Thursday, September 22, 2011

Polly Frisch, New York State Serial Killer - 1858

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Alabama, N. Y., Jan. 30. – A case of poisoning has been under investigation in this town for a few days past, which, if substantiated, exceeds in atrocity any case in the annals of criminal jurisprudence.

Some time in July, Henry Hoag, a responsible citizen of this town, died quite suddenly. About six weeks after his death, a little daughter, five or six years old, died after an illness of only 24 hours. Suspicions of foul play were entertained by some, but no action was taken in this case. Last spring an infant child (born subsequent to Mr. Hoag’s death) died after a short illness. Suspicion was again aroused, but nothing was done. Last fall another child, some two years old, died under still more suspicious circumstances. A post mortem examination was had, but the chemist to whom the child’s stomach was sent bad become satisfied that the death of so many members of the family, under such circumstances, required further investigation, and the bodies of all of them were exhumed, and the stomachs of the first, and a portion of the duodenum of the last secured, upon analysis, arsenic was found in them all.

Suspicion at once pointed to the wife and mother, as the person who administered the poison, and she was arrested, and is now in our county jail at Batavia, awaiting the action of the grand jury, which sits next week.

Since her husband’s death she has been married again to a man by the name of Frisch, who lived with her but a short time – some difficulty having arisen between them.

Some years since, three other of her children died, quite suddenly, with symptoms almost precisely similar to the last one, and, it is inferred, that she poisoned them also, from the fact that she confessed that she poisoned the first one, but that she did it accidentally, and through mistake. Altogether it is one of the most horrid cases on record. That a woman would poison her husband may not be incredible, but that a mother would poison, deliberately, one after another, six of her own offspring, seems too inhuman for belief. I will give no opinion of her guilt or innocence, as her case will soon be brought before the proper tribunal for investigation.

[“Poisoning in Genessee County,” The Lorrain County Eagle (Oh.), Feb. 23, 1858, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Albany, Dec. 9. – In 1859 Polly Frisch was indicted in Genessee County for killing her husband and two children by poisoning them with arsenic. Four trials were had [error: there were five], upon the last of which she was convicted and sentenced [on September 8, 1859] to be executed. An application was made to Gov. Morgan for clemency.  He caused an investigation to be made by an expert, who reported that the prisoner was insane, and her sentence was thereupon commuted [on October 27, 1859] to imprisonment for life. [The date of execution had been set at November 2, 1859.]

She was at first sent to the prison at Sing Sing, but afterward was transferred to the Kings County Penitentiary, and has now served an imprisonment of more than thirty-three years. Dr. Homer L. Bartlett, for many years attending physician at the penitentiary, has assured Gov. Flower that whatever might have been her mental condition at the time of the commission of the crime or afterward, she is now and for many years has been perfectly sane, and there is no reason to believe that she will ever become otherwise.

During her imprisonment at the penitentiary she has been employed almost constantly in the hospital, where she has been of great service. She is now quite old and feeble, and a very strong appeal has been presented to Gov. Flower for her pardon. The District Attorney who prosecuted her recommended some years ago that she be released, and several persons of the highest respectability have undertaken to provide her with a suitable home.

The Governor therefore pardoned the woman.

[“Polly Frisch Pardoned – She Had Been In Prison For More Than Thirty-Three Years.” New York Times (N.Y.), Dec. 10, 1892, p. ?]


EXCERPT from 2000 book (Article 3 of 3): About the year 1848-1856 Alabama Center was the scene of a crime committed by a woman, Polly Franklin who married Henry Hoag about 1844. Their children Rosa and Viola, died suddenly, and soon the father died, then another child Frances, followed him. After the death of Mr. Hoag, his widow married Otto Frisch, but soon was deserted by him. About this time suspicion was aroused, and S.E. Filkins (counselor) caused an investigation to be made, which revealed the fact that some of her family had died from the effects of poison, large quantities of arsenic having been administered to them. She was arrested and tried three times, and being finally found guilty was sentenced to be hung, but was eventually imprisoned for life.

[Cindy Amrhein & Ellen Lea Bachorski, Bread & Butter: The Murders of Polly Frisch, 2000, Morris Publishing]

Review of the book on History Sleuth


A source from 1869:  Marvin H. Bovee, Christ and the Gallows: Or, Reasons for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, 1869, Masonic Publishing Company, New York, N. Y. , pp. 121-24

In Google Books, full text available


On November 9, 1857, Polly Frisch, then in her early thirties, was arrested by Genesee County Sheriff Alvin Pease.

