Showing posts with label Step-Mother from Hell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Step-Mother from Hell. Show all posts

Monday, February 10, 2014

Step-Mothers from Hell

The orthodox myth about female violence is that it is: a) a response to male violence, or, b) a result of what social constructionists call “social stressors.” The myth is false. This selection of cases provides examples of female violence directed, in most cases, towards female children. (For a discussion of the feminist “belief in the inherent-non-violence of women” see: The central myth of MISANDRY: “the inherent non-violence of women”


1860 – Elizabeth McCraney – Medford, Otsego, N. Y. (Serial Killer)
"Mrs. Elizabeth P. McCraney, the third wife of Mr. Mc. (who was also her second husband,) is accused of poisoning her husband's daughter, Huklah, a beautiful girl of 17, and now that this murder is out the people believe they shall trace no less than seven mysterious deaths to her agency, including her former husband."

1873 – Mrs. Deaten – Manchester, Kentucky
“murdered her step-daughter, aged 10, in a horrible manner”

1873 – Wilhelmina Waltmann – Stade, Germany (Serial Killer)
This serial killer of seven persons was executed by beheading. She murdered the parents of the man she loved because they objected to their union. Four other adults she murdered before she married a widower, murdered his children and was finally brought to justice.

1884 – Maria Bruce – Raffahannock, Virginia
“After slapping the girl, this act seemed to work up her fury to a still greater heat, and, setting the iron poker from the fire place, she beat the skull of the little girl to a jelly.”

1887 – Ellen Jones – Little Rock, Arkansas
“[S]he would beat the little child until it would be convulsed with spasms and then strip its clothes off, tie its hands behind it and leave it a prey to the flies for hours.”

1898 – Mrs. Edward Smith – Bergen/Passaic, New Jersey
Inez Smith, 15: “My sister and I have laid awake all night crying over the whippings she has given us. She began to whip us as soon as she came to the house. She has often grabbed my hair and thrown me to the floor, and when I was lying flat upon my back she beat me with a rope and stick until my back and legs and arms were black and blue. Then she pounded me with her arm until I was so sore I could not move.
I saw her grab Alice and put her hands in boiling water. Alice cried, but my step-mother kept her hands in the water. Alice fell to the floor, and the skin pealed off her hands when my step-mother let go of her. Another time I saw my step-mother put Alice’s hands on the table and hold them there. Then she took a hammer in one hand and pounded Alice’s  fingers until Alice cried and fainted away.
My sister Katie is six years old and a cripple, and could not walk when my step-mother came to our house. Once she grabbed Katie and swung her around the room with one hand and beat her with the other hand. She struck Katie over the arm awfully and my father said that she broke Katie’s arm.”

1898 – Martha Place – New York, N.Y.
Murdered her step-daughter, throwing acid in her face and then smothering her. After this she stabbed husband. A famous case. Executed in 1899.

1898 – “Obecse Step-Mother” – Obecse, Hungary [present Serbia]
The stepmother hanged her step-daughter, a little girl of four years of age, on a tree in the garden. She then ordered her stepson, aged ten, to say he had murdered his little sister. The boy refused, whereupon the inhuman stepmother seized him and placed him in a large oven, where she baked her bread. The boy was roasted to death over a slow fire. She then suffocated a third stepchild, aged nine, with a pillow, and strangled the fourth, aged seven, with her own hands.

1900 – Annie Grabant – Chicago, Illinois

One of the atrocious crimes in the police annals of the city have just come to light. Mrs. Annie Grabant confessed that she murdered her two stepdaughters, who were burned to death in the home, No. 136 Homan avenue, Wed night. Mrs. Grabant is at a hospital being treated for her injuries which are severe, Frederick Grabant, the husband of the woman, was a widower when he married her six years ago. He had two daughters from the first the second Mrs. Grabant was jealous of the girls and the neighbors say, abused them. She not only beat them, but would, it is said, sear their bodies with hot irons; make them take nauseous concoctions and whip them till they fainted if they made an outcry, thrust them out of doors with little clothing on in the winter time and subject them to the tortures of hunger by making them sit by unfed while her own four children ate their meals.

1901 – Mrs. Stallion – Aurora, Missouri
Mrs. John Stallion and two sons by a former marriage murdered Alice Stallion, her step daughter, aged sixteen. The boys held Alice while her mother broke her skull with a poker. The body was then thrown in the James river.

1903 – “Prenzlau Step-Mother” – Prenzlau, Germany
The woman tortured her five-year-old daughter to death in a series of unbelievably cruel acts.

1904 – Roe Krauss – Hartford City, Indiana
Roe Krauss murdered her stepdaughter Crystal, and forged a suicide note.

1906 – Stella Brennan – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Murdered three step-children by shooting them, blaming a fictitious burglar, one child survived and testified against her. A baby was born to her in prison.

1906 – Jennie Anderson – Youngstown, Ohio
The stepmother broke bottles on head of children. She killed one by beating the girl with a nail-studded club.

1909 – Ruth Rendell – Perth, Australia
Murdered four step-children by poisoning. Executed.

1913 – Ellen Etheridge – Waco, Texas (Serial Killer)
“Slew Four Step-Children. – Woman Says Jealousy of Her Husband’s Affection Prompted Her to Act.”

1913 – Hennie Yates – Troy, Tennessee
Mrs. Hennie Yates, thirty-six, and daughter, Floy Farris, fifteen, charged with the murder of Ligon Yates, twelve, and Ida May Yates, ten. They were the step-children of Hennie and the half-siblings of Floy. Children drowned in creek near home at Troy, Tenn.  Mrs. Yates will give no other reason for committing the crime than: “They made my life miserable.” The woman is apparently rational, realizes the enormity of her crime, but does not in any way show that she is remorseful. . The little girl cowered in a separate cell as far away from her mother as she could get. She declares she is afraid of her mother and assisted in the murder only after she had been threatened with death by her parent if she refused.

