Wednesday, December 31, 2014

“Frenzied Wails of Murderesses in the Shadow of the Guillotine”: Chivalry Justice in 1929 France

FULL TEXT: In the historic prison of St. Lazare here I have seen a spectacle more in keeping with the middle ages than with modern ideas of the treatment of prisoners — even when they are under the death sentence for brutal crimes.

Three women under sentence of death by guillotining have lost their reason under the ordeal, and had to be chained to their beds by rust-coated chains and padlocks dug out from the cellars from which they had not been taken even in revolutionary days, because they were deemed too barbarous.

THERE are four women under death sentence in the Paris area at the present time. And that is a record for which one must go back to revolutionary days.

The three in St. Lazare were admittedly guilty of horrible crimes. One, an elderly Madame David, murdered an infant of eight months, to spite its mother, by stuffing a sponge into its throat, and then stood by shedding crocodile tears over the child's sufferings when, if she had told the truth, the doctor could have saved its life.

The youngest and prettiest of the three is a Serbian girl who is known as the ‘Murderess with, the Evil Eye,’ because it is alleged that she hypnotised her victim, a girl of twelve, before strangling her in the Bois due Boulogne. The third is a middle-aged woman named Vabre, who killed her stepson be cause his father declared he was going to leave the woman owing to her ill treatment of the children.


The two first named successfully protested against being asked to occupy in turn cell No. 13, which, in addition to being deemed unlucky, has sheltered some of the most tragic figures of revolutionary days, including the poet, Andre Chenier, whose ghost is said by the superstitious still to haunt the cell and the adjoining corridors, especially when the occupant is fated to die by the guillotine.

After the protest, the two women were allowed to occupy together cell No. 12; but when Madame Vabre arrived, she was forced to take the cell of ill-omen because there was no other.

One night the attendants and occupants of neighboring cells were aroused by terrible shrieks, and Blanche Vabre jumped from her bed under the delusion that the spirit of her victim and the previous occupants of this ghastly cell, were walking in procession to torment her. She broke into a frenzy, tearing the clothes from, her body, and trying to dash her brains out against the wall with the mad idea of ending the torture she was suffering from her delusions.

Finally, five men and six women attendants overcame her, but, to the shame of the French authorities, it has, to be said that the only means they had available for dealing with this demented creature was the mediaeval system of heavy chains attached to the body, so that the unhappy creature cannot rest night or day.


Two nights later new cries were heard, and this time it was the mind of Madame David that had given way under the influence of the distressing scenes next door.

Her delusion was that the executioner, ‘Monsieur Paris,’ as he is grimly known, had entered her cell in the night to take her to death, and she sprung from bed to hurl missiles at him, shrieking meanwhile for assistance against him. Next, she tore her clothing to strips, and then attacked with fury her fellow prisoner.

The two women fought wildly, scratching each other until their faces were little more than bleeding pulp, and when assistance, arrived, both had to be chained like the woman next door.

The President has now announced that the death sentence will not be carried out in the case of the woman Vabre or Mdlle Kures, the young Serbian, but so far he has refused to interfere with the sentence on the woman David.

The cases have excited considerable controversy in Paris, where no woman has been executed for twenty years, no matter how atrocious the crimes imputed them; but a variety of circumstances have moved public opinion against mercy to women murderers.


One is the growing agitation for sex equality in politics, it being urged that if women are to be the equality of men in one realm, they ought to be equal in all, before the guillotine, and most of the ardent Feminists are logical enough to accept this grim reasoning, and refuse to identify themselves with a demand for respite, or, where they do so, they are careful to make clear that it is because they are opposed to capital punishment on principle.

The other reason weighing with public opinion is that there has been a great increased in crimes of violence by women, and it is accompanied by a craze for carrying firearms that are used at the slightest provocation by wives and sweethearts.

This strange fashion has grown to such an extent that up to date hand bags have what is known as the ‘pistol pocket’ in which the fashionable dame secrets the automatic ready to be produced at need.