Michael Keene, “The woman who poisoned her family,”, May 17, 2012


FULL TEXT: The trial of POLLY FRISCH for the murder of her former husband, HENRY HOAG, progresses slowly at Batavia. The testimony taken Thursday related to the symptoms preceding his death. They were shown to be those of poison. A son of the accused gave the following testimony, which we find in the Herald:

Albert Hoag sworn – Was 11 years old last September; live in Michigan; lived there one year; live with Lyman Hoag; come down last Friday; Henry Hoag was my father; was home when he died; mother sent me after liquor before he died; got it at Heacock’s in a bottle; it was a day or two before Pa died; saw Ma take a paper with white powder in it from behind the clock and put it into a bottle and shake it up; she said it was saleratus; asked her what she put it in for, and she said to sweeten it; kept the saleratus in the buttery on a shelf; I looked at the powder behind the clock after she put part of it in the bottle; it looked like flour, only glistened more – did not look like saleratus, it was not so fine; it was in the day time when I looked at it; no one was there at the time she did it but me; Pa was on the bed in the bedroom at the time; he cramped and puked so I knew he was sick; Ma slept down stairs on the lounge; he was in bed with me when I first saw him puke and cramp; Ma did the cooking at that time; got brandy often; I first saw him puking; know Bardswwell [sic]; know nothing of him and Maw going away. Went to Wheatville with Ma; Maw saw Matthew there; went in a buggy, Ma and I together. She told me we were going to Center; Ma told me not to tell Pa where she was going; Matthew was at her house; I saw them in bed together before Pa died; saw them twice; know Bicknall; he was not working in Pa’s shop then. Paw saw Ma and Matthew in bed together, and they has a fuss; Matthew staid there; Pa told Matthew to leave; he didn’t leave in a good while.

We learn that since the above was put in type that the woman has been acquitted.

[“The Murder Trial at Batavia.” Buffalo Express (N. Y.), Jul. 7, 1858, p. 7]

FULL TEXT: Mrs. Polly Frisch, who was formerly tried at Batavia for the murder of her husband by poisoning, and acquitted, was tried a second time last week for the murder of her infant child, 21 months old, in a similar manner. The evidence is regard to arsenic being found in the stomach of the deceased was wholly insufficient, and the accused was again acquitted.

[“Acquitted.” Buffalo Express (N. Y.), Nov. 6, 1858, p. 3]


FULL TEXT: In the case of Mrs. Polly Frisch, on trial at Batavia for murder, the jury on Monday failed to agree, after being oat 40 hours, and were discharged. They stood six for acquittal and six for conviction. It will be remembered that Mrs. Frisch, formerly Mrs. Hoag, was arrested in November, 1857, charged with the murder of her husband, Hoag, and her two children, one a girl of seven years, and the other an infant.  She was indicted upon three separate charges. Last summer she was tried for the murder of her husband, and, the jury did not think the offense sufficiently proven to warrant a conviction, and site was acquitted. In the fall she was strain arraigned, charged with the murder of the infant child, and after a short trial acquitted. This last trial was for the murder of her daughter, Frances, aged seven years, or thereabouts. This crime, like the others, It Is alleged, consisted of giving arsenic insufficient quantities, and for the purpose of producing death. After the jury was discharged she was remanded to jail for a fourth trial.

[“The Batavia Murderess’s Trial.” Buffalo Weekly Express (N. Y.), Mar. 29, 1859, p. 3]

FULL TEXT: Polly Frisch, convicted at Batavia of the murder of her child on a fourth trial for the same crime alleged to have been committed against various deceased members of her family, was granted a new trial.

[Racine Daily Journal (Wi.), Jul. 25, 1859, P. 1]

FULL TEXT: A special term of this Court at Batavia, convened on Monday, and proceeded to empanel a Jury for a new trial for the case of POLLY FRISCH, charged with the murder of her child by administration of arsenic. It will be remembered that a new trial was granted in this case on the ground of some irregularity in the proceedings at the last session of this court, when a verdict of guilty was obtained.

Yesterday the testimony of some ten witnesses was gone through with, and it would seem that the case will be again to the jury at an early day.

