Friday, September 23, 2011

Harriet E. Nason, Vermont Serial Killer - 1886

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Rutland, Vt., May – During the examination yesterday of Mrs. Harriet E. Nason, charged with poisoning her son-in-law, Dan C. Parker, in order to obtain his life insurance, it was developed that the district attorney had caused the body of a young son of Mrs. Nason's sister to be also exhumed. Mrs. Nason is also suspected of having poisoned him. Young Nason died at Gorham, N. H., about six months ago. Mrs. Nason was visiting her sister at the time. The terrible suffering of the child and his peculiar symptoms caused the physicians to think he had been poisoned, but there was no reason for attaching suspicion to any one. It is now believed that Mrs. Nason also poisoned her late husband, and that she did some of her crimes simply from love of poisoning. The remains of Mrs. C. S. Debritton, who died very suddenly some months ago in Rutland, were exhumed to-day, and will be submitted to a careful expert analysis. The circumstances of her death were very peculiar. Mrs. Nason was her most intimate friend, and frequently dined and supped with her. Many times after eating with Mrs. Nason she was taken very ill, and unaccountably sick headache and pains in the back and legs. Mrs. Nason is suspected of other poisoning cases.

[“A Wholesale Poisoner. - Mrs. Nason Suspected of Killing Several Persons.” St. Paul Daily Globe (Mn.), May 7, 1886, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Rutland, Vt, May 15. – Strong circumstantial evidence, slowly accumulating during several weeks, has at length laid at the door of a woman of this city a series of horrible and revolting crimes. Mrs. Harriet E. Nason, the suspected poisoner, is now accused of the murder of her husband, her son-in-law, her young nephew and her most intimate female friend. There are ugly rumors, too, that the list of her victims may be still further increased on investigation, but if half what is already told be true, the woman has few equals even among the famous practicers of the poisoner’s art. There is about her nothing to suggest crime, or superior cunning or eccentricity. She is thirty-nine years old, of rather nervous temperament, but resolute and energetic, and not particularly attractive in personal appearance. She was born in Wiseasset, Maine, and about twenty years ago she married Henry G. Nason, of Gorham, N. H. Of five children born to them, three boys died in infancy, and a daughter of seventeen and a son of nine are still living. Mr. Nason died quite suddenly after a very brief but violent illness in September, 1881. There was as insurance of several thousand dollars upon his life and upon this Mrs. Nason and her children lived until about a year ago, when it was exhausted.

Mrs. Nason’s daughter Maud, now seventeen years old, is a young woman of quite noticeable personal charms. About a year ago Donald C. Parker, a bright, popular young man, well known in society here, began paying attentions to Miss Maud. Although both young, Parker being but twenty-two, the courtship was a brief one and in the fall they were married. The young people began keeping house with Mrs. Nason. Everybody agrees that it was a happy household. Mr. Parker manifested genuine affection tor Mrs. Nason as well as for his wife and everything went smoothly until February last. Early in that month young Parker, who was an expert stenographer, obtained an excellent situation at a good salary in Philadelphia. He was about to start with his wife for that city, when he was taken suddenly ill. He grew rapidly worse and within three days he died in great agony.


Startling reports about the cause of the young man’s death obtained circulation nt once. Even the unprofessional friends of Parker, who had assisted at his bedside, were made suspicious by his symptoms an by other circumstances. E. L. Hatch, who was with the patient during the greater part of his sickness, says that the young man complained continually of an intense burning sensation all through his body. His thirst was insatiable and finally he suffered from severe contractions of the limbs that amounted almost to convulsions. Hatch says that Mrs. Nason asked him to tell Dr. Mead, the attending physician, that Don had suffered such spells when he was boarding with him several months ago. Hatch refused, because it was not true. Mrs. Nason prepared all the food taken by the sick man. He could retain none of it on his stomach.

Mr. Hatch and another friend, named Nicholson, who was with Parker during a portion of his illness, were the first ones to urge the necessity for an investigation. They communicated their suspicions to the parents of Parker and the latter at once demanded an autopsy. Mr. Hatch says that Dr. Mead opposed the request for an autopsy. He says:

“Dr. Mead took me into a room, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket. Then he called me to account for what ho had heard I had said about him. He wanted me to understand that he held a prominent position in the community. He added: “You had better not carry this thing too far. I know Governor Ripley very well, and you will lose your job at the Rutland Opera House if you do not stop this talk. Everybody knows that Parker’s death was from enlargement of the heart.”


The reports in circulation about her soon reached the ears of Mrs. Nason herself, and she at once wrote to Mrs. Parker, the mother of the young man, the following remarkable note:

AT Home, Tuesday Afternoon.

