Friday, May 2, 2014

Caroline Collins, Michigan Serial Killer - 1903

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Owosso, Mich., Nov, 18. – Mrs. Caroline Collins, of New Lothrop, fifteen miles northeast of this city, is suspected of being a modern Borgia, four deaths by poison being laid to her account. Her husband, a farm hand, of whom she grew jealous after she became a widow, her 18 year old daughter and her 14 year old nephew, Ira Wright, were the alleged victims of her madness. All four are dead and investigations are in progress to show whether they were killed with poison. Meanwhile Mrs. Collins is in the county jail awaiting results.

Mrs. Collins’ husband died last December. After his death she began living with George Leachman, a farm hand. He wrote a letter to another woman a short time ago and this aroused Mrs. Collins’ jealousy. Immediately afterward he was taken sick with stomach trouble, dying about two weeks ago. Investigation disclosed the presence of poison in his stomach and it is charged that Mrs. Collins gave him the fatal dose in his food.

After the discovery of poison in the case of Leachman mysterious circumstances were recalled in the deaths of Mrs. Collins’ husband, her daughter and Ira Wright. All deaths were similar. Because of this fact the authorities have exhumed the remains of the three and have sent the organs to Ann Arbor for analysis. The results are expected to be obtained in time for presentation to the court Friday, when Mrs. Collins is to be arraigned.

[“Michigan Woman A Modern Borgia – Authorities Think Mrs. Collins Has Poisoned Four Persons.” The Fort Wayne Sentinel (In.), Nov. 18, 1903, p. 5]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Murder in the first degree was the verdict of the jury in the Collins murder trial in Owosso, after reviewing the merits of the case for three hours. When Foreman J. C. Dingman announced the verdict declaring Mrs. Caroline Collins guilty of murdering her hired man, Geo. Leachman, by giving him arsenic, the defendant dropped her head for a moment and then was herself again, putting on a bold front. When Mrs. Collins returned to her cell she burst into tears, saying, “If I were guilty I could stand this, but before God I am innocent. This will kill murder. Spite work and money have brought this upon me.” the verdict was a great surprise, a disagreement being generally expected.

[“Mrs. Collins is Guilty.” The Bessemer Herald (Mi.), Jun. 25, 1904, p. 6]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): While on the stand Friday, Mrs. Collins produced receipts purporting to be for full payment to George Leachman from 1899 to the time of his fatal illness. When telling about Ira’s fatal illness, Mrs. Collins broke down and wept. It was some minutes before she could go on. The witness admitted purchasing rough on rats, but claimed she mixed the entire box of the stuff with ground feed in two pans which she placed, in the sheep shed.

The defense had previously offered in evidence receipts claimed to be in full for the six summers that Leachman worked for Mrs. Collins. The summer season is seven months long from April 1 to Nov. 1, and during these months Leachman was to receive $10 a month and board, while for the five winter months he usually received a lump sum of about $25.

Mrs. Collins claims that the income from her forty acres of improved land supported herself, daughter and nephew, paid Leachman and cleared a $500 mortgage from the farm since 1898.


The defense rested its case on Monday morning, and the prosecution, in rebuttal, attempted to introduce medical testimony to show that Ira Wright died of poisoning, not typhoid fever. This the court ruled out, fearing the jury would convict Mrs. Collins of being guilty of Leachman’s murder simply be cause things looked suspicious in Ira’s case.

Mrs. Collins swore that Leachman had complained, after his fight with the Burpee boys, of having been clubbed on the head, and kicked in the back and abdomen. Louis and George Burpee were put on the stand in rebuttal. Louis Burpee was sworn and said that Jacob Gross, who was working for Mrs. Collins at this time, September, 1903, wrote witness’ wife a letter which fell into Burpee’s hand. Gross named the evening for a meeting with Mrs, Burpee on the road.

Gross and George Leachman drove to the spot, and the Burpee boys ambushed them. The assailants unhitched the horse, and Louis, dragging Gross out of the buggy, beat him quite severely until Gross broke loose and ran away. George Burpee did not strike a blow during the encounter.

Louis then struck Leachman twice, once in the mouth and once over the eye, but the blows had little effect, as Leachman was in the buggy and Louis, being on the ground, could not reach him effectively. Louis swore positively that Leachman was not clubbed or kicked.


Mrs. Hattie Alcott, mother of Mrs. Collins, was a disastrous witness for the defense, although sworn in her daughter’s behalf. She could not remember dates, and her testimony was a mass of contradictions. Mrs. Collins’ testimony on cross-examination, was directly opposite to that given by nearly every one of the prosecution’s witnesses.


The defense and prosecution rested on Tuesday and acting prosecuting attorney W. J. Parker made the opening address to the jury for the prosecution.

He started out carefully, appealing to the jurors to disabuse their minds of all prejudice in performing the sacred duty entrusted to them. He pointed out that there is no sex in crime; that a woman prisoner stands before the bar of justice precisely in the same relation as does a man. She should have no consideration from the jury simply because she is a woman.

