Sunday, November 15, 2015

Jennie Burch, 14-Year-Old Murderess – Carmel, New York, 1906

FULL TEXT: New York, Sept. 24. – A strange story of murder, prompted by an affection that could not bear separation, has been revived near Brewster, N. Y., through the confession of Jennie Burch, an Indian nurse girl, who is but 14 years old, says a dispatch to the World.

It appears that a series of incendiary fires have occurred at Cowles Corners, twelve miles from Brewster, and suspicion fell on the Indian girl, Jennie Burch.

She repelled the suspicion vigorously. Last Friday the girl’s infant charge, Wilbur Winship, two and a half years old, was suddenly stricken with illness and soon died. Investigation developed that the child had been given a poisoned peach.

The nurse girl was suspected, but the crime seemed inexplicable, as the girl was known to be deeply attached to the child. Sunday, just before the child’s burial, the crime was explained. The girl was brought into the room where the body of the little one day. When she saw the child she threw herself on the coffin and cried:

“I killed him!

I poisoned him!”

Later, when she grew calmer, she admitted that, acting under an uncontrollable impulse she had set a number of incendiary tires. She knew she was suspected, and thinking she would have to die for the crime, sire poisoned the hoy, whom she loved, so that he might go with, her.

[“Girls Says She Poisoned Child,” Oakland Tribune (Ca.), Sep. 24, 1906, p. 5]


FULL TEXT: It is hard to conceive of a sadder, more unexplainable mystery than the death of little two-year-old Wilbur Winship presented to the police authorities of Putnam County, near New York. Looking up from her book and glancing across the table, Mrs. H. P. Winship was startled to see her baby in convulsions. A moment before the nurse had been feeding a peach to the child. In a few moments more the little one was dead. It has been in its grave near the Winship estate, near Brewaters, N. Y , since the middle of last September.

The fourteen year old nurse, Jennie Ruth Burch, clears up the mystery in a confession which it is hard to paralleled in the history of crime. In a spirit of blind revenge the nurse poisoned the peach, led the little one into its mother’s presence and then fed the baby its fatal mouthfuls in front of its mother’s eyes. The confession is as follows:

Once I heard a preacher say, when he told the Bible story of how a good man had done something wicked that surprised all his friends, that “it was the devil’s day with that man.” It must have been the devil’s day with me when I set fire to the Winships’ big barn, and then to their house, and, then again, it was the devil’s black, awful day when, forty-eight hours latter, I gave poison to little three-year-old Wilbur and took some myself.

The barn was burned to the ground, the house was saved, but little Wilbur is in his grave, and I am in jail here at White Plains, waiting to go before the Grand Jury in December, and to be tried in May, and then sent away to prison maybe for life, anyway to stay until I am a middle aged woman.

I loved Baby Wilbur better than anybody else on earth, better than my mother, because she lived in Danbury, Conn., and had married and had other children, and I hardly ever saw her: better than my grandfather and grandmother, because they were very old and didn’t understand nor care about what children liked, and I seldom saw them, and then only for a little while, half an hour or so, better than his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Winship because – well, because he was a dear, little helpless baby, and loved me better than any one else had ever loved

He called me “Dennie,” and ran after me wherever I went, toddle along and holding my skirt, and when he fell he didn’t cry like most babies, but laughed, and shook himself, and stumbled back to his feet like a dear little puppy. He had a round little face with a forehead as white as milk and eyes like blue pansies, and soft yellow hair that felt like the silk of ripe corn when I curled his hair. I never liked wash day, but I wouldn’t have cared if every day had been wash day when I was allowed to wash Wilbur’s little white creases for Sunday and his blue dimity and gingham one for every day. I took almost the care of him and was nearly always with him. I could never love anyone as I loved little Wilbur Winship, and yet I killed him. I can hardly tell why, but it must have been because it was the devil’s day for me.

All this trouble started when the barn burned down. All the neighbors came running to help us and put out the fire, and Mrs. Kinner told me to take Wilbur over to the Kinners, our nearest neighbors, and leave him there until things were quieter. I kept running back and forth between the Kinners and our house all day on errands about the baby. Mrs. Georgie Cullom, Mrs. Kinner’s daughter, said:

“Who set fire to the barn? Did you?”

Mrs. Cullom is always laughing and joking, but this time what she said scared me. I answer “No, I didn’t set fire to the barn either,” but I went back to the house and thought. about what she said, and it seemed to make me crazy.

“If they find out I set fire to the barn they will think I am a bad girl, and they will separate the baby and me.” Every where I went, wherever I turned, voices seemed to be saying that to me. The voices got louder and louder until they seemed to scream. I could hear nothing else while I was taking Wilbur home. On the way I gripped his hand so hard he whimpered and said, “Naughty Dennie. Bad Dennie hurt Wilbur.” I kneeled down in the orchard beside him and put my arms around him and cried, and he cried too as he always did in sympathy with me. He put his little arms around my neck and his cool, pink little cheek against mine, and then I vowed that nothing on earth should separate us.

I took him to the house and left him with his mother and went up stairs. I groped around in my room, for it was growing dark for the matchbox, and I ran across the hall and struck two matches and turned up the bedclothes and set fire to the mattress in the man’s room. Then I went to Harry’s room and set fire to his clothes. Next I climbed the last stairs and set fire to the curtain and a pasteboard box in the back attic.