Dear Mrs. Parker : My heart is so sad to-night I can scarcely write, but I feel that I must see Mr. Parker and have a talk with him. I hear that he has said that my poor boy, Don, was poisoned and that I know about it. A great many other terrible things have been said connected with it. Now, I don’t believe Mr. Parker said one half what I hear he did, but if any evil-minded person has told him anything of that kind, and he believed it, why didn’t become to me? It seems to me perfectly ridiculous for him to believe any such thing, much more to report it. You both know very well how I loved Don and he loved me, as he often told me. It seemed that ho thought as much of me as he did of his own mother. I feel just as bad to lose him as I would my boy, and God in heaven knows I did all I could to have him got well, and he said so the night he died. Now, supposing that his medicine should have poisoned him, which I don’t think for a moment it did, why should I be blamed? Supposing what he took that night when he was taken sick should be poison, why should I be to blame? Supposing that any of the physicians should give him anything through a mistake, am I to blame for it? You only stop and think tor one moment what a terrible thing to say that I was to blame for Don’s death. It just drives me wild and I think now, as God is my judge, that it will drive me crazy. Ah! if poor Don was only here. If he could only speak, how quick he would say: “Never mind, ma, you are good to me.” Among other things I know that if what Don took that night was poison he never knew it He never would take it on purpose. He was too happy with his darling wife and it seems so hard to see my poor Maud now grieving her life away day after day. She feels her loss more to-day than ever before. Her health is all broken down.. God only knows how it will end with her; I don’t. Tell Mr. Parker I want to see him this week. If he can come up he must. Please write. – Mrs. N.


All efforts to hush the ugly stories or to smother investigation wore unavailing, for State Attorney Kimball took hold of the case and began a careful inquiry. Parker’s body was examined, but the post mortem did not reveal the cause of death. It showed some general internal inflammation and slight enlargement of the liver. the stomach and a portion of other organs wore sent to Professor Witthaus, of Buffalo, for analysis. He reported the presence of arsenic in large quantities. the various steps in the investigation had consumed much time and a positive result was not reached until April 21. On that day Mrs. Nason was arrested on the charge of murdering her son-in -law.

Her case has been before Justice Bailey for examination for several days and another hearing was held to-day. There has been the most intense interest in the matter in this community, and the court room has been crowded, chiefly by ladies, at each sitting of the Court. Mrs. Nason has borne the ordeal calmly, though her imprisonment is beginning to tell upon her, and she continues to steadfastly assert her innocence.


Some interesting testimony has been put in. Mr. Nicholson, who is a taxidermist, said that Mrs. Nason asked him during Parker’s sickness what would be the effect of poison upon the human system. He was present when Parker died and Mrs. Nason fainted. Several physicians who were called in consultation or were present at the autopsy gave their views. Dr. Mead, who was in charge of the case throughout, denied the statements of Mr. Hatch concerning him. When first called to attend Parker he was suffering with pain in the stomach and vomiting. He administered a counter-irritant of potash and soda. He thought at first it was a case of indigestion. He afterward administered aconite, oxide cereum and injections of hydrate chloral. Mrs. Nason had informed him that Parker was in the habit of taking bismuth powder. She also remarked that she wondered if a white powder Parker had taken just before he had been  sick had anything to do with his death. Dr. Mend refused to say whether Parker’s symptoms indicated poisoning. He admitted that if sufficient arsenic was found in the body no other conclusion would be possible.

Albert Parker, the father of Don, testified that on the evening of the autopsy he called on Mrs. Nason and she said to him that she honed he did not blame her for his son’s death. He replied: Mrs. Nason, I hope nothing is wrong, I hope nothing is wrong, and I only want to know that all was right. I do not know whether anyone was guilty. the Lord knows, I hope not.” Deputy Sheriff Steams said that when be arrested Mrs. Nason she exclaimed : “Why am I accused and for what reason any more than any other person ? Why not attribute it to the white powder Dr. Sanborn sent up in the night and why not arrest him as well?’


To show motive, the State put in the fact that Mrs. Nason exhausted the proceeds of the insurance on her husband’s life about a year ago, and that there was $1,000 insurance on the life of Mr. Parker. Much more evidence the State’s Attorney claims to possess, which he will not use until the final trial.

Meantime, the other mysterious deaths referred to are being investigated. The body of her husband, buried in Gorham in September, 1881, has been disinterred. It was found in a remarkably good state of preservation, a fact in itself indicating the presence of arsenic. Portions of the intestines have been sent to a chemist for analysis. Mrs. Nason was present during the sickness and death of the young son of her sister at Gorham about six months ago.

He died under precisely similar circumstances to those in the case of Parker. The remains of the child have also been disinterred. They were well preserved and portions have been seat to a chemist. Another case is that of Mrs. C. S. De Britten, Mrs. Nason’s most intimate friend, who died about a year ago in Portland. The two women visited each other frequently and there was not known to be any falling out between them. Mrs. De Britten’s sickness was very peculiar and there were suggestions of poisoning at the time, but there seemed to be no reason for suspecting any one. Chemists are examining portions of her exhumed remains and reports of all the analyses are expected within a few days. Neighbors of Mrs. Nason ascribe to her remarkable powers in the way of prophesying fires. Her house on Grove street, it is said, was burned in accordance with her prediction about three years age. Subsequently she had another fiery vision. This alarmed another family in the same block and a watchman was employed. But the second fire occurred on scheduled time, though not until Mrs. Nason had been notified by the owners of the property to vacate. The popular impression is that Mrs. Nason is afflicted with a most dangerous and insidious form of insanity and that all the results of her secret work are not yet known.

[“A Mania For Murder. - A Woman Wife Is Charged With Poisoning - Four Relatives And Friends. - Arsenic In Large Quantities - Her Husband and Her Son-in-Law Among Her Victims - The Investigation.” The Times (Philadelphia, Pa.), May 16, 1886, p. 2]

Dan C. Parker, 22, son-in-law, died Feb. 1885
Nephew (sister’s son), died Dec. 1885
Henry G. Nason, husband, died Sep. 1881
Mrs. C. S. DeBritton, intimate friend




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


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