1915 – Evelina Steele – Muskegon, Wisconsin
Mrs. Albert Steele, of Muskegon, Wisconsin, murdered her 11-year-old step-daughter out of jealousy for her husband’s love for the child. The murder took place in 1915. Other women have done such things for the same reason, but Mrs. Steele went about her business in a fashion that was unusual. She tied the girl to a chair, blindfolded her and then poured acid down her throat. Then, in an effort to simulate a botched abortion in order to give an explanation for the death as well as providing support for a false allegation of incest to be used after the “abortion” was discovered, the step-mother, mutilated the corpse and threw the naked body in an alley, partially covering it with sand. Mrs. Steele was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

1920 – Marie Anne Houde Gagnon – Quebec, Canada
“The girl, 16, after being beaten, was burned with a red hot poker and made to walk barefoot in the snow was forced to drink poison, the evidence disclosed. The post mortem Examination of the body revealed 54 wounds.”

1923 – Eliza Potegian – Fresno, Ca. (Serial Killer)
“I’ll make ashes of them.”

1924 – Annie Hauptrief – San Marcos, Texas (Serial Killer)
Poisoned four step-children, who died, and husband, who survived. Murdered previous husband.

1925 – Birdie Strome – Springfield, Ohio (in progress) (Serial Killer)
Step-daughter had predicted own death, died of strychnine poisoning. Mrs. Strome was suspected of being a serial killer (former husband and sister-in-law died of “mysteriously”). She was convicted of the girl’s murder and died in prison not long afterwards.

1925 – Marie Maharies – Waterloo, Iowa (in progress)
“‘Yes I killed him [her 6-year-old stepson]. I didn’t love him and I hated his father.’ … ‘No, he wasn’t mean, but he was always in the way.’ That is the excuse she gives, and to her it seems sufficient.”

1928 – Caroline Evanovich – Stark County, Ohio
“The officers declare that the girl did not die from drowning as a result of being pushed into the water but say that the child was struck over the head with some kind of a blunt instrument that caused hemorrhages of the brain and her death.”

1928 – Mrs. Reddick – Fresno, California
After the death of her husband, Mrs. Reddick deposited her daughter in an asylum and her son in a reform school in order to prevent the children from ever reuniting with her natural mother.

1930 – Pearl O’Loughlin – Denver, Colorado
Mrs. O’Loughlin was found guilty last night of slaying her stepdaughter, Leona, 10, whose battered body was found in Berkeley Park Lake, Oct. 17. The child had been fed broken glass, struck on the head with a tire iron and her body hurled into the lake, the state charged.

1935 – Florence Stoddard – Keene, New Hampshire
“Mrs. Florence Stoddard, aged 20 years, was sentenced to imprisonment for twenty-two months in the house of correction upon an admission that she had used a hot poker [an iron stove-lifter, actually] to brand the bodies of her two small stepchildren. The husband originally lodged the complaint and when the police made an investigation they found thirty-six scars on the body of the 10-year-old stepdaughter and twenty-six scars on the person of the 6-year-old stepson.”

1935 – Mildred Schueler – Bridgeport, Connecticut
“They have listened to the story of little Marilyn being tied hand and foot, beaten and crushed to death by the stepmother.” Sentenced to life in prison.

1937 – Agnes Joan Ledford – St. Helens, Oregon
Murdered a husband & 2 teenage step-daughters. She was convicted of the 2 child-murders.

1939 – Anna Louise Sullivan – Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Serial Killer)
 She murdered her second husband; attempted to murder her third husband and his two sons and daughter, leaving one son dead, the husband crippled and the daughter very ill.

1953 – Jewell Louise Kelley – Texas City, Texas
According to the attending physician, the condition of the beaten child was worse than prisoners of war from Japanese camps.
1956 – Rhonda Belle Martin –Montgomery, Alabama (Serial Killer)
Mrs. Martin, a waitress from Montgomery, Alabama, admitted slaying her mother, three small daughters and two of her five husbands with poison. She also fed ant poison once was her stepson. He is still alive though paralyzed.

1978 – Catherine L. Sherriod – Norfolk, Virginia


Friday, September 23, 2011

Joan Ledford, Oregon Serial Killer & Step-Mother from Hell - 1937

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): St. Helen’s, Ore., Nov. 3 – The Columbia county grand jury indicted Mrs. Agnes Joan Ledford today on two of first degree murder in the alleged deaths by poison of her step-daughters, Ruth, 13, and Dorothy, 15.

Ruth died September 6, her sister two days later. Their deaths previously were attributed to having eaten wild blackberries, covered with wind-blown spray.

[“Woman Indicted In Children’s Death,” The Gazette and Daily (York, Pa.), Nov. 4, 1937, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): St. Helens, Ore., Oct. 27 – A twice-married mother of two children, quietly but firmly defending her innocence, was held in jail at Portland without bail today while officers investigated three deaths – those of two stepdaughters and the woman’s first husband.

The prisoner, 35-year-old Agnes Joan Ledford, was arrested last night on an information filed by Sheriff M. R. Calhoun, accusing her of first-degree murder in the deaths of Dorothy, 15, and Ruth Ledford, 13, who had been all but forgotten publicly as the girls who died because they like berries.

No charge had been filed concerning the third death, that of John Matson, who died in 1932 as the husband of Mrs. Ledford, now the wife of George Ledford, a Columbia county grocer.

District Attorney David Bennett, claiming a purchase of poison on the alleged pretense of using it to kill earwigs had been traced to Mrs. Ledford, asserted the lethal mixture had been found in her home and that the equivalent of an amount missing was found in the children’s stomachs.

The prosecutor asserted that Mrs. Ledford was named beneficiary in an insurance policy for the children, who were by George Ledford and his first wife, now Mrs. Pearl Turner, Los Angeles.

“I didn’t do it: I couldn’t have done such a thing,” Mrs. Ledford told a reporter in Portland, where she was taken because there were no jail facilities here for women. Behind her she left two infant boys, one six months and the other 21 months, the children of herself and George Ledford.

