Thursday, January 21, 2016

Alva Nordberg; Swedish Baby Farmer Serial Baby Killer - 1905

In 1905 Alva Nordberg, 29, a child care provider (baby farmer) residing in Rådmansö parish, Stockholm, Sweden, was convicted of killing three babies – through either neglect or assault. She was not prosecuted for the death of a fourth child who perished after being removed from her care. Nordberg was sentenced to only four years in prison.


Alva Nordberg; Rådmansö parish, Stockholm, Sweden
Born: July 15, 1876
Arrested: Jun. 20, 1905
Court judgment: October 3, 1905

4 Victims:

1) Blenda Hallberg, daughter of Karin Ragnhild; born Feb. 27, 1905; in care of Nordberg from 8 May to 16; died in May.
2) Elsa Gunhild Wigströms daughter Naemi born March 6, 1905 ; in care of Nordberg from June 4; died Jun. 6, 1905.
3) Anna Jansson's son Axel Herman was born June 4, 1905; in care of Nordberg from July 2; died on the Jun. 15 of the same month.
4) Martha Ulrika, daughter of Alma Larsson's, May 31, 1905, in care of Nordberg from 10 June 10 to 18 July 18; died after being removed.



For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Elizabeth Ridgway, English Serial Killer – 1684

There are two sources published in 1684. That reproduced here spells the name as "Ridgway," the other uses "Ridgeway" (John Newton, A True Relation of the Fact, Trial, Carriage and Death of Ridgeway, London: Richard Chiswell, 1684).


This long title from 1684 book relating Ridgway’s story summarizes the case (archaic spelling is preserved):

A True relation of four most barbarous and cruel murders committed in Leicester-shire by Elizabeth Ridgway; The Like not Known in any Age. With the Particulars of Time, Place, (and other Circumstances) how she first poisoned her own Mother; after that, a Fellow Servant; then her Sweet-Heart; and last of all her Husband; for all which Tragical Murders the being brought to Justice, was Tryed, and found Guilty, at the late Lent-Assizes held for the said County: and for the same, was Burnt to Death, on Monday the 24th. of March, 1684.

[Printed by Geo. Croom, 1684]

(Full text available free on Google books)


4 murders:
Mary Husbands, mother.
Male servant, co-worker.
Mid-Aug. 1683 – John King, paramour.
Mid-Jan. 1684 – John Ridgway, husband; killed within a week of their marriage.

Intended victims:
William Corbet
Richared Tilley


This long title from 1684 book relating Ridgway’s story summarizes the case (archaic spelling is preserved):

A True relation of four most barbarous and cruel MURDERS committed in Leicester-shire by ELIZABETH RIDGWAY; The Like not Known in any Age. With the Particulars of Time, Place, (and other Circumstances) how she first poisoned her own Mother; after that, a Fellow Servant; then her Sweet-Heart; and last of all her Husband; for all which Tragical Murders the being brought to Justice, was Tryed, and found Guilty, at the late Lent-Assizes held for the said County: and for the same, was Burnt to Death, on Monday the 24th. of March, 1684.

[Printed by Geo. Croom, 1684]


Original spellings retained with the exception to the archaic “s” letter [f] which has been changed to the modern form. [updated Jun. 24, 2016]

FULL TEXT: A Dam being once fallen from the State of Innocency and driven from that Paradise of Pleasure and Security wherein God had placed him, instead of the sublime Life, to be as God, which the Devil Had promised upon Eating the Forbidden Fruit, he put them upon the Destruction of one another, and such a Depravedness had Sin in those early Days brought upon their Nature, that the greatest, piece of Manhood we first hear of, was an Endeavour to destroy Humane Kind.

And, that the Arch-Enemy of Man might effect the utter Destruction of that Creature whose Excellent Creation he so much envied, whilst yet there was but a few in the World, he set one Brother to murder the other, even before any pretended Occasion, or Quarrel, could be alledged.

As the People increased in After-Ages, the fame Enemy of Mankind stirred up Murders, Rapines, Bloodshed, and all things that tended to the Destruction of Humane Society, Nation against Nation, and Family against Family; which, since the World hath been Peopled, Languages and Kingdoms Divided, has gotten a fairer Title than that of Murder.

But of all Murders none so plainly discovers the inherent Cruelty and Enmity which Sin has lodged in Humane Nature, as those committed by private Persons, upon Premeditation who, though by the Laws of the Land Protected from open Violence one against another, yet, will take upon them to revenge every little Difference, or conceived Displeasure, by the private Murder of the Dearest Friend they have. Of which latter sort, a fresher and more barbarous Example, certainly, has not in this Age been heard of, than what I have now to relate from Leicestershire a Female of that Country having out-done the Desperadoes of this Town for Cruelty, whose often Excesses in Drinking, Debaucheries amongst Women, and Heats of Blood produced therefrom, a little palliates for their Crimes, as more the Effect of Rashness and Madness, than the Bloodiness of their Natures.

Elizabeth Ridgway, late Wife of William Ridgway, (a Taylor at Ipstocke, a Village near Besworth in Leicestershire, three Miles from Market Besworth) being the fatal Subject of this Relation; She was the Daughter of Husbands, a Farmer, who lived in that or a neighbouring Village, with whom he was brought up, and continued untill she was about 29 Years of Age, being always looked upon as a Religious Maid, and a Follower of the Presbyterians; yet, as appears, she was a Wolf in a Lamb’s Skin, or rather, a Devil in the Shape of a Saint, and great Cause to believe, that for eight years past, at the least (if not longer) she had been such: Yet, the first of her Tragical Actions that came to publick Discovery, was committed about three years since, when, she Poysoned her own Mother, (viz. Mary Husbands) for no other Provocation, that was known, but some falling out about their Houshold Affairs, or being reproved by her said Mother for some other thing she disliked in her.

