Monday, December 24, 2012

Martha Steele: “Wife Murders Child Of Eleven Years Because She Kissed Father Too Much." - 1915


Apr. 21 – Mrs. Martha Steele murders Evelina.
Apr. 22 – body found; fake story about Evelina being pregnant and the attempt to perform abortion told to police.
Apr. 23 – Arraignment in circuit court.
Apr. 26 – funeral, Acorn Street Mission Sunday school; thousands attended; Mrs. Steele pleads not guilty.
May 17 – trial begins.
May 21 – Mrs. Steele convicted of murder.
May 22 – Mrs. Steele admits, after much coaxing, to having lied about Evelina being pregnant.
Jun. 2 – Mrs. Martha Steele sentenced to life in prison; falsely accuses husband of telling her to strangle their daughter to death; he is arrested then quickly released.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., April 22. – “I tied her hands behind her, blindfolded her, pulled her tongue out of her mouth and threw a spoonful of muriatic acid down her throat. Then I held her in my arms until she died. I next pulled up two boards in the woodshed floor and buried the body.”

Without a trace of emotion and speaking in an even voice, Mrs. Albert Steele, aged 32 years, this afternoon confessed to the murder of her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Evelina, whose nude body was found in an alley back of her home at 9:20 o’clock this morning.

“At 3:20 o’clock this morning,” continued Mrs. Steele, “I became afraid the body would be found, so I dug up the body and placed it in the alley.”

~ Jealous of husband’s Love. ~

A charge of first degree murder has been placed against Mrs. Steele by Prosecuting Attorney Galpin. Jealousy of the father’s affection is given as the motive. The father. Albert Steele, formerly of Pentwater, is heartbroken.

“I knew she would do it,” he said. “I suspected her from the very first. I never want to see her again.”

Little Evelina was last seen alive yesterday morning. The father believing she was visiting an aunt, did not miss “her until 9 o’clock last night. Then after a search, when it developed that Evelina had not been at her aunt’s, the police were notified. The body was found this morning by John Vanderlaan, Sr.

~ Charged Criminal Operation. ~

When the discovery of the body was reported, Mrs. Steele and her husband wdere immediately arrested. At Balbirnie’s morgue, an autopsy was performed, which failed to reveal the criminal operation which the stepmother said had been performed on the girl.

Across the dead body of the child, Coroner Balbirnie confronted the woman.

“You might as well confess, Mrs. Steele,” he said. “Someone saw you put something in the alley early this morning.”

Then Mrs. Steele broke down.

It developed that she purchased the muriatic acid a month ago and the authorities say it was for the purpose of murder.

Mr. Charles Anderson, of Niles, the mother of Evelina, arrived tonight. She was divorced from Steele about a year after Evelina was born. Steele has been released. Mrs. Steele will be arraigned tomorrow morning.

[“Tells of Pouring Poison In Throat Of Stepdaughter – Mrs. Albert Steele, of Mukegon, Confesses Over Body of Child. – Jealous Of Husband’s Love, Planned Crime. – Discovery Follows Fear Corpse Would Be Found in Barn; Hides It in Alley.” The Detroit Free Pree Press (Mi.), Apr. 23, 1915, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., April 23. – Mrs. Martha Steele, who yesterday confessed to the murder of her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Evelina M. Steele, this afternoon was bound over to the circuit on a charge of first degree murder.

~ Made Up Confession. ~

The police say that Mrs. Steele’s first confession, that of an attempt to perform an illegal operation on the child, was evolved while she was aiding in the search for the girl, whose dead body she had buried in the coal shed.

Further evidence obtained by the physicians who performed the autopsy over Evelina’s body has disclosed, it is alleged, that the mother mistreated the body after death, to give an appearance of truth to her first purported confession that the child died while she was attempting a criminal operation. The physicians who performed the autopsy are agreed that the alleged mistreatment took place after death, not before.

~ Father’s Grief is Tragic. ~

The most dramatic feature of the sensational murder is the tragic grief of the father, Albert Steele. He made frequent visits today to the coal shed where the body was hidden.

Steele said this afternoon that jealousy was the sole motive for the crime. “My wife never liked little Evelina. The child was of a loving disposition but would only come to me for a kiss or a pat on the head when my wife was not in the room.

“For hours my daughter would sit quietly when my wife and I were together, fearing to show any affection for me when her stepmother was there.”

~ Woman Appears Indifferent. ~

Meanwhile, Mrs. Steele, at the county jail, maintains an attitude of complete indifference. She sings and conducts herself in such a manner that the authorities suspect she may be mentally unbalanced.

