Friday, February 26, 2016

Marianne Skoublinska, Polish Midwife & Serial Killer - 1890

NOTE: The name appears with a variety of spellings in English-language news reports: “Skoublinska,” Skoblinska,” “Skonblinska,” “Skublinski,” “Stysinski.” The following articles contain the spellings used in the original print edition, but the same “Marianne Skoublinska” has been chosen for use in The Unknown History of MISANDRY as the standard name, since the report using that spelling includes a first name.”

New information: A Polish visitor has been kind enough to provide the correct spelling: Marianna Skublińska.

Some brief reports on this case did not mention any name such as this one: “A woman concerned in baby farming at Warsaw has been charged with murdering seventy-five infants. She was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.” [“Extensive Baby Farming - 76 Infants Murdered.” The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW, Australia), Apr. 2, 1890, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 6): A horrible series of crimes has been discovered at Warsaw. A fire at an old house in Sienna-street had been extinguished by the brigade, when some firemen who had been left to prevent any mischief from stray sparks discovered a child’s corpse beneath the floor; two other similar discoveries were made soon after, and finally eight bodies were found beneath the floor of one room. The Chronicle correspondent at Vienna says that on some partitions and a cupboard being pulled down, six more bodies of children were brought to light [1+2+8+6=17]. An inmate of the house, a midwife named Skoblinska, has been arrested on suspicion of having killed and buried the infants. As she had been living in the house only four months the police are engaged in making investigations into her antecedents. Skoblinska shared her apartment with her sister. Each of the women had a grown-up daughter. The other three women were also arrested on suspicion of being implicated with Skoblinska. It is stated that in all fifty bodies have been found.

[“Horrible Crimes At Warsaw – Fifty Murdered Babies Found.” The Echo (London, England), Feb. 24, 1890, p. 3]



FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 6): According to advices from Warsaw some details have now come to light about the dreadful child murders committed there by the midwife Skublinski and some other women who have already been arrested. Skublinski resided in an attic, that she secretly received young illegitimate children “to nurse,” as she said. In reality, she, with several other women, carried on a regular trade in murdering infants. The attention of the police had already been drawn to this woman, and an unexpected examination of the house revealed several cradles with two and three babies in each.

Now, as Skublinski had no right to receive mothers and new-born children, she had to promise that from thenceforth she would take no more young infants into her house. Notwithstanding this, the police on a subsequent occasion found three little babies, and she was, in consequence, summoned, and the hearing was fixed for the 19th inst. [in February, apparently, rather than May as stated here] before the justice of the peace. During the night of the 17th she set fire to her lodging, after having first murdered the children committed to her charge.

Then this inhuman woman went and stood in the yard of the house among the excited crowd and quietly waited to see what would happen. As the house was only built of wood, she evidently hoped it would be completely destroyed. But one of the inmates of the house suddenly remembered the woman in the garret and her charges, and called out to the firemen to save the children.

Then Skubliuski was for the first time soon standing in the yard, and when she was asked if the children were already saved, she answered that they were no longer with her. In the meanwhile, the firemen had so far succeeded in subduing the fire that one of them penetrated into Skublinski’s lodging, and, not knowing what she had said, immediately began to search for the children. He soon found one little corpse, and then two more.

They wore taken down to the yard, and a doctor who happened to be present declared that the children were not choked by smoke, but a crime had been perpetrated. Then the police came forward and four more corpses were discovered, on one of which were distinct traces of the skull having been battered in. Consequently Skublinski and the other women were arrested.

[“A Diabolical Crime.” Supplement to Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), May 17, 1890, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): The woman baby-farmer, Stysinski, who is believed to have disposed of seventy-five babies during the last few years, has just been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Her baby farm, or rather graveyard, became known to the police a month ago through her setting fire to her cottage, containing five little children, in order to obtain the amount of the insurance on her property. At the trial it was proved that not a single child which was entrusted to her care and entered her den ever left her house alive. It was also shown that she made two charges for taking care of children, fifteen roubles for allowing the baby to die in a few weeks, and twenty for procuring its death within a day or two. She frequently threw the bodies of the children to her pigs, and boasted of the fattest pigs in the district on account of the exceptionally good feed she provided for them, in spite of all the evidence, she could not be convicted of murder.

[“The Polish Baby Murderer Sentenced,” The Nelson Evening Mail (New Zealand), May 27, 1890, p. 4]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): In our last number we mentioned the case of  Skonblinska, a baby farmer in Warsaw, who was tried lately for causing the deaths of about seventy children. speaking of the death sentence lately pronounced upon Sophie Günzbourg, the New York Volks-Zeitung remarks: “For a young girl who is supposed to have had the intention of attempting the life of the Tzar – the gallows; for the murderess of so many children – three years penal servitude. After that, who can reproach the Nihilists for what the do?”

[Untitled, Free Russia, (The Organ of the English Society of Friends of Russian Freedom, American Edition), (New York, N.Y.), Apr. 1891, p. 6]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6) : Le journal russe de Varsovie, donne les détails suivants sur le crime dont nous avons parlé dans le Stéphanois d’avant-hier:

Dans la nuit du 20 an 21 février, un incendie éclatait au numéro 56 de la rue Sennaia. Uu pompier avait trouvé à tâtons, dans une toute petite chambrette complètement obscure, le cadavre d’un enfant, quand on apporta des lanternes on découvrit encore sept cadavres d’enfants, dont quatre intacts et les trois autres en décomposision complète.

Tous portaient des traces de violence, la tête d’un de ces petits cadavres était fracassée.
On a fait immédiatement arrêter Ja sage-femme Marianne Skoublinska, propriétaire du logement dans lequel les cadavres ont été trouvés, ainsi que deux voisines, les femmes Zianowska et Winnicka.

On a constaté jusqu’ici 76 victimes de la Skoublinska.

A la suite des perquisitions faites, quatre arrestations ont été opérées dans différents quartiers. Un jeune homme de dix-huit ans, qu’ demeurait chez la Skoublinska, a avoué, après son arrestation, avoir pendant quelques mois emporté du logement de la Skoublinska une cinquantaine de cadavres d’enfants. Le menuisier Milenski a confectionné pour la Skoublinska des bières pour dix ou quinze cadavres.


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): At the examination of the woman Skooblinsky, lately arrested at Warsaw, details were brought out which reveal to what a horrible extent baby farming is carried on in Russia [Poland was controlled by Russia at the time]. The details induce one to believe that in the matter of surreptitiously disposing of  infants Russia is not very much better than China, where the Herodian custom is supposed to flourish best – or worst. It is said that Count Tolstoi, learning of these horrible practices, was inspired to write his “Kreutzer Sonata,” in which he hurled this piece of scorn at the present civilization:

What terrible unveracity passes current nowadays respecting children! Children, forsooth, are a blessing from God. Children are a joy. Now all this is a lie. This was so in times gone by; but it is not true in our days; nothing like it is true. Children are felt to be a scourge. This they are, and nothing more.”

