Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mary Runkle, New York State Suspected Serial Killer, Hanged in 1847


5 suspected victims:

1831 – peddler ("pedlar")
1831 – Mary Margaret Runkle, age 6, drowned
1831 – Cornelius Runkle, age 3,  drowned
Year? (between 1831-1847) – son (age?)
1847? – John Runkle, husband

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EXCERPTS: The life of Mary Runkle was filled with malfeasance and ended with her neck snapped at the end of the executioner’s rope. Mary’s life of crime had started with a charge of stealing seat cushions from a church in  until a few murder charges were put forth: drowning one of her children in a tub that had two inches of water in it; killing a peddler who came to her house; poisoning her son, whom she claimed had the measles. But the last murder charge was the one that carried her to her maker: the strangling and beating death of her husband. . . . Mary’s eleven-year-old daughter testified that her mother made her hold her father’s legs down while she clasped her hands over the man’s throat until froth came from his mouth.

[Dennis Webster, Wicked Mohawk Valley, History Press, 2012, p. 19]

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FULL TEXT: Mrs. Mary Runkle was born in the town of Root, Montgomery Co., N. Y., and at the time of her execution was about fifty years of age. She was married to her late husband in her native town, and says she became jealous of him about a year after marriage, since which time a continual series of difficulties have occurred between them.

She acknowledges that she obtained goods upon a forged order, about ten years after her marriage, and says that it was her first crime.

Not long afterward a pedlar passed through the section where she resided, and sold goods on a credit of four or five weeks. Not appearing at the expiration of that time to make his collection, suspicions were aroused, and as a result of enquiry, the pedlar was traced as far back as the house of Mr. Runkle, but no further trace of him could be obtained.

Her children, when spoken to about new dresses, said that their mother had plenty of such cloth, and having repeated the remark in their mother’s presence, were soon after found drowned in a tub of water – the depth being but a few inches. It is generally believed that she murdered the pedlar, and afterwards her own children, to prevent detection. This she denies.

One of the offences she acknowledges, is the robbing of a church in Fulton, of its cushions, &c. She was arrested, but evaded the law by a settlement. She has also been charged with poisoning her son, who, she says, died of the measles.

The circumstances of the husband’s death are yet fresh in the memory of our readers. He was found dead in the morning, when the neighbors were called, with bruises upon him, which afforded sufficient evidence of her guilt in the mind of the Court. She acknowledges a quarrel between them, but charges the blame upon him, and avers that she did not intend to murder him, but did so in defending herself from assault. She gives the following version of the affair.

“The general health of my husband was not good; on or about the 20 of August, he procured four vials of medicine, and one fourth gallon of brandy; a portion of the brandy he applied externally. At ten time, he became furiously mad, venting his feelings upon me. I tried to quieten him, but all to no purpose; after tea, in his continued rage, he caught hold of my hair and pulled me over on the floor, continuing to kick and strike me, until I thought he would kill me. at length I got free from him, suggesting that I would call for assistance, he declaring that if I did he would break my neck. At the proper hour he prepared to retire for the night, calling for some milk which was promptly furnished.

Within a very short time he took twice of the medicine, complaining that the milk was sour, he then took a large drink of brandy, and lay down, soon calling for the wash, which he applied to his neck. I found myself in much distress from the bruises inflicted on me. while engaged in bathing my bruises he frequently called upon me to come to bed.

Near eleven or twelve o’clock, he called me up to get some drink. At his request I lay down with him; the first thing I was sensible of, I found him on my stomach, clinching me by my throat. A desperate fight ensued between us; I made every effort in my power to defend myself; while the struggle lasted, I struck him with such force that he fell over a chair. He beat me with such violence that I bled profusely at the nose.

After the fight was over, I helped him up and he sat down, calling for a dry shirt. There was a dry shirt hanging near him, which he procured himself, and partly put on. I then helped him to put on the other sleeve, after which he expressed a wish to lay down, as he was tired; he accordingly did so. I then lay down with him, soon after which I heard him make a strange noise. I immediately arose and procured a light, when, discovering froth on his lips, I directed by daughter to call in the neighbors, it being then almost daylight.

