Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gladys MacKnight, Teenage Hatchet Murderess Killed Her Mom - 1937

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Jersey City, N. J., May 19 – Seventeen-year-old Gladys MacKnight was portrayed in court today as a cool young woman who asked “Where’s the old man” after her arrest on a charge of hacking her mother to death with a hatchet.

The girl, on trial for her life with Donald Wightman, 18, her former sweetheart, for the slaying of Mrs. Helen MacKnight, 47, Bayonne club woman, also “wanted to see the newspapers,” a witness said. Gladys, in the same, navy blue outfit she has worn since her trial began, stared at Emily C. Hassmiller, Bayonne policewoman, as she gave this testimony.

The girl’s tennis togs she wore when arrested were stained, the policewoman said.

The state then called Dr. William B. Braunstein, pathologist and blood expert, who testified the stains on the hatchet and the dark blue clothes Gladys were “human blood of the same type.”

Two high school “pals” who sometimes pondered life’s problems together after ancient history classes faced each other in the courtroom.

Pretty, dark-haired Doris French, the “chum” to whose solace blonde Gladys fled last July when Mrs. MacKnight was killed in her kitchen, was ready to testily in the trial of her 17-year-old friend and Wightman, known with Gladys as Bayonne high school’s “perfect couple.”

In purported “confessions” of the slaying, made to Bayonne police and admitted yesterday as evidence, Gladys and Donald told how they went to Doris’ house after the slaying, before starting the automobile ride that ended with their arrest in Jersey City.

“We drove to Doris French’s house, … I told her my mother was dead,” one statement quoted Gladys as saying. Donald was quoted:

“Mrs. French said, “Take Gladys home and call a doctor.’”

Doris has been in court since the trial began.

Gladys and Donald were quoted in the alleged confessions as saying he held Mrs. MacKnight while Gladys hacked her to death with a hatchet alter a quarrel because the mother “wouldn’t hurry dinner” so they could play tennis.

[“Cool Young Woman Is Defendant, The Jury Is Informed - Policewoman Offers Testimony in Case of Girl Charged With Hacking Mother to Death.” syndicated (AP), May 19, 1937, p. 1]

FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Jersey City. N. J., May 28. – Gladys MacKnight, 17-year-old high school girl, and her former sweetheart, Donald Wightman, 19, accepted gratefully today a prison term for the hatchet murder of her mother.

A jury saved them from the electric chair by returning a verdict of second degree murder which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years and a minimum of one year. It was debated only three hours.

The defendants had accused each other.

Despite what was considered a favorable verdict, the former principals in puppy love, were unreconciled. As court attendants led them out of the courtroom, Wightman, who testified that he had confessed the crime to police “to prove his love” for Gladys, shouted at her:

“You made a murderer out of me!”

~ Would Wish “Good Luck” ~

This is a sharp contrast to the gentle boy who, less than four hours before, after Prosecutor Daniel T. O’Regan had branded both “brutal killers” and pleaded with the jury “not to set them free to kill again,” had asked permission to wish Gladys “good luck.”

The tomboyish Gladys accepted the verdict with more restraint. The only evidence of emotion was a single tear that trickled down her cheek. Icily, she had listened to the state’s excoriation. Edgar MacKnight, Gladys’ father, received the verdict stoically, but dashed out of the courtroom. Wightman’s parents, who have attended each session of the ten day trial, were unable to restrain their emotions. The mother became hysterical and collapsed.

The jurors said, after their dismissal, that if the defendants had been older, “we would have given them the chair.”

[“Boy and Girl Convicted - Age Saves Lives Of Young Killers,” syndicated (UP), The Circleville Herald (Oh.), May 28, 1937, p. 1]

[Hatchet image source: “Sweethearts Confess Hacking Girl’s Mother With Hatchet,” The Star-Journal (Sandusky, Oh.), Aug. 4, 1936, p. 1]

NOTE: This case inspired Helen Tiernan in May 1937 to use a hatchet when she decided to murder her children.





For more Violence by Women cases involving axes and hatchets, see: Give ‘Em the Axe



  1. I can't find anything on when they got out of prison.