Arsenic and the first known British serial killer

wp6c190ac5_05_06The rhyme goes:

“Mary Ann Cotton, She’s dead and she’s rotten!
She lies in her bed with her eyes wide open.
Sing, sing! “Oh, what can I sing?
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string.
Where, where? “Up in the air
Selling black puddings a penny a pair.”

Not the best way to be remembered!

Mary Ann Cotton was born in 1832 was probably the first known British serial killer she used poison and is suspected of murdering up to twenty-one people.

She married in 1852, aged 20, and had five children, four of whom died in infancy, a high rate of infant mortality even in the Victorian era. Mary frequently argued with her husband, who died suddenly in January 1865. A few months later she was married again this husband died in October 1865 from an unexplained illness.

Then a few months later in 1866, Mary’s mother died. She married again and became a mother to her current husband four children. Two suddenly died soon after he met Mary. This husband became suspicious of Mary who was now pestering him to take out life insurance, like her other husbands. He wouldn’t and she left.

In 1870 Mary had married yet again. One Frederick Cotton even though she had yet to divorce her last husband. She had a son but strangely Frederick’s sister, two sons from his previous marriage and a number of friends died after sudden illnesses that appeared to follow Mary around. Then Frederick died in December 1871 as did Fredericks son. However Mary remarried yet again and yes her new husband quickly died after a short illness.

Then In the spring of 1872, one of Mary Cotton’s few surviving stepchildren, Charles Cotton died suddenly, this was bizarre and word got out about people dropping like flies.

Thomas Riley, a minor government official found this to be very suspicious and Mary had tried to collect on the life insurance she had taken out on Charles Cotton’s life, but the insurance company refused to pay until the body of the deceased had been investigated more thoroughly.

article-2096423-11963BE0000005DC-719_634x455Charles Cotton’s remains were exhumed and a significant trace of arsenic was found in the deceased’s stomach. Mary Cotton was eventually tried for the murder of Charles Cotton, her final victim. She was convicted and sentenced to death.

On March 24, 1873, Mary Cotton was hanged. The execution was botched with Mary failing to die from the initial drop after the gallow’s trapdoor opened. Instead, she slowly choked to death as she dangled on the end of the noose.


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