[“Court of Oyer and Terminer,” Buffalo Daily Republic (N. Y.), Sep. 2, 1859, p. 3]

FULL TEXT: Polly Frisch Again Convicted and Sentenced to be Hung. – This woman has been again convicted and sentenced to be hung, at Batavia, on the 2d of November. The jury were out twenty-six hours. This is the fifth trial she has had. The jury recommended a commutation of the sentence to imprisonment for life.

[Buffalo Daily Republic (N.Y.), Sep. 10, 1859, P. 3]


FULL TEXT: At Casandalgua, New York, a woman named Polly Frisch, who had been five times tried for the murder of her husband and children, was convicted of murder for poisoning one of her children.

[Untitled, Daily National Democrat (Marysville, Ca.), Oct. 18, 1859, p. 3]


FULL TEXT: We are informed that Mrs. Polly Frisch, who was convicted in Genesse County, for the murder of her little daughter, and whose sentence Governor Morgan commuted to life imprisonment to Sing Sing, has, since her incarceration, at that prison, become decidedly insane. The prison officers are about taking steps for her removal to the Lunatic Asylum at Utica.

The case has left on record, features worthy of the attention of the medical and philanthropic world. While her counsel from the first, suspected some mental disturbance on her part, yet, in the belief that the evidence, especially on the point of the want of a motive, was insufficient to warrant her condition as a sane person, did not interpose insanity as a defence, until near the close of her fifth and last trial. The late doctor John Cotes, of Batavia, was called by the prisoner’s counsel, to examine her as to her sanity, before her first trial, and he reported that, although he found her a very singular person, ans suffering under a complication of physical ailments, he could no advise them to rely at all upon the defence of sanity.

On the last trial, however, certain new evidence was produced new evidence was produced by the prosecution, which so startled her counsel, as indicating mental aberration, that they determined that doctor George Cook, the eminent physician and Superintendent of the Insane Asylum at Canandaigua, should be sent for. He arrived in the evening, examined the prisoner closely, learned her former habits and ailments from her family physician, and the diseases with which she had been afflicted during her confinement in jail, and then testified, on the witness stand, that she was then, and at the time of the alleged homicides had been suffering under disease epileptiform in character, and that she was not a person of sound mind. He also pronounced that the fits and convulsions to which she was liable, and which were often very violent and alarming, were epileptic, though to the eye of the ordinary observer, or even of the medical man not especially conversant with the treatment of insane persons, they would be regarded merely hysterical. Doctors L. B. Cotes, Root, Long and Griswold, of the locality, concurred with Dr. Cook. But so great is the prejudice against the defence of insanity – where its manifestations are not palpable and obvious to the common understanding, and where, as in this case, it was set up so late – that the jury found her sane and guilty.

Such, however, was the apprehension on the part of medical and thinking men that there was danger of execution of the woman, at least partially deranged, that Gov. Morgan was induced, after her sentenced to death, to send Dr. Edward Hall, the well known Superintendent of the State Lunatic Asylum for Insane Convicts, at Auburn, to make a special examination as to her mental condition. Dr. Hall spent several days in a thorough investigation of the case, and examined numerous witnesses and obtained many additional facts, himself. He came unhesitatingly to the conclusion, and so reported to the Governor, “That the prisoner, Polly Frisch, is now and has for several years been subject to that form of insanity which is frequently the result of epileptic disease. This is now plainly apparent, and, I think, if attention had been called to this form of mental disease as a solution of her of her unnatural actions, she would have been as much an object of sympathy and pity as of horror and aversion.” Dr. Hall also said that he thought it proper to send to his Excellency an abstract of the prominent facts in a case which was so peculiar, in order that he might be able to form some judgment of the correctness of his conclusions.

[“Polly Frisch, the Alleged Murderess of Her Husband and Children, to be Removed to Utica as an Insane Convict.” Buffalo Daily Courier (N.Y.), Nov. 19, 1860, p. 2]



Nov. 1857 – Polly Frisch (ca. 33) arrested.
Jul. 1858 – Trial for murder of Henry Hoag (ca. 38); acquitted.
Nov. 1858 – Trial for murder of Eliza Jane (21 mo.); acquitted.
Mar. 1859 – Trial for murder of Frances (“about 7,” “9”); convicted; hung jury (6/6).
Jul. 1859 – Trial for murder of Frances (about 7); convicted; mistrial declared on technicality.
Sep. 1859 – Retrial for murder of Frances; convicted.
Nov. 1860 – Declared insane; transferred from Sing Sing to State Lunatic Asylum, Utica, N. Y.






For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America


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