Her Mother being dispatched, she kept her Fathers House about the spice of a Year after that, went to Service, and had not long been there, but a Young-man who was one of her Fellow Servants having some Difference with her, she seemed to put it up, as her manner was, never Scolding it out, but rather, being of a dogged, sullen Humour, kept her Malice to her self. But soon after their said Difference, the young-man died suddenly, to the Admiration of the Family, by reason he was a healthful, temperate Fellow, and never complained of any Illness till a few Hours before his Death, when the Poyson was working upon him. Her way of Poysoning was, by mixing White Mercury or other Powder, in their Broath, or Drink.

These two Murthered Persons were buried, without Discovery of the Murderer, and she past on untill August last, when, having two Sweet-Hearts, or Young men that Courted her in Marriage, viz. one John King a Servant, to Mr. Paget of Ipstocke, and William Ridgway, a Taylor, of the same Town or Village, it so fell out that she seeming to have the greatest Liking to William Ridgway, as being a House-Keeper that had two Apprentices, and lived in some Repute and before she knew which she liked best, having been so free with the other as that she thought he might be some Trouble to her, she resorted to her old Trade, and continued to keep the said John King Company untill she had an Opportunity to season him some Draught which sent him into the other World. This third Murder she accomplish’d about the middle of August, and past part of the Winter in Service, untill after Christmas she was married to the Unfortunate Taylor William Ridgway with whom she had not lived above a Week but they hapned [sic] to have some Falling-out, yet such, as that Ridgway told her, he doubted he should have an uncomfortable Wife of her, or said some Words to that effect. However, their Difference seemed to be composed, and they went lovingly together to Ashby Delazouch Market to buy some Houshold-stuff; but in a Fortnight after their Falling-out, being in all about three Weeks after the Marriage she gave him some Broath, wherein she had put White Mercury; at eating of which, he found great Fault, in the hearing of one or both the Apprentices, saying, something was in them more than ordinary, find that it grated in his Teeth: but notwithstanding that Dislike, he eat so much as worked his Destruction; for he soon sell into a very sad Condition, and died after they had been married three Weeks and two Days.

He was buried without any publick Discovery of his being Poysoned: But the time of her Diabolical Actions drawing near a Determination, or rather the Divine justice now overtaking such horrid and unnatural Sins, this fourth Murder caused a Discontent amongst the Neighbourhood, who not being able to prove any thing against her, it rested some days, untill she attempted to Poyson her two Apprentices also, making her fifth Attempt upon Richard Tilley, her youngest apprentice, seasoning his Broath with her Wonted ingredients; but the Boy a little alarum’d by the Complaint his Master made of his Broath, or having watched her more narrowly, positively refused to eat his poysoned Broath; at which the pretending Anger, took them up and threw them away; the Boy repaired as soon as possible, and acquainted his Father therewith, and how his Dame had thrown the Porridge away because he refused them, as likewise he had observed her to throw some that were left in his Master’s Dish, away; the former Suspicion then grew into a Flame; she was seized, and carried before Sir Beaumont Dixey, a neighboring Justice of Peace, where all the Circumstances of Suspicion were charged against her, but more especially that of her Husband’s Death; who, after he had been buried eight days, was taken up again, and viewed; but ‘tis most remarkable, That when John Ridgway, the Father of the Deceased, forced her to touch the dead Body (which she was very averse to) it burst out at Nose and Mouth Bleeding, as fresh as if new Stabbed: howbeit, her Instructor in those wicked Practices, to secure her for his own, kept her from any penitent Acknowledgment; but on the contrary, she persisted in constant Denial of all that was charged against her, that she had either Poysoned her Husband or any other Person.

The Coroner being sent for, had such strong Evidence, that upon his Inquest, William Ridgway was found to be Poysoned, and said Elizabeth thereupon committed to Leicester Goal. At the Assizes, which in some Weeks after was held for that County, she was brought to Tryal, continuing in her Denial: but the said Inquest taken by the Coroner, with the concurring Evidence of the Boy hearing his Master’s Complaint of the Broath and upon a strict Inquiry, having been found out that she had bought White Mercury at Abby Delazouch Market when (he went with her said Husband to buy Houshold stuff, (and soon after their Falling-out) also that when the Boy refused the Porridge, and that he found he suspected her, she desired him to say nothing of her throwing the Porridge away, but that if he would be good to her she would be good to him with several other strong Circumstances that at least she had poysoned her Husband: and she being thereof found Guilty, received Sentence to be Burnt to Ashes at the Common Place of Execution for that County.