Ruth and Dorothy died last month within two days of each other. At the time, sheriff’s officers expressed the belief the children had been poisoned by eating berries in a patch on to which a poisonous spray from a near-by orchard had been blown by wind.

In the investigation, Bennett disclosed that the body of Matson, whose death was ascribed to acute gastritis, had been exhumed sand the prosecutor asserted a trace of poison had been found.

This announcement led Sheriff Herbert Shelton and District Attorney J. K. Weatherford Jr., of Linn county, where Matson and Mrs. Ledford formerly lived, to go to Portland to investigate the circumstances of Matson’s death.

[“Mother Is Held In Poison Case – Death of 2 Girls and Ex-Spouse Is Probed,” (AP), The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wa.), Oct. 28, 1937, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): St. Helens, Ore., March 30 – A Circuit Court jury convicted Mrs. Agnes Joan Ledford, 35, Wednesday of the first degree murder of her stepdaughter, Ruth, 13, by poison, and recommended life imprisonment.

Mrs. Ledford was accused of administering poison to her two step-daughters, Ruth, 13, and Dorothy, 15, last fall, but was tried only for Ruth's death.

The state charged that Mrs. Ledford believed the children's deaths would force payment of $1000 in insurance. The defense contended the children were poisoned by spray blown on berries from a nearby potato field.

[“Stepmother Convicted Of Poisoning Child For Insurance,” (AP), Albuquerque Journal (N.M.), Mar. 31, 1938, p. 4]


John Mason, first husband, died 1932
Ruth Ledford, stepdaughter, died early Sep. 6, 1937
Dorothy Ledford, stepdaughter, died early Sep. 8, 1937


For more examples, see Step-Mothers from Hell.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

’Soup Killer’ Thinks Life Term ‘Too Long’: Anna Louise Sullivan, Husband-Poisoner - 1939

FULL TEXT (Article 1 if 6): Milwaukee – Departing for the women's state prison today, Mrs. Anna Louise Sullivan, 50, remarked that she thought the life term imposed for the paris green murder of her stepson, James Sullivan, 18, was “too long.”

The confessed slayer's fate was decided before Municipal Judge Max W. Nohl less than 38 hours after she admitted the murder of young Sullivan and her second husband, Fred Ricklefs, to Dist. Atty. Herbert J. Steffes. Less than 24 hours after sentence was imposed she was on her way to prison today in the custody of Deputy Sheriff Max Brunner and Police Matron Mrs. Almyra Carrie. She appeared to be in good spirits after she left, having given way to tears only once before Judge Nohl.

Although the officers removed her from the scene of her crimes, she left her third husband and two of his children lying in the hospital, as well as a broken home for three of her daughters by previous marriages.

Mrs. Sullivan told authorities she killed her step son because he was dirty and unwilling to obey her.

[“’Soup Killer’ Thinks Life Term ‘Too Long’” syndicated (UP), The Wisconsin State Journal (Wi.), May 6, 1939, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 6): A thin, big-eyed little girl celebrated her twelfth birthday Friday at county general hospital with birthday cake, gifts and a party with 12 other little girl patients.

Theresa Sullivan, one of the persons poisoned by her stepmother, Mrs. Anna Louise Sullivan, smiled shyly at nurses and visitors. For five months she has lain in the hospital, recovering slowly. Visiting the party in a wheelchair was her father, Michael Sullivan, thin from his six months struggle against arsenic.

The death of Jimmy Sullivan, Theresa’s brother, stirred an investigation and Mrs. Sullivan was convicted of murder and sentenced to a life term in the woman’s state prison at Taycheedah.

A doll with a wardrobe was a gift to Theresa from hospital nurses, and there also were a paint set, cut-out dolls and beads.

[“Girls in Hospital Help Little Patient Mark a Birthday,” The Milwaukee Journal (Wi.), Jul. 22, 1939, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): Michael Sullivan will be “horrified” when he learns that his wife has confessed she poisoned him and his daughter, Theresa, 11, and that she fatally poisoned his son, James, 18.

So said Drs. Frances J. Murphy, medical director of the county general hospital, and Dr. Harry Sergeant, superintendent, who have supervised the case.

“The father has absolutely no suspicion that he and members of the family were poisoned,” Dr. Sargeant said.

Michael Sullivan will be given his first word of the poisoning Thursday afternoon. He will be told of the wife’s confession by Dist. Atty. Herbert J. Steffes.

~ Paralysis of Arms, Legs ~

In a joint interview, the two physicians told this story about the poisonings:

“The father first came to the county general hospital Dec. 12, 1938. He had paralysis of his arms and legs, and there was a drooping of the wrists, indicating either lead or arsenic poisoning.

“Hair and nails of the father were checked but no evidence of poisoning was discovered. He was soon released.

“He came back Jan. 10 for further treatment, at which time he showed the same symptoms. Since then he has been treated at the hospital.

“On Feb. 20 the daughter, Theresa, was brought to the hospital also. She had symptoms of neurotic paralysis, identical with those of her father. She also had a kidney ailment, which indicated poisoning.

“Resident physicians examined her carefully, but found nothing indicating poison. The physicians were highly suspicious, though, because the two cases were so similar.

~ Boy Died Next Day ~

“Apr. 27 the son, James, entered the hospital. He was suffering from severe enteritis (bloody diarrhea). He also had a severe infection in his mouth. He died the following day.

“The resident physician now felt certain that the members of the Sullivan family had been poisoned, and on Apr. 29 he submitted all the facts to the coroner for investigation.”

Dr. Sargeant said he did not know whether the coroner was definitely informed at the time that poisoning was suspected. Steffes was not notified, Dr. Sargeant said.

Dr. Sargeant refused to give reporters the name of the resident physician who made the report.

[“Healthy Family Taken Ill; Neighbors Whisper,” Milwaukee Journal (Wi.), May 4, 1939, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): They were all so healthy before she came. But Mike and the kids have been sick almost all the time since his marriage a year ago.”

Thus went the talk Thursday in the neighborhood of the simple, one story frame cottage at 1514 N. Astor st., wherein lived Mrs. Anna Louise Sullivan who, the district attorney says, has confessed poisoning four persons, two of whom died.