The wildest excitement prevailed in some parts of Russia on the publication of the woman’s testimony, and the most serious of the papers called such homes as hers “angel factories.” Her method was like that of all of her class. ‘A common servant-woman gives herself out for a licensed midwife, opens what she grandiloquently terms an establishment for the bringing up of children in Warsaw, but which is, in plain truth, a filthy hut on the outskirts of the city, in which they are gradually done to death – and begins business without more ado. To the tender mercies of this monster mothers unhesitatingly confide their babies, paying her in advance for her trouble. In a short time her name and fame spread far and wide, and her clientele grows more numerous and more varied, including individuals; or families placed by birth or fortune far out of the reach of want. Unable to attend alone to the various departments of this lucrative occupation, she has recourse to the principle of the division of labor, hiring a sharp, cynical woman of loose character to furnish the establishment with “raw material.”

Besides these colleagues, Shooblinsky gave fees to her son-in-law to forge doctors’ certificates of death from natural causes; contracted with a carpenter to receive the little corpses, and keep them till a sufficient number accumulated to make it worth while to bury them, when it became his duty to assist her in chopping them up into little bits and packing them neatly into a spacious coffin of his own make. They were then buried by a half idiot boy who lived with Skooblinsky.

In Russia one can do nothing, good or bad, without a special authorization from the paternal authorities, and from this universal rule baby farming is not excepted. Hence the police, having received an inkling of what was going on, and knowing that Skooblinsky had been tried some twelve months previously for infanticide and acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence,” paid her a visit one day and found her “nursing four children,” whom they ordered her to return to their parents, seeing that she had no license to carry on the business of baby farmer. To this she assented, but instead of sending them back to their mothers she dispatched them.

The next day all the four children left for a better world, and that night the boy heard her call out to her son-in-law: “I say, Koonya, take away those puppies; they’re dead.” They had been systematically starved to death, a method of disposing of them which set her right in the eyes of the law, and en abled her to say to the procurator: “I did not kill them. They  died, poor things, because they were very weak. My calling was an honest one.”

The fathers and mothers who in trusted their children to this woman will never be discovered, for Skooblinsky made it a point never to inquire whence they came, what position they occupied, or even their names. In ordinary times $10 was the charge, but whenever business grew brisk” it was raised to a much higher sum, and lowered to $2.50 when it was un usually slack. Maybe the baby loses little in dying, for an illegitimate child in Russia is generally subjected for the term of natural life to cruel treatment. It is stripped of certain of its civil rights and is scoffed and sneered at with impunity in season and out of season, and made the butt of every coarse jester that comes along.

He bears about in his passport, like Cain on his forehead, the indelible mark that brands him as a fugitive and a vagabond. The following case, taken from the Law Journal of St. Petersburg, is a type:

The victim was the illegitimate daughter of a Russian nobleman, idolized by her father, who gave her a fine education. This nobleman’s death put an end to the education when the daughter was just turned sixteen. She was full of life and energy, shrank from no kind of labor, and resolved to win her way upward by her own unaided efforts. The reception she met with, however, on her first application for employment proved a wet blanket to her ardor.

“Have you a legal passport?” she was asked. ‘“No, I am an illegitimate child, but it’s not the passport that will do the work, but myself, and I am here.” “Yes, no doubt; but that is not enough. A Russian without a passport is like the sea without waier. There is no thoroughfare for the likes of you. Good-by.”

Bewildered, she ran hither and thither, endeavoring to obtain a passport, but in vain. Some officials promised, others shook rudely off, and others threatened her with imprisonment and Siberia for vagrancy. Still, however, she shifted as well as she could under the circumstances, making head against all difficulties and just keeping body and soul together.

At last a young man. full of admiration for her noble qualities, asked for her heart and her hand. The harbor of rest was in sight. So it seemed at first, but in reality this proved to be only a respite. here is your passport? You have none? Marriage is impossible without one. No priest can perform the ceremony for you.

Tears, sighs and earnest entreaties purchased pity and promise, but no remedy.

Her union with her bridegroom was cemented by love but not hallowed by religion, the legislator, forbidding the priest to pronounce a benediction. This was bad, but not the worst. A very demon seemed to preside over her destiny, for soon after the birth of her first child her helpmate died, and she was left alone in the world with despair for a guide and not even a passport to legalize a life of misery. Hundreds of similar Russian illegitimate children lose but little when they lose life.

Mothers, on the other hand, think that they would lose a great deal if they had to keep their children alive, and public opinion points the same way, for Russian juries never convict a mother who is guilty of nothing worse than killing her illegitimate offspring.

There are two colossal foundling asylums in Russia one in St. Petersburg, and the other In Moscow and the law refuses to countenance the opening of other similar institutions in the provinces; Now the maintenance of these two houses costs £300,000 a year.

These foundling institutions have existed for over 125 years, and have taken in during that time 1,300,000 children. The number of  those who died before completing  the first year of his life was 990,303, or 77 per-cent of the total. Of the remainder, 150,000 more died before leaving the asylum, so that only 155,268 children passed through the fiery ordeaI.

These figures give one only a very imperfect idea of the total number of children who die in Russia from avoidable causes. A numerous profession exists in the provinces of Russia, the members of which are needy women, endowed with an intuition enabling them to scent out all those mothers who desire to get their children put into the Moscow or the St. Petersburg asylum for foundlings.

They collect the little waifs, pack them in baskets (six or eight in one basket), stow them away under the seats of the third-class railway carriages, along with eggs, butter, rags and refuse and those who survive this first life’s journay are deposited at the front gates of  the foundling asylums. Eighty-eight per cent of these are in due time carted out of the back gates in the shape of little corpses.

Child-murder is too common in Russia to excite much comment. The Moscow Gazette recently had this:

“The Seventh department of the Moscow court of assizes tried the female cook, Riva Blatt, eighteen years old, for the murder of her child. She rolled it up in a napkin and threw it into a hole that she had dug out for the purpose.

As she was caught in flagrante delictu, the child was taken out alive, but it died very soon after from the effects. The jury found her innocent.

[“Unwelcome Babies, And How They Are Got Out of the Way in Frigid Russia. - A “Little Angel Factory” About Which Awful Stories “ - Are Told. Where the Little Ones Are Starved to Death and Cut in Pieces. - A Woman Caught Killing Her Child Found Innocent by a Jury.” St. Paul Daily Globe (Mn.), Jul. 14, 1890, p. 5]


For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.


[First version: Sep. 22, 2011]

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Elisbetta Altrui & Maddalena Loffredo, Italian Serial Killer Sisters – 1888

FULL TEXT: A triple-poisoning case is just now causing great excitement among the Neapolitans. Two sisters – Elizabeth Altrui and Maddalena Loffredo – lived with their husbands – Guiliano and Angelo – at the little town of San Pietro. One day a thief escaping from justice with a large sum of money he had stolen took refuge in their house, and a few days after he died suddenly. Two or three months had elapsed, when Guiliano fell ill of a mysterious internal complaint, and his wife and sisters floated the report that he was suffering from cholera. His death soon followed, but excited no particular comment, and suspicion was not aroused till a woman called Michela’s mother, who had merely sipped the same beverage, escaped after suffering great agony. The sisters and Toffredo were at once arrested on the charge of triple assassination, a post-mortem examination having shown beyond doubt that they had poisoned their victims with arsenic.

[“Naples’ Triple Poisoning Case.” The Chicago Tribune (Il.), Jun. 6, 1886, p. 12; “Toffredo” is corrected to Loffredo in the final sentence.]