After Sentence, great Endeavours were used by many to work in her a Confession, and Remorse of such barbarous Crimes; all which proved ineffectual till the very Morning (viz. on Monday the 24th. of March. 1684.) that she was to be Executed; when she perceiving she must dye, and that her Denials would avail her nothing, confess’d, that for eight years past she had lain with a Familiar Spirit, who at her first Contract with him, tempted her to poyson her self, which she refused; and after that tempted her to poyson any one that offended her; that she had, during the said years, constantly concealed Poyson in her Hair, and upon all Occasions renewed it at several Markets: she confess’d the Murdering of her Mother, of her Fellow-Servant, and of her Sweet-heart, to be for the Reasons herein mentioned also, that when married she did not love her Husband, and therefore Poysoned him; that she intended to have Poisoned her two Apprentices, Richard Tilley and William Corbet; and last of all to have Poisoned her self. She did not seem, very free in her Confession, mentioning only those with whose Death she had been charged therefore it’s thought in her eight years time many others, not taken notice of died by her Malice, by reason of the could not, to the very last, be brought to any penitent Behaviour, refusing the Assistance of two Eminent Divines who offered to go with her and assist her at the Place of Execution, telling them, the could Read and Pray as well as they could. Neither would she add any thing more at the Stake, or repeat what she had before confess’d; telling the People she had made a Confession before she came out. She was kept great part of the Day in Prison, in Expectation of a greater Discovery; and when at the Stake, a Spectator of two Brothers who were Executed for other Crimes (one of which might have had a Reprieve if he would have hanged his Brother, and Executed her, but refused it) all which having no other Effect than hath been related, she was at length fastned to the Stake, much desiring they would let her be hanged first, which not being granted, as soon as the Fire touched her she gave one Shriek, and leaping besides the Block, with the Rope and the Smoak she was soon choaked, and afterwards burnt according to the Sentence.

If any Reader question the Truth of this Relation, or think the Author may have added thereto, they may be satisfied to the contrary by William Corbet, the eldest of the said Apprentices (one of them that was attempted to be Poysoned) who upon the Death of his Master being at Liberty, is come up to this Town, and lives now at the Swan in Shooe-makers Row in Black-Fryers, As also by George Ridgway, the Brother of the said William Ridgman that was Poysoned, who lives at the Kings-Head in Kings-street near the Queens Garden.


LONDON, Printed by Geo. Croom, at the Sign of the Blew Ball over against Baynard’s Castle in Thames-street. 1684.




More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed



Sunday, January 17, 2016

Charlotte Howell (Dutton), Suspected Serial Kiiller – Pennsylvania 1895

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Wellsborough, Penn., Aug. 10. – Mrs. Charlotte Howell of Tioga, a good-looking woman of about twenty-seven years of age. was lodged in jail here last eight, charged with the murder of Miss Libbie Knapp at Tioga on May 30 last. Two detectives from the Wilkinson agency, in New-York have been investigating the case for six weeks, and it is believed that they have secured evidence enough to convict Mrs. Howell of the crime. Her examination is to take place next Tuesday.

Miss Knapp died under mysterious circumstances. She retired at night in her usual health, awoke in great pain, and died twelve hours later. She stoutly affirmed before her death that she had been poisoned, and so the Coroner’s jury decided.

Miss Knapp had been living with the Howells, and it is believed that Mr. Howell became jealous of her. It is said that the detectives have some evidence to show that Howell’s first wife died under similar circumstances a few years ago, and that his young son also died suddenly, both deaths resulting from poisoning, and that Mrs. Howell may also be connected with these cases.

[“Mrs. Charlotte Howell Arrested on a Charge of Murder Her Husband’s First Wife and Son Died Strangely.” The New York Times (N. Y.), Aug. 11, 1895, p. 9]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): At the close of the examination of Mrs. Charlotte Howell last Wednesday morning before Justice Robert K. Young she was remanded to jail to await the action of the grand jury at the September term of court, on the charge of poisoning Miss Libbie Knapp at Tioga last May.

Mr. Jerome Burke, a neighbor of the Howells, testified that a day or two before Libbie Knapp’s death his wife asked him to stop at Mr. Howell’s house and ask after Libbie as he passed on the way to milk his cow. He opened the Howell gate, walked to the door and peered around the house, satisfying himself that nobody was yet astir. When he went out he barred the gate with a prop. On his return from milking, Mr. Burke, who walks with an artificial leg, set the pail down at Howell’s gate to rest. While he was standing there the door of the Howell house was opened as Mrs. Howell pushed her head outside, the quickly withdrew it when she saw Burke. That Mrs. Howell displayed a letter addressed to Libbie Knapp, which she said she found tied to the front gate early that morning. Burke, however declares that the front gate early that morning. Burke, however declares that there was no sign of a note or envelope on gate or door when he went by the house. The contents of this letter were of a filthy, depraved character, charging the Knapp girl with improper acts and reiterating the story of the administration of the poison.

Mrs. Mary Stevens testified that in the early part of March Mrs. Howell borrowed from her a teaspoonful of poison known as “Rough on Rats,” the reason given that Mrs. Howell wanted to get rid of an old dog. About the middle of April Mrs. Howell sent for more of the poison to kill a cat. She said her husband had found the first dose and threw it into the stove. About two weeks before the time that Libbie Knapp was taken ill at her house Mrs. Howell one morning sent a note by her boy to the witness, in which she requested Mrs. Stevens to bring with her the box of “Rough on Rats” and come to her house at once. Mrs. Stevens was at that time in a delicate condition. She complied with the request in the note, took the box of “Rough on Rats” and went to Mrs. Howell’s house. Mrs. Howell declared that during the night before she dreamed that somebody had given Mrs. Stevens poison to kill her unborn babe, and that because of this dream she wanted Mrs. Stevens to turn the box of “Rough on Rats” over into her possession. Mrs. Stevens acquiesced, and saw Mrs. Howell push the box back on a shelf among a number of bottles. Two days after the death of Libbie Knapp Mrs. Stevens called at the Howell home, and Mrs. Howell told her that she had burned the box of “Rough on Rats” in the stove that very morning, because since Libbie died of poison she was so nervous that she didn’t want any of it in her house.