The neighbors know and like Mike Sullivan, a county park commission employe working in Juneau park. He has lived in their neighborhood 15 years.

About Mrs. Sullivan they know little. After she became Mike’s second wife last year, also stayed pretty close to home, they said. There were no quarrels nor other indications of discord in the Sullivan home.

One thing, however, the neighbors remember. When a maid was taking care of Mike Sullivan’s three children – James, Robert and Theresa – they were healthy.

“James came back from a CCC camp last summer in fine physical condition,” the neighbors added. “A little while after he came home, he got sick. Now he is dead.”

“James used to come over to our house complaining that the food at his home made him sick,” said Mrs. Frances Dougherty, 1708 N. Marshall st., a sister of Mike Sullivan. “He said his stepmother gave him vegetable soup and tell him that “it is good for sick people.”

“Mrs. Sullivan brought a loaf of bed and batch of doughnuts to our house eight weeks ago. My husband refused to eat it. We threw the stuff out.”

“Theresa – she’s 11 – got sick a while ago,” recalled Ursula Busaalcchi, who lives at 1518 N. Astor st., next door to the Sullivan cottage. “Mrs. Sullivan complained that every time she fed Theresa, Theresa got sick. We took Theresa into our home for three days and fed her toast and eggs. She got better. She didn’t have any trouble with the food we fed her.”

On the steps of the Sullivan cottage Thursday a dog of no particular breed sat waiting, eager for the return for the return of persons whom he knew and loved. And in the trim garden in the rear of the house, the flowers and shrubs which Mike Sullivan had planted were bursting into their early spring bloom.

[“Killing of Two Told in Probe; Warrant Out – Second Husband, Stepson Named as Victims; Third Mate, Stepdaughter Are Ill in Hospital,” Milwaukee Journal (Wi.), May 4, 1939, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6): Mrs. Anna Louise Sullivan, 50, who confessed having poisoned and killed her stepson and the second of her three husbands, was bound over to municipal court for trial on a murder charge after a preliminary hearing in district court Thursday afternoon. She was charged with the murder of the stepson, James Sullivan, 17.

Mrs. Anna Louise Sullivan, 50, of 1514 N. Astor st., Thursday confessed she had fatally poisoned the second of her three husbands and a stepson by her third marriage, and had tried to kill her third husband and a step-daughter by the same method.

“I didn’t like them, so I put paris green in their soup,” she told Dist. Atty. Herbert J. Steffes.

The confession followed an all-night grilling in which Mrs. Sullivan first had maintained innocence.

The murder victims were:

Fred Ricklefs, the woman’s second husband.

James Sullivan, 18.

A first degree murder warrant was issued for Mrs. Sullivan at noon, based upon the death of James Sullivan.

James’ father, Michael J. Sullivan, 60, and James’ sister, Theresa, 11, to whom Mrs. Sullivan also administered poison, according to her admission as quoted by Steffes, are in the county general hospital. They are expected to recover.

~ $1,700 Insurance Told ~

Steffes said that Mrs. Sullivan told him she had collected $1,700 insurance upon Ricklef’s death, but denied that the insurance money was the motive for the killing. Ricklefs died at the county hospital here Jan. 30, 1931.

 “He was in the war and kind of crazy. I didn’t like him,” Steffes quoted her as having said.

In telling of Ricklefs’ last illness, she smiled, Steffes said.

“It was funny when he went to the hospital,” she said, according to Steffes. “They thought he had appendicitis, because he had a pain in his belly.”

James Sullivan died at the county general hospital Apr. 28. he had been taken to the hospital Apr. 26, a few hours after, Mrs. Sullivan was quoted as saying, she had put a couple of “pinches” of paris green in his food. Six days before she administered the fatal dose, Mrs. Sullivan was quoted, [as saying] she had put poison in James’ food. It made him ill, she said, but he did not require hospitalization.

~ Third Husband Ill ~

Mrs. Sullivan was quoted as saying she gave her present husband poison on Dec. 12, 1938 and again on Jan. 10. Sullivan was in the hospital continuously in the second attempt to poison him.

Steffes said Mrs. Sullivan told him:

“I gave Theresa poison some time after Thanksgiving last year. I don’t remember the date – and again Feb. 20.”

The girl became ill the same day and was taken to the hospital, where she has been since.

Besides James and Theresa and other of Sullivan’s children by his previous marriage. Robert, 14 and three of Mrs. Sullivan’s daughters by her former marriages lived with them. The girls were Helen, 17, and Elaine Murphy, 12, born of her first marriage, and Norma Ricklefs, 8, daughter of the first poison victim.

Mrs. Sullivan had three other daughters by her first marriage, two of whom live in Milwaukee. They are Mrs. Annabelle Hibert, 2840 N. 8th st.m and Dolly Tappin, 731 N. 30th st. The other is Mrs. Mary Lampi, Fond du Las, Wisc.

~ Quarrels Are Disclosed ~

Mrs. Sullivan told Steffes, he said, that she and her husband had quarreled frequently over his refusal to sign over to her a half interest in the Sullivan home, which he owned. She also complained, Steffes said, of Sullivan’s “too ardent lovemaking” and his “habit of running and telling the priest every time he didn’t like what I did.”

She claimed, Steffes said, Steffes said, that she had been given the paris green she used to poison the Sullivans by a woman whom she met last summer in Juneau park.

Steffes’ investigator, Detective John Zilavy, took Mrs. Sullivan to her home Thursday morning to search for paris green but found none. Mrs. Sullivan told him she burned it several weeks ago, Zilavy said.

~ “They Got Me Mad” ~

When a reporter asked Mrs. Sullivan Thursday: “Why did you try to kill your husband?” she replied:

“They got me mad, and when I get mad I could kill anybody.”

“Why did you try to kill Theresa?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to,” said Mrs. Sullivan. “I must have got her soup mixed up with my husband’s.”

