Monday, September 19, 2011

Fanny Scovell ("Scofield"), 13-year-old Serial Killer: Oswego, New York - 1896

NOTE: Two murders, on separate occasions, are attributed to Fanny Scovell ("Scofield"). In our collection of female serial killer case, we ordinarily keep to victim count of three or more (including failed attempts), but in cases where the killer is so young it seems reasonable to make an exception. Cases of children who murder on more than one occasion are, it goes without saying, important sources worthy of study for those who wish to understand the crime of serial killing and the mentality, methods and motives of such killers.

Even local newspapers used three different spellings of the girl’s name: “Scofield,” “Schofield,” and “Scovell.” The texts below contain these original spellings. The Mexico Independent uses the spelling "Scovell," therefore this is presumed to be correct.


Jul. 1896 – child under care of Fanny dies.
Oct. 31, 1892 – Fern Field, 2, dies.
Nov. 13, 1892 – Fanny arrested.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Oswego, N.Y., November 14. – The police here have placed under arrest Fanny Scofield, thirteen years old, on suspicion of having poisoned two-year-old Fern Field, the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Field, who own a farm in the neighborhood of the village of Mexico, ten miles from Oswego. The arrested girl is the daughter of a farmer who lives some miles away from the Fields house, and has been in their employ for a year as serving maid. She stoutly denies her guilt.

When Mr. and Mrs. Field returned home and found their child screaming with pain and writhing in convulsions, they dispatched the helpers on the farm in all directions for medical help. The parents partially relieved the sufferings of the little one by hot baths, and managed to obtain a possible clue. The child said that she had asked Fanny Scofield for something to eat. Fanny gave her some milk, she said, and soon afterward he felt a pain in her stomach. The information was laid before Coroner Vowinkel, who sent for Dr. W. Maulins Smith, of Syracuse, to make an autopsy. Dr. Smith discovered traces of arsenic in the stomach, and it is believed that “Rough on Rats” was administered in the milk. The coroner issued a warrant for Fanny’s arrest, and she was taken to the county jail in Oswego last night.

There is a grave suspicion that the prisoner was guilty of poisoning another daughter of the Fields, who died, under similar circumstances, in July last. At that time no one thought anything but that death was due to natural causes, and no autopsy was made. The family now recall that the circumstances of the first death was identical with that of the last, and it has been determined to exhume the body and have an autopsy performed. There is great indignation manifested by the villagers and farmer folk at the suspicious deaths, and it is only due to the extreme youth and apparent ignorance of the prisoner that saves her from their wrath.

[“Arsenic In Their Milk. – A Thirteen-year-old Girl Charged With Poisoning Her Two Charges.” Baltimore American (Md.), Nov. 15, 1896, p. 11]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Saturday, Oct. 31, -- Little Fern, the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Field of this town, died after a brief illness.  There were such circumstances surrounding her death that it was doomed well to have a Coroner Vowinkel of Oswego investigate the affair and he came here the following Monday morning. Saturday, the child was as well as usual. About half past 1 in the afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Field left home. The little girl was asleep and in charge of Fanny Schofield, a girl thirteen years of age, who has been in the employ of the Fields for the past two years. About 3:30 [?] o’clock Mr. Field returned to his house to get his horse and wagon to take to the potato field. Just as he left the barn, little Fern, who was there with him, complained of being sick, and he told her to go to the house. She stopped twice on the way and he thought she vomited. He hurried to the field and told his wife that Fern was sick and she came to the house at once. The child grew no better and the father came here [to the town, Mexico, N.Y.) for medicine. This did not relieve her and he came after Dr. Huntington about nine o’clock. When the doctor arrived the child was in convulsions. Hot cloths and other remedies were used but the child died very soon after the doctor came. There were strong indications of poisoning and some of the mucous was gathered up by the doctor and Mrs. A. L. Sampson, which contained a grayish powder and excited their suspicions. This was shown to Coroner Vowinkel on Monday, who sent it to Dr. William Manlius Smith of Syracuse to be analysed. Dr. Smith reported he found arsenic in quantity sufficient to produce convulsion and death. Wednesday Coroner Vowinkel came here and with the assistance of Drs. Huntington and Radway, held a post mortem examination. The following jury was sworn in and an adjournment made until tomorrow [Thursday] morning, November 12th: George D. Babcock, Anson J. Hallock, Grove Halsey, J. S. Dawley, L. A. Whitney, Charles H. Everts, Rufus Dyke, Loren S. Tiffany, Herbert H. Dobson, Frank L. Rose, Alfred E. Davey.

Suspicion points to the girl, Fanny Schofield, who was alone with the child, and it is thought rough on rats was the cause of the child’s death, every symptom indicating mineral poisoning. Should the examination of Dr. Smith result in finding traces of arsenic in the organs sent to him, the body of the child which died last July will be disinterred and search for arsenic made, as that child died in much the same manner as little Fern. There is no little excitement over the affair and Mr. and Mrs. Field have the deepest sympathy of all.