The evidence of Mr. Burt Keeney, the stenographer who was present at the interview with Mrs. Howell in District Attorney Owlett’s office, was important. Notwithstanding that Dr. Brown had stated on the stand that Libbie Knapp never said anything to to him about being poisoned., Mrs. Howell told the District Attorney that Libbie told the doctor that she thought she was poisoned; that if he would give her something for poison it would help her; that Libbie told this to Dr. Brown nearly every time her cam; told him that she thought Will Rightmire had poisoned her. According to the testimony of Keeney the defendant material discrepancies between her statements immediately after the girl’s will be remembered that the first dose of “Rough on Rats” had been found by her husband had burned; in the hearing of Mr. Keeney she stated that the first lot of poison procured from Mrs. Stevens was spread on bread, and put in the clear for rats; the second, as she stated before, who used for killing an old black cat.

It was shown by witnesses that Mrs. Howell’s stories as to when she burned the poison did not agree. She told the Distict Attorney that she burned up the box at Libbie’s request two days before her death. She also said she was washing clothes at the well when Burke passed her house; this Burke denied. There were also some serious discrepancies to her story about the dream and Mrs. Stevens’s statement if the incident.

When Libbie Knapp died a startling story was circulated. Mrs. Howell declared that a night or two before the girl died she was aroused from her sleep by Libbie’s screams. She went down stairs to the girl’s room, where Libbie told her that somebody had been in her room, had put some sweetish substance in her mouth and had stolen her pocket book, which contained a small sum of money. The night following this strange occurrence Mrs. Howell says a letter and Libbie’s pocket-book were tied to the gate. The note purported to have been written by young Rightmire, and it declared that it was he who had entered the girl’s room, administered the poison and took the pocket-book. Mrs. Howell, subsequent to the girl’s death, said Libbie told her that Rightmire once made an improper proposal to her, for which she “read him a free lecture.” Rightmire further charged her with having improper relations with Chauncey Howell.

Mrs. Howell had been asked to print with a pencil some verbatim copies of the letters which had been sent to Libbie Knapp. She did so, and her copies of the letters which had been sent to Libbie Knapp. She did so, and her copies were placed in evidence to show their striking similarity to the original in general and in the peculiar formulation of many letters in particular.

[“The Case of Mrs. Charlotte Howell. – Testimony On Which She Was Held For The Action Of The Grand Jury.” The Wellsboro Agitator (Pa.), Aug. 21, 1895, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Wellsboro, Pa., Nov. 28. – The county court here has been occupied all week on the case of Mrs. Charlotte Howell, who is charged with the murder of Elizabeth Knapp at Tioga last May. It will be remembered that Miss Knapp died under mysterious circumstances, and it was suspected that she had been poisoned. Detectives were set to work and the more they investigated the case, the more probable it became that a foul deed had been committed. Miss Knapp lived with Mrs. Howell and for months before her death she received every day or two a threatening anonymous letter. Libbie (Miss Knapp) saved all the letters until she had about 100. These are now to offered in evidence and an attempt is made to establish the fact that Mrs. Howell was the author of them all, and that she it was who, from a jealous motive gave Libbie Knapp poison. Mrs. Howell was induced to write or print some letters in Roman capitals, dictated to her from some of the originals. She made these copies in the presence of several witnesses, among them the detectives.

The case has dragged along without particular incident until this afternoon, when Mrs. Howell was put upon the stand to testify in her own behalf relative to her examination in the district attorney’s office before her arrest, when she made the printed copies of the letters. She stated that Dupignac, one of the New York detectives, was in the room alone with her and that he made an insulting proposal to her, offered her $25 to accede to his request. She alleges that the detectives told her that if she would confess the whole thing they would let her off free.

Dupignac took the stand and declared that there was no truth in the woman’s testimony regarding has words and actions.The letters made by Mrs. Howell were then offered in evidence as a ground upon which to establish the fact that she brought the original notes to Libbie Knapp, which contained vile insinuations and threats. The court ruled all these letters out and this is considered a very strong point for the defence. The case is a very singular one in criminal annals. The evidence is very circumstantial, but is deemed to be quite complete in every point, except on that of a motive for poisoning the girl.

If the commonwealth is able to male it appear that Mrs. Howell was jealous of the girl the case will be a strong one, without this, it will no doubt, be impossible to convict her.

[“Charlotte Howell’s Trial. - Tioga County Furnishes the Most Peculiar Case Upon Record – A Detective Accused.” Scranton Tribune (Pa.), Nov. 30, 1895, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): Wellsboro, Pa., December 13. Mrs. Charlotte Howell was acquitted of the charge of murder in poisoning Libbie Knapp to-night. The verdict of the jury was greeted with uproarious applause in the court room. Mrs. Howell remained calm, until her relatives stepped up to congratulate her. Then her eyes filled with tears for a moment, but she dashed them away and was herself again. The Messrs. Dutton, of New York, her two brothers, and her sister and a few other friends clustered about her as she arose from her chair a free woman. She quietly accepted the hands offered, and when two or three of the jurors approached to be presented to her, she met them in a dignified and modest manner, and with no demonstration of emotion.