The interviewer reminded her that Sullivan was in the hospital at the time the girl was poisoned.

“She must have got me mad, too,” Mrs. Sullivan answered.

~ Probe Asked by Friend ~

The investigation culminating in Mrs. Sullivan’s confession was begun Monday afternoon by Steffes, at the request of a friend of the family, whose identity Steffes withheld.

The friend called on Steffes and related incidents connected with James’ death and the illness of the father and daughter which he considered suspicious.

Steffes then obtained the consent of Sullivan for an autopsy to determine the cause of James’ death. James’ body had not been buried.

The contents of James’ stomach were sent to Dr. Foseph C. Bach, professor of chemistry of Marquette university, for analysis. When he reported Wednesday afternoon that the tents had revealed arsenic, Mrs. Sullivan was arrested.

In the interim, Steffes had called the hospitals for details of the illness of James, his sister and his father. When he requested the data he was told by hospital officials that they suspected James had been poisoned, Steffes said.

~ Woman Is Questioned ~

Mrs. Sullivan was taken to the prosecutor’s office at 8:30 p. m. Wednesday. Steffes, his chief deputy, George A. Bowman, Zilavy, and Detectives Wallace Armstrong and Terry Mitchell, participated in the questioning. Mrs. Sullivan is hard of hearing and the interrogators frequently had to shout.

They inquired into her family background and her marriages.

A native of Medford, Wis., her father was of French-Indian blood and her mother was Irish. She married her first husband. Edward Murphy, in Tulsa, Okla., she said. He died of natural causes at Fond du Lac in November, 1927, and in August, 1928, she married Ricklefs. Her marriage to Sullivan, an employe of the county park commission, took place May 7, 1938.

~ Quizzed for Hours~

From her personal history, the interrogators switched to inquiries concerning James’ death. When questioners accused her point blank of killing her stepson she flared up and shouted: “It’s a lie.” For hours they hurled questions about the youth’s death, but she persisted in angry denials.

It was 2:30 a. m. when, with a wink at his confreres, Steffes said:

“It’s no use talking to her any longer. Have her locked up. She won’t tell the truth. I’ll issue a murder warrant in the morning.”

He told Detective Mitchell to take Mrs. Sullivan to a cell. Then all but Mitchell and Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Sullivan walked out of the office. Mitchell, who had played a friendly role toward Mrs. Sullivan throughout, told Mrs. Sullivan she was making a mistake in not telling the truth.

After a few more minutes of conversation, Mrs. Sullivan, Mrs. Sullivan said: “Alright, I’ll tell. I poisoned him.”

Mitchell then called in the others, who were waiting in the anteroom, and Mrs. Sullivan repeated the confession.

Not once as she related the details of the poisoning did Mrs. Sullivan show any remorse, Steffes said.

She is tall and dark and extremely thin. She wears glasses.

[“Killing of Two Told in Probe; Warrant Out – Second Husband, Stepson Named as Victims; Third Mate, Stepdaughter Are Ill in Hospital,” Milwaukee Journal (Wi.), May 4, 1939, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): After less than five hours of constricted liberty, Mrs. Anna Louise Sullivan, Milwaukee poison murderess, was black in confinement Friday at the state prison for women at Taycheedah, from which she had attempted to escape Thursday.

Mrs. Sullivan, who had been assigned to outside tasks because of her health, was reported missing at a checkup at 11 a. m. it was believed at that time that she had walked out the unguarded gates of the honor institution. Several hours later, however, she was discovered hiding in a copse on the 244 acre prison grounds.

Because of her escape attempt, Mrs. Sullivan’s privilege of working outside has been revoked.

Mrs. Sullivan was sentenced to a life term for murder here in May, 1929. she had confessed that she killed her 17 year old stepson and her second husband with poison and had poisoned her third husband and stepdaughter, although not fatally. She was convicted of the killing of her stepson.

[“Woman Fails in Prison Dash – Milwaukee Poison Slayer Is Found Hiding on Grounds of Taycheedah,” The Milwaukee Journal (Wi.), Jun. 13, 1941, p. 23]



Jan. 30, 1931 – Fred Ricklefs, husband #2, died
Feb. 20, 1938 – Theresa Sullivan, 11, step-daughter, enters hospital, survives, crippled
Apr. 28, 1938 – James Sullivan, 18, step-son, dies
Dec. 12, 1938 – Michael J. Sullivan, husband #3, first entered hospital, survived
Jan. 10, 1939 – Michael Sullivan again enters hospital, survived, crippled



For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


For more examples, see Step-Mothers from Hell.


Wilhelmina Waltmann, German Serial Killer - 1873

NOTE: Some sources give the name as “Waltmann,” others use the spelling “Woltman” or “Woltmann.”


Child – knocked eye out
Wife of employer – death by poison
Her own child –murder suspected
Husband, Brunswick, army officer – death by poison
Mr. Wachter, Hanover – father-in-law
Mrs. Wachter, Hanover – mother-in-law
Mr. Woltman (her husband), Stade – 2 step-children


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Wilhelmina Waltmann, known as the “Borgia of the Stade,” a little city on the banks of the Elbe, recently surrendered her life on the scaffold to atone for its iniquity. Her career had been marked by continuous, premeditated cruelty. While at school she knocked out the eye of a companion. Being a woman of great beauty she became governess to the children of a wealthy man who had made her his mistress. Her lover’s wife having learned of the affair the young tigress poisoned her.

At Hamburg, soon after, her beautiful face attracted many admirers, but becoming reckless the police expelled her from the city, and she went to Brunswick, where an officer of the Ducal army fell in love with and married her. She poisoned him soon after, and then turned up in Hanover, where she married a merchant named Wachter, and avenged herself upon his parents, who opposed the match, by poisoning them. Wachter soon deserted her, and she married a widower named Waltmann, with two children. These latter became the victims of their murderous stepmother, and this last crime exposed her. Her antecedents were examined, her other victims exhumed, and the evidence came in copious enough to fix a dozen death penalties to her had it been possible.