The funeral of Evelina will be held Sunday afternoon from the Acorn Street Mission Sunday school, of which she was a member.

[“Father Mourns At Spot Where Slain Child Was Hidden – Albert Steele, Heartbroken, Paces Shed of Muskegon Home. – Stepmother, Murderesses, Sings At County Jail – Doctors Say Evidence of Criminal Operation Was Manufactured After Slaying.” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), Apr. 24, 1915, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., April 24. – Abandoned by her mother and brothers and still without an attorney, Mrs. Albert Steele, who on Thursday confessed to the deliberate murder of her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Evelina, will be brought into circuit court Monday morning to plead to a charge of first degree murder.

A further examination of the body of the little girl this afternoon by Coroner James F. Bahlinire revealed four fingernail prints in the child’s throat. The authorities now believe that the woman may have strangled the girl, as an analysis of the contents of her stomach has failed to reveal any traces of muriatic acid.

Police reserves will be on duty at the public funeral of Evelina to be held tomorrow afternoon at the Acorn Street Mission church.

[“Stepmother May Have Choked Girl – Fingernail Prints on Throat of Muskegon Murder Victim; Woman to Face Court Monday.” Apr. 25, 1915, p. 18]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., April 26. – Surprising the authorities, Mrs. Albert Steele, alleged to have confessed to killing her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Evelina M. Steele, this afternoon pleaded not guilty in circuit court to first degree murder.

Mrs. Steele appeared unmoved by the curious throng which crowded the court room and the corridors.

Attorneys R. W. Gale and Harry W. Jackson were appointed to defend Mrs. Steele. Her trial will be the last on the criminal calendar of this term.

In anticipation of a plea of not guilty, the officers took photographs of marks on the child’s throat that seem to indicate that she may have been strangled.

Thousands of persons yesterday jammed the neighborhood of the mission chapel where the Sunday school, of which Evilina was a member, conducted a memorial service. Pinned on her burial dress is the reward of merit pin which she had earned for faithful attendance and which was to have been presented to her yesterday.

[“Pleads Not Guilty To Slaying Child – Mrs. Alberta Steel, of Muskegon, Must Stand Trial; Many at Services for Stepdaughter,” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), Apr. 27, 1915, p. 16]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., May 15. – An important exhibit in the Mrs. Albert Steele murder case, which will come to trial in the circuit court Monday, the bit of rope found in the shed addition to the rear of the Steele home has disappeared. It was with this rope, prosecution contends that the child’s hands were tied before she was first poisoned, and then strangled by her stepmother. The rope was dug up by members of the sheriff’s force. What has happened to it since no one knows and everyone disclaims responsibility.

[“Muskegon ‘Murder Rope’ Missing On Eve Of Trial – Cord With Prosecution Alleges Stepmother Tied Child’s Hands Disappears.” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), May 16, 1915, p. 10]


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., May 17. – Her face showing the pallor of one confined in prison for years. Mrs. Albert Steele, slayer of her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Eveline Mary Steele, walked into the court room this morning at the opening of her trial.

The stir following her appearance seemed to have no effect upon her. She calmly took the chair pointed out by a deputy, immediately back of the table used by her attorneys.

Anton Beilgart was the first juror called. The box was rapidly filled. Mrs. Steele showed no interest.

Before the case opened, the prosecutor announced he would endeavor to prove that Mrs. Steele strangled the girl. The defense will be along the lines that Mrs. Steele was insane at the time of the slaying.

Six of the first 14 jurors examined by the prosecution openly admitted they had positive opinions as to the guilt or innocence of Mrs. Steele, some saying that they believed the woman was guilty. These expressions visibly affected Mrs. Steele.

Questions of the defense attorney, R. R. Gale, to the jurors, plainly revealed that insanity was to be the defense.

[“Murder Trial Of Mrs. Steele Opens – Muskegon Woman Charged With Slaying Stepdaughter, Stolid in Court . – Temporary Insanity Will Be Plea Of Defense – Many Talesmen Express Positive Convictions of Woman’s Guilt.” The Detrot Free Press (Mi.), May 18, 1915, p. 16]


FULL TEXT (Article 7 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., May 18. – Details of the life of Mrs. Albert Steele, facts which she and her relatives will expose to the public eye in a desperate effort to save her from life imprisonment for the slaying of her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Evelina Mary, will be the basis of the defense in the most heinous criminal case ever tried here.

Mrs. Steele’s story, for she will take the stand in her own defense, will not only turn the public loathing against her in sympathy, it is said, but the sympathy, but the sympathy for some of the principals in the case will instead be altered to disdain.

The defense has already requested Judge Sullivan to bar all women and children from the court room.