There was rough on rats in the house in several places, but in every case was out of the child’s touch. The girl says that Fern woke from her nap about half past two, said she was hungry and she gave her some beef soup with bread in it. Coroner Vorwinkel questioned the Schofield girl, but nothing can be learned as to how the child got the poison.

[Note: The original article uses the form “little Fern,” the proper name, rather than “Little Fern,” including in its opening words. A correction have been made: “quanty” in original has been altered to “quantity.”]

[“A Suspicion of Poisoning. – Coroner Vowinkel Investigating The Death of Fern Field,” Mexico Independent (Mexico, N. Y.), November 1?, 1896, p. ?]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): The death of little two-year-old Fern Field, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Field, of the Town of Mexico, commences to look at if murder had been committed and that little thirteen year old Fanny Schofield, the servant girl, who had charge of the child Sunday afternoon when she was taken sick, will be named as the defendant.

Yesterday Coroner Vowinkel took a quantity of the substance ejected from the stomach of the child while sick, to Dr. William Manlius Smith, chemist, at Syracuse. Dr. Smith made a test and found that the substance was nearly pure arsenic

This morning Coroner Vowinkel went to the village of Mexico and disinterred the remains of the child and with the assistance of Drs. Huntington and Radway held a post mortem examination. The heart, lungs, kidneys and liver were taken out and placed in glass cans.

The following jury was sworn in and an adjournment taken until Thursday morning, November 12: George D. Babcook. Anson J . Hallock, Grove Halsey, J . S. Dawley, L. A. Whitney, Charles H. Everts, Rufus Dyke, Loren S. Tiffany, Herbert H. Dobson, Frank F. Rose, Alfred E. Davey.

Coroner Vowinkel left for Syracuse with the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver to deliver the same to Dr. Smith, who will subject them to the test for arsenical poisoning. Should poison be found the thirteen months old baby, which died last July, will also be disinterred and an examination for arsenic made. Fanny Schofield, although not under arrest is being carefully watched. This morning while at Mexico Coroner Vowinkel held a half hour's talk with her in which he used every means in his power to endeavor to get her to tell what she knew about the poisoning.

But his efforts were of no avail. The girl claimed she was in ignorance of how the child had received the arsenic and could not be trapped into making an admission of any kind. The case is exciting no little interest in the town of Mexico, the people being not a little exercised over the matter.

The inquest will be at Mexico.

[“It Looks Like Murder. - Chemist Smith Finds Large Amounts Op Arsenic – The Remains of Little Fern Field Taken Up and a Fort Mortem Hold – Heart, Lungs, Liver and Kidneys to Be Examined for Arsenic – Fanny Scofield, the Servant Girl, Closely Watched – Inquest Adjourned.” Oswego Daily Times (N. Y.), Nov. 4, 1896, p. 4]



FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): Mexico, Nov. 27. – The inquest on the death of little Fern Field who died of poison two miles from the village of Mexico on October 31st and for which Fanny Scovell [sic], the thirteen year old servant girl, is now confined in the county jail under the suspicion of having administered the poison, was held at the office of W. M. Richardson in this village to-day. Considerable interest is felt here in the case and the office of the justice of peace was crowded to its utmost capacity, while many were turned away.

The first witness sworn was Dr. J . W. Huntington who attended the child and assisted Coroner Vowinkel in performing the post mortem examination. He told of the autopsy and how the skull was removed and the brain found congested. The lungs were normal; heart, with the exception of one or two spots, was normal; liver was normal; stomach contained about six ounces of fluid and appeared as if irritated, a line of discoloration running along the border; inside the stomach was found in the same condition; the bladder had nothing in it; spleen and kidneys were normal; was called to the Field house October 3lst; arrived about 8:30 p. m, asked the father what had made the child sick; he said nothing unless it was that she had fallen down stairs the night before; he examined the child and found her in a cold sweat; there was no pulse and he gave her some brandy and spirits of ammonia but the child died ten or fifteen minutes after he arrived; told of preserving small quantities of the vomit having examined it and became convinced that it contained rat poison. Fanny Scovell, the servant girl, told me she had burned the johnny cake which had been sprinkled with rat poison. Symptoms of poisoning would have developed from one half an hour to two hours. The spots on the heart I would not expect to see from any other cause.

Dr. C. W. Radway was the next witness. He assisted at the autopsy and his testimony was the same Dr. Huntington’s.

Dr. William Manilas Smith of Syracuse, the chemist who made the examination of the vital organs of the deceased child, said he had analyzed the portions brought to him by the coroner and had found arsenic amounting to .67 of a grain. There was arsenic in the liver. Arsenic was also found in the stomach.