[“Three Mad Women In Chains Amid The Ghosts Of Lazare – Frenzied Wails of  Murderesses in the Shadow of the Guillotine,” Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW, Australia), Apr. 14, 1929, p. 22]



For more on this topic, see Chivalry Justice Checklist & Links


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pamela Myers (alias Snyder), Pennsylvania Baby-Killing Mom - 1854

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Pamela Myers, alias Snyder, is the name of the woman who is charged with the murder of her children. Our telegraph reports yesterday contained some particulars of the case, the following are additional circumstances: She confessed to the Mayor (of Philadelphia) to having in succession killed five of her children as soon as born, two by one father, and three by another. The last child was born five days since, and was made away with, like the others, by being thrown into the sink. The first information of this horrible disclosure was made to the Mayor by an anonymous letter. The affair happened at Nicetown, in the upper part of Philadelphia. – this hearing of the case was to have taken place yesterday forenoon, but was deferred owing to the illness of of the unfortunate woman. The children were of course all illegitimate.

[Untitled, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (N. Y.), Nov. 7, 1854, p. 2]



FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): On Thursday two of the special officers of the police paid a visit to the house occupied by Mr. Rice, at Nicetown, for the purpose of endeavoring to find the body of one of the children of Pamela Snyder, which she stated had been buried there. They effected their object, and an inquest was held upon the remains yesterday at the Union street station house, by Coroner Delavan, in the presence of Alderman Lenney.

The first witness called was Dr. Andrew J. Smiley, who testified to having examined the remains of a child found among a quantity of decomposed matter, contained in a rough wooden box, about three feet long and one foot wide. He detailed in technical terms the various portions  of the skeletons found, including the bones of the head, spinal column, arms and lower extremities. He considered from the size of the bones that the child had arrived at its full time; but from the advanced stage of decomposition, it was impossible to say that the child had been born alive, or to decide upon its sex. There was no mark upon the skull to indicate any violence.

Officer Clark detailed the steps taken in the case from the arrest of the girl up to Thursday, when he went in company with officer Seed to Nicetown. Some information received from Charlotte Snyder, an aunt of Pamela, they dug in a spot she pointed out to them, and in a few minutes came to a rough wooden box, about three feet beneath the surface. This is the child that Wm. Snyder told me that he and George Altemus had buried, and he at the same time acknowledged himself to be the father of it. – Pamela Myers at the time lived with her grandmother, in the house to which the yard where the body was found was attached. It was now occupied by Mr. Rice. The child was born on Sunday evening, February 22nd, 1852, and was the next day washed and laid out by Elizabeth McGuire.

Officer Seed corroborated the evidence of Mr. Clark, stating in addition, that Pamela had told him of having had five children, two of which choked to death. One of these she said she had thrown into the cess-pool of the yellow house opposite the house in which she was arrested, and that it was afterwards taken out by her uncle and other people, who buried it in the garden. I think the body found is that of the third child she acknowledges having; two she said had not come to their full time, and she left them in the field.

Hannah Snyder, an aunt of the accused, testified that she could not tell the exact time when it was born, except that it happened on a Sunday. Pamela had been down to her mother’s, and after coming home, appeared to be in labor. She went up stairs, and from what she saw, accused Pamela of having given birth to a child, but she denied it.

After hunting for it, we discovered it in the cesspool attached to the house. The attempt to get it out failed, but after night Wm. Snyder put a ladder down, and in that way it got out. The body was placed in a wooden box that I used to bring coal in. the next night it was buried. This was about three years since, and I believe she has had two children since that. I saw the child; it was a girl. I saw a dent upon the head, and supposed it was caused from striking something in falling into the well. I understood she was taken sick once before when riding into the city with her brother. – While he was serving some customers with milk, she went up an alley, and on getting into the wagon again her brother drove out home with her. Her last child was born four weeks ago last Thursday. I know this only by hearsay, but I know that she was previously in the family way.

Geore Altemus testified that on the 22d of February, 1852, he mistrusted there was something wrong, from seeing blood in the yard, and two women looking about as if something had been lost. He inquired the object of their search and was informed they supposed a child had been thrown in the well. Witness got a rake, and raised what he supposed to be the child’s foot. Afterwards, a ladder was brought, and in the presence of Wm. Snyder and David Kern, the child was taken from the well. The child was taken from witness by Snyder. The next day the witness and Snyder buried the child in the garden. The box in which it was buried was recognized by witness. The father was said to be George Care. Pamela is reported to have given birth to two children since 1852.