This morning Jerome B. Niles occupied the entire session in a forcible presentation of the Commonwealth’s side of the case. He was followed by Judge Mitchell, who consumed nearly two hours and a half in his charge to the jury. This was considered by members of the bar a fair and impartial statement of the case. He dwelt upon the fact that the evidence had been wholly circumstantial and instructed the jury that unless they could satisfy their minds beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Howell had committed the crime, and no one else, it would clearly be their duty, under the law, to acquit her. The case was given to the jury at 5 o’clock, and exactly an hour later they had reached their verdict. Many of the jurors are elderly men and they showed the strain of twenty days confinement. They appeared to be relieved and well satisfied with their work.

A Strange Case.

The Howell case was one of the strangest in the criminal annals of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Howell, who is the wife of Chauncey Howell, of Tioga, is a member of a well-known New York family, and her two brothers are among the wealthiest merchants of that city. She was estranged from them from the time of her marriage, until the charge of murder was preferred against her, when they came to her assistance. The Howells and Knapps were neighbors and a warm intimacy existed between Mrs. Howell and Libbie, who was 19 years old. Libbie had a love affair, which ended in a parting, and thereafter she began to receive letters which would be found tied to the door knob, thrust in a broken window pane, or thrown in the doorway. These bore the signature of a Tioga young man and most of them, it was alleged, were found by Mrs. Howell.

Last May Libbie was taken suddenly ill and Mrs. Howell took her to her own house to attend her. On May 17 she died and subsequently evidence of poisoning was found. Mrs. Howell Was soon afterwards arrested. The letters, which were both obscene and threatening in character, were all printed in Roman letters with a lead pencil. It was the Commonwealth’s purpose to prove that the prisoner had poisoned the girl because of jealousy.

A Sensational Statement.

The trial began three weeks ago, and on the fourth day Mrs. Howell was put on the stand in her own behalf. She created a sensation by declaring that she had been offered money and promised acquittal if she would make a confession. This proposition was alleged to have been made by detectives before the formal charge was made against her. It was denied by those implicated. One of the witnesses for the prosecution was Wm. Rightmer, the discarded lover of Libbie Knapp, upon whom counsel for the defense attempted to fasten suspicion. The medical testimony proved that the girl had been killed by arsenic, but it was all along the impression that no motive for committing the crime had been fixed on Mrs. Howell. It was also shown that others beside herself had found the letters, and there was much testimony of an inferential character directed towards Rightmer as their author. There was nothing adduced to show that the relations of the two women had ever been anything but warm and friendly.

There is a general satisfaction over the result of the trial, but the case remains shrouded in mystery. There is no question of the fact that the girl was murdered, but nothing positive has been brought out to fasten the crime upon anyone.

[“Mrs. Charlotte Howell. - Mrs. Howell Not Guilty The Verdict Of The Jury Affords General Satisfaction. - A Most Extraordinary Case - The Death of Libbie Knapp Remains as Great a Mystery as Ever - She Unquestionably Died From Poison, But by Whom It Was Administered Will Probably Never be Known.” The Times (Philadelphia, Pa.), Dec. 14, 1895, p. 1]





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

Chivalry Justice in 1907 USA

FULL TEXT: Is there a “dementia Americana” for women murderers?

Are women who kill men protected from capital punishment by an “unwritten law” which, says they shall not be hanged?

The plea of the eloquent California lawyer who defended Thaw that the “unwritten law” justifies a man in killing another under certain circumstances finds an equally strong counterpart in a public sentiment firmly fixed in most States which silently protests against capital punishment for women.

Is this sentiment, which may be called the new “unwritten law,” the incentive to recent numerous murders of men by women.

The question whether women become murderesses because they are, through a maudlin public sentiment, immune from the severest penalty of the law, is one which criminologists and the legal profession now discuss without reaching a solution which will receive general approval.

The hanging of a. woman in Vermont a few years ago for the murder of her husband, though the people of the State protested, proved that the executive of the State was firm in heeding the cold demand of the law. On the other hand, the commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment. In the case of Mrs. Aggie Myers would indicate that the chief executive of this State yielded to the almost unanimous prejudice against capital punishment for women.

The recent killing of Walter S. Guerin, a young artist, by Mrs. Dora McDonald, wife of an ex-gambling and political boss of Chicago, has given rise to the question whether the woman committed the deed in the full realization that the sentiment opposing capital punishment for women would save her from the severe penalty of the law, or whether she counted on the strong political influence and wealth of her husband to extricate her.

~ Chicago Sentiment Divided. ~

Although in Chicago sentiment is divided as to justification or lack of justification for the killing, the feeling is strong that she ought not, and probably will not, have to face the risk of the extreme penalty should she be convicted.

The actual motive of this still very recent crime is as yet unexplained. The murderess has since the day of the tragedy been suffering from real or feigned mental derangement, and in lucid moments has declared that she killed the artist in self-defense and again has stated that she went to Guerin’s studio to put an end to a burden of blackmail which he had forced upon her.

On the other hand, Guerin’s relatives say it was murderous jealousy which led to the crime, that Dora McDonald was so infatuated with the young man that on hearing a false report that he was to wed another she was driven to frenzy, and determined to kill him rather than permit another woman to take her place in his affections.

Mrs. McDonald has obtained her liberty temporarily, under heavy bail, and while already indicted for murder in the first degree, remains safe from inquisitors m her luxurious home. While juries in Illinois have not been too reluctant in punishing women for murder, they have invariably disregarded the State’s plea for capital punishment.