I went down stairs and kept my eye upon Harry. That was not hard for he always left his mother to come to me. After a few minutes Mrs. Winship said: “I smell smoke,” and got up and went from room to room down stairs. She came back looking very pale.

“I can find nothing, although  I still smell smoke. Run upstairs, Jennie, and see what you can find.”

I ran up and she followed me. When she saw the bedclothes burning in the washroom, Mrs. Winship screamed and there was a rush upstairs. Mr. Winship and Harry and the hired man and Roscoe ran up and got blankets from the bed and smothered the fire. Mrs. Winship leaned against the door, nearly fainting. She talked in a low voice to her husband, and I heard the word “incendiary.” Nobody looked at or paid any attention to me except Wilbur. I put him to bed in the room around which the smell of smoke still hung and kneeled beside his bed, and with my hand on his curles [sic] prayed God that the next time I tried to take Wilbur away with me I should not fail.

The next day I walked around as though I was in a dream. Mrs. Winship looked at me in a queer way and talked in a low voice with her husband a good deal. When neighbors came in they would say. “Have you any idea who set fire to the barn?” and Mrs. Winship would answer, “Not yet, but we think we will.”

I was terribly frightened, not because they might punish me but because they might take me away from Wilbur. All of that Thursday night I lay awake and thought what I could do to keep the baby with me. At least I formed my plans.

The next morning, Friday. about 9 o’clock I went to the south front room, downstairs, got up on a chair and took the bottle of strychnine from the top shelf in the closet. I slipped it under the gingham apron I always wear and carried is to the back stoop, where I hid it under the washer, or stationary washstand. Then I went upstairs into the south front room and at the bottle of iodine from the closet and wet a piece of cotton with the iodine, leaving the bottle where I found it, and went downstairs. Having done this I went back for the pan under which I had hid the bottle of strychnine, put the bottle into it, and dropped some leaves over it in case some one should see me with it. Carrying these I went out to the garden to pick some beans. At this time and nearly all morning I was all alone. I had noticed that Mrs. Winship and the others seemed too busy to talk to me, and that every one either stared at me in a strange way or kept out of my way. It seemed to me that every one was pointing at me or saying, “You burned the barn. You set fire to the house.” It made me wild. I picked a panful of beans, and went to the orchard to get some peaches. I picked a few off the ground. One big peach I picked from the tree.

Then I carried out my plan. I poured some strychnine from the bottle upon the cotton. The bottle I threw on the ground, covering it with some grass and dead leaves. With the cotton in my hand I started for the house. On the way there Wilbur ran out to meet me. He pointed to the big red peach in my hand, and walked with me to the house, trying with his little hand to pry the peach out of my strong one. We went into the house I found Mrs. Winship sitting at a table, reading. She looked at me coldly and dropped her eyes upon her book without a word.

“Wilbur wants some of the peach. May I give him some of it?” I asked

“Yes,” she said, “if it is ripe.”

My chance had come. Wilbur followed me to the table, and I went and sat down directly opposite his mother peeled the peach in plain sight of Mrs Winship. She didn’t notice us. I stopped for a minute after I had peeled the peach and looked at her. I quickly lifted up the tablecloth. The cotton was damp and dark with the iodine. I was afraid Mrs. Winship should smell it, but she bent her head over her book. Holding the tablecloth up a little, so that Mrs Winship could not see if she turned round suddenly, I rubbed the iodine and strychnine sprinkled cotton on the peach. I handed Wilbur a piece of it and ate the rest myself.

I watched him eat every morsel of it. Then I put him into his little rocking chair and left the room. Going to the kitchen stove I threw the cotton into it and watched it out. I hurried out on the porch and threw the peach pit into the high grass in the yard.

Almost as soon as I went back the baby was then sick. He twisted his poor little body and cried as though he was in terrible pain. I almost cried, too, but at that Winship telephoned for the doctor and put us both to bed. I lay there and waited and waited. I wanted to hear that the baby had gone. In a little while I heard his screams and I twisted the bedclothes and cried because he was in agony. The screams stopped, and the doctor, coming to my door, said. “Wilbur is dead.”

I did not cry. Why should I? Would not see him in heaven in a few minutes or hours? I was very sick, but after awhile the doctor said: “She has an overdose, and will live.” Then I cried. The neighbors, who had come in, put their hands over their ears to shut out the sound.

The next day I asked them to let me see Wilbur, and when they showed me the baby in his little white dress, his hands crossed on his breast and his sweet face smiling, I threw myself across the coffin and cried ‘‘I killed him but we are separated after all. O, God! Let me die, too.”

They brought me to the White Plains jail, and here I wait and wait and wonder why Wilbur should have died and I was left behind. I loved him and I killed him. It was the devil’s day with me.

[“A Sad Mystery – Cleared Up by the Confession Of a Nurse Girl. – A Poisoned Peach Fed to a Little Tot By Its Nurse Right In the Presence of Its Mother Who Suspected Nothing Until the Poisoner Told Her Tale.” The Manning Times (S. C.), Nov. 7, 1906, p. 1]









More cases: Youthful Borgias: Girls Who Commit Murder


1 comment:

  1. Where did you get your research? Jennie Ruth Burch is my 3 times great grandmothers niece.