Thomas Rice testified that while digging a well on the farm on which he now lives, he struck on a box which Wm. Snyder had told him he had put there. Mr. Rice said he had heard of a child being born, and that it had been buried there, but did not suppose any foul means had been used to destroy its life. He said it was a common occurrence for poor people in the country to bury children in the gardens or lots, to save the expense of  putting them in the grave-yards. An additional reason why he supposed no crime had been committed, was the circumstances of an Alderman having investigated a case of supposed infanticide, and found nothing in it. In answer to a question by a Juror, whether he ever supposed the girl to be in a delicate situation, while in his employ, the witness answered that he never noticed a girl in his house; he passed them as he would a dog.

David J. Mott testified that he assisted in digging up a box containing the remains of the child, after the spot had been pointed out by Mrs. Snyder.

The testimony  then closed, and the jury, soon after, rendered the following verdict: --

“That box contains the remains of the body of a female child, born on the 22nd of Feb., 1852, and who was killed by its mother, Pamela Myers, on the day of its birth.”

[‘”The Child Murders.” from Philadelphia Ledger), The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (N. Y.), Nov. 13, 1854, p. 2]



For more cases of this type, see Serial Baby-Killer Moms.


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


Rosa Bronzo, Italian Serial Child-Killer - 1879

FULL TEXT: Rosa Bronzo was lately arrested in a village near Salerno, Italy. For two years past she has been taking infants, for a consideration of 30 francs each, from their parents or guardians, offering either to care for them for a certain period, or to take them to the Children’s Hospital at Salerno. It was lately discovered that she poisoned the children with laudanum. Several of their bodies have been discovered.

[Untitled, Iola Register (Ka.), Jan. 17, 1879, p. 4]


To learn more details about murderous child care providers in history, including baby farmers, adoption agents and baby sitters, see “Death on the Baby Farm,” by Robert St. Estephe, Female Serial Killer Index.


For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mary Dragovich (Kosanovich), Suspected Female Serial Killer – Ohio, 1931

FULL TEXT: Youngstown, Ohio. – Police Tuesday were informed by the county prosecutor’s office they have sufficient evidence to bring murder charges against a woman accused of six killings, but decided upon a further investigation before issuing any warrant.

Detective Lieut. Louis Colabine, in charge of the investigation, said he would not act until he has checked death certificates and conferred with Coroner M. E. Hayes and a physician.

The woman, operator of a boarding house, was blamed by a neighbor and her son-in-law for the deaths of two children, two husbands and two boarders. She held insurance policies on the lives of three of the men.

Her first husband died of a leg infection six years ago, police said two years ago in the Massillon State Hospital for the Insane. The second husband, a boarder said, “fell over in a fit” after drinking a cup of tea brewed by his wife.

The boarder said another boarder died on the way to work and he overheard the woman say she soon would “have another boarder in the hole.” He said he became frightened when he learned she had a $500 policy on his own life and left her home.

The woman denied she had anything to do with the deaths of the four men.

[“Female Bluebeard Charges Delayed – Police Informed Evidence of Wholesale Murder Sufficient for Warrant,” Hope Star (Ak.), Jan. 13, 1932, p. 1]


FULL TEXT: Youngstown, Jan. 14. – Reports that a doctor has refused to sign a death certificate for a boarder who died in her home were added today to the tangled investigation of a woman accused of killing four men and two children.

~ Hear Story From Neighbor ~

Police got the story of the deaths from a neighbor. Coroner M. E. Hayes, who signed death certificates for two of the men, expressed belief the story was prompted by a neighborhood quarrel. Officers, nevertheless, were assured by Assistant Professor James Cooper that they had evidence enough to warrant murder charges.

Investigation began after the police informant said his wife had dug bits of flesh, bones, and clothing from her garden. Records showed one of the woman’s husbands died in an insane asylum to which he had taken as an emergency case. He went into convulsions after drinking a cup of tea, a witness said. The other husband died of a leg infection. The boarders, according to the coroner, died of heart disease. Three of the men left the woman $1,000 life insurance policies.