~ Transferred His Affections. ~

More sensational, perhaps, was the recent killing of former United States senator Arthur Brown, of Utah, at Washington, D. C. , by Mrs Annie M. Bradley. The man, according to the woman’s story had often promised to obtain a divorce from his wife and marry her. At other times, it is claimed, he promised to and did acknowledge publicly that Mrs. Bradley’s two younger children were his. When she discovered this he had transferred his affections, after his wife’s death, to another woman, whom it was rumored he was about to marry. Mrs. Bradley followed him to the National Capital and killed him.

Whether the “new unwritten law” will prevail to save Mrs. Bradley from capital punishment in the event she is convicted is a problem. Though possessing no means she has many influential friends, who are standing by her. A half dozen able lawyers have been engaged to defend her and they are sanguine they will secure acquittal.

~ The Case of Mrs. Tolla. ~

There nas been one recent case, though, where a jury scorned the new “unwritten law” and did not hesitate to convict a woman for murder. It was in Jersey City that Mrs. Antoinette Tolla in defense from the persecution of Joseph Santo shot and killed him. Even the wife of the slam man justified the killing, but the jury failed to see any extenuating circumstances or to be influenced by the defendant’s sex and found her guilty of murder in the first degree. However public sentiment proved powerful enough to save the woman from an ignominious fate and influence brought to bear upon the State board of pardons resulted in a commutation to life imprisonment.

A different wrong from the one usually actuating women to slay men figures in the mysterious case of the Baroness, de Massey. She came to this country a few months ago and in New York killed Gustav Simon a wealthy shirt manufacturer who she alleges, murdered her husband in France. It was to avenge her husband’s murder she declares, that she followed Simon and killed him. The family of Simon deny the woman’s story and assert that she attempted to blackmail her victim and failing and fearing exposure, she slew him.

There are the same elements of mystery and contradiction in this murder by a woman as in the McDonald-Guerin tragedy in Chicago. The trial will doubtless reveal the truth and demonstrate whether the now “unwritten law” which safeguards murderesses will prevail to save the Baroness de Massey, should she be convicted.

~ May Escape Death Penalty. ~

There are, however, numerous precedents to make the baroness hopeful that she will either be acquitted or escape the death penalty. There are the cases of Florence Burns, Rosa, Salza, Josephine Terranova, and Nan Patterson. The first three named who killed men were set free by juries in the case of Nan Patterson, the former show girl was placed on trial three times for the alleged murder of Caesar Young, an English sporting man, who died from a pistol shot while in a cab with her. There was no proof that Nan Patterson shot the man but his severance of his relations with her was claimed by the prosecution to furnish the motive which probably led her to kill him.

The prosecution amassed much circumstantial evidence to show that Nan Patterson committed the crime, but on each one of the trials as many different juries failed to be convinced and disagreed. She was given her freedom. Since then she became reconciled to her husband, and the two are living together. Only her trial will determine whether Goldie O’Neil, a once popular chorus girl will fare better, as well, or worse than Nan Patterson. She stabbed her husband to death with a hatpin. She claims self-defense, and her friends and relative’s sustain that plea.

~ Sentiment Favors the Women. ~

On the other hand, the State declares it will prove that Goldie O’Nell, chafing under the matrimonial yoke, deliberately drove a hatpin through her husband’s heart. In jail at Bridgeport, she awaits her trial. Sentiment in the community, as in most others in America, favors the new “unwritten law” for women.

In the South, where the ancient “unwritten law” is still strong in turning men, the new “unwritten law,” which saves murderesses from capital punishment, does not appear from a recent instance to grant them absolute immunity. Mrs. Annie Birdsong, member of a prominent family of Mississippi, and a cousin of former United States Senate McDaurin, of South Carolina, shot and killed Dr. Butler, an intimate friend of her husband. The woman’s plea was that her victim had slandered her without cause.

The prosecution claimed that Mrs Birdsong was infatuated with Dr Butler, and that she was enraged at his coolness toward her. The ablest lawyers of Mississippi were arrayed on both sides, former Senator McLaurln appearing as one of the counsel for his relative. The defense felt that their case was so strong that Mrs. Birdsong must easily go free. But, contrary to general expectation, the jury thought otherwise, though it exercised a large degree of mercy.

She was found guilty of manslaughter, and received a term of several years in State’s prison. A motion for a new trial was made, successfully in the near future, Mrs Birdsong will face a jury for the second time, and the impression is that the verdict may be acquittal.

~ The Case of Judge Favrot. ~

Differing from the Birdsong case only in that the accused slayer is a man, instead of a woman, but in all other essential circumstances the same, is that of former Judge Favrot, now a Louisiana Congressman-elect, who on the day he was elected, shot and killed his most intimate friend, also a physician, for the same cause Mrs. Birdsong claims impelled her crime, only that Congressman Favrot asserts that his victim slandered the good name of his wife.

Favrot still being judge of the court whose duty it was to summon a grand jury to take up his case could not act, but after considerable delay, a special judge was named, a grand jury impaneled and an indictment for murder in the first degree returned. This bill, however, sustained by the lower court, has been quashed by a higher tribunal, and while it is almost certain that a new indictment will be found against Favrot, it is believed certain that the “unwritten law” will prove effectual in saving him. The two cases are cited merely because they are similar in circumstances and to show that while the only difference is the sex of the slayer, juries are differently swayed by what has recently been called “dementia Americana,” a new name coined by the chief counsel in Thaw’s defense for a public sentiment which has abided with and influenced Americans from the earliest time.