Rose Veres, Suspected Hungarian-American Serial Killer - 1931

This US case is of particular interest in that all parties are Hungarian immigrants. Thus the Veras case ought to be compared with the serial murder syndicates operating in Hungary up till the early 1930s. (See: Husband-Killing Syndicates)
Some news sources use other spellings “Veras, Vera,” but “Veras” seems to be the correct spelling.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 9): Specters of nine strange deaths stalked Mrs. Rose Veres, weazened “Witch of Delray," today as detectives questioned her about the death of a tenth man in her home within the last 10 years. Mrs. Veres vigorously denied implication in the death of Steven Mak, 68,. ostensibly of a fall from a ladder.


Her denials came through a Hungarian Interpreter after the tight-lipped woman insisted she could not answer in English, although John Walker, negro neighbor, said she confessed to him that Mak had been slain.

The woman was to appear in court today on a habeas corpus writ similar to one for her 18-year-old son, William, held in connection with stories that he had participated with his mother in an alleged beating of Mak that preceded his plunge from an attic window.

Police checking the strange death record of the woman's last 10 years learned that three of her husbands were among the 10 deaths. Her attorney, Frank W. Kenney. Jr., said Mak was another husband. The fatal roster included:

John Toth, carbon monoxide poisoning.
Stephen Flash, alcoholism.
John Kolachl, intestinal ailment. Garbor Veres, died with Toth.
John Norvay, undetermined.
Louis Kulacs, undetermined. Alex Porezios, undetermined.
John Skrivan, said to have hanged himself in the home.
Steve Sebastian, supposed alcoholic.

~ Many Neighborhood Rumors. ~

Information concerning the deaths was tangled and vague, police said, because of long-standing neighborhood rumors about strange events in the Veres home.

Detective Lieutenant Rudolph H. Hosfelt today revealed that Mak had been under partial police protection since July 6 when neighbors, reported be was being beaten in the basement of the home. A week ago, Hosfelt said, police quieted a disturbance in the Veres home upon complaint of a neighbor and that Mak told him Mrs. Veres had given him some "medicine," which he believed was poison, to get insurance drawn in her favor.

A post-mortem was to be held today on Mak’s body.

[“Detroit Woman Questioned About Tenth Man's Death In Her Home In Ten Years,” The News-Herald (Franklin and Oil City, Pa.), Aug. 26, 1931, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 9): Detroit - A mother and her son were held by police today following the death by a fall from a window of a roomer in their home and the subsequent discovery by police that ten men, on most of whom the woman held insurance policies, had died in her rooming house during the past eight years.

The woman, Mrs. Rose Veras, 48, whose rooming house is in this city’s Hungarian colony, is held on a technical charge of homicide. Her son, William, 18, was arrested for investigation.

The death of Steve Mak, 68, a roomer at Mrs. Veras’ home opened the police investigation. Mrs. Veras told police Mak fell from a ladder while repairing an attic window, other witnesses said Mak was not at work on a ladder, and that it appeared he had been pushed from the window.

George M. Stutz, assistant prosecuting attorney, said he had learned there was one valid insurance policy on Mak’s life, for $4,000, of which Mrs. Veras was the beneficiary. He said he had learned Mrs. Veras recently borrowed money to make a payment on the policy.

~ Says It’s Customary ~

Mrs. Veras told police it was customary in the Hungarian colony for a landlady to insure her roomers in her behalf. Police said 75 policies were found in her home. They expressed the belief that several of them had been made out in her favor by most of the ten men whose deaths occurred in her house since 1923.

Detective Lieutenant John Whitman said he had learned Mrs. Veras paid the funeral expenses of seven of the men who died at her house.

Police examined their records to determine the cause of the death of the ten, and announced that post mortems had been held on the bodies of two who died of alcoholism, and that no evidence of criminal activities had been found.

The ten  men who died in Mrs. Veras’ home, they said, were Hungarian.

~ Freedom Delayed ~

Frank M. Kenney, Mrs. Veras’ attorney, presented a writ of habeas corpus for the release of Mrs. Veras and her son, returnable today. Instead of dismissing the writ, as he first announced. Recorders Judge Henry S. Sweeney extended the time to Thursday, saying he desired to give the police “all the time they want in investigating the case.”

Kenney declared the action against Mrs. Veras to be the result of neighborhood gossip. He said the previous deaths had been investigated and showed no criminal activity.

Detectives investigating Mrs. Veras’ activities said she had a record of six previous arrests, but no convictions. One of the arrests, they said, was for embezzlement.

[“Detroit Woman, Son Jailed As Suspects In Insurance Murders Ten Men Meet Death In Rooming House Within 8 Years; Policies Named Accused As Beneficiary, Police Claim.” Syndicated (AP), Sandusky Register (Oh.), Aug. 27, 1931, p. 1]


FULL TEXT: (Article 3 of 9): Detroit – Four persons were in custody today as authorities sought to learn whether the deaths of ten men over a period of eight years in Mrs. Rose Veras’ rooming house were from natural causes or violence.

~ Find 75 Policies ~

Mrs. Veras, the 48-year-old Hungarian immigrant who held insurance policies on the ten who died, has been in custody since Tuesday on a technical charge of murder. Other policies, 75 in all, were found by officers in her home and investigators were attempting to learn the fate of the insured.

The list of deaths under investigation had reached 11 today, with discovery that Valet Peterman, 68, a boarder in the Veras home, died shortly after moving to another house.

Sam Denyen who, police said, lived in the Veras home until two weeks ago, was arrested in Logan, W. Va., late yesterday and a detective left last night to question him. Mrs. Veras’ 15-year old son, Gaber, was detained for questioning yesterday. Another son, William, 18, has been held for several days.

~ Pushed Out of Window? ~

The investigation was inspired by the death of Steve Mak, a roomer, Tuesday morning from injuries received in a fall. Mrs. Veras said he fell while working on a ladder.

Neighbors who claimed to have witnessed his fall, told police he appeared to have been pushed from an attic window and drugged at the time.

[“Widow Quizzed in 10 Deaths,” “Probe Rooming House Deaths – Four In Custody As Police Investigate Death of Eleven Men; Hungarian Woman Held Insurance Policies,” syndicated (NEA), Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune (Wi.), Aug. 28, 1931, p. 1]



FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 9): Detroit, Aug. 31 – Duncan C. McRae, assistant prosecutor, announced today that Mrs. Rose Veras, rooming house proprietor, held on a technical charge of homicide following the death during the past eight years of 12 men in her home, had confessed to “a party not connected with the police department,” that she pushed one of the men from an attic window, the fall causing his death.

McCrae said that the woman told the person whose name was not revealed by police that she pushed Stephen Mak, the last of the 12 men to die, from an attic window after attempts to poison him has failed.

~ Had 75 Policies. ~

Harry S. Toy, prosecuting attorney, said he would not reveal how the confession was obtained. He said that for reasons he “did not care to disclose” the person’s identity, which would not be revealed at present.

Seventy-five life insurance policies were found in Mrs. Veras’ home, when she was arrested, on the lives of the men who died in her home. Officials said that Mrs. Veras held at last $6400 insurance on the life of Mak.

~ Denies Others. ~

McCrae said the woman denied any complicity in any of the other deaths in her home, but had admitted she killed Mak to obtain insurance money of which she was the beneficiary. She said she held seven policies on Mak’s life and that she paid the premiums on all of them.