I did not for one moment suppose that I should be suspected of the crime of murder, as I had no intention of terminating his existence. The representation that I made at the time, though not in strict consonance with my present statement, was prompted by no other motive, that that of suppressing his conduct from public gaze.”

A relation of the criminal, was present, to take charge of her body for her friends, who are said to be respectable.

~ THE EXECUTION. ~

Mrs. Mary Runkle was executed at the jail in Whitesboro. The gallows was erected in the room over the Jailor’s office and consisted of a strong lever about fourteen feet in length the long arm of which eight feet in length, was held by a cord, being attached to it.

To the short arm was attached the hanging, which was extended down through the floor into the jailors office, the noose being attached to it.

During the day, up to the time of her execution, she lay almost motionless upon her bed, her eyes half closed, and her right hand resting upon the bed-clothes on her busom. Her fingers only moved slowly as if she was engaged in deep and unhappy thought. She spoke only whispers, and assisted some in dressing herself for the event.

She said she was prepared for death, having made peace with her Maker.

At two minutes past twelve o’clock she was carried down to the room assigned for the execution, and placed in the chair under the spot where the cord was passed down.

Having been placed in this position, the jailor seated beside her, she rested her head upon his shoulder, while a feeling and appropriate prayer was made.

The sheriff then asked her,

“Mary Runkle, have you any word to say to this jury, to these people.”

To which she gave no answer.

The bell rang the cord was cut, and she was launched into eternity! Not a word, not a motion, but a very little heaving of the chest.

After hanging twenty minutes, her body was cut down, and delivered to her friends.

Thus closed the earthly fate of Mary Runkle.

[“Confession of Mary Runkle, Who Was Hung for Murder,” from: Life and confession of Ann Walters, the female murderess! : also the execution of Enos G. Dudley, at Haverhill, N.H., May 23rd, 1849 : to which is added the confession of Mary Runkle, who was executed for murder. Skinner’s Publication Room, Boston, Printed for the Proprietor, 1850. 32 pp.; (Runkle case: pp. 30-32).; possibly reprinted from Oneida Morning Herald, 1847]

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FULL TEXT: After the trial, conviction and sentence of this unhappy and doubtless guilty woman we noticed her case and took occasion to remark that we should not be among those who would petition for her pardon the Governor for her pardon, and that we believed, if any one deserved hanging she did. While the law of capital punishment exists it should be carried out; but we think the law is wrong, for the reasons we then started, and ought to be abolished; and we believe it will be ere long in this and most of the States in the Union. Had not the fear of man more than the fear of God, and a time serving spirit operated on many of the members of the present Legislature of [illegible passage] themselves opposed to capital punishment, that bloody law would ere this day have been blotted out from our statute book, and a more just and salutary and restraining law substituted in its place. Well, let not the opponents of Capital Punishment despair, not give up the object of their pursuit till it is attained; it will; it must be attained ere long.

Mrs. Runkle was executed at the jail in Whitesboro in this county, about four miles from this city, agreeably to the sentence pronounced upon her by his Hon. Judge Gridley, a little past 12 o’clock, on the 9th of November, in the presence of twelve jurymen chosen by the County Sheriff, as witnesses. She is said to have been very respectably connected, or related  to worthy families, in Montgomery co. One of her relatives was present from that county and took charge of her body after the execution. The following account of her life and execution. The following account of her life and execution is somewhat abridged from the Oneida Morning Herald.

Mrs. Mary Runkle was born in the town of Root, Montgomery county, N. Y., and is at this time about 50 years of age. She was married to her late husband in her native town, and states that she became jealous of him about a year after marriage since which time a continual series of difficulties have occurred between them.

She acknowledges that she obtained goods upon a forged order, about ten years after her marriage, and says it was her first crime.

Not long afterwards, a pedlar [sic] passed through the section where she resided, and sold goods on a credit of four or five weeks. Not appearing at the expiration of that time to make his collections, suspicions were aroused; and as the result of inquiry the pedlar was tracked as far as the house of Mr. Runkle, but no farther trace of him could be obtained.

