4 DEATHS attributed:
Jane Butterworth, Servant girl 13
Another Servant girl
Benjamin Branch - Elizabeth’s husband
Mrs. Branch – Elizabeth’s mother
Fifth death (?)
Elizabeth Branch is thought to have poisoned seven victims, two of whom survived. She served victims pudding laced with arsenic.
EXCERPT (Article 1 of 3): Elizabeth, aged 67, and her daughter Mary, 24, were both charged with the cruel murder of their maid, Jane Butterworth. A transcript of their trial, which took place at Taunton, Somerset, in March 1740, reported that:
It was obvious, judging by the suspicions of their neighbours, that both the accused had also committed other murders in the past. Mrs Branch’s husband died under circumstances that led others who lived nearby to believe she had poisoned him and they were convinced that she had hanged her mother, after murdering her, to avoid an investigation into the cause of the death. Human bones were also discovered in a well near her [Elizabeth’s] farm, which were believed to be those of one of her servant girls who disappeared and was never heard from again.
With such a reputation Mrs Branch found it difficult to get female staff in the locality and when she was in need of one she went further afield and brought Jane Butterfield from Bristol. The young girl was hardly in the house before the two women subjected her to a brutal regime, and eventually beat her so Elizabeth Branch and her Daughter Beating their Victim savagely that she died. The older woman had Jane’s corpse buried secretly in the graveyard and might have escaped blame, in spite of the complaint of her other maid, who had witnessed the murder and had been forced to lie next to her in bed, if a strange light had not been seen over the girl’s grave, by several persons. This unearthly manifestation confirmed the neighbours’ suspicions, and when the body was secretly removed at night, it was found by Mr Salmon, a surgeon, to be covered with wounds and other marks of violence.
When the case was first called, it was discovered that Mrs Branch had bribed some of the jurors, and there was some delay before they could be replaced. The trial lasted over six hours, and after a short consultation the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. It was noticed that Mrs Branch’s expression remained unchanged at their findings, but several times kicked Mary Vigor, one of the prosecution witnesses, as she stood by her at the bar while she was giving evidence. When sentence was passed the next day, the condemned elder woman complained bitterly to the court about the illegality of changing the jury, exclaiming that if she and her daughter had been tried by the first jury, they would not have been convicted.
[Geoffrey Abbott, Amazing Stories of Female Executions, 2006, Summersdale Publishers
(First published as Lipstick on the Noose’ in 2003), p. 33 ff. of 2006 edition]
EXCERPT (Article 2 of 3): Former servants and neighbours all gave evidence of the torture they inflicted on their servants, including a boy who was forced to eat his own excrement. In this case the medical report stated that Butterworth was whipped until the flesh on her fingers was stripped away and tendons were exposed. [University of Cambridge]
FROM Wikipedia (Article 3 of 3): Elizabeth Branch (1672–1740) – Elizabeth Parry was born either in Bristol or Norton St Philip in Somerset. Her father was a well-off ship's surgeon, from whom she received a £2,000 dowry upon her marriage to Benjamin Branch, a gentleman farmer. Elizabeth quickly gained a reputation for violence. She and her daughter, Betty Branch, would torture small animals, apparently taking inspiration from stories of Nero. They would often beat and humiliate their servants, especially after the death of Benjamin in 1730, so that soon no local persons were willing to serve them.
On 13 February 1740, as witnessed by Anne James, the dairymaid, Elizabeth sent her 13-year-old serving maid Jane Buttersworth on an errand to a nearby farm. On her return, Elizabeth and Betty, irate at how long she had taken, beat her for almost seven hours until she died. They buried her secretly, but enough suspicion was aroused that her body was exhumed and examined, whereupon the wounds were found. Elizabeth and Betty were tried for murder on March 31 at the Somerset assizes. The jury returned a guilty verdict without retiring to deliberate, and the two women were hanged at Ilchester on May 3.