Monday, November 16, 2015

Agnes Criddle, 14-Year-Old Who Poisoned Three Persons – Pennsylvania, 1880

FULL TEXT: Philadelphia, August 18. – Agnes Criddle, aged fourteen, a servant in the employ of John C. Macy, a provision dealer, was arrested last night upon the charge of poisoning Mrs. Macy and two male boarders by placing oxalic acid in their coffee. Physicians succeeded in counteracting the effects of the acid, but Mrs. Macy suffered intensely. The girl denies the crime, but admits having bought oxalic acid at a neighboring drug store.

 [“A Modern Borgia – Arrested In The City Of Philadelphia – She Is Charged with Poisoning Three Persons with Oxalic Acid – … Arrest of Female Poisoner,” Harrisburg Telegraph (Pa.), Aug. 18, 1880, p. 1]


FULL TEXT: Mrs. Mary Macy, whose husband ia a grocer at 1012 South Eleventh street, is seriously ill from poisoning by oxalic acid, taken in coffee on Tuesday evening, and from which she narrowly escaped death. Agnes Criddle, aged thirteen years, a mite of a girl, employed as domestic in the Macy household, has been committed to prison by Magistrate Everly on suspicion of having administered the poison. The girl had been but a week in the service of the family, having been accepted in response to an advertisement for a servant, and the only motive for the crime ascribable is that she had been embittered against the family because Mrs. Macy had reproved her on two or three occasions for gadding about the streets instead of performing her work.

Mrs. Macy prepared the coffee, taking the berries from a bag in the store and grinding them in the mill on the counter. She took the pot from the range in the kitchen, where it rested bottom upwards, and after rinsing it thoroughly with warm water placed in it the ground coffee. She poured boiling water into the pot from the kettle on the range and on the latter sat the pot to simmer. She was absent from the kitchen in the store waiting on customers for the space of fifteen minutes, during which interval the girl, Agnes, was alone in the kitchen, at the ironing-board. At twenty minutes past six, Charles Hall and Joseph Koaukoff, Mrs. Macy’s boarders, sat down to the supper table. Hall lifted to his lips the coffee, with which Mrs. Macy had in the meantime filled his cup, and spat out a mouthful in disgust. Boarders are prone to laugh at the fare set before them, and Hall’s companion, after taking a sip of the nauseating dose, joined in making sport of the beverage. They called on Mrs. Macy to note the taste of the mixture, which, they said, puckered up their mouths like persimmons. She tasted the coffee incredulously, drinking a saucerful.


“Have you men been putting vinegar in your coffee?” she demanded. Hall put in a disclaimer and suggested that perhaps the milk was sour. To make certain Mrs. Macy poured into a saucer a quantity of coffee from the pot and drank it without milk or sugar. The same queer taste was present, unlike any Mrs. Macy had ever known. Her husband also took a sip, but gingerly, and he, like the others, was mystified at the strange taste. The color of the coffee to which milk and sugar had been added now turned to the hue of the yolk of an egg, and the milk curdled and settled at the bottom of the cup, forming a sediment, or precipitate, that resembled oat meal. None partook of the coffee except that portion sampled by Mrs. Macy, and the contents of the pot were thrown away. About this time the Criddle girl ran out of doors and across Eleventh street to Dennis J. Loughlin’s pharmacy, at the southeast corner of Eleventh and Carpenter streets, a stone’s throw from Macy’s place. Mrs. Macy saw Agnes enter the drug store, and then it flashed upon her that the girl had gone upon a similar errand in the afternoon between 1 and 2 o’clock. She spoke to her husband of the incident, and then it was that suspicion was entertained that some poisonous substance had been placed in the coffee through the instrumentality of Agnes. Mrs. Macy became alarmed, and shortly afterwards was seized with griping pains in the stomach. That region swelled considerably, and an agonizing burning set in, which drove the woman almost frantic. Mr. Macy went at once to the drug stove and accosted the clerk, William Hedenberg, with: “What did that girl of ours want over here?” “Some toothache drops,” said Hedenberg: “I dropped them into a cavity in one of her teeth and did not charge her anything.” Somewhat reassured, but with considerable misgivings, Macy returned to his wife, whom he found grievously ill. Her stomach was in great distress, her extremities were being chilled rapidly and a death-like sweat oozed out from her forehead and temples.


Hedenberg, the apothecary’s clerk, noticed the throng gathering around the provision dealer’s door and sent a boy to ask Mr. Macy to come over. Macy complied and Hedenberg told him that the Criddle girl had obtained five cents’ worth of oxalic acid crystals at Loughlin’s store that afternoon, which was to be used, ostensibly, for removing rust stains from clothing. The clerk then conferred with his employer and prepared an antidote, consisting of prepared chalk, disguised with cinnamon, and gum arabic, and this preparation Mrs. Macy, who in the meantime had been brought to the place, was made to take. The woman was in the throes of unutterable agony and was taken home and placed in bed. At Apothecary Loughlin’s suggestion Dr. G. A. Hewitt, of 801 Smith Tenth street, was sent for. He came in haste and administered to the sufferer a further antidote, which seemed to afford her great relief. Luckily a cupful of the coffee had been preserved, and of this Dr. Hewitt made an analysis. He poured lime water into the supposed poisoned fluid and tested the precipitate for oxalate of lime by adding nitric acid. The cloudy mixture was immediately cleared, which confirmed in his mind the suspicion that the coffee had been charged with oxalic acid. Mrs. Macy suffered great torments during Tuesday night and the morning of the following day. She vomited frequently, and her stomach would retain no food. Dr. Hewitt paid her several visits, and yesterday was of opinion that danger was past. Mrs. Macy was resting much easier and was in good spirits, though at times she complained of burning sensations in the abdomen. These the doctor thought would soon cease, and the woman would quickly convalesce.