Mrs. Ella Field, mother of little Fern Field, was next called. She is a woman about forty years old and seemed visibly affected by the inquest, and gave the details of the sickness of the child; her little daughter was as well as usual in the morning. At dinner Fern had bread and soup in a tin basin and a piece of pumpkin pie. That was all. Fern was then put to sleep and the witness went into the field with her husband. The husband went to the house about 3:30 o’clock. Fern complained of pains in the stomach and vomited three times before she got to the house, having met her father outside; when she arrived at the he use Mr. Field was holding Fern by the stove. The witness took her daughter, who commenced vomiting again; Fannie said Fern had been drinking a lot of water; Fanny said when Fern awoke she ate some of the soup left at noon which was in the tin dish; the medicine brought from the doctor had no effect; we had in the house a box of “Rough on Rats,” purchased last May; a portion of it had  been mixed with johnny cake, and divided upon six dishes and placed on different shelves where it was impossible for Fern to reach them with the help of a chair. Mrs. Drake had the box and returned it to me in August. I handed it to Fanny and she put it away in the cupboard; the soup which was left at dinner was put in the well room on a table; a shelf was over the end of the table; there was a cup with fly poison in it on the shelf; the johnny cake in the well room was destroyed in June last and I know the dishes were not thrown out on the ground; none of the rest of the family was sick that day; there were not over two tablespoons of soup left in the dish; there was nothing in the well room on which Fern could have climbed to the table and reached the shelf; the child which died in July last was eleven months old and the symptoms of its last sickness were the same as those of Fern’s.

Albert Field, father of the child, testified that about a week before her death Fern had a severe vomiting spell and was quite sick; told of Fern’s last sickness as described by the mother; he understood that Fern had vomited this same gray stuff (as found by the doctor and examined by Chemist Smith and which proved to be arsenic) before; never had any impression that Fanny disliked the child; never had any trouble with Fanny; there was no poison in the house except “Rough on Rats.” Dr. Hamilton said, so the father testified, that an examination of the vomit would make the family feel bad and “Rough on Rats” might be found.

Benjamin D. Davis, Mrs. Field’s father, testified that he never saw Fanny unkind to the children or anything that would indicate that the wanted them out of the way, but on the contrary she was kind and considerate. He knew of chickens about the place which had died.

When recalled, Mrs. Field, the mother, said very anxious wash basin that Fanny seemed to wash out the in which the vomit was before the doctor arrived and that she stopped her from doing so. Mrs. Grace Spoor and Mrs. Rose had told her that Fanny had said she was sorry that she hadn’t washed it. Outside the house the mother bad found, on a stone, gray matter similar to that vomited by Fern. Up to the time the doctor called the mother had no suspicion that Fern had died of poison; knew of no reason why Fanny should want to poison the child; had seen her throw Fern down two or three times about a week before she died; while Fern was lying in the house dead Fanny appeared very cheerful and happy; Fanny carried bottles containing a white substance around with her; when asked what the bottles contained she would reply “I don’t know.”

Mrs. Marilla Rose, who liven at Texas, seven miles from the Field home, testified to arriving at the house before Fern died; talked with Fanny who told about Fern’s sickness; the next morning Fanny called at the well house and said: “Mrs. Rose, how did Fern get rough on rats, and did it cause the blood to come Fanny told the witness that the poison was placed where Fern could not reach it. On the Wednesday morning when the coroner came, the witness said, Dannie exclaimed: “I think it would be better for Aunt Ella if an examination is not made. I wish I had got hold of that wash bowl.” Fanny also said: “Mrs. Rose, this is not the first time Fern has vomited up gray stuff.” The only thing the witness saw to make her suspicious of Fanny was her nervousness. This witness also noticed Fanny was happy during the time the child lay dead in the house.

Mrs. Ellen Drake told of Fanny’s loaning to her the box of Rough-on-Rats to kill rats which were destroying her chickens, and of returning it to Mrs. Field in August, who gave it to Fanny to put away.

Miss Grace Spoor, who resides about a mile from the Field residence, said she was present the night Fern died; the next morning and appeared elated when the coroner told her he would find some other reason for Fern’s death than that poison had been administered.

Miss Ella A. Carlton was the last witness sworn. She lives directly across the road from the Field home and was present when Fern died; Fanny overheard the doctor tell Mr. Field that Fern would not recover and when she told me she seemed highly pleased about it; Fanny told the witness that she did not want the vomit analyzed because the family would feel bad about it; when the doctor mentioned that Fern had died from rat poison Fanny spoke up and said: “I didn’t give it to her.” Fanny wanted to clean the dishes the vomit had been put in but could not find them; this made me somewhat suspicious. The inquest was adjourned until 10:30 o’clock Saturday morning, December 5th.

