Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Henrietta Weibel, aged 13, "The Baby Burner" - New York, 1874

Note: Cases such as this one, in which a child is the perpetrator of but one actual murder, yet shows an inclination to commit further murders, are included in our inventory, not to inflate the numbers, but because cases involving young killers are exceptionally important in understanding the phenomenon of serial killing.

Henrietta Weibel, 13 and 7 months, was accused of attempting to burn to death two babies (first the Kelly (Kinney) baby in Tarrytown, later the Franck baby at West Farms, Bronx) on two separate occasions.


CHRONOLOGY  (based on best source, NY Herald):

Henrietta Weibel, 13 and 7 months old; arrested at 418 E. 17th St., West Farms, Bronx; employed by Mrs. Stein, tenant at Leopold Appell Hotel. 4 Siblings. Father deceased.

Spring, 1874 – attempted to burn a baby belonging to Mr. Kinney, of Tarrytown,
Jun. 1874 – employed by Louis Stern’s family, until Jul. 2;multiple thefts, broke windows.
Jul. 2, 1874 – threatened 3-y-o Stern boy to cut off his foot, poisoned him twice.
Jul. 4, 1874 – Mrs. Dometion; set fire to dress of Mrs. Dometion’s little girl (2), blamed girl’s brother, Rob.
Jul 29, 1874 – Set two fires at Mrs. Stein’s, risking life of Mrs. Stein’s cousin’s baby.
Jul. 30, 1874 – Baby Frank, attempted to burn. Leopold Appell Hotel.
Jul. 31, 1874 – arrested; Thirty-fourth Police precinct, at Tremont
Aug. 11, 1874 – Court of General Sessions, The People vs. Henrietta Weibel, arson.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Henrietta Weibel, aged 15, was arrested, on a charge of attempted murder and incendiarism, she having on Wednesday night, attempted to burn the infant child of Mrs. Franck, a boarder at the Leopold Palace Hotel, and afterwards made two endeavours to set fire to the house. The baby was lying asleep when the girl set fire to the bed clothes. Another servant extinguished the flames, but the little child was nearly suffocated. The girl confessed her guilt, and said she had a mania for burning children and houses. It is said that last spring she attempted to burn the baby of Mr. Kelly, of Tremont, and that she was formerly employed by Uhling, the brick-laden coffin conspirator.

[“A Young Murderess,” The Singleton Argus and Upper Hunter General Advocate (NSW, Australia), Sep. 30, 1874, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Henrietta Weibel, who set the bed on fire in a West Farms [in the Bronx, New York] hotel with the view of destroying Mrs. Frank’s infant, was examined on Saturday by Police Surgeon Loomis. She told him that she had no motive for her crime. She loved the child dearly. But seeing it sleeping, she thought it would be nice to see it burn, and instantly fired the bed. But then ran out of the room. As she closed her door, smoke entered the little sleeper’s lungs, and it gasped for death. Henrietta relented, and was about to snatch the child from its danger, but something, she said, seemed to drive her from the spot, and half bewildered she ran down stairs singing. She said she would not hurt the little darling for the world, but that she could not control her action. Dr. Loomis believes that Henrietta is insane. Justice Wheeler has ordered a medical examination.

[“Henrietta Weibel, The Child Burner.” (reprinted from, New York Sun, Aug. 3), The Evening Star (Washington, D. C.), Aug. 4, 1874, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): The disciples of the theories of total depravity of morbid impulse in explaining dark but purposeless crime may either of them claim evidence in support of their pet theory in the circumstances leading to the arrest of a young girl at No. 418 East Seventeenth street yesterday morning. The officer who executed the summons was from the Thirty-fourth precinct, and the charge was defined to be attempted murder, and incendiarism. Henrietta Weibel had been a domestic at Leopold Appell’s Hotel, West Farms, for a few days. She had not been cheerfully industrious, but until Wednesday last she had manifested no fiendish proclivities.

On that day, however, she stealthily proceeded to a room on the second floor, where the baby of Mrs. Frank – a boarder – was asleep in its cot, and shortly afterwards the alarm of fire was raised, and the hurried rush up stairs by the alarmed mother revealed the fact that the infant was enveloped in flames. Happily it was rescued uninjured, but half suffocated with smoke, from which, after medical assistance, it was slow to recover.