He used fifty minutes of the four and one-halt hours allotted to his side, and Attorney McCurdy then started his address.


Attorney John T. McCurdy, for the defense, began his closing address by apologizing for his hasty speeches while angered several times during the trial. He declared that subnitrate of bismuth has beep known to contain arsenic, and pointed out that sixty grains of bismuth had been administered by Dr. Shoemaker during Leachman’s last illness. He wanted to know of the defense why this bismuth had not been analyzed for arsenic by Dr Gomberg, and gave as his opinion that it had been, but as arsenic was found, no report was brought in.

One form of arsenic test is by the use of glass tubes, and although the tests at the U. of M. resulted in discolored tubes, showing the presence of arsenic in Leachman’s digestive organs, Mr. McCurdy declared that this was not conclusive, as mistakes were frequently made in analysis.


“Their whole cease is only a theory,” said McCurdy, “but I would rather have the conclusion of a level-headed man upon this case than all the fine theories advanced. “I do not believe that upon this theory you will send a woman to a living hell.”

He then took up the question of motives and declared that Mrs. Collins did not owe Leachman money for work. He explained the absence of receipts for all the Leachman payments by saying that Mrs. Collins was illiterate as she had not gone to school after her eleventh year, being compelled to drudge among strangers for her living. McCurdy was so wrought up by the danger which he saw of a woman whom he declared to be innocent being sent to prison that he wept, ending his speech sobbing. Mrs. Collins and the roomful of woman also wept.

Prosecutor Chapman, when he arose nullified the pathos by remarking dryly: “I am here to answer the statements made by my brother, I shall not under take to answer the “boohoo, as I have left my onion at home.” Roars of laughter followed this statement.


When he resumed his argument Wednesday morning, Mr Chapman ridiculed the statement of Dr. Clark, defense’s expert, that George s death was due to gastritis. This disease,” Dr. Clark thought was superinduced by drinking hot liquids, eating hot bread, or taking too much cheese and beer. All this Mr. Chapman declared was foolish.

The speaker characterized Mrs. Collins as a woman of great nerve, unflinching determination and as relentless as death. George could not disobey her orders; he was tied to her apron strings, and knew no will but hers.

During the argument the woman’s attitude was that of calm indifference, but this was belied by an occasional quick tapping of her foot when the attorney bore down heavily on some significant fact. Sometimes she yawned, and more often she sat with bent head, her elbow resting on the table and her hand across her eyes.

Mr. Chapman finished his argument at 12:45. At 1:30 court reconvened and Judge Smith began his charge to the jury. He completed it in 45 minutes, the case going to the jury at 2:15 Wednesday afternoon.


Mrs. Caroline Collins, of New Lothrop, was on Wednesday evening convicted of murder in the first degree, and will on Monday, unless something unforseen intervenes, be sentenced to prison for life for the crime. The action of the jury leaves Judge Smith no alternative but to impose this sentence.

The jury went oat at 2:15 o’clock in the afternoon and had reached a decision at 6 o’clock less than four hours.

On motion of John T. McCurdy, attorney for the defense, a stay of execution was granted until Monday, when it is expected that sentence will be passed. The early verdict was somewhat of a surprise and it was the general opinion that it would be acquittal. When it be came known that the twelve men were ready to come in the news that a decision had been reached spread like wild fire and a jam of people surrounded the courthouse when Mrs. Collins was brought in by Sheriff Gerow, to hear the verdict. Then came a heart breaking wait of ten minutes before the jury arrived.

Mrs. Collins, who sat beside her attorney, evidently feared the worst, for she was deathly pale and trembled violently. When County Clerk John Y. Martin asked the customary question, “Gentle men of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?” Foreman John C. Dingman, of Owosso, arose and replied, “We have.”

“What is it?”

“Guilty, as charged.”

“That won’t do,” interposed Judge Smith quickly, “is she guilty of murder in the first degree?”

All the jurymen replied, “She is.”

Mrs. Collins bowed her head in her hands and wept quietly but bitterly.

In making his plea for stay of proceedings, Attorney McCurdy declared that he wished to present matters in connection with the case which had come to his ears within an hour.

It is understood that he referred to one of the Collins’ jurors, who expressed an opinion before the case was called, declaring he believed the woman guilty. He may move for a new trial.

Credit for the victory rests with Assistant Prosecuting Attorney W. J. Parker, who insisted that Leachman’s stomach be saved after the postmortem for analysis, and with Odell Chapman, who had prepared his case thoroughly, and argued most convincingly. Sheriff Gerow and Deputy William Thompson collected much valuable evidence.

The crime for which Mrs. Collins was convicted was the murder, by arsenical poisoning, of her hired man and alleged lover, George Leachman, who died in terrible agony on Oct. 23, 1903. The motive, according to the prosecution, were the facts that she owed him about $400 and that he stood in the way of a union with Col. Northwood.

[“The Collin’s [sic] Murder Trial.” The Owosso Times (Mi.), Jun. 10, 1904, p. 8]



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