Monday, 14 May 2012
Murderous Monday - Women Who Kill - Mary Ansell, A Sinful Sister.
On Wednesday 19th July 1899, Mary Ann Ansell met her maker at the end of James Billington's rope at St Albans Gaol. She had poisoned her own sister, Caroline. Mary Ann was the last woman to hang in Hertfordshire.
Mary Ann born in 1878 was the second eldest daughter of James and Sarah Ansell nee Rowley, Caroline born in 1873 was the eldest of the twelve children.
At the age of 26 Caroline was residing in Ward 7 at Watford's Leavesden Mental Asylum when she received an unexpected gift through the post, the brown paper package contained an inviting piece of cake.
Caroline ate some of the cake, sharing the rest with some of her fellow inmates. Soon after everyone that had eaten the cake felt unwell. Two of the inmates became seriously ill with severe stomach cramps, Caroline who had eaten most of the cake died four days later. It soon became apparent that Caroline and the other inmates had been poisoned. This was in all probability not the first attempt on Caroline's life by such means. Before the cake Caroline had received a package of tea and sugar, which were quickly discarded due to their bitter taste and strange damp appearance. But who would wish to end Caroline's life and why?
Two days after the death of Caroline, her sister Mary Ann and mother Sarah arrived at the Asylum. They were shocked to hear that a post mortum had been ordered to ascertain the cause of death. Mary Ann was anxious to obtain a death certificate for her sister, but found this impossible as one could not be issued without a cause of death. Suspicion centred around the cake Caroline and the other inmates had eaten and a search for the wrapping was made. It was soon found discarded in a nearby field and importantly it still contained the senders handwriting. It was later found that Caroline had died of phosphorous poisoning.
Superintendent Wood of the Watford Police took over the case and soon his suspicions were drawn to Caroline's sister Mary Ann. Mary Ann had recently taken out an insurance policy on her sister for the sum of £11, 5s, 0d, a large sum of money in those days, especially for a domestic servant. Mary Ann had planned to use the money to marry her lover. She had been witnessed by a sales assistant buying phosphorous in a shop near her place of work to reportedly use to kill rats. More evidence came in the form of a Christmas card Mary had written, which was seen to bare the same handwriting as the wrapping that contained the poisoned cake. Mary Ann was tried at Hertford Assizes and found guilty of the murder of her sister Caroline. Mary Ann was to hang.
Their father James Ansell described the situation as 'a nightmare'. He and his wife Sarah had already lost one daughter to tragic circumstances during the early part of their marriage and they had now lost a second to murder, a third daughter was about to be claimed by the state.
The morning of Wednesday 19th July 1899 was a sunny one. Mary Ann, overcome by emotion had to be assisted to the scaffold, where she dropped seven foot to her instant death.