Mary Ann Cotton was Britain's first female serial killer. The dressmaker
and former nurse poisened her victims - all family members - with
arsenic. Although only convicted of one murder, she is suspected 14 -
15 murders. 21 people who had been close to her had died in the
preceding 20 years. Her motive was either to gain insurance money or to
pave way for a new marriage. Mary was considered attractive and was
never without a man.
She was 40 years old when she was finally revealed and sentenced to
death. Mary was pregnant with her seventh child at the time of her
conviction, and the execution had to be delayed until the child was born.
On March 24, 1873 at 8:00 a.m. Mary Ann, 41 brushed her long black
hair while two female warders was waiting to take from her cell and led
across the yard to the gallows. When she was ready, she let the
hangman pinion her wrists in front of her with a leather strap and place
a further leather strap around her elbows and upper body. Two days
prior to the execution she could hear but not see the gallows being
erected. Wearing a black dress the small and frail woman walked shakily
but resolutely, head back and praying. On her way, when turning a
corner Mary Ann saw the gallows for the first time:
A simple gallows, comprising two uprights and a crossbeam with a
double leaf trap below was erected over a brick lined pit in the prison
As she stood on the trap her legs were strapped and a white hood placed
over her head, followed by the noose. The two female warders
supported her during this preparation.
The trap sprung with a loud thud and Mary Ann dropped 18 inches
(about 45 cm). For a moment she hung still, presumably stunned by the
impact of the noose, then she began to struggle violently, she even tried
to reach the noose with her pinioned hands.
The 50 spectactors in the prison yard saw Mary Ann convulse and spin
around for 3 minutes before she dangled lifeless with her feet in the pit.
Outside the prison 200 people had head the thud of the trap and waited
for the black flag to be risen - signalizing that justice had been done to
Mary Ann Cotton.
|Mary Ann Cotton after her arrest. She is wearing a black and
white shawl over the very black dress she will wear to the gallows!