~ Refused to Sign Warrant ~

The doctor said he was called to attend a boarder at the house, and found him in severe cramps. The patient died a few days later. The physician said Coroner M. E. Hayes asked him to sign the death certificate, but he refused, “due to strange circumstances.” Hayes himself finally signed the certificate, giving heart disease as the cause of death.

[“Mystery Piles Up In 6 Deaths In Youngstown – Woman Accused of Killing 2 Husbands, 2 Children, 2 Boarders – Prosecutor’s Aid Figs Up Evidence – Doctor Refuses To Sign Death Warrant For One Boarder,” (AP), The Salem News (Oh.), Jan. 14, 1931, p. 1]


FULL TEXT: Youngstown, O., Oct. 10. – Love affairs of Mrs. Mary Kosanovich for the last nine years were being investigated by police today in the hope of getting some clue to the murder of Nick Dunovic, 35, found slain Thursday near Campbell.

Mrs. Kosanovich, 32, was mistress of the boarding house where Dunovic lived.

In her house, police found 23 insurance policies, 15 of which were taken out on men classified by the police as either former boarders, husbands or friends of the woman. Five of the policies were on Mrs. Kovanovich herself and three were carried on her 18-year-old daughter.

A suicide note found in Mrs. Kosanovich’s pocketbook, which she says was written by Dunovic, added to a belief of police that she was engaged in an insurance “racket.”

Arrested when she identified the body, she has since maintained ignorance of how Dunovic was slain. He had been stabbed in the chest and his skull fractured by a blow.

Four men, two of whom are boarders of Mrs. Kosanovich, and two who attended a party in her home Wednesday night, when Dunovic was last seen alive, were being held with the woman as suspects.

Beyond the possibility that Dunovic might have been slain for his insurance, police admitted today that they are still without evidence definitely linking any of the suspects with the crime. Most of the policies found were made out beneficiary.

[“Love Affairs Link With Ohio Slaying,” Greeneville Daily Advocate (Oh.), Oct. 10, 1931, p. 1]


FRONT PAGE: Youngstown, O., Oct. 10. – Altho admitting they were baffled, temporarily at least, In their attempt to solve the slaying of Nicholas Dunovic, 40, a suspected victim of a wholesale Insurance collection murder plot, authorities here tonight delved into the past life of Mrs. Mary Dragovich, om of the five held in Dunovic's death.

Mrs. Dragovich, also known as I Mary Kosanovich, was the landlady st the rooming house where Dunovic lived. Bloodstains found in I Dunovic's room lfd police to believe the steel worker was killed while he slept Wednesday night and his body i taken to the lonely spot in Campbell where it was found.

Discovery of 23 insurance policies, totaling about $12,000, in Mrs. Dragovich's home and a purported "suicide note," written In Croatian and signed "Nicholas Dunovic" were the outstanding developments which further complicated the case today. The note was found in Mrs. Dragovich's pocketbook. Police believed it was fictitious.

Seventeen of the insurance policies were carried by men police said were roomers at the Dragovlch home. The others were carried on the woman herself and her daughter, Dorothy, 17.

The policies were located after police learned the woman collected on policies of insurance held by a former husband and a former boarder at her home, both of whom died under mysterious circumstances. Neither death has been solved.

Puzzled over the authorship of a purported "suicide note," police investigating the murder of Nicholas

Dunovic, 40, a suspected victim of a wholesale insurance collection racket, today discovered 23 insurance policies in the home of Mrs. Mary Dragovleh, 32, who is being held, pending the result of the  probe.

The woman was named beneficiary in each of the 23 policies found in the house, where Dunovic resided as a boarder, police aid. The policies, taken out by a former husband of the woman and her friends, and roomers, totaled about: $12,000.

Discovery of the policies followed. the admissions of Mrs. Dragovich that she had applied for the money due on a $1,200 policy-held by Dunovic, in which she was beneficiary, and that she had collected the insurance money for another boarder and a former husband.

Convinced of his innocence, police released one of the five men suspects but continued to hold the other four and Mrs. Dragovich, and questioned them today concerning a note which was uncovered during the investigation of, the Dunovic murder.

