes she is said to have committed must be charged up to the nineteenth.
Mrs. Witwer has just had a hearing, preliminary in character, before the police court on the charge of having poisoned her sister, Mrs. Anna C. Pugh. A number of expert chemists testified in the case, and were emphatic in their statements that arsenic had been found in the stomach of the dead woman. On the strength of this testimony Mrs. Witwer was bound over to the court of common pleas, without bond, to answer to the charge of murder in the first degree. The accused maintained her composure when informed of the police magistrate’s decision and displayed a stoicism which amazed the authorities and confounded her attorneys. Many attempts have been made to entrap the prisoner, but they failed miserably, and it is quite apparent that she will make a good defense when her case is brought to trial before the court of record.
One fact must not be forgotten by those who are inclined to discuss this cause celebre. The evidence against Mrs. Witwer is purely circumstantial.
She is now, of course, charged directly with the murder of Mrs. Pugh, who was a professional nurse and lived with Mrs. Witwer, at No. 35 Liberty street, Dayton. Mrs. Witwer lost four husbands, and all died rather suddenly and under peculiar circumstances. In the wholesale charges informally made by police officials she has been accused of having caused the death of all, in addition to those of several children making a total of 14 deaths.
There is, however, no expectation that more than one crime can be fastened upon the prisoner; and even that is extremely doubtful, unless the authorities can produce much stronger testimony at the coming trial in the criminal court than they furnished before the police tribunal. Should the prosecuting attorney succeed in proving the woman’s guilt in the Pugh case, other charges may be taken up, but to the unbiased observer it seems as though the story of 14 mysterious murders will very likely evaporate in thin air. Moreover, even the most relentless pursuers of the defendant are unable to associate any evidence with the charges informally made.
A short outline of the Pugh case is necessary to understand the present position of Mrs. Witwer. Mrs. Pugh was ill not more than 48 hours and suffered great anguish. Prior to her death she summoned a lawyer and dictated the terms of her will. Mrs. Witwer was called in the room several times to refresh the patient’s memory for names and address of legatees. She herself was a beneficiary only upon the death of her mother, Mrs. Mary- Richmond, of Addison, Mich. Just as the lawyer handed Mrs. Pugh a pen with which to sign the document she sank back dead. Her estate, supposed to have been worth $4,000, has been reduced to $2,500, of which $500 is in personal property and $2,000 in real estate – a small farm near Franklin, O. Two applications for the administration of the estate have been made, one by an attorney, at the suggestion of the Witwer family, and the other by Mr. Nevis, on recommendation of the prisoner. The latter is an inconsequential beneficiary. Mrs. Richmond is more than 80 years old.
At her death the estate is to be distributed among Mrs. Lizzie Brown and Mrs. Witwer, of Dayton, O.; Nannie Parashot, of New York; Frank Richmond, of Addison, Mich., and John Richmond, of Nashville, Tenn.
Mrs. Witwer makes the assertion that her mother bought poison to kill rats which were eating potatoes, but Mrs. Richmond denies the charge. While the police were unable to find potatoes in the cellar when they made their first investigation, they made another search and discovered some sweet potatoes near a rat hole. These potatoes appeared to have been bitten by human teeth rather than by rats, and by the police Mrs. Witwer was at once given credit for the act in the hope that she might thereby deceive the detectives.
If looks count for anything, the average observer would certainly not connect the accused with any crime whatsoever. She is what women call a “good dresser,” and does not look her age – 47. Her hair is slightly tinged with gray and she has the bearing of a woman of intelligence and refinement. In Dayton church circles she has long been well and favorably known, having since her residence in the city been a member of the Hartford street and Riverdale United Brethren congregations. She has been an active member, taking a lively interest in home and foreign mission, and other church affairs. While all of her friends are loathe to believe the charges against her, yet none of them came to her aid after she had been formally accused, and it devolved upon her neighbors to take an interest in her case, or she would probably have been unrepresented at her preliminary trial.
Mrs. Witwer’s marital history certainly is unique. Frank D. Witwer was the last of her husbands who died suddenly. She was married to him last March, and on July 4 he died. Like all her husbands, he had stomach trouble a short time before his death. He was taken violently ill some time after eating a luncheon which, according to the sleuths, his wife sent to him. Mrs. Witwer’s first husband was Frederick Sweinger, who died near Nashville, Tenn., in 1877, supposedly from smallpox. The second husband was Frank Brown, of Middletown, O., with whom she lived for several years. Soon after his death she married William Stowe, in Middletown, and his death was strange and startling. Mrs. Witwer admits that he died from morphine poisoning, but says a clergyman administered the fatal dose.