[“The Field Inquest – The Session of the Coroner’s Jury At Mexico Yesterday. – Examination of Witnesses – What the Physicians Testified to – Dr. William Manlius Smith Testified to His Analysis of the Portions of the Body Given Him by the Coroner. Mrs. Field’s Testimony – The Inquest Adjourned Till Saturday, December 5.” Oswego Daily Times (N.Y.), Nov. 28, 1896, p. 6]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6): Coroner Vowinkel is at Mexico today holding the inquest on the death of little Fern Field, the two-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Field, who reside two miles from the village of Mexico, and whose death, which occurred over a month ago, was under circumstances which warranted the coroner swearing out a warrant and confining little thirteen-year-old Fannie Scovell, the nurse girl, in the county jail under suspicion of having administered the poison which caused the death of the child. The case is one which has caused no little comment in the town of Mexico, especially in the village, where all parties, the parents and nurse girl, are well known. The reason for this is that the eleven months old baby of Mr. and Mrs. Field, who was also under the nurse girl’s charge, died under suspicious circumstances last June.

Fanny Scovell, as described in these columns before, is very pretty in face and does not look like a person capable of performing such a heinous crime as the one she is suspected of. She is a daughter of Mrs. Edward Barker, who resides with her husband in the town of Boylston. Ever since she was a very small girl she has worked out. She came to the Fern family about one year ago. She always appeared willing to work and was especially fond of children. In June last the baby was taken sick and died in convulsions a few hours afterwards. At the time nothing unusual was thought, the parents being of the opinion that it was some infant trouble peculiar to children of tender years. But a month ago when the older child, little Fern, was attacked similarly, the suspicion of the parents was aroused and Dr. Huntington was called in. He saw the condition of the child and immediately cams to the conclusion that death had been caused by arsenical poison. Coroner Vowinkel was telegraphed to and going to the place prepared to make an examination and hold an inquest. A post mortem examination was held and the vital organs and stomach taken to Dr. William Manlius Smith of Syracuse, who submitted them to a chemical analysis and found large quantities of arsenic. Then the nurse girl was arrested and looked up in the county jail at this city. Yesterday Coroner Vowinkel went to Mexico and made measurements of the lower rooms of the house and located the shelves on which rat poison was placed by the family and from which it is claimed, by friends of the nurse girl, the child secured the poison. The coroner found that there were five shelves on which poison had been placed, but they were from four and one-half feet to six feet from the floor and impossible for the child to reach up to.

The following diagram shows the ground plan of the house and the shelves on which the poison was placed:


MEXICO, Nov. 27—8:00 p. m.— The inquest is being held at W. M. Richardson’s office. There is a large crowd present. District Attorney Bartlett is in attendance. The witnesses are being closely questioned by Coroner Vowinkel, Drs. Huntington and Radway were sworn in regard to making the autopsy. Chemist Smith testified to making a chemical analysis and found arsenic in the different organs of the body, also a large quantity in the vomited matter.

Mrs. Field testified that the child was perfectly healthy on the day of death up to time she was taken sick and died in about five hours after taken sick. She said it was impossible for the child to get at the “Rough on Rats,” in the places where it was placed. The inquest still going on. The inquest still going on. C. M.

[C. M., “Searching For Truth. – Coroner’s Jury Investigating Fern Child’s Death. - Coroner Vowinkel Opens the Inquest This Morning - Secured Important Evidence and Witnesses On His Visit to Mexico Wednesday - The Rat Poison Placed on Shelves Out of the Child’s Reach.” Oswego Daily Times (N. Y.), Nov. 27, 1896, p. 4]


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): On Saturday last the evidence in the Fern Field inquest was read and the case was submitted to the jury.

Mrs. Field was recalled but no further evidence of importance was given. Mr. A. L. Sampson was sworn and corroborated Dr. Huntington’s testimony.

Fanny Scovell was asked some questions by the coroner, but her counsel advised her not to answer any questions.

The jury, after retiring a short time, brought in the following verdict:

That the deceased, Fern Field [...] to her death as the result of an overdose of arsenic which was taken in the form of rough on rats.

That said poison was taken or received into the system in a manner known to this jury.

We further a death occurred in the town of Mexico on the 31st day of October, 1896.

Mr. and Mrs. Field, parents of the dead child, request that the body of the infant who died last June should be exhumed that they may know if its death were caused by poison

Coroner Vowinkel says that the law implies and he feels in duty bound to exhume the body of the infant who died last June and ascertain, if possible, the cause of its death. The coroner is expected to be here to day for that purpose. An intense feeling is exhibited in this matter and opinions of various kinds are expressed and sympathy is expressed for all the parties.

Fanny Scovell was liberated on Monday and sent to the home of Arthur Howard at Port Ontario, where she has lived before, who has agreed to take her into his family and care for.

[“Verdict in the Fern Field Case.” Mexico Independent (N. Y. ), Dec. 9, 1896, p. (2?)]


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