According to McCrae, Mrs. Veras confessed she tried to poison Mak by putting lye in his coffee and liquor that he drank, but when she found he was not “dying fast enough” she lured him up a ladder, placed at the side of her home, urging him to enter an attic window and then pushed him from the window. Mak died the day following the fall from the window.

[“Detroit Woman Admits Killing One of 12 Men To Collect Insurance,” syndicated (AP), The Southeast Missourian (Cape Giradeau, Mo.), Aug. 31, 1931, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 9): Detroit. Sept. 1.—After intermittent grilling of more than 100 hours. Mrs. Rose Veres. 48, so-called “Witch Widow.” of Medina street where her unkempt boarding house is located, today broke down and  confessed to killing one of the 12 men who died under what police alleged were incriminating circumstances during the past eight years. She is charged with murder and faces life imprisonment.

According to Assistant Prosecutor; Duncan McCrea, in charge of the weird case, the widow said:

“I was hard up and needed the insurance money on the man. I tried to poison him twice but he didn’t die, so I pushed him out of the attic window.”

Her victim was Steven Mak, 68-year-old roomer, whose death led to the probe which disclosed that other men had died “mysteriously” in her boarding house.

[“Detroit Woman Admits Murder – Mrs. Rose Veres, Alleged ‘Witch-Woman’ Confesses To Death Push - Sought Insurance Money On Victim, syndicated (International News Service), New Castle News (Pa.), Sep. 1, 1931, p. 12]

FULL TEXT: (Article 6 of 9): Detroit, Sept. 2. – Officers investigating the death of Steve Male and eleven other lodgers in Mrs. Rose Veras’ rooming house said tonight a witness had told them he saw Mak pushed from an attic window of the rooming house.

“A pair of arms” shoved Mak from the window, they quoted George Halasz, the witness, as saying, and a moment later Mrs. Veras peered out. Mak died August 28 of injuries suffered in the fall.

Halasz, 49, and a former lodger in the rooming house conducted by the 48-year-old woman, said he had gone to the house to see a man rooming there and was waiting outside when he saw Mak fall to his death. Halasz also was quoted as saying he moved out of the rooming house because Mrs. Veras sought to take out an insurance policy on his life, naming her as beneficiary.

Mrs. Veras had paid premiums on $2,600 of insurance on Mak’s life and on seventy-five other policies, many of them on the lives of lodgers who died in her house or shortly after they moved out, within the past eight years.

[“Witness Says Lodger Pushed From Window,” syndicated (AP), Bluefield Daily Telegraph (W. Va.), Sep. 3, 1931, p. 1]

FULL TEXT (Article 7 of 9): The “Old Gray Witch of Medina Street” sits in her tiny room in the Michigan House of Correction at Plymouth. Imprisoned fear life, far from her native hills of Hungary, she talks to no one. All through the past Winter she was silent, shunned and feared by her fellow-prisoners. Even now seeing from her window the trees budding and the grass turning green, just as the Magyar slopes came to life in the Spring in her native town of Sarud, she keeps a seemingly mystic vigil, her strange eyes fixed upon objects which do not exist.

Perhaps it is just as well for her that things beyond her window panes do not intrigue her, for by the terms of her sentence she will never again be nearer them than, she is now. Twelve men died, tragically in hear house; three were suicides. And the other nine? In charging the “witch” with murder, the State decided to concentrate on the case of Stephen Mak, the twelfth man to die.

It was last August 21st.

In the front yard of her home on Medina Street in the Hungarian colony of Detroit, 11-year-old Marie Chevalia was playing. All morning she had been making mud pies.

It was a warm day, but the air was heavy, and dull smoke from surrounding factories resisted the sunlight. Against this background of haze; the house directly across the street from the yard where little Marie was playing looked somewhat ghostly.

The reason, perhaps, lay in the legends of Medina Street.

Almost from her cradle days, little Marie Chevalia had heard people say strange things about that house and its inmates.

“Behind those filmy curtains,” Medina Street mothers told their, .children when family circles were gathered around the hearths, “stalks a bad witch-woman. Her name is Mrs. Rose Veres. She bewitches factory men, they go to live in her house, and in the cellar the witch-woman brews potions. She has the Evil Eye. When she looks at these men, they have to do when she tells them. They want to go away, but they can’t. She bewitches them. Then they die.

“She was born with a full set of teeth and a veil, and if she wants she can change herself into a wolf or a hare.”

In the Old World, among the Magyrs, in the Hungarian hills whence most of these people had come, so-called witches were common. Other people didn’t have to believe in them if they preferred not to, but all the cynical sophistication in the world couldn’t take the vampires and other evil spirits out of the darkness which descended upon Sarud and Nagyrev every night.

These people knew. They had seen the vampires. They had seen the wolf-men and the wolf-women and beard their blood-curdling cries whenever anyone in the village died.

So Mrs. Veres, it was clear, was a “witch,” even though she lived in Detroit, in the United States of America.

Why, many times she had been seen growling about the alleys at might, garbed in her long flowing garments of black flannel, a cape tucked tightly about her stooped shoulders and her hair covered by a lace boudoir cap.

On such occasions it was considered unsafe to be abroad in the darkness. And when the word would go out that “The Witch of Medina Street” was on a nocturnal prowl, every door in the neighborhood would be locked and double-barreled, and every shade drawn.

So little Marie Chevalia, as she fashioned her mud-pies last August 21st, was glad that she was in her own yard, glad that it was daylight, glad that she was in her own yard, glad that her Mamma and Papa had warned her against the bad witch.

Soon, as Marie watched, Mrs. Veres stopped out from behind the front door. Marie dropped her mud pies and stared.

Mrs. Veres, her net boudoir cap on her head, descended the steps and spoke a few words in low tones to John Walker, a colored man who had been sprinkling the lawn. Walker was one of Mrs. Veres’s boarders, and occupied an attic room. At the “witch’s” direction, he dropped the hose and retired to the cellar to shut off the water and perform some other duties.

As soon as Walker had disappeared’ behind the house, little Marie saw Mrs. Veres pick up a long ladder and place it against the side of the house. Then, clutching her skirt, beneath which she was accustomed to wear five or six petticoats, the “Old Gray Witch of Medina Street” walked back into her house and closed the door behind her.

Transfixed, by vague fears and a very definite curiosity, Marie remained, wide-eyed, squatting over her mud pies. Probably because she was a member of the more curious sex, little Marie’s curiosity was stronger than her fear. That is why she was later able to recount the entire drama as it unfolded before her young eyes.

Presently an old man emerged from the “witch-house.” He was unsteady on his feet. He was carrying a small box and a hammer. Marie recognized him as Stephen Mak, one of Mrs. Veres’s boarders. He walked toward the ladder and put a foot on it.

Hesitantly he climbed, step by step. At the top he paused to lay his hammer and box on the ledge. Then he opened the window, pulled himself partially through and sat on the sill. For a full minute he remained in that position – then before the watchful eyes of little Marie, be suddenly disappeared.

George Halasz, a short, swarthy man who lived nearby, was strolling along Medina Street. Up to this point, he had seen nothing unusual. From the sidewalk he called once or twice for Mike Ludd, a friend who boarded at the Veres house. Receiving no immediate reply, Halasz leaned against a tree and started rolling a cigarette.