Throughout her confinement prior to her death the wild beast in her underwent no subjugation and though chained to the wall she undertook to attack a clergyman who visited her with spiritual consolation. Her beautiful hair was cut off before taking her to the scaffold, and she was arrayed in a low black muslin dress, which left the neck exposed. She was then forced to kneel in front of the block before a crowd of witnessed; her bead was strapped to it, and with one blow of the executioner’s axe it rolled into the basket.

[“The End of a ‘Borgia,’” The Coshocton Democrat (Oh.), Feb. 4, 1873, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Although the 3d of December last was a bitter cold day, from the earliest hour in the morning vast crowds of people filled the streets of the little city of Stade, on the bank of the Elbe river, nearly opposite the great North German seaport of Hamburg. By 9 o'clock at least 20,000 people bad arrived in Stade, and the police had the utmost difficulty in keeping order in the surging multitude. The occasion which had caused all these thousands to flock to Stade was the beheading of a woman, refined, attractive and intelligent. The name of the doomed woman was Wilhelmina Woltman, and the career of this extraordinary woman, almost from her earliest youth, bad been marked by an uncontrollable and wicked temper. When at school she had knocked out the eye of one of her young companions. A few years after she became the governess of the children of a wealthy landed proprietor, who had fallen in love with her and made her his mistress. Her lover's wife having discovered the liaison, the girl poisoned the woman; and there is suspicion that she also caused the death of her own child. She buried herself thereupon for a time in a whirl of fashionable dissipation in Hamburg, where her extraordinary beauty attracted numerous admirers. But, becoming very reckless, the police expelled her from the city, and she went to Brunswick, where an officer of the ducal army fell in love with and eventually married her. She returned his devotion by poisoning him. She next turned up in Hanover, where she became acquainted with a merchant named Wachter, who married her. Wilhelmina revenged herself upon the opposing parents by poisoning them. The cholera raged at the time, and, in consequence, it remained a secret for years. Wachter soon afterwards became a bankrupt, and deserted his wife, who went to Stade and married a widower named Woltman, who had two children. These also became the victims of the murderous passions of their stepmother, and then her criminal career was brought to a close. She was arrested, her antecedents closely examined into, and her victims exhumed, her trial took place at Stade on the 2d of October, and the result was that she was convicted and sentenced to death.

Pastor Decker made, on the morning of the day on which she was to be executed, a determined effort to move her stony heart. The woman was fastened to the wall by a chain ten feet long, which was attached to her left wrist. After listening to the reverend gentleman for two or three minutes, she made a sudden attack on him, compelling him to beat a hasty retreat. Reiflenberg, the executioner, saluted his victim respectfully, and informed her who he was. "What do you want of me?" she said to the headsman, fixing her large, lustrous eyes inquiringly upon him. "I want to prepare you or the scaffold." he answered. "Oh," "she said, carelessly, "I am prepared." "Not quite," he rejoined. He then unchained her hand and began to cut off her hair. Then he threw a heavy fur cape over her shoulders, and the toilet for the scaffold was finished. He thereupon left her cell, and the next visitor was the warden of the prison, who asked her if she wanted anything. "Only a glass of water," she said, dryly. It was then about half-past 1, and her last moment rapidly drawing nigh. Ten minutes afterward the Judge and Clerk of the Criminal Court appeared before her, and the death warrant was read to her a last time. The presiding Judge urged her in feeling words to confess her crimes, and make her peace with her God. She responded by shaking her head impatiently. They left her, and then the headsman and his assistants took her to the scaffold. When she appeared in the open air the biting cold caused her to shiver; but she bore the glance of the thousands of eyes, which the multitude riveted upon her, without flinching.

The scaffold was a coarse, wooden structure, about eight feet in diameter. Wilhelmina Woltman ascended it with a firm step, and walked to the fatal block in its middle without betraying any nervousness. The warden of the prison asked her if she had anything to say. "No, no!" she answered angrily; "Make haste! make haste!" The next moment the two assistants of the executioner caused her to kneel in front of the block. They took the fur cape from her shoulders, and pressed her head upon the top of the block, to which they fastened it by means of a leather strap. She shook convulsively for a moment or two, until the executioner, who had meanwhile taken his flashing ax from a sort of scabbard, hastily stepped up to her. He took his position at the left side of the block, lilted up his ax, and struck heavily upon the beautiful white neck of the woman. He bad done his work well, for the head fell down in front of the block, while the trunk raised itself convulsively, a stream of dark, red blood spouting in the air. The headsman and his assistants sprang to one side of the scaffold, in order not to be stained by the, blood of the murderess.

[“Brinvilliers At Stade. - A Beautiful Poisoner Brought to the Scaffold.” Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 44, Number 6808, Jan. 28, 1873, p. 1]


For more examples, see Step-Mothers from Hell.


Maria Torosian & Elize Potegian, Mother & Daughter Serial Killers - 1923

Elize Potegian ("Patagian")

Quote – “I’ll make ashes of them.”
Aug. 1919 – Garabed, stepson, 18 months old, was found dead in a shallow pool.
Jun. 1923 – her husband died after a brief illness.
Oct. 1923 – Margaret, 17, stepdaughter, died after a brief illness.
Oct. 1923 – Gordon, 26?, stepson, poisoned but recovered.
Nov. 5, 1923 – Attempted bribery following arrest.
Nov. 7, 1923 – Attempted suicide following arrest.
Mar. 1, 1924 – Found guilty of murder of Margaret.

Maria Torosian, Eliza Potegian’s mother, widow of six husbands, each of whom died under mysterious circumstances

Nov. 5, 1928 – Suicide, fearing arrest.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 5): Fresno, Cal., Nov. 8.—A close guard is being maintained today over Mrs. Eliza Patigian [error, “Potegian” in most sources], charged with poisoning her step-daughter, following an attempt to commit suicide by strangulation in the county jail here yesterday afternoon. The attempt by Mrs. Patigian to end her life followed receipt of word that her mother, Mrs. Maria Torosian had committed suicide by hanging at the Torosian ranch home west of Fresno.