An even greater crown than has attended the Steele case since it began, was present in the court room this afternoon. Women outnumbered the men about nine to one.

~ Says Girl Was Strangled. ~

Dr. W. A. Campbell, former city physician, who examined the girl’s body, testified that the blood showed positively that death was the result of strangulation and not poisoning. Mrs. Steele sat as yesterday, her glance never varying from a distinct line ahead.

After Judge Sullivan announced that the afternoon’s proceedings were over a curious crowd gathered outside. Through this crowd Mrs. Steele had to walk. She stepped between two deputy sheriffs and began the two blocks walk to the jail, reading horror, loathing and anger in every face.

[“‘Insanity, Victim Of Society,’ To Be Steele Defense – Relatives Flop at Last Moment to Aid Woman Who Killed Child. – Feminine Spectators Crowd Muskegon Court – Attorneys Plan to Bare Past of Defendant and Threaten to Thrill Town With Revelations.” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), May 19, 1915, p. 9]


FULL TEXT (Article 8 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., May 20. – With Mrs. Martha Schrebe Steele, accused of strangling her step-daughter, appearing more lifeless and morose today than any time during her trial in the local circuit court, the evidence was concluded late this afternoon and preparations made for the beginning of arguments by attorneys at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.

It is expected that the arguments and Judge James E. Sullivan’s charge will occupy both sessions of court tomorrow, the case going to the jury late in the afternoon.

~ Asks Judgment of Alienists. ~

The defense made its last desperate attempt for acquittal today with a hypothetical question. In this were listed the alleged sorrows of Mrs. Steele’s life, her vicious habits, her tainted heredity and the black side of her married life. The sentence ended with: “Would such a woman be insane?” This hypothetical question was the one dock on which the defense pinned its hopes. Everything also. Everything else was thrown aside today.

In the question the defense admitted that Mrs. Steele strangled her step-daughter, Evelina Mary.

“The killing of a child, her own step-child, without motive or cause by a woman who endured what the defense claims Mrs. Steele had to endure, would be evidence of insanity,” Dr. Frank B. Marshall testified. He was backed by a number of local physicians in his contention.

The expert medical witnesses disagreed, however. The prosecution, in rebuttal, placed on the stand Dr. Charles W. Hitchcock, professor of mental discusses at the Detroit College of Medicine and an expert alienist. He examined Mrs. Steele at the county jail, May 3, a few days after the crime. He declared himself positive today that she was sane. This testimony concluded the evidence.

~ Mrs. Steele Wears Mourning. ~

When Mrs. Steele came into court today, she was dressed in mourning. The scarlet bow on her black velvet turtan was entirely covered with a heavy black veil. The crowd noticed it immediately.

Mrs. Steele appeared to be more vigorous than at the session yesterday afternoon when Judge Sullivan ordered her cross-examination halted because of her apparent physical exhaustion. After answering a few questions well, however, her memory again failed her, it appeared, and the constant reply became “I don’t know,” or “ I can’t remember.”

Women gathered at the court house as early at 6:20 o’clock this morning waiting for the doors to open. More than 300 persons remained in the courtroom during the noon recess, friends going out and purchasing them a luncheon.

[“Steele Attorneys Admit Slaying In Quiz Of Alienists – Muskegon Lawyers Risk All On Hypothetical Question. – Women Gather At 6:30 For Good Seats In Court – Sensational Murder Case Expected to Reach Jury Late Friday.” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), May 21, 1915, p. 18]


FULL TEXT (Article 9 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., May 22. – The one last service that Martha Schrebe Steele, convicted last night of the murder of her 11-year-old step-daughter, Evelina Mary, could do the child from whose frail body she strangled the breath of life, she did today at the county jail.

In her cell, as she lay on her cot suffering, she declared, from a terrific headache, she admitted that her girl victim had never been attacked by boys, had not been in a delicate condition and was, as other girls of her age, wholly innocent.

Thus, with a term of life imprisonment in the Detroit house of correction facing her, the convicted woman cleared the child’s name of the stain she herself had cast upon it, making the feeble but only reparation she could to the child now in her grave at Pentwater.

The confession did not come willingly. It was the result of long persuasion. Harry W. Jackson, her attorney, demanded that she make it in return for the fight he had made to save her from prison, appealed to save her from prison, appealed to her gratitude, to her sense of honor. He pointed out that since the jury had pronounced its verdict, all evasion was futile. Captain Phillip Lawton, head of the Salvation Army branch here, and her chief comforter, added his entreaties.

“You want to clear the little girl’s name,” Mr. Jackson implored. “You want to clear it of the stain that has been brought upon it by you, don’t you?”

