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

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