~ The “Unwritten Law” and Its Power. ~

In considering the force and power of the new “unwritten law” which comes to juries from the people and virtually tells these arbiters of the fate of murderesses that they shall not hang a woman only crimes in which men are the victims of wronged women’s passion or jealousy are cited. There are many other murder cases in which females are the slayers, but in which women or children are the victims.

The mercy of the new “unwritten law” extends to the latter as well as to those who take the life of men. Around the men slayers, though, there is more of the glamour of romance, sentiment, and human sympathy than there is for the woman or girl who kills either another of her sex or children. Mercy is the softening factor in punishment for a woman who, through jealousy or cruelty, slays one of her sex or a helpless child. But no real sympathy is aroused for such an offender, and punishment tempered with leniency, is the inevitable decree.

The woman who kills a man to redress a wrong done her which the law will not right for her rarely risks the extreme penalty. This fact, for fact it is, and based on precedents and recurring precedents in new crimes, is argued by criminologists to be the cause of the sudden and appalling increase in the number of murders by women-killings in which men are the victims.

~ Many Still to Be Tried. ~

There are a large number of murderesses yet to be tried for their deeds, too recent and with the details too fresh in mind, to prove that the new “unwritten law” is inflexible. It remains to be seen how jurors will act in some very remarkable cases in which women are the defendants.

An Italian girl, Maria Schabara, while in one of the crowds which daily assembled to catch a glimpse of Evelyn Thaw, little dreamed that she would speedily become the occupant of a cell in the jail. In the throng she espied Nicola Ferrance, a young countryman who had cast her off. She was at his side. In a moment and pleading with him to do her justice. He pushed her from him and laughed Maria drew a revolver and shot him. Her sole and strong hope of escape is that her story will move the jury to comply with the new “unwritten law.”

Emma Ripkie, not quite twenty, awaits in a cell at Council Bluffs, Iowa, her trial for the murder of Frank K Potts, her affianced. She discovered letters written to him by another woman, and shot him to death while he was asleep. In his room Miss Ripkie exhibits not the least fear of the outcome of her crime.

~ Killed Six Weeks After Marriage. ~

Mrs. Margery Clark enticed Algernon S. Atwood to Boston six weeks after his marriage, shot him to death on his arrival and then mortally wounded herself. She had wired Atwood that she was dying and prompted by his former affection for Mrs. Clark he went on to his death.

Mrs. William Robinson, of Terre Haute and accused her husband of being untrue to her He laughed at the charge and she became enraged and shot him. She feels confident, that she will go free.

Jennie Ruth Burch, a half-breed young Indian nursegirl killed her three-year-old baby charge because she feared punishment for burning a barn owned by the child’s parents at White Plains, N. Y. The youth of the murderess, and the fact of her Indian blood, while it may save her from the electric chair will probably result in her confinement under strict restaint in the State reformatory. The new “unwritten law” will not be a factor, it is assumed, in deciding her fate.

~ Girl Shot by Sister. ~

More thrilling was the shooting of Ida Goff, a girl in her early teens, by her sister Mrs Josephine Kelly, who charged alienating her husband’s affection. At Atlanta, Ga., Mrs. E. M. Standifer shot her seventeen-year-old sister to death for the same reason, and the jury set her free. Mrs Kelly, from the present status of public feelings in Baltimore, where the tragedy occurred, will probably suffer light punishment.

Several women are to be tried in Kentucky in the near future for the killing of the women who they believed robbed the slayers of their husband’s affections. Likely as not the new “unwritten law” which extenuates the crimes of women who slay men will prevail to save them.

Acquittals of women recently who murdered men who wronged them are numerous enough to prove how strong is the trend of the public mind in its opposition to punishing slayers of the gentler sex.

[“Does the New ‘Unwritten Law’ Shelter Women Who Shed Blood,” (from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch) Washington Post (D. C.), May 12, 1907, p. 10]



For more on this topic, see Chivalry Justice Checklist & Links


Friday, January 15, 2016

Abigall Hill, Serial Killer Baby Farmer – England, 1658

EXCERPT: This woman Abigall Hill, was looked upon by all her neighbours, for a woman inclined to much compassion, she seemed much to pity young children, that were in distress, and according to her power to relieve them. She was therefore supposed to be a good nurse into whose charge and care the nursing up of young children should be committed.

She lived many years in the parish of St. Olaves in Southwark with her husband who is yet living, ans some children she brought up carefully, and returning them after the time was out unto the parish who paid her for them, thinking her to be a careful and good woman; and this was the reason that many children were brought unto her, and if any time any child forsaken by the wicked mother was left upon the parish, she would be ready to receive and undertake to bring it up being a nurse as wicked, and more cruel than the mother.

Seven years thus she lived, and no notice was taken of what became of her children if any were missing, it being believed that they died by sickness, or having so many of them lying on her hands she had delivered the charge of them to some poor woman to be careful of them. It was oftentimes murmured indeed amongst her neighbours that such a child was conveyed away and much suspicion there was amongst them because they could not tell what was become of it, and the suddenness of the removal of the child without any noise of sickness or discontent did add much unto their jealousy. At the last, it pleased God that this wicked woman and her husband did fall out, where in the heat of his passion he did upbraid her with the children she had made away.