A moment later Walker returned from the basement, rear, and began walking toward the street. He was almost directly below the attic window when a box of nails dropped in front of him; then a hammer thudded. He raised his hands above his head and drew back, then looked up. As he looked, the body of Stephen Mak hurtled through the attic window head-first, crashed against the side of the house next door and plunged headlong to the ground. 

Walker raced to the back door and shouted loudly for Mrs. Veres. George Halasz removed his newly rolled cigarette from his mouth and looked on in amazement.

Marie Chevalia screamed and ran into her house.

Marie’s screams aroused the neighborhood and quickly a crowd gathered around the Veres home. Its gong clanging, an ambulance swung into Medina Street, and fifty-five minutes later the ‘Widow Veres” her face noticeably dirty and her head covered with cobwebs, calmly and inquiringly entered her yard from the alley beyond. Mak was taken t» the Detroit Receiving Hospital, where he died two days later.

Mak’s death went into the preliminary official reports as an accident. Mrs. Veres told police that she had asked him to fix the window, and that he had presumably fallen because of his age and infirm condition. At the time, she explained, she had been shopping, and her elder son, William, was at a movie. Walker corroborated this story. Police were not suspicious. Mrs. Veres’s reputation as a “witch” was not taken seriously beyond Medina Street.

But rumoxs began, to get around. Mak was the twelfth man to die prematurely after a residence in the Veres house. The first was Veres himself. The. rest were boarders. And little Marie Chevalia kept telling her mama that “the witch killed Mr. Mak. I saw her face in the window.” George Halasz was quite sure of that, too.

Then it was discovered that the window Mak went up to fix needed no fixing; that he wore shoes when he went up and none when he came down, that he had told neighbors he was afraid of Mrs. Veres and was sure that she was going to kill him; that there were marks on his head which looked like blows; and something in his stomach which might not be just liquor.

It was revealed, too, that on the morning of Mak’s death Mrs. Veres had cut a hole in the attic partition through which a man’s body, might drawn, that that she had offered Walter $500 to “keep his mouth shut” about his suspicions.

Officials of insurance companies volunteered the information that Mrs. Veres had a $5,000 policy on Mak’s life, double indemnity in case of accidental death—and that she was; still trying to make collections on policies issued to her on the lives of dead former boarders. It was revealed, too, that she owed $1,000 to her next-door neighbor, Aaron Freed, and had promised to pay him “as soon as I collect some insurance money.” Police soon found a trunk containing over seventy-five policies taken out by Mrs. Veres since she moved to Detroit.

William, her elder son, had testified that he was, at a movie at the time of Mak’s “fall.” But John Veres, the widow’s younger son, frankly told detectives another version.

“Bill told me to say he was at the Grand Theatre,” John told officers. “But he wasn’t. He was at home with Mother.”

William Veres was destined to share his mother’s fate. He, too, received a life sentence, in spite of his youth. Old Mrs. Veres sits motionless in the House of Correction. ‘Her eyes’ seem fixed upon objects.

[“While a Little Girl Watched the Old Gray Witch of Medina Street – The Hungarian Widow’s Twelfth Boarder Tumbled to His Death, But Marie of the Mud Pies Saw All, And Told!” Ogden Standard Examiner (Ut.), Apr. 3, 1932, page number unknown]


FULL TEXT (Article 7 of 8): At lost relentless justice has been meted out to America’s most cold-blooded woman killer – Mrs. Rose Veres, known as the Witch of Delray. She was responsible for the deaths of 12 lodgers – simple Hungarians whose lives she had insured.

FREEDOM’S door has been slammed on the Witch of Delray.

The air she breathes for the rest of her days must be screened through prison bars.

There will be no recapture of the years when she roamed the streets of Detroit, frightening children and killing men.

The Witch of Delray, who actually is Mrs. Rose Veres, murdered for profit, which is why she was sentenced to life imprisonment in Michigan.

For a time, while lawyers were fighting desperately for a new trial for her, it looked as though she might be free again. But now Recorder’s Judge John J. Maher, at Detroit, has denied her appeal.

Mrs. Veres made a good thing of being a witch. She got away with it for seven years, during which time she became a legendary figure in black, and by the time the law caught up with her the number of her victims was reckoned at 12. Her bank-deposits for the period totalled £23,000.


She worked out a simple plan for living by the death of others. She took a rooming house in the Delray section of Detroit, where most of her lodgers were, like herself, Hungarian born. They were simple folk and Mrs. Veres volunteered to look after their money. At the same time she insured their lives.

When police got interested in the goings-on in her home they discovered 75 insurance policies on her boarders, in all of which she was the beneficiary. She had a reason why.

“I kept insurance policies on most of my boarders,” she said, “because that is the way my people do. We want a good funeral. There must be flowers and lodge members. I gave everyone a fine funeral.”

The police thought too many fine funerals were being held at the frame dwelling on Medina-street.


They became curious when Steven Mak, 68, tumbled from a ladder out side the Veres household and died of a fractured skull. They began asking questions and soon discovered he was the 12th man to die at the Medina-street house since September 21, 1924, when Steven Sebastian suffered what was described on the death certificate as a fatal cerebral haemorrhage.

After a little inquiring in the neighborhood, detectives found Marie Chevalia, 11, who was making mudpies outside her home when Mak fell. “I saw Mr. Mak go up the ladder,” she said. “Mrs. Veres was holding it for him at the attic window. He was right at the attic window. He swayed and moaned, as if he was sick.”

Her story spun a web around the Witch of Delray when she added:

“While he was falling, Mrs. Veres and William (her son) poked their heads out of the window.”

Yes, that was right, Mrs. Veres remembered. She had asked Mak to repair a window. But the police said the window didn’t need repairs.

Then there was the story of John Walker. Mrs. Veres, he said, told him to water the ground where the ladder rested, and the Witch herself placed it on the slippery clay.

And there was £2000 insurance on Mak’s life.

A jury believed that Mrs. Veres and her son pushed Mak to death and returned a verdict that provided the maximum penalty under Michigan law for both – life imprisonment.

Responsibility for the 11 other deaths wasn’t proved against Mrs. Veres. But the police discovered many strange circumstances as they delved into her dusty past.

They learned that her husband, Gabor, and Laszlo Toth, a boarder, were working on a car in the Veres garage one day in 1927 when suddenly the door slammed. Both died of carbon monoxide poisoning generated by the automobile exhaust.


They heard about men whose names were known as John Nordal, Balit Peterman, Gabor Feges, Steven Faish, Alex Porczio, Berni Kalo, John Sokivon and John Coccardi. All of them slept on wall-lined cots in the dirt floored cellar.

All of them had casks of wine between their beds. All of them died. Some said their deaths were caused by lye in the wine.

While all these things were happening, Mrs. Veres was becoming known around the neighborhood as a sinister character.

The Detroit district in which she lived was mainly populated by native born Hungarians – simple folk who still retained many of the customs and beliefs of the old country.

To them werewolves, human vampires and witches were very real beings – beings that could do harm to innocent people who crossed their path.


So it is not surprising that locally the notorious Mrs. Veres should be looked upon by these people as a witch.

That when she appeared, the pious people should devoutly cross themselves for fear of the evil eye.

Some said she was born with a full set of teeth and a veil. And some said:

“If she wants, she can change her self into a wolf or a hare.”

That’s how she became the Witch of Delray and why she was feared by both adults and children.