Written in Croatian, the note, signed by Dunovic, declared that he had quit his job and that he was going to kill himself. In the note, the writer requested that all of his belongings be given to "my wife."

While authorities were inclined to question the credibility of the note the suspects declared that It was written by Dunovic before he died. The woman admitted, according to police, that she was Dunovic's common-law wife and that he refered to her in his note.

Investigation Into the possible one widespread insurance racket, began after the body of Dunovic, stabbed and battered, was found on a lonely road near Campbell, O. Police, however, after finding bloodstains in his j room, stated they believed he was slain in the boarding house.

[“Twenty - three Life Insurance Policies Found in Youngstown Woman s Home in Murder Probe ,” Coschocton Tribune (Oh.), Oct. 11, 1931, p. 1]


FULL TEXT: Youngstown, 0., Oct. 11 (U.R). Police attempts to link Mrs. Mary Kosanovich, 32-year-old boarding; house mistress, with the murder of Nick Dunovic, 35, had failed today after three days' investigation.

Detectives questioned two boarding at the Kosanovich home, held as suspects without results. Four Mrs. Kosanovich had obtained insurance were being sought for questioning.

Questioned repeatedly through an interpreter as to why she carried so many insurance policies on her boarders, Mrs. Kosanovich answered defiantly, "None of your business."

[“Police Fail To Link Woman With Slayings,” The Mansfield News (Oh.), Oct. 11, 1931, p. 1]


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Irmgard Swinka (Kuschinski), German Serial Killer - 1948

Irmgard Kuschinski, born Svinka (Swinka)


FULL TEXT: Irmgard Swinka-Kuschinski, 36-years-old, was the last person to ever be sentenced to death in the West German Republic. But she was saved from the gallows by the passing of a law eliminating the death sentence in West Germany.

Irmgard Kuschinski, maiden name Swinka (the name most commonly used in reports on her case), a 36-year-old waitress was, along with accomplice 42-year-old Ernst Himpel (and occasionally others), murderous robber who roamed Germany in the years following the end of World War II, preying upon elderly women. She presented herself as a Good Samaritan, always ready with a cup of tea or coffee, cigarettes or some other comfort for her lonely prey. The offerings – including the cigarettes – were poisoned with a concoction of sleeping pills and morphine. Once the victim was unconscious, Irmgard and her accomplices looted the home, grabbing “money, jewelry and food stamps, and often completely worthless things.”

Swinka had stolen the drugs she used on her victims. In 1947 she had been prosecuted for theft of drugs from a former SS medic, working in a Berlin refugee camp

An estimated 40 victims, in locations throughout Germany, survived killer couple’s attacks. Six, however, died: in Berlin, Lüneburg, Brandenburg, Giessen and Köln.

The 36 year-old waitress, was the object of a year-long police hunt in both the the East and the West occupied Zone. Her photo was placed in newspapers resulting in a woman from her home town near Hamm recognizing her and provided police with her address.


During the final weeks of their spree, the killers forced one of their final victims, Minna S,  to write a “suicide note” before she passed out from the drugs Swinka had dosed her with. But Minna survived, just barely, and was able to provide police with a description of her assailants. In July of 1948, Helene S. (63) became Swinka’s final murder victim.

On July 13, 1948, Swinka and Himpel were captured in Unna resulting from a woman on the Dortmund-Unna train having recognized the surly disheveled Himpel on the train, who face she knew from a “wanted” photo distributed by police. The woman alerted the railway police.

Swinka was soon found by police in a restaurant in Unna. In her possession were numerous false identification papers. Police found Himpel in the vicinity in the process of searching out suitable burglary targets, and arrested him. Both were taken to the police prison Cologne, where they were put under suicide watch.

Following her arrest, Swinka was, apparently, hoping to avoid the death sentence through establishing an insanity defense through behaving as eccentrically as possible, announcing to her three cellmates in the Bonn Court prison: A prison official, hearing what he regarded to be utter nonsense barked out to Irmgard, telling her:

“If I say just a few words to Satan he will appear to you and you will know for sure!”