In the midst of the bustle and confusion incidental to the discovery of the attempt at poisoning, the girl Cridle sat in the kitchen sullen and defiant. She denied all complicity with the poisoning, but when pressed as to the nature of her errands to the drug store gave evasive replies. Seventeenth District Policeman Sharp, who had been attracted to the scene, was asked to arrest the girl, which he did and conveyed her to the station house. On the route she broke down completely and gave her version of the affair. She had gone to Loughlin’s store for something to take stains out of her dress and received five cents’ worth of a white powder. She could not recall the name of the powder, and Raid that she had lost the label while crossing Eleventh street. She had emptied the substance into a cup from the dresser, dissolving it in warm water, and after using it she had thrown away the contents and rinsed the cup, replacing the latter where she had found it. Agnes protested that she know nothing more of the affair, and lapsed into a lachrymose state from which it was difficult to rouse her. As the Sergeant was placing the girl in a cell she told him that she remembered now the name of the stain-eradicator it was oxalic acid. Yesterday morning Magistrate Everly, in the absence of Magistrate Collins, gave Agnes Criddle a hearing at the Seventeenth district station house. The facts as above given were elicited and the girl she might more properly be termed child was held for a further hearing on the 21st instant, awaiting the result of Mrs. Macy’s injuries. She was very tearful, and had nothing to add to her statement previously made. Agnes is the adopted child of Thomas Criddle, of 735 Emily street, who was dumbfounded when told of her arrest and is confident that the coffee was poisoned through carelessness and not by design.


William Hagenborg, the clerk who sold the poison to the girl, was very reluctant to speak of the matter yesterday. He feared that odium Would unjustly attach to himself and his employer and directed an interviewer to the latter gentleman. Alter persistent inquiry Hedenberg consented to tell the whole truth: “I had seen the girl once or twice before she got the poison here to-day; once at Mr. Macy’s store, where I was getting some lard.” the clerk spoke in a nervous, jerky manner and his lips twitched convulsively. “Early yesterday afternoon,” he continued,”she came here and said that Mrs. Macy wanted something that would take iron-rust out of clothing. I know that oxalic acid was the best thing for that purpose, and told her so. She bought live cents’ worth, and as I tied the powder up I told her how to use it and warned her to throw it away when done and rinse the vessel containing it. I can’t say how much I gave her; enough to fill a teaspoon, I should judge.”

“Had you no hesitation in selling such a virulent poison to a child?”

“If she had asked for oxalic acid I would not have given it, for fear that she might want to put it to improper use; but as she took it on my recommendation I did not think there was anything wrong about it. Besides, she said that Mrs. Macy had sent her, and this governed my action entirely.”

“Did you give her any toothache drops?”

“I did not. I told that to Mr. Macy in order to relieve his fears. If his wife knew that she had taken oxalic acid the fright might have caused a great deal of harm. When Agnes ran over here the second time she merely put her head in the door and told me not to say anything about what she had bought here, because she might get in trouble. I did not make her any answer, as I was busy writing.”


Dr. Hewitt estimates a teaspoonful of the poison as of the weight of a drachm. “There were probably sixty grains in the package,” he said yesterday, in response to a query, “ ten of which would be sufficient to cause death. The great corrosive property of the poison can be judged when Mrs. Macy, who certainly did not take more than two or three grains, was made so sick. Oxalic acid possesses the attributes of sulphuric and other acids of that class, and generally causes death, when a sufficient amount is taken, in less than an hour. It blisters the mucous membrane of the stomach, and is accompanied by the same nervous prostration as an external burn. Mrs. Macy is very fortunate in that she did not lose her life, and I consider that she escaped narrowly.” Lieutenant Brown is investigating the mystery, but so far has arrived at nothing tangible. Circumstances point to the maiden’s guilt. One theory, based on her version of the affair, is that Mrs. Macy in some manner made use of the cup in which the girl had placed the poison and which the prisoner avers she rinsed after using. Against this many points are advanced. Mrs. Macy declares that she made no use of any cup in the preparation of the coffee. When it was poured out both Messrs. Hall and Keaukoff, using different cups, noticed the strange taste of the liquid. The tea-kettle, out of which the boiling water was poured into the coffee pot, was examined soon after the poison was suspected, but the water was found uncontaminated. The affair has created much excitement in the southwestern portion of the city and Mr. Macy’s store gets many new customers.

[“Oxalic Acid For Boarders’ Supper. - A Thirteen-Year-Old Servant Girl, Who Bought the Poison, Is Held on Suspicion - The Illness of Her Mistress The Girl’s Story and What Is Told at the Druggist’s.” The Times (Philadelphia, Pa.), Aug. 19, 1880, p. 4]


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