Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mrs. Johnston, Iowa Black Widow Serial Killer - 1888

FULL TEXT: He married his mother-in-law. He is dead. She is in jail. He died from poison, and she is charged with giving it to him. The parties lived at Villisca, in this county. The name of the dead man is George R. Johnston. He was a laborer, and his wife took in washing. Johnston was taken sick and in two weeks died. The doctor first thought he was suffering from a billious attack, but noted symptoms of poisoning a day or two before death came.

He called another physician, who agreed that the symptoms were those of poisoning. A post-mortem examination proved that they were correct; the dead man’s stomach was found to contain a quantity of arsenic. About the time Johnston was taken sick his wife bought a box of “Rough on Rats.” While the post-mortem was in progress she was discovered secreting the box, which was nearly empty.

She had been heard to remark that her husband was no account, and that she would be better off without him. When Johnston was first taken sick she objected to calling a doctor, and Johnston got his brother to summon one, objecting to his wife doing it, which she offered to do upon hearing him asking his brother. The Coroner’s jury declared that poison was the cause of death, but shrank from specifying as to the prisoner, adding the words, “administered by some person or persons unknown.” So the woman was not arrested on a Coroner’s warrant.

But after the funeral Oscar Johnston, brother of the dead man, swore out an information charging the widow with administering the poison. State Attorney Benson went to Villisca from here to conduct the preliminary examination, which lasted the better part of three days, and has just been concluded, with the result of holding the woman to answer. She was brought here today and lodged in the County Jail.

She is about forty-five years old, small in stature, sharp in features, and with eyes that are restless and keen. She exhibits no fear or feeling, and did not during the inquest and preliminary examination, except when at the former the Coroner told her to go on with the officer, but was plainly perturbed, and no box was found by her. Johnston was her third husband and she his second wife. It is stated that her other husbands, who died in Kansas, came to their deaths under circumstances that puzzled the physicians. And now the indications are that it is going to puzzle the woman top keep out of the Penitentiary.

[“A Female Borgia. – An Iowa Woman Believed to Have Poisoned Three Husbands,” [Red Oak (Iowa) Special Dispatch], The Cincinnati Enquirer (Oh.), Jun. 16, 1888, p. 15]


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


For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


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