Although prison claims her, her spell continues.

Almost two years after she was gaoled John Kampfl, one of her basement lodgers, cut his throat. It was not a critical wound. Doctors said he would recover.

“No,” he said. “The Witch cast her evil eye on me.”

The next morning he died, which probably isn’t the reason the courts refused her a new trial.

But who knows?

Mrs. Rose Veres murdered ruthlessly for profit while she was becoming known as the Witch of Delray?

The way the jury figured, William Veres was as guilty as his mother.

[Gerald Duncan, “America’s Female Bluebeard Is in Gaol For Life,” World’s News (Sydney, Australia), Jun. 30, 1945, p. 6]


FULL TEXT (Article 9 of 9): Detroit, Mich., Dec. 10 – The “witch of Delray,” central figure 13 years ago in a murder trial which ended  in her conviction and a life sentence after bizarre testimony linking her to 11 other deaths, was a free woman tonight by reason of a “not guilty” verdict in a belated retrial.

She is Mrs. Rose Veres, now 64, who for many years kept a rooming house and kept a rooming house was a two story frame building in what was formerly the village of Delray. This community, made up for the most part of Hungarian and middle European immigrants, is now part of Detroit.

~ Son Convicted, Too ~

At the retrial a jury of eight men and four women took eight hours to vote an acquittal for the widely known “which,” who was convicted originally with her son, William, of first degree murder for killing Stephen Mack, a roomer, by pushing him out an attic window.

Mrs. Veres and her son served 13 years of their life sentences and recently won new trials on a Supreme court ruling that their convictions were invalid because of the absence from the courtroom of the presiding judge when the verdict was returned.

~ Courtroom is Packed. ~

When the new trials were ordered, prosecuting authorities released William Veres to stand trial again. The retrial began Nov. 26 before Recorder’s Judge Paul E. Krause, and each day’s session has been in a courtroom packed with present and former Delray neighbors and residents. Mrs. Veres speaks no English and testified thru an interpreter.

Evidence was produced at both trials that Mrs. Veres’ rooming house had the local reputation of a “house of dreath” because of the deaths there of 11 other persons other than Mack between 1924 and 1931. Children feared her, it was said, because of her long hair and reported “baleful eye,” and the name “witch of Delray” was applied to her.

When Mack died from a fall from Mrs. Veres’ attick window he had a $4,000 insurance policy, of which Mrs. Veres was the benedficiary. Police later found 75 insurance policies in the names of roomers.

[“’Baleful Eyed Witch’ Is Free After 13 Years – Wins In New Trial Over Old Death Case,” Chicago Tribune (Il.), Dec. 11, 1945, p. 5]


EXCERPT: It had been the custom each time one of her roomers died to have photographs made of the funeral showing her giving the corpse a final embrace. [Curtis Haseltine, “Murder for Money – Case of Delray’s ‘Witch’ Up Again,” The Detroit Free Press, Aug. 27, 1944, Magazine Section, p. 7]

Here are two long, well-illustrated articles on the Veras case:
“The Witch of Delray,”  The Deceased of Detroit, Jul. 23, 2010
“The Witch of Delray,” Weird Detroit, Sept. 11, 2011
























For similar cases, see Murder-Coaching Moms


Monday, February 22, 2016

Martha Grinder, Pittsburg Serial Killer Executed in 1866

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Mrs. Grinder, the Pittsburgh prisoner, has bean convicted the first degree. On the announcement of the jury’s verdict, on Saturday, she remained, to all appearances, perfectly unmoved and unconcerned. Her case is one of the more singular [in the history] of crime. She seemed actuated with a desire to poison people merely for the sake of doing so, having no pecuniary or revengeful motive for making away with her victims. She would volunteer to become a nurse accidentally came in and obstructed nor operation, says the Pittsburg Gazette, she grew jealous and got them out of the way as soon as possible, generally with a dose into poison not quite sufficient to kill instantly. It seems to have been no part of her plan to kill any one outright, as that deprived her of the luxury of witnessing the tortures which accompany slow poisoning, and hence her doses were limited, and intended to be cumulative. It is to this fact that many of her victims escaped with life, circumstances having intervened to put them beyond her reach before she had time, according to her plan, to complete their destruction.

[Untitled, The Cambridge City Journal (In.), Nov. 9, 1865, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): The Troy “Times” contains the following account of Mrs. Martha Grinder, the poisoner, whose sufferings on the gallows, owing to an insufficient drop, and the faulty arrangement of the fatal noose, were terrible to witness: “Mrs. Martha Grinder, who was executed in Pittsburg on Friday last, will stand out as one of the most noted criminals of the world. She was professedly a religious woman, and of kind and agreeable manners, and while manifesting a tender and affectionate interest in her victims, was constantly dosing them with poison. Her confession, just before she was led to the scaffold, discloses some of the horrid deeds she had perpetrated, and confirms the testimony upon which she was convicted.

It appears that Mrs. Grinder, in June last, began the systematic poisoning of an acquaintance, a Mrs. Mary Caroline Caruthers, who, with her husband, had been visiting at her house. Both the latter were subjected to her attempts; but the husband succeed in surviving the effects of the poison. It was his evidence on the trial which afforded the most convincing proof of Mrs. Grinder's guilt. The poison, which the medical autopsy revealed to be arsenic and antimony, was administered in coffee during a period extending over five weeks, or until the first day of August, when the victim died. The husband objected to the metallic taste of the coffee, but still was unsuspicious of any crime, and so was the physician. At length Mr. C. had his suspicions aroused by other facts, that his wife had been foully dealt with, and, accordingly, on the 25th of August last, he preferred the necessary complaint against Mrs. G. who was taken into custody. The other facts alluded to were of a most startling nature, and reveal the culprit in the light of a most wantonly cruel monster.

The death of Mrs. Caruthers caused an investigation of circumstances which, in their cursory occurrence, they had not received, and though the particular crime mentioned above was the only one which the prosecuting attorney saw fit to arraign her, there are fearful histories in her record of guilt. At the time referred to the unusual number of deaths which had taken place at her house, or among her acquaintances, was remarked. Samuel Grinder, her brother-in-law, after his return from the war, was attacked like the other victims, and died in great agony. A little child, left to her care, as also her own child; a domestic, Jane R. Buchanan; Mrs. Caruthers and her sister, Mrs. J. M. Johnston, had all died in the same mysterious manner.

Her motive is a mystery. Money does not appear to have been the incentive, though previously, hearing that a rich relative had left a large property to her child, she played out the Burdell-Cunningham role, and was detected. A jury of physicians pronounced her not insane. Previous to her execution she confessed to the poisoning of Mrs. Caruthers and Miss Buchanan, but denied the other charges. She was born in 1833, married at the age of nineteen, at Louisville, Ky., and removed to Louisville about six years ago. Her horrid sufferings on her execution have been well described.

[“The Borgia Of The Century.” Reprinted from The Troy Times (N.Y.), Montana Post-Supplement (Virginia City, Montana Territory), Mar. 3, 1866, p. 1]


ARTICLE 3 of 3: EXCERPTS from an article published in 1910:

Pittsburg’s arch murderess slew her victims for the pleasure of seeing them die. She planned her work with deadly patience, and thought no labor too hard that brought to her the chance of seeing some unsuspecting man, woman or child, writing in the horrible agony of dissolution, brought about by the poison she had administered.