Her children having been at school, when spoken to about their new dresses, stated that her mother had plenty of such cloth, and having repeated that remark to the school teacher, in their mother’s presence, were soon after found drowned in a tub of briny water – the depth being but a few inches. It is generally believed that she murdered the pedlar, and afterwards her own children, to prevent detection. This she denies.

One of the offences she acknowledges, is the robbing of a church in Fulton, of its cushions, &c. She was arrested, but evaded the law by settlement. She has also been charged with poisoning her son, who, she says, died pof the measles.

Various offences have been charged against her, of which she may or may not have been guilty. It is certain that she was a depraved and high tempered woman, and if innocent of the crime for which her life has the day been forfeited, her previous conduct had been such as to confirm suspicion, and remove doubts of her guilt from the public mind generally.

Since that time, she has been convicted of several offences, in some of which she acknowledges her guilt, but denies it in others, and has been arrested and tried on some of which she is supposed to be guilty.

The circumstance of her husband’s death are yet fresh in the memory of our readers. He was found dead is the morning, when the neighbors were called, with bruises upon him which have afforded sufficient evidence of her guilt in the minds of the Court before which she had her trial. She acknowledges a quarrel between them, but charges the blame on him, but did so in defending herself from his assaults. She obliged her daughter, (a girl but 11 years of age,) to become either the unwilling accessory or the affrighted witness of the affray.

It is generally supposed that the girl was told by her mother that her father was in a fit, and directed her to help hold him on the floor, and that the girl held his legs down, while the wife’s hand was grasped on her husband’s throat with a violence that deprived him of life.

Though the execution was private, nearly 1000 people were assembled in the streets, Court House and public houses, in order to be as near the execution, she lay almost motionless upon her bed, seemed engaged in deep and unhappy thoughts, and spoke only in whispers.

She said she was prepared for death, having made her peace with her Maker.

At 20 minutes past twelve o’clock she was carried down to the room assigned for her execution, and placed in the chair under the spot where the cord passed down.

Having been placed in this position, the jailer seated beside her, she rested her head upon his shoulder, when a feeling and appropriate prayer was made.

What a sight! A woman – a wife, – charged with a number of murders, dressed in preparation for her execution, her arms bound down, seated under the instrument of death, silent and fixed, with but a few moments of existence left! And not an emotion visible!

The Sheriff then asked her:

‘Mary Runkle, have you any word to say to this jury – to these people?’

To which she gave no answer.

The bell rang! – the cord was cut! and she was launched into eternity! Not a word – not a motion, but a very little heaving of the chest.

After hanging 25 minutes her body was cut down placed in the coffin and delivered to her friends.

Thus closed the earthly career of Mary Runkle!’

And we may add, thus have the people of this great State imitated the murderous deed of Mary Runkle, imbrueing [sic] their hands in blood, because she had done so first.

[“Execution of Mary Runkle,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate (Utica, N.Y.), Dec. 3, 1847. p. 390]

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Contemporaneous sources:

Life and Confession of Mary Runkle: Who was Condemned and Sentenced to be Executed at Witesboro, Oneida Co., N.Y. on the 9th Day of November 1847 for the Murder of Her Husband, John Runkle, Steam Press of J.C. Kneeland and Company, 1847, 8 pages

“Execution of Mary Runkle,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate (Utica, N.Y.), Dec. 3, 1847. p. 390

[“Confession of Mary Runkle, Who Was Hung for Murder,” from: Life and confession of Ann Walters, the female murderess! : also the execution of Enos G. Dudley, at Haverhill, N.H., May 23rd, 1849 : to which is added the confession of Mary Runkle, who was executed for murder. [Boston]: Printed for the Proprietor, 1850. 32 pp.; (Runkle case: pp. 30-32).]

Modern sources:

Dennis Webster, Wicked Mohawk Valley, History Press, 2012, p. 19.

“The Mystery of Mary Runkle,” stowitts.weebly.com, Aug. 20, 2014.

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http://unknownmisandry.blogspot.com/2012/02/female-serial-killers-of-19th-century.html


For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America (as of January 20, 2014, the collection contains 71 cases)

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http://unknownmisandry.blogspot.com/2013/03/female-serial-killers-executed.html

More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed

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