John Williams, her next matrimonial venture, deserted her two days after the wedding. She then came to Dayton and served as housekeeper for John E. Wenz, who died from poisoning and a complication of diseases. While in the woods he was poisoned by ivy, but there is a suspicion that poison was given to him while in bed, as several physicians were unable to diagnose the ease. Mrs. Witwer also acted as housekeeper for Mr. and Mrs. John Gabler, and both died apparently from heart trouble within the few months she was in their employ. George D. Keller, who resided in the east end of Dayton, died apparently from cerebral meningitis, though his case puzzled two doctors, and it is asserted that he was one of Mrs. Witwer’s victims. In Middletown, the police allege to have found a woman who was intimate with the prisoner and who pays that, while discussing their husbands one day, Mrs. Witwer remarked that to get rid of hers “she would poison him.”
There is no doubt that the police officials who have had charge of the case against Mrs. Witwer have been honest and governed by the best of motives, yet the impression prevails here that they have gone out of their way to create a sensation. The woman may be guilty of the crime for which she is soon to be tried, but the rumors upon which her notoriety as an American Lucretia Borgia has been established are rather flimsy and hardly susceptible of being introduced as testimony in a criminal court. Every town that has a little local excitement nowadays has the ambition of making it a national episode, and the peace officers of Dayton, swayed by this craze, would, some think, like to surprise the world by weaving a web in which the most cruel murderess of the age is to be caught.
And while all this has been going on Mrs. Witwer has kept up an indifferent attitude and asserted her innocence in terms forcible and logical. – Franklin B. Betts
[Franklin B. Betts, “Faces Fate Boldly. - Mrs. Mary Belle Witwer, Ohio’s Alleged Wholesale Poisoner. – Held to the Grand Jury After as Examination is Police Court.- Evidence Against Her Purely Circumstantial.” The Richmond Planet (Va.), Jan. 11, 1902, p. 3]
FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): A few weeks ago Mary Belle Witwer of Dayton, Ohio, was arrested upon suspicion of poisoning her sister, and is now held for trial. Since her nearest neighbors and acquaintances of the woman have reported the sudden death of twelve persons who have been associated with her, including three husbands, five persons in whose families she had served as housekeeper, and four children. It is due to Mrs. Witwer, however, to say that she stoutly protests her innocence.
Close upon the heels of the Witwer case follows the arraignment of Jane Toppan at Barnstable, Mass., a professional nurse, upon the charge of murdering Mary D. Gibbs, suspicions also resting upon her of murdering Mrs. Gordon, sister of Mrs. Gibbs, and Mr. and Mrs. A. P. Davis, their father and mother, all of whom had been attended by Jane Toppan in the capacity of nurse. She is also suspected of the murder of three other persons. The evidence in this case seems stronger than that against Mrs. Witwer. The accused woman shortly after their decease attempted to commit suicide.
There is an apparent lack of motive in the first case. Mrs. Witwer does not seem to have profited in any way by the numerous deaths of which some think she may have been the cause, nor does there appear to be any special reason way she should have removed people in such a wholesale manner. Miss Toppan had been employed as nurse in the Davis family for years, and in the Brigham family, three members of which died suddenly, she was regarded almost as a daughter. It is said that she owed Mr. Davis money and that some money which was on the person of one of the women she nursed could not be found after her death. If money was her motive her crimes got for her only about $1,200.
It Is not safe yet to assume that either woman is guilty. If their guilt shall be established, and if it shall appear also that Miss Toppan did not benefit in a pecuniary way by the deaths laid at her door, it will have to be assumed that both these, women had an abnormal love of killing, induced by that same species of insanity which inspired Nero and Lucrezia Borgia in their alleged butcheries.
[“Alleged Poisoning. - The Cases of Mary Belle Witwer and Jane Topnan [sic].” Yjr Morning Sun News-Herald (Io.), Nov. 14, 1901, p. 3]
FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): Dayton, O., Jan. 27 – The grand jury, because of lack of evidence, yesterday ignored the case of Mrs. Mary Witwer, who was charged with poisoning of her sister, Mrs. Pugh. The case attracted considerable attention last fall [due to the] deaths of a number of persons were because of the allegation that [they were] caused by Mrs. Witwer who had acted as a nurse. She will go to her home in Michigan.
[“Drop Dayton Poison Charges. – Grand Jury in Ohio City Ignores Case of Mrs. Witwer, Accused of Killing Patients.” Davenport Daily Leader (Io.), Jan. 22, 1902, p. 1; missing words in the original have been instated]
18 suspected victims, including:
Anna C. Pugh, sister (case leading to investigation);
Frank D. Witwer, fourth husband, married Mar. 10, 1901; died Jul. 4, 1901
Frederick Sweinger, first husband, died 1877
Frank Brown, second husband
William Stowe, third husband
Albert D. Wenz
John E. Wenz
Albert Wenz, child
Mr. and Mrs. John Gabler
George D. Keller
Patients in her capacity as nurse, including Mrs. Mary Richmond (over 80)
Disposition of case: Jan. 22, 1902, Grand Jury refuses to return true bill