A few hours afterward smoke was discovered issuing from the dining room closet, where the table linen was kept. And still again on the same day some wearing apparel in a hall closet was discovered ablaze. It did no at once occur to the proprietor that the girl was the incendiary: but on his suspicions being aroused he sharply questioned her, and she at one and unhesitatingly confessed to the crime. She said she couldn’t help doing it; that whenever she saw a baby asleep she wanted to burn it. It having been ascertained that she had six months since attempted to burn a baby belonging to Mr. Kinney, of Tarrytown, Mr. Appell had the girl arrested.

Yesterday evening a reporter proceeded to No. 418 East Seventeenth street, with a view of investigating, if possible, the moral influence of the girl’s home. After some difficulty the wretched dwelling was discovered on the second floor of a rear and rank-smelling tenement house. The stairs that led up to it were foul; the room was comfortless, and seated on a rickety chair was Mrs. Weibel herself – an overflowing woman as to shoulders and waist, with large dark eyes and a sensuous lower jaw. The reporter stated his errand, whereupon the lady, who was stitching an article of fine cambric, became partially dissolved in tears, and spasmodically rehearsed her daughter’s antecedents, as follows:

“She was always a bad girl, was Henrietta – a very bad girl. I have five children. I was left a widow two years since. Henrietta is thirteen years and seven months old, and not fifteen, as the police report states. I was about to become a mother when my husband died. I could not look after Henrietta properly, and she began to go out at night among loose girls and stay till eleven and twelve o’clock. When I was sewing for a baker near she was so cunning as to get all my earning before the work was done, and when I took it I had no money to get. Oh!” cried Mrs. Weibel, “she is a terrible bad girl, and if she has been guilty of trying to burn a baby I hope they will punish her all they can.”

The mother furthermore stated that she had placed Henrietta in a juvenile reformatory twelve months since, but that she ran away and subsequently “hired herself out out” in Westchester county.


The little girl, against whom rests such a terrible accusation, is at present continued in the lockup of the Thirty-fourth Police precinct, at Tremont. A Herald representative called there yesterday afternoon, and on intimating a desire to see the juvenile prisoner was at once conducted down stairs by the Sergeant in charge. The would-be baby cremationist was found in a large, well-lighted cell, and as she lay coiled up, as it were, on the board used for a bunk, with a folded blanket answering the purpose of a pillow, her childish face and almost infantile form were sufficient to challenge the credulity of the visitor as to the identity of the youthful poisoner. Her facial; expression is by no means unprepossessing, and as her large, lustrous hazel eyes looked responsive to a kind inquiry of the Sergeant, her young face seemed to light up with a confiding smile, which it would be difficult for one morally depraved to counterfeit. The girl, who as very neat and tidy in appearance, does not seem to be more than twelve years old, although, according to her own statement, she is between fourteen and fifteen.

“Henrietta,” queried the writer, “is it true that you tried to burn a baby at West Farms?”

“Yes, sir,” was the prompt and apparently ingenious reply.

“What could have prompted you to attempt such a wicked deed?”

“I don’t know, sir; something told me to do it.”

“Would you not have been sorry had you succeeded in killing the child?”

“No, sir, I don’t know that I would.”

“Then you don’t seem to like babies?”

“No, sir.”


“Was that the first time you ever tried to burn a child?”

“No, sir. When I was living with Mrs. Kinney, at Tarrytown, I had a mind to set fire to the baby, but I didn’t do it.”

“How long did you live with Mrs. Kinney?”

“I was there a month and two weeks.”

“Did Mrs. Kinney discharge you then?”

“No, sir; it was the first place I ever was in, and the work was too hard for me; it was chamber work I had to do?”

“Are your parents living, Henrietta?”

“My father is dead, sir, but my mother is living in Seventeenth street, New York; my father was a tailor; and mother is a dressmaker.”

“What did you use in setting fire to the bed where the baby was lying as West Farms?”

“Nothing but matches, sir.”

“Do you know that you are charged with a terrible crime, and have you thought of what is going to become of you?”