No answer.

“You don’t want this little girl’s name blackened, do you?” said Captain Lawton.

“The story was a lie!” cried Mrs. Steele as she burst into tears, “Evelina was a good little girl. She was good and clean, just as any girl of her age might be. She never was attacked. That story was what first came to my mind when the officers arrested me.”

All that happened during the last week – the trial, the crowds, the courtroom – Mrs. Steele asserts is a blank to her. This morning she asked what the jury’s verdict was.

“What does guilty mean?” she inquired.

“Have you anything more to say,” asked Captain Lawton, “in regard to the happening the day of the crime?”

“No sir, I don’t remember. I do know, though, that Evelina did not leave the house the morning she met her death, as the prosecution claimed she did. That was the morning before. I know Evelina was dressed this morning. I don’t remember whether she had had her breakfast or not.”

Mrs. Steele, through her attorney, Mr. Jackson, this afternoon sent to Circuit Judge James E. Sullivan a letter containing her final request before she is to be sentenced. What was included in this letter Judge Sullivan refused to reveal. She will be sentenced some time next week.

[“Mrs. Steele, From Cell, Clears Name Of Child Victim – Confesses She Lied in Blackening Reputation of Step-Daughter. – Says Mind Is Blank On Events Of Trial – Muskegon  Slayer, Facing Sentence, Asks What What Verdict of ‘Guilty’ Means.” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), May 23, 1915, p. 12]


FULL TEXT (Article 10 of 11): Muskegon, Mich., June 2. – Lying in a cot in Hackley Hospital, Mrs. Martha Schrebe Steele, convicted two weeks ago of the murder of her stepdaughter, Evelina Mary, eleven, today accused her husband, Albert Steele, of complicity in her crime. The man was immediately placed under arrest by sheriff’s deputies.

Mrs. Steele’s told officers today that her husband advised her to “get rid of the child,” so there would be nothing to interfere with their marital happiness and that he even suggested the method of killing the girl – strangulation.

Later in the day Mrs. Steele was taken before Judge Sullivan and received sentence to life imprisonment.

[“Causes Arrest of Husband – Murderess Tells Authorities That He Counselled Her to Kill Girl.” Lincoln Daily News (Ne.), Jun. 2, 1915, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 11 of 11): Two women descended from a Pere Marquette train in the Union station Wednesday afternoon, closely followed by a spare, bronzed men who seemed to accord them more than the ordinary attention.

The leader of the group and the taller of the two women was Mrs. Albert Steele, of Muskegon, convicted strangler of her 11-year-old step-daughter. She was muffled in a long blue coat, a scarf was wrapped about her head, and she made the trip from the train to the building like a person asleep, oblivious of the rain. The attentive man with her was Sheriff Fred J. Collins, of Muskegon. His wife was the third member of the group.

~ In Hospital Since Trial. ~

Mrs. Steele was being taken to the Detroit house of correction, to begin a life term. She was removed from the hospital in Muskegon Tuesday, the sheriff said, where she had been confined since the trial. Upon her arrival here she had no word to say of the past or the future. Her dull eyes kept upon vacancy, and there was no shade of color in the sunken cheeks. Mrs. Collins, an alert, capable little woman, hovered about her like a nurse.

No person on the train save the officials knew her identity and the trip was without incident. The slight, pale figure in the veil was not a person likely to attract attention.

The trio hailed a taxicabs Mrs. Steele was placed within, between the sheriff and his wife. She evinced not a shade of interest in the proceedings.

~ Will Work When Well. ~

She was received at the house of correction at 6:16 o’clock, registered and assigned quarters. Inmates are permitted their identity in the institution and the formula of giving her a number was absent. She will be given garments such as are worn by other inmates and as soon as their health permits will be set to work in the shops.

Sheriff Collins said Mrs. Steele had made him illuminating comment on the care since the trial, save to reiterate that the murder was performed at the instance of her husband. He was arrested Tuesday [June 1] as a result, but was later released.

[“Life Term In Jail For Mrs. Steele, As Slayer, Begins – Sentenced for Strangling Child, Muskegon Woman Brought to Detroit. – Rides From Station To Cell Like Person Asleep – Guarded by Sheriff and Wife; Has No Comment to Make on Past or Future,” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), Jun. 3, 1915, p. 1]


Evelina’s Mother – Mrs. Charles Anderson, Niles, divorced circa 1906









ALSO SEE: Maternal Filicide: Spousal Revenge Motive for similar cases


For more examples, see Step-Mothers from Hell.

[2473-2/6/19; 2944-10/28/21]

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