~ Tried to Bribe Officers ~

An alleged attempt of Mrs. Patigian to secure her freedom by bribing officers, was revealed last night by Deputy Sheriff Ed Melchonian. The officer claims that the suspect offered him all her jewels as well as some $2500 which she is to derive annually from her husband’s estate, for her freedom.

It was declared by officers today that she planned a wholesale bribery to gain her freedom. Mrs. Patigian declared she desired but $500 which she would use in making her escape from this country, the officers said.

~ Her Mother Had Six Husbands ~

Officers investigating the suicide by hanging yesterday of Mrs. Torosian, mother of Mrs. Patigian, said who feared arrest in the poison ruse.

The authorities said Mrs. Torosian was the widow of six husbands, each of whom died under mysterious circumstances.

[“Mother Kills Self As Daughter Tries To,” Reno Evening Gazette (Nv.), Nov. 6, 1923, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 5): Fresno, Calif., Feb. 4. — A woman kneeling on a mound of ashes, symbolic of death, and chanting incessantly the death prayer of Armenian superstition, beseeching for 40 days and 40 nights that death take her stepchildren –

This is the picture given to a jury here February 4, in the trial of Mrs. Elize Potegian, accused of murder.

The story of Mrs. Potegian is a story of mystery. Mystery surrounds her identity. Mystery has left the deaths of her husband, two stepchildren and her mother unsolved. The jury trying her will be told that:

She fled massacres in Armenia and came to America, bringing Choran, a boy whom she says is not her son.

In California she met Sestrak Potegian, widower with three children, owner of vineyards valued at $125,000. She married him for his money, charges the prosecutor.

In August, 1919, her stepson, 18 months old, was found dead in a shallow pool.

In June, 1923, her husband died after a brief illness. He willed the bulk of his estate to his two children, Margaret, 18, and Gordon, 21.

Then, the state contends, Mrs. Potegian called upon the power of Armenian mysticism to destroy the stepchildren. She built an altar on ashes and gave herself to prayer for 40 days and nights.

But the children lived on.

Failing by this means, it is charged, she resorted to more certain means to accomplish her end.

Late in October, 1928, Margaret died after a brief illness. At this time Gordon, too, was mysteriously stricken but he recovered. Autopsy of Margaret’s body disclosed arsenic poison in her stomach.

Mrs. Potegian under arrest, accused her mother, Mrs. A. Torosian. When the police went to arrest the woman they found her body dangling from a rafter in her home. She had hanged herself. On the same day Mrs. Potegian tried to kill herself in her jail cell, slashing her wrists.

Grape juice, candy and sweetcakes, containing arsenic poison, were found in the Potegian home.

Despite this evidence, Mrs. Potegian pleaded “not guilty.”

Interest in the case, in which Gorden, the surviving son, will be the principal prosecution witness, is widespread throughout California. Mrs. Potegian has engaged able counsel and a bitter legal battle is expected.

[“Strange Murder Trial Underway,” syndicated (NEA Service), Iowa City Press-Citizen (Io.), Feb. 5, 1924, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 5): Fresno, Feb. 23. – The third week of the trial of Mrs. Eliza Potegian, charged with the murder attempts by the prosecution to fasten onto the defendant threats against her husband and his family and statements with presaged their eventual doom.

It was a background of bitter enmity and hatred with definite touches of oriental fatalism and mysticism, which neighbors and friends of the family painted as the strained atmosphere in which the Potegians lived for months.

These witnesses, all women, testified in different conversations which depicted the supposed hatred of Mrs. Potegian of her husband and his children and her eventual hope to control the estate herself.

Nectar Balassanian told of a conversation in which Mrs. Potegian said that while she could not get along with her husband she would not seek a divorce but instead would “pray for the family to dry up.”

Ousian Darbazanjian said Mrs. Potegian had reviled the family and told her she was going to “make ashes out of them.”

Martha Garabedian, a guest at the wedding of the Potegians and frequently their house guest, said Mrs. Potegian reviled George and Margaret Potegian, calling them dogs and using other such epithets, and said she would never accept them.

Mrs. Potegian, for the first time since her trial began, showed live interest in the proceedings, closely followed the testimony and frequently coaching her son, who sat next to her, on questions to suggest to her attorney.

[“Doom Threats Told At Trial – Women Aver Mrs. Potegian Reviled Family - “’’Ll Make Ashes of Them,’ is Laid To Her - Accused Shows Interest in Scene at Last,” Los Angeles Times (Ca.), Feb. 26, 1924, part II, p. 22]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 5): Fresno, Cal., March 1.—Mrs. Eliza [sic] Potegian, charged with the murder of her stepdaughter, Margaret by administering a poison, was found guilty of murder in the first degree by a jury after an hour's deliberation today. Life in prison was recommended.

[“Woman Is Found Guilty Of Murder In First Degree,” syndicated (AP), The Davenport Democrat (Io.), Mar. 2, 1924, p. 12]


EXCERPT (Article 5 of 5): For the third time Eliza Potegian, convicted central figure in n Fresno poison murder case in 1923, Js seeking a parole from state prison, where she is serving a life sentence for the murder of her 17 year-old stepdaughter. Margaret.

Mrs. Potegian, now 41, is one of  twenty-two women inmates, including six slayers, who have applied to the state hoard of prison terms and paroles for freedom from the prison at Tehachapi. She filed similar appeals in 1931 and in 1935 while in San Quentin.

~Husband Also Poisoned

Her sentence resulted from conviction on a charge of putting poison in an okra stew she served to . the girl. The county grand jury had indicted her both for the murder of the girl and for the murder of her husband. Setrak Potegian whose exhumed body revealed a large amount of the same poison

A stepson, George Potegian, who also became ill after eating the stew, testified against Mrs. Potegian at the trial. Mrs. Potegian’s mother, Mrs. M. Torosian, hanged herself at her home near Fresno shortly before officers arrived to investigate a report the two women conspired to kill the other members of the family. [The rest of the article refers to other cases exclusively.]