At this question Henrietta appeared not to comprehend its meaning, but after a few seconds she seemed to take in its full import, and quickly raising herself from the recumbent position which she had maintained until now, she bust into a flood of tears, sobbing out: “I feel so sorry; I am such a wicked girl. I’ll never do it again. Oh! My poor mother cried so when I left her last. She has always had a good name, and now it breaks my heart to think that I have brought her into disgrace. I did not think of heaven or of death, or else I wouldn’t have done it.”

“You haven’t always been a bad girl, have you?”

“No, sir: I always went to school and to Sunday school.”

“What Sabbath school did you attend?”

“On the corner of Twenty-second street and Fourth avenue, at Dr. Crosby’s church.”

After offering a few words of consolation to the childish heart which was convulsively apostrophizing a mother’s sympathy and love, the writer took his departure, saddened by the excessive sobs of the youthful prisoner.

[“A Fiendish Girl. – A Child of Thirteen with a Mania for Baby Burning – The Mother’s Testimony – An Interview With the Youthful Prisoner.” New York Herald (N.Y.), Aug. 1, 1874, p. 3]


Note: The original typographic presentation has been preserved. This article gives Henrietta's age as thirteen rather than fifteen. Only further research will help determine which might be correct.

FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): So many startling phases of crime crop out from time to time that it seems almost impossible to keep pace with them in any attempt at analysis. One of the most recent of the strange cases was that of Henrietta Weibel, the baby burner. The idea of a little girl, thirteen years of age, cherishing a passion for the burning up of babies is something awful to dwell upon. But insanity steals into the brain of little girls as well as into the brain of grown people, and there can scarcely be a doubt but that Henrietta Weibel is insane.

A HERALD reporter called yesterday the store of Louis Stern, No. 294 First avenue, to ascertain some facts about the girl. Henrietta had been for the month previous to the 2nd of July a domestic in Louis Stern’s family, and while she was there most signally distinguished herself. On two different occasions she made free with the money drawer, spending the fifty cents she appropriated in procuring a supply of candy, which she lavishly distributed among her female acquaintances. On another occasion she actually contrived to secure to herself, out of Mrs. Stern’s pocket, while that lady was attending to household affairs, two ten cent stamps. Later in the day, while with a friend in the little park opposite Dr. Tyng’s church, she pulled from her pocket a stick of candy with a twenty-five stamp attached, and throwing it on the ground, exclaimed, “Ain’t I lucky? Here’s not only lots of candy, but a quarter dollar.” These little raids upon the money drawer cased Mrs. Stern to send for


who, on arriving, sadly upbraided her erring daughter, telling her that she had promised to stop doing those bad things. Henrietta got mad with Mrs. Stern for sending for her mother and was resolved to have revenge. On the 2d of July, while Mrs. Stern was bathing her baby, she was startled by hearing the breaking of a pane of glass in the rear room. Henrietta looked as innocent as a child and wondered what the young ruffians outside were trying to do. Mrs. Stern again applied herself to the baby, but suddenly another pane went into the fritters with a loud crash, and immediately after three different panes were knocked into pieces. Mrs. Stern now went to the rear of the house and closed the shutters, and Mr. Stern journeyed up to an adjoining roof to see where were concealed the rascally boys that were breaking his window. The shutters being closed, Mrs. Stern occupied herself once more with the baby, but was very shocked with a series of bangs against the window panes, which terribly alarmed her. She then went into the street, and, being joined by a detective and two officers, the rooms were examined, after which the officers went out to the yard to reconnoitre. No sooner had they got outside than again the glass in the window went


Attracting the attention of the neighbors in the adjoining houses, and thus gathering a crowd in the street. No one was now in the back room but Henrietta, and it was not long before a tad of sweetmeats that was on the mantelpiece went spinning on the floor and the glass or a picture hanging on the wall was cracked though not entirely broken. The police gave it up as a bad job, and questioned Henrietta as to her knowledge of the extraordinary occurrence; but the girl stoutly denied all knowledge how the thing was done, saying that she suspected it mast have been them bad boys or a ghost. She was dismissed from Mr. Stern’s house that evening, however, and she admitted to a friend of hers in Seventeenth street that she had had a jolly lark at Stern’s; she said she had a lot of bits of brick concealed up her sleeves, with which she scared the wits out of the whole of them. Mrs. Stern says that on one occasion Henrietta told her that a quilt been stolen from a clothes line in the yard but that next day a neighbor found it in the cellar of the house. The quilt was not yet quite dry and Mrs. Stern pat it out on the line again. About half an hour after Henrietta again told Mrs. Stern that the quilt had a second time mysteriously disappeared and that it was the strangest thing she had ever known. Mr. Stern descended to the cellar, and after a short exploration by the aid of a few matches that discovered the quilt in a corner and took it away with him. Henrietta looked as unconcerned as she had herself put it there. The Sterns have, beside the baby,