These “Satanic” episodes were recounted before a jury in Cologne beginning on April 21, 1949, during a hearing process which included 235 witnesses and 40 experts. The prosecutor has brought charges of six counts of murder and ten for attempted murder.

The Swinka case played a large part in the public debate in the new West German Republic over whether the the death sentence ought to be abolished, the “retentionist” faction arguing that Swinka provided a good example of why retaining capital punishment was the wiser choice.

On May 7, 1949, Irmgard Swinka was found guilty of multiple murders and attempted murders and was sentenced to die by hanging. The day before, however, capital punishment had been formally abolished.

After her conviction, Swinka’s defense lawyer described his client as “unscrupulous, lazy, shiftless and a liar.”

In 1987, Swinka was pardoned by Prime Minister John Rau. At 74, under the false name of “widow Moser” she was placed in an old age home near Aachen. She stayed there until her death at the age of 76 from heart failure in October 1988.

[Robert St. Estephe, “Summary of the Swinka case based on German language sources,” Dec. 26, 2014]


German language journalistic sources:

1) “Irmgard Kuschinsky,” Der Spiegel, Jul. 17, 1948, p. 17
2) “Gespräch mit Satan: Dann wird er auch ihnen ersceinen,” Der Spiegel, April 9, 1949 (09.04.1949), p. 8
3) “Lebenslänglich,” Der Spiegel, Mar. 5, 1984 (05.03.1984), p. 236
4) Lisa Zehner, “Giftmörderin Irmgard Swinka Darum wurde das letzte Kölner Todesurteil nicht vollstreckt,” Express, May 9, 2014



English language newspaper reports:

FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Hamburg, Germany – German police said Wednesday [Jul. 13, 1948] they had arrested a woman they accused of killing six housewives by poison. They identified her as Irmgard Kuschinsky, 36.

The police said the woman, a resident of Hamm, entered 20 houses on various pretexts. Once inside, they said, she would offer the housewife a cigaret or some packaged tea or coffee.

The gifts were poisoned and when the hostess collapsed, the Kuschinsky woman would rob the house, police said. They said six victims died and the others became ill, but survived.

[“Woman Kills Six Others By Poison, The Bradford Era (Pa.), The Bradford Era (Pa.), Jul 15, 1948, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Cologne, Germany, May 7 – Irmgard Swinka, 37-year-old Berlin waitress, was sentenced today to be hanged for murdering five elderly spinsters with poisoned cigarettes. After giving the lethal cigarettes to her victims, she robbed them.

She may escape the gallows, however. The West German Constituent Assembly voted Friday [May 6] to abolish the death penalty.

[“Berlin Murderess May Escape Noose,” Portland Sunday Telegram (Me.), May 8, 1949, p. A-10]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): Cologne – Irmgard Swinka, former Berlin waitress, was sentenced to death yesterday for poisoning five women.

The 37-year-old woman had offered poisoned cigarets and drugs to elderly spinsters and robbed them of their belongings.

Two accomplices were given prison terms of three years and life.

It is not certain whether Miss Swinka will be executed since Western Germany’s constitutional assembly at Bonn has voted to abolish death sentences under the new West German government.

[“Ex-Berlin Waitress Sentenced to Death For Poisoning Five,” syndicated (UP), Stars and Stripes European Edition, May 9, 1949, p. 11]








For similar cases, see: Female Serial Killer Bandits


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Abittibee Lake Cannibal Mother: Ontaria, Canada - 1889

FULL TEXT: Ottawa, Ont., October 10 – A gentleman just returned from an exploring expedition in the wilds of northwestern Ontario said that he had discovered during his travels a tribe of Indians who have practiced cannibalism up to within a few years ago when the country was first visited by French missionaries.

In the vicinity of Abittibee lake he was shown an Indian child whose grandmother had killed and eaten seven of her young children, the child’s father being the only one to escape. He made his mother’s [sic] terrible deed known to the chief of the tribe, who sent his men to arrest her. On entering the wigwam they found the head of the last child boiling in a pot over the fire. She was ordered to be shot, lots having been drawn to see who the executioneer [sic] should be. The unlucky straw fell to an old Indian, who successfully removed the unnatural mother from doing further harm.