This presently was taken notice of by the neighbours, who affirming it was pity was wicked creature should live upon the Earth, did acquaint the constable with it. Who, carrying her before a justice of the peace (she having but little to say for herself), was sent to Newgate, and at the Sessions following, which began on Wednesday, December 15th, her indictment was read for murdering of four children. And she being not able to say anything for herself, as to give answer what became of the children or, if they were dead, to satisfy where they were buried, the jury found her guilty, not only for that horrid murder, but for the charge against her that she had made a trade of it, and that the Quarter Day she would borrow children of her poor acquaintance and bring them to the master of the parish as if they were those she had taken into her custody to nurse, and having received her pay for them she would return them again unto those of whom she had borrowed them.

All the confession which she made at the bar was that indeed once one of her children lying sick and but little hope of life, she did wring it by the neck and killed it to put it out of its pain. For this and her other horrid murders she was condemned to suffer death and be hanged at Cheapside, which accordingly was performed on Wennesday, December 22nd, 1658. Being come to the place of execution, either the stubbornness of her resolution or the desperateness of her condition had made her almost senseless, for she made no confession at all being advised of the shortness of her life and to meet with God by repentance, she would return no answer to the admonitions of the divine nor of any other that did give her any saving counsels. It is observable that being on the ladder, as the executioner was fitting the fatal rope about her neck, she turned suddenly unto him as if she had been in some passion and said unto him, “What! Do you make account to choke me?” She had time given on her to make confession, but the people perceiving that she abused their expectation the hangman as the last turned her off the ladder and she died miserably, as she died mercilessly.

[from pages 10-14, in: A True relation of the most horrid and barbarous murders committed by Abigall Hill of St. Olaves Southwark, on the persons of foure infants; parish children, whom she undertooke to nurse, and her most deceitfull borrowing of other children of her poore acquaintance, whom on every quarter day she would bring to the over-seers of the parish, and receive her quarters pay for them, as if they had bin the same children which had bin committed to her charge to nurse. For which most cruell murders, being convicted and condemned at the sessions held at the Old-Baily. Wednesday Decemb. 15. Shee [sic] was accordingly executed on Wednesday, Decemb. 22. in Cheapside neare unto Woodstreet. Together with a true account of the strange and stubborn end she made, and her jeering of her executioner at the houre of her death. And a caveat to all other women that are suspected for the like unnaturall and most unmercifull practises. London : Printed for F. Coles, 1658.]


NOTE: Wikipedia: In British and Irish tradition, the quarter days were the four dates in each year on which servants were hired, school terms started, and rents were due. They fell on four religious festivals roughly three months apart and close to the two solstices and two equinoxes. The significance of quarter days is now limited, although leasehold payments and rents for land and premises in England are often still due on the old English quarter days. The quarter days have been observed at least since the Middle Ages, and they ensured that debts and unresolved lawsuits were not allowed to linger on. Accounts had to be settled, a reckoning had to be made and publicly recorded on the quarter days. The English quarter days (also observed in Wales and the Channel Islands) are Lady Day (25 March), Midsummer Day (24 June), Michaelmas (29 September), Christmas (25 December).



More: Female Serial Killers Executed


For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Sarah Reeves, 10-Year-Old Would-Be Murderess – 1874, New Jersey

FULL TEXT: New York, June 26. – Sarah Reeves a colored girl, ten years old, was arrested at Elizabeth, N. J., for attempting to poison the family of John R. Miller, of Crawford, by putting creosote in their coffee, which caused violent pains. The girl alleges she did the deed as revenge for ill-treatment, and shows no sorrow for the act.

[“A Young Borgia.” National Republican (Washington City, D. C.), Jun. 27, 1874, p. 1]


FULL TEXT: A young negress, barely ten years old. named Sarah Jane Reeves, has just succeeded in attracting attention as a first-class poisoner. Three years ago she came to flew Jersey with her mother, ana, at her death, took refuge in the poor-house, a few month sloe she was taken out of that institution by Mr. Miller, of Cranford who employed her as an attendant upon his children. It would appear that tale colored damsel, soon after her elevation to the post or nurse, manifested an exceedingly turbulent spirit. She was remonstrated with. by her employer, who on several occasions, it seems, cautioned her against her boisterous demonstrations. But the little girl took it to heart, and yesterday morning, when the family, consisting or Mr. Miller, his wife and two other persons, sat down to breakfast, somebody commented on the very peculiar odor which issued from the coffee pot. Only one partook of the beverage, the immediate result being violent pains in the stomach. A physician was of course sent for, and, the usual remedies having been applied, the ailing person was placed out of danger. On examination it was ascertained that the coffee contained enough creosote to kill twenty persons. At the first alarm the negress fled, but when subsequently arrested admitted that she bad poisoned the milk and coffee in order, as she said, to get rid of her enemies. She is now lodged in the county jail. She accused her master with having beaten her with the butt end of a cowhide simply because she had been in the habit of talking to herself. When stripped at the jail three marks were found on her left arm, apparently inflicted by a whip. She evinced no sorrow for the attempt, and laughingly remarked to a fellow-prisoner that she "merely tried to shut her master's mouth for sure." The escape of Mr. Miller's family is regarded as almost miraculous.

[“A Dark Poisoner. Strange and Murderous Freak of a Young Domestic.” The New York Herald (N.Y.), Jun. 27, 1874, p. 3]


More cases: Youthful Borgias: Girls Who Commit Murder