There was not the slightest motive of gain or animosity in any of her murders. She killed them, and admitted so at the last, simply for the love of taking life, and of seeing suffering.

She was an expert in administering the poison, her skill no doubt being gained by her long practice, and she graduated her doses so as to cause her helpless victims the greatest and most protracted suffering. Their deaths were always, it is said by persons who remember, of a most horrible character, enough to move a heart of stone.

• • • • • •

Her confession was a remarkable revelation of human depravity. She had become obsessed with the liking for scenes of moral agony, and her mania went even farther, making her revel in coming into contact with dead bodies, which she loved to handle and prepare for burial.

In the early stages of this monomania she tried to satisfy her cravings of bereavement, and by assisting in bathing and dressing the remains. These natural deaths came too infrequently to satisfy her, however, so she desperately started out to manufacture funerals by supplying the dead bodies.

[“Martha Grinder, Arch Murderess Of Pittsburg – Women Who Poisoned Men, Woman and Children for Pleasure of Witnessing Their Dying Torments, Hanged – Monomaniac Carried Death In Her Pocket,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Nov. 15, 1910, p. 5]


A booklet was published on the case in 1866:

Martha Grinder, The Life and Confessions of Martha Grinder, the Poisoner ..., J.P. Hunt & Company, 1866, 23 pages

A different listing of the pamphlet gives a different title and page count:

The Grinder poisoning case : the trial of Martha Grinder, for the murder of Mrs. Mary Caroline Carothers, on the 1st of August, 1865 : being a full and complete history of this important case. Pittsburgh, Pa. : Published by John P. Hunt & Co., [1865 or 1866?], 36 pages


Mary Caroline Caruthers (Carothers), died Aug. 1, 1865
Mr. Caruthers (Carothers), survived
Samuel Grinder, brother-in-law, died
Jane R. Buchanan, her servant, died Feb. 28, 1864
Baby Grinder, died circa Jul. 7, 1865
Mrs. J. M. Johnston, Caroline C’s sister
First husband
The family of Mrs. Marguerite Smith
Un-named unwed mother, poisoned and robbed; related to a “bogus baby scheme”)
Miss Huges – disabled by poison (a case discovered after the execution)


Sources for victims who are not reported in most accounts:

A) The Smith Family –

EXCERPT: There was also evidence to show that Mrs. Grinder had poisoned the family of Mrs. Marguerite Smith, who lived next door to Mrs. Caruthers, by a bowl of soup. The family was composed of the mother and six children, all of whom but one of the soup, and here, as before, all who eat were immediately taken sick, one, a child, dying.

[“Execution of Martha Grinder – Mrs. Grinder makes full Confession.” The Globe (Huntington, Pa.), Jan. 24, 1866, p. 2]

B) Miss Hughes –

[“The Pittsburg Poisoner – Another Victim – A Curious Case.” Newbern Journal of Commerce (N. C.), Nov. 15, 1867, p. 3]

C) Un-named Unwed Mother –

[“The Wholesale Pittsburgh Poisoner. – More About Mrs. Martha Grinder - A principlal in a Bogus Baby Case – Mysterious Death of Miss J. R. Buchanan – Body to be Exhumed To day – Additional Developments.” (from the Pittsburgh Commercial.), The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (N. Y.), Aug. 30, 1865, p. 2]


EXCERPTS from an article published in 1910:

Pittsburg’s arch murderess slew her victims for the pleasure of seeing them die. She planned her work with deadly patience, and thought no labor too hard that brought to her the chance of seeing some unsuspecting man, woman or child, writing in the horrible agony of dissolution, brought about by the poison she had administered.


There was not the slightest motive of gain or animosity in any of her murders. She killed them, and admitted so at the last, simply for the love of taking life, and of seeing suffering.

She was an expert in administering the poison, her skill no doubt being gained by her long practice, and she graduated her doses so as to cause her helpless victims the greatest and most protracted suffering. Their deaths were always, it is said by persons who remember, of a most horrible character, enough to move a heart of stone.

• • • • • •

Her confession was a remarkable revelation of human depravity. She had become obsessed with the liking for scenes of moral agony, and her mania went even farther, making her revel in coming into contact with dead bodies, which she loved to handle and prepare for burial.

In the early stages of this monomania she tried to satisfy her cravings of bereavement, and by assisting in bathing and dressing the remains. These natural deaths came too infrequently to satisfy her, however, so she desperately started out to manufacture funerals by supplying the dead bodies.

[“Martha Grinder, Arch Murderess Of Pittsburg – Women Who Poisoned Men, Woman and Children for Pleasure of Witnessing Their Dying Torments, Hanged – Monomaniac Carried Death In Her Pocket,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Nov. 15, 1910, p. 5]


A booklet was published on the case in 1866:

Martha Grinder, The Life and Confessions of Martha Grinder, the Poisoner ..., J.P. Hunt & Company, 1866, 23 pages

A different listing of the pamphlet gives a different title and page count:

The Grinder poisoning case : the trial of Martha Grinder, for the murder of Mrs. Mary Caroline Carothers, on the 1st of August, 1865 : being a full and complete history of this important case. Pittsburgh, Pa. : Published by John P. Hunt & Co., [1865 or 1866?], 36 pages


EXCERPT: On the 15th of September the body of Samuel Grinder was exhumed, having been buried at Leechburg. A subsequent analysis showed that he had died from poison. He was a soldier, and was home on furlough, during which time he visited his brother George, and while there was poisoned. Before he died he said to his brother, “She [Martha Grinder] has poisoned me, and will poison the whole Grinder family.”

[“The Pittsburg Poisoner – Execution of Mrs. Grinder.” The Union and Dakotian (Yankton, South Dakota), February 17, 1866, pp. 1-2]


FULL TEXT: Pittsburg can claim the unwelcome distinction of having produced one of the most horrifying types of female poisoner that ever darkened the pages of criminal records.

In Martha Grinder, who was hanged in the Allegheny county jail yard. January 19, 1866, there was revealed one of the most fiendish monomaniacs since the time of the unthinkable Borgias.

Mrs. Grinder’s case has nothing in common with the Schenk poisoning, save in the fact that she used arsenic, which, it is alleged, was administered to the millionaire pork packer by his wife, who years ago worked as a domestic for several families in her husband’s native town.

If Mrs. Grinder had perpetrated her crimes in these times of close communication between every corner of the world, the whole story would still be talked about. But it had all happened almost 44 years ago, in the infancy of telegraphy, and it has been forgotten years ago in all its disgusting details, by everyone except the very few who had occasion to come into touch with case in one capacity or another.


There was not the slightest motive of gain or animosity in any of her murders. She killed them, and admitted so at the last, simply for the love of taking life, and of seeing suffering.

Martha Grinder indulged this frightful mania until she had caused the death of about a dozen people. Then, and not till then, did suspicion raise its eye to her. Suspicion, once directed against her, overwhelming circumstantial evidence piled up, although at first it was thought that she was absolutely innocent.

Mrs. Grinder lived in the old Ninth ward, and was regarded by her neighbors as an estimable and most kindhearted person.

One of her predominating characteristics was her keen sympathy for bereaved families. In cases of sickness she was always among the first to volunteer her services as nurse, and she could always be relied on to assist in the neighborly task, which was commonly practiced in those days, of “laying out” the body. There was seldom a funeral at which she was not conspicuous among the mourners, and the family which death had robbed of a father, mother or child, always felt a certain amount of comfort in the acknowledge that Mrs. Grinder felt for them.