who was always in the habit or steeping with the girl in charge or the children. The little fellow after the first night be slept with Henrietta most positively objected to sleeping in the bed with her again and began to complain constantly of a pain in his foot. The parents treated this lightly, made him sleep with the girl for some time afterwards, but his father had frequently to carry him in the middle of the night, the crying with the pain in his foot. It seems that Henrietta had frightened the little fellow by threatening that she should surely cut his foot off. The day Henrietta was discharged Mrs. Stern’s baby got quite sick and the doctor had to be consulted to relieve it, and the following day the little boy got sick and had also to receive medical assistance. Mr. and Mrs. Stern rejoice to think that they got rid of this insane little girl, even at the expense of fifteen panes of glass, the loss of a jar of sweetmeats and the breaking of the glass in a picture frame.

But Henrietta took an this very quietly, and went home to her mother’s without shedding a single tear. In the rooms adjoining her mother’s, at No. 418 East Seventeenth street, dwell Mr. and Mrs. Dometion and their five little children. Mrs. Dometion is the housekeeper for the tenement house, and has been very much offended that the HERALD should have stated, a few days since, that the tenement house is not quite what it ought to be. The place is cleanly enough; but there it as doubt but that the air which one has to breathe in ascending the stairs to the top floor is not that of a pretty garden, where the perfume of the flowers gladdens the sense of smell. Anyhow, Mrs. Dometion had her quota to add to the story of


Henrietta stayed round about the house all day on the Fourth of July, looking out of the window at the boys throwing the firecrackers, and amusing herself by pinching the children, perhaps, to make them cry. Mrs. Stern swears Henrietta used to pinch the boy. In the afternoon Henrietta took Mrs. Dometion’s little girl, about two years old, and her own little sister, into her mother’s room, and having got them in she deliberately lit a few matches and set fire to the dress of Mrs. Dometion’s little girl. Henrietta’s little sister began screaming, and Henrietta herself went to the head of the stairs and began calling for Rob, her own little brother, who at the time was playing in the yard. Mrs. Dometion hearing the children’s screams at once rushed into the Weibel’s rooms and began screaming, too, when she saw her.


With a mother’s bravery the folded the child in her own dress and rolled her on the floor until the flames were extinguished and saved the child. She showed the reporter the charred dress yesterday, and among other thanksgivings which she uttered she was glad she had sweet oil in the house to ease the pains of the burnt child. But Henrietta looked on, Mrs. Dometion says, with annulled visage, and when asked about the matter quietly said that “it was Rob who did it.” Henrietta’s little sister, however, who was an eyewitness of the lighting of the matches and that setting fire to the dress, told the whole truth. The whole truth did not disconcert Miss Henrietta in the very slightest degree. Yesterday Mrs. Weibel went to Tremont Jail to see Henrietta, start clinging to the unfortunate maniac. There as another daughter younger than Henrietta, about whom all concur in saying that she has already shown


This series of acts of Henrietta, with the circumstances attending them, point conclusively to the deduction that she is insane. No human being at her age could possibly be so callous to the enormity of the crimes she was perpetrating or trying to perpetrate and be in her right senses. But never, on any occasion, as all those who know testify, showed the slightest feeling after the discovery of her strange doings. Mrs. Sterns says that as a servant she was willing and ready very and cleanly. The story of her doings when left her home, after the occurrences above narrated, has been already published.

[“The Baby Burner. – The Heartless Domestic, Henrietta Weibel. – A Strange Story of Precocious Iniquity. – An Attempt to Burn Her Next Door Neighbor’s Child.” New York Herald (N.Y.), Aug. 5, 1874, p. 4]




[1180-1/20/19; 1464-1/11/21]

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