On the Quinze lake several years ago he found that full blooded warrior had killed and eaten four of his sons, but was awkward shot and killed by his fifth son.

[“Cannibals In the Northwest. – An Indian Woman Who Ate Seven Children and a Man Who Ate His Four Sons.” The Atlanta Constitution (Ga.), Oct. 11, 1889, p. 1]


NOTE: It would be reasonable to say that this case, since it involves a woman who was apparently brought up in a culture that practiced cannibalism, should no be properly classed as a “serial killer” case. Nevertheless, such borderline category cases as this one ought to be looked at when studying the who spectrum of serial killer case varieties, thus it is included here.



For more cases see: Cannibal Murderesses


Monday, December 22, 2014

Mary Josephine Ward and Her Deadly New York City Baby Farm - 1884

FULL TEXT: New York, N. Y. – The bodies of two little babies lay on the table in the parlor of Mrs. Mary Josephine Ward’s “St. Vincent de Paul Nursery and School for Children,” at No. 692 East One Hundred and Sixty-fourth-street, yesterday afternoon. In the play-room outside three chubby babes rolled about on the floor and laughed and crowed merrily as though there was no token of death in the house. They are all that remain of 13 little ones who have been boarded at the establishment, which is known as a “baby farm,” since Jan. 6 last. The other 10 have all died, three of them within the last 36 hours.

The little forms in the parlor were those of Mabel Louisa Baker, a colored child of 6 months who died at 1 o’clock yesterday morning of what Mrs. Ward thought was convulsions, in connection with meningitis, and Mary Ellen McCartney a white baby of 2 months, who died at 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon of what Mrs. Ward pronounced exhaustion, due to an attack of cholera infantum. No physician was called to attend either of the children, as Mrs. Ward says that she thought she could treat them herself, although they have been ill and constantly falling since Saturday last. On Monday night Josephine Cress, a 3 months’ old baby, had died without medical attendance. Coroner Merkle and Deputy Coroner Messemer viewed the bodies of the two babies yesterday, and an autopsy will be held at the Morgue this afternoon.

Dr. Messemer said to a TIMES reporter last evening: “Mrs. Ward’s house, so far as I can discover, and I nave made a searching investigation, is not a ‘baby farm’ in the bad sense of that term. I never saw an institution of the kind more cleanly, and the living children are as healthy as such children can be expected to be. The only trouble with the woman seems to be that she has neglected to call in physicians when the babies were sick, and they have died on her hands. This was the cane with these last three only. Dr. H. H. Dodin certified to the deaths of five, and Dr. J. Milton Williams to those of two of the other seven who have died.”

A TIMES reporter inspected the nursery kept by Mrs. Ward yesterday, from attic to cellar, as did also an officer of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and found the place to be just as Dr. Messemer stated. Mrs. Ward is a colored woman, and the neighbors speak highly of her, and say that she takes remarkably good care of the children in her charge. The nursery is an incorporated institution, the incorporators being Drs. John E. Comfort, Hiram Turner, William J. McMahon, Joseph E. Miller, and H. H. Dodin, and Joseph J. and Mary J. Ward. Joseph J. Ward filed about eight months ago, and since then his widow has carried on the institution alone. She receives $10 a month for the board of the children. Superintendent Jenkins, of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, says that he has had the place investigated before, and he found nothing that could be complained of. The investigation yesterday resulted in the same way, and he believes that Mrs. Ward treated the babies well, and is to be blamed only for neglecting to call physicians to attend to the sick ones.

“We have been censured,” said Mr. Jenkins, “for not seeing that this nursery was licensed. As it is an incorporated institution it is not required by the law to be licensed. We keep a keen lookout for baby-farming establishments, and this is nothing of the kind. We have kept it in view from the beginning.”

Coroner Merkle will make an effort to find the mothers of the dead children before holding an inquest.

[“Ten Out Of Thirteen Dead. - Inquiring Into The Management Of Mrs. Ward’s Nursery.” New York Times (N.Y.), Jul. 3, 1884, p. 5]


For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.


For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America (as of January 20, 2014, the collection contains 61 cases)