[“Parole Plea Is Filed For Third Time By Fresnan – Mrs. E. Potegian, Central Figure
In Poison Murder, Seeks Freedom,” The Fresno Bee (Ca.), Oct. 3, 1936, p. 1]



For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


Rhonda Bell Martin, Alabama Serial Killer - 1956


Emogene Garrett, 3 (her daughter) – died 1939
George Garrett (her second husband) – died 1939
Anna Carolyn Garrett, 6 (her daughter) – died 1937
Ellyn Elizabeth Garrett, 11 (her daughter) – died 1943
Mrs. Mary Frances Gibbon (her mother) – died 1944
Claude Carroll Martin, 51 (her fourth husband) – survived poisoning, crippled


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Montgomery, Ala., Mar. 14 – State’s attorneys headed for court today with the bizarre tale of a middle-aged waitress who, they said, admitted slaying her mother, three small daughters and two of her five husbands with poison.

Plump, 49-year-old Mrs. Rhonda Bell Martin also told in a signed statement, according to Circuit Solicitor William F. Thetford, how she fed ant poison to her previous husband who once was her stepson. He is still alive though paralyzed.

The auburn-haired waitress waived preliminary hearing in City Court today on the only formal charge thus far drawn up against her – the killing of Claude Martin, her fourth husband, in 1951.

Mrs. Martin was bound over to the Montgomery County Grand Jury without bond and ordered moved from the city to the county jail. The next regular session of the grand jury starts May 14.

She is now married to Martin’s 29-year-old son, Ronald, who has been under treatment for nine months for poisoning.

It was Ronald’s illness that led to the murder investigation. City and state authorities arrested Mrs. Martin Friday in Mobile.

After three days of questioning, Thetford announced yesterday that the bespectacled waitress had signed a statement admitting she poisoned the two Martins, and five other kins-people.

Mrs. Martin was vague about a motive for the killings, the solicitor said, but she told of having insurance on all six victims who died. The amount was not disclosed, but Thetford said she recalled receiving between of Claude Martin.

She married Martin’s son eight months after the death of his father.

[Rex Thomas, “Mother Tells 6 Killings by Poison,” syndicated (AP), Oakland Tribune (CA.), Mar. 14, 1956, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Montgomery, Ala. – A hefty, auburn-haired waitress who killed her fourth husband with arsenic was sentenced last night to die in the electric chair Mrs. Rhonda Belle, Martin, 41 and 170 pounds, admitted killing Claude C. Martin and live other members of her family, but she was tried only for the death of her fourth husband. Her other victims were three daughters, her mother and another husband.

A jury of 12 men deliberated three hours and 10 minutes last night before convicting her of poisoning Martin after about a year or married life.

When the verdict was read, Mrs. Martin buried her head in her arms and sobbed.

The woman’s attorney based his defense on a plea of insanity. The prosecution countered that Mrs. Martin served arsenic in coffee to her husband in order to “collect some paltry amount of insurance and to get him out of the way so she could marry his son.”

Eight months after Martin’s death on April 27, 1951. Mrs. Martin married her steps Ronald C. Martin, 21 years her junior. She now lies in a veterans hospital paralyzed by arsenic poisoning. Ronald Martin’s illness, for which Mrs. Martin is under indictment for attempted murder, touched off .the investigation had brought to light the series of poisonings.

Under Alabama’s automatic appeal law, last night’s conviction will go to the supreme court. The sentence is postponed until the appeal is decided.

Solicitor William F, Thetford introduced evidence that Mrs. Martin collected $2,750 on three insurance policies upon alter her husband’s death.

[“Poisoner Gets Death Decree – Alabama Waitress to Die in Electric Chair For Killing Husband.” syndicated (AP), The Gastonia Gazette (N.C.), Jun. 5, 1956, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): Montgomery, Ala. – A plump, 50-year-old waitress who killed three daughters, her mother and two husbands with rat poison died in the electric chair early today.

She left behind a wish for her body to be turned over to a medical institution. She said she wanted it learned “why I committed the crimes I have committed.” Mrs. Rhonda Belle Martin died clutching a New Testament in her left hand.

Mrs. Martin was put to death for the poisoning of her fourth husband, Claude C. Martin,

~ Modern Borgia ~

After her arrest in March In 1956, she signed a statement admitting that she fed rat poison to two other husbands three of her children and her mother.

Her fifth husband, Ronald Martin, survived the poisoning, but the other victims died. Ronald Martin is the son of the victim for whose killing the waitress paid with her life.

Prison officials yesterday found in Mrs. Martin’s Bible a note she had written Oct. 14, 1956. It was turned over to authorities at Kilby Prison, where the electrocution was carried out.

~ Her Note ~

The note said:

“At my death, whether it be a natural death of otherwise, I want my body to be given to some scientific institution to be used as they see fit, but especially to see if someone can find out why I committed the crimes I have committed.

“I can’t understand it, for I had no reason whatsoever. There is definitely something wrong. Can’t someone find it and save someone else the agony I have been through.”

The condemned woman was strapped in the chair at 12:07 a.m. and received 2,200 volts of electricity three minutes later after one false start. When the switch was thrown the first time, it was discovered the electrodes hadn’t been plugged into the chair and the task had lo be repealed. Gov, James E. Folsom denied an appeal, for clemency yesterday.

~ Collected Insurance ~

Besides Claude Martin, the woman admitted poisoning her second husband George Garrett in 1939. She also told of feeding rat poison to three daughters, 3-year-old Emogene Garrett in 1937 Anna Carolyn Garrett, 6, in 1940; and Ellyn Elizabeth Garrett, 11, in 1943. She also admitted that she killed her mother Mrs. Mary Frances Gibbon in 1944.

Her written statement said she had small insurance policies on the lives of all six victims. She was tried only for the death of Claude Martin.

[“Modern Borgia Wills Her Body to Science,” syndicated (AP), The Hutchinson News (Ks.), Oct. 11, 1957, p. 1]



For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


For more examples, see Step-Mothers from Hell.