For several years this went on, and the sympathetic, helpful Mrs. Grinder was often employed in these melancholy duties, not as a paid attendant, but as a kind, big-hearted friend. At last, however, it was noted that almost invariably when Mrs. Grinder had anything to do with a case of sickness, the patient died, and it gradually was observed that the deaths were suspiciously similar.


It is all a matter of record now, how she was arrested and formally charged with murder in October, 1865, and found guilty of an almost impossible degree of unnatural crime on October 28 of the of the same year. She was sentenced to death November 25 and executed the following January.

Her confession was a remarkable revelation of human depravity. She had become obsessed with the liking of scenes of moral agony, and her mania went even father, making her revel in coming into contact with dead bodies, which she loved to handle and prepare for burial.

In the early stages of this momomania she tried to satisfy her cravings by always being on hand in cases of bereavement, and by assisting in bathing and dressing the remains. These natural deaths came too infrequently to satisfy her, however, so she deliberately started out to manufacture funerals by supplying the dead bodies.

She was by no means an educated woman, but she knew that arsenic was a deadly poison, and she decided to make that her agent of death.

In the 60’s it was not nearly so difficult to obtain poisonous drugs, and chemicals as it is now, and she was able to provide herself with an abundance of arsenic. To be ready for an emergency she carried arsenic loose in the deep pocket which women used to wear in their dresses. In addition she kept a liberal supply of it at home.

This fiend in human guise made no distinction in choosing her prey. Round-faced, happy childhood never awoke a tremor of pity in her breast. The strong, full-blooded man, working happily for the wife and family he loved seemed just as proper a subject for her venomous care as did the white hatred, feeble old men and woman, totering to the grave [sic]. One and all, old and young, she killed without mercy, simply to gloat at them as their horrible sufferings convulsed them until life was extinct.


Should a child, for instance, contract any of the simple maladies of childhood, Mrs. Grinder on hearing of it, would hurry to the house and ask if she could not do something to help.

“I know you are busy without having to take care of this poor little thing, she would say to the hardworking mother, for it was a poor, hardworking section of this city, “and you know I have little to do at home. Let me help you, I’ll nurse him, while you do the house work, cook you something to eat, and look after the house, it’ll be a pleasure to me.”

In the large majority of cases, this neighborly offer was taken advantage of, and the murderess was thereupon installed in the house. From her coming, the patient’s doom was sealed.

Mrs. Grinder, if she was in the sick room, was a model nurse, faithfully carrying out the attending physician’s orders, and giving the medicine regularly, but in addition she always dropped in a little pinch of arsenic on food, mixing it in the butter with which she spread the hot toast, dissolving a few particles of it in the milk or tea, or sprinkling it on the meats or in the soups.

It was the same when adults fell sick. It was patient happened to be the housewife, Mrs. Grinder’s kindly offer always eagerly accepted by the distressed husband. If the man of the house fell sick. Mrs. Grinder’s offer to help the overworked wife was just as welcome. She was an accomplished actress, and hypocritical to a degree. Her kind words and acts were as highly prized as her bustling eagerness to help the work. More than that, she proved herself a friend in need, by purchasing delicacies and expensive medicines with money of her own.

She was an expert in administering the poison, her skill no doubt being gained by her long practice, and she graduated her doses so as to cause her helpless victims the greatest and most protracted suffering. Their deaths were always, it is said by persons who remember, of a most horrible character, enough to move a heart of stone.


They failed absolutely to bring her to repentance and had she not finally been detected, she would probably have continued her murderous career many years longer.

She retained counsel, and made a vigorous legal fight for her life, at first protesting her innocence. The defense was able, and every means was availed of to secure her acquittal, the power of challenge of jurors being exercised to the extent that the existing panel was ordered by the court to bring in 10 additional talesman, from which a jury was finally selected.

James P. Sterrett was the president judge, Judges Thomas Mellon and E. H. Stowe being also on the bench. The jury soon found a verdict of “Guilty of murder of the first degree.”

The court record thus describes the close of this famous trial:

 “John M. Kirkpatrick, Esq., moved that the court pronounce judgment against her, and upon this it is forthwith demanded of the said Martha Grinder, the prisoner at the bar, if she has anything to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced against her, who nothing further says unless as before she had said, whereupon the court pronounced against her, who nothing further says unless as before she had said, whereupon the court judgment as follows: “The sentence of the law is that you, Martha Grinder, the prisoner at the bar, be taken hence to the jail of Allegheny county, whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and that you are dead, and may God in His infinite goodness, have mercy upon your soul.”

The final record in the gruesome case is the affidavit of Sheriff John H. Stewart, died January 20, 1866, setting forth that in pursuance of the warrant of the governor he did on the 19th day of January, 1866, execute Martha Grinder in the jail yard of Allegheny county.

[“Martha Grinder, Arch Murderess Of Pittsburg – Women Who Poisoned Men, Woman and Children for Pleasure of Witnessing Their Dying Torments, Hanged – Monomaniac Carried Death In Her Pocket,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Nov. 15, 1910, p. 5]


EXCERPT (peaches and cream; crackers, coffee and toast):

STATEMENT OF JAMES A. CARUTHERS – In June last I resided in Gray’s Alley, Allegheny City, in an adjoining house to Mrs. Grinder, and my wife’s health up to the 27th day of that month was good—On the evening of the 27th she was invited to take tea with the Grinder family, by Mrs. G. and while at the table eat some peaches and cream. On her return home she was taken suddenly ill, and at nine o’clock was much worse. At twelve she was seized with violent vomiting, purging, nausea at the mouth, and headache. These symptoms continued two hours, rendering her prostrate and weak; she also complained of great thirst. At daylight she requested me to go for Dr. Irish, which I did, and then went to my work. About eleven o’clock I returned home and found my wife still in bed, but somewhat better, gave her some water to quench her thirst, cooked my dinner and returned to the store. In the evening she was worse and she continued bad all night.—Went to the store in the morning and returned at eleven o’clock. My wife complained of being hungry, and requested me to make some rice soup. Went down to the kitchen and kindled a fire, and while so engaged Mrs. Grinder came in and said she had filled the kettle and tried to make a fire, but it would not burn. I made the soup and a pot of tea, and when it was ready my wife came downstairs and partook of the soup quite heartily, after which she returned to her room and I went to the store. About two o’clock Mrs. Grinder came to the store and said my wife was quite sick again. I hurried home and found her affected precisely as she had been in the first attack. Dr. Irish came and said she was poisoned. On Friday morning Mrs. Grinder brought in some coffee, toasted bread and crackers which my wife partook of and was soon after taken with vomiting, spasmodic affection of the throat and burning at the stomach. At noon Mrs. Grinder brought another lot of crackers, coffee and toast, of which my wife eat sparingly, and in twenty minutes after was seized with the old symptoms.

[Caruthers, Mary Caroline Caruthers, The Spirit of Democracy, Woodsfield, Ohio, dated, January 31, 1866]
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For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America (as of January 20, 2014, the collection contains 61 cases)


More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed


[Orig: Sep. 22, 2011; Feb. 22, 2016: 1,964 v]