Mrs. Anna Cunningham of Chicago,
admits that she killed her husband and four children. A fifth
child, also poisoned, may live.
The Cunninghams lived on a farm at Bachley Corners, Ind. In 1919
the father died there. His death was much the same in
circumstances as those that followed – intense stomach pains, a
sudden attack and several days of illness. She collected the
$1,000 insurance and the family moved to Gary. A year later a
daughter, Isabelle, 28, died. She had been insured for $1,000 just
five weeks before her death.
Harry, 23, was the next victim. He died in 1923, less than a year
after he had been insured for $2,500. Then Charles suffered the
same fate. He was insured for only $850. In 1923 the youngest son,
Walter, 13, died. His insurance amounted to only, $180.
When the last of the boys, David, Jr., was seized with a sudden
attack and taken in a hospital, authorities began to investigate
the series of deaths in the Cunningham family. The bodies were
exhumed, their organs tested, and Mrs. Cunningham arrested. Her
Anna Cunningham, Chicago
Serial Killer - 1925
FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Chicago, April 10.—Does the brain of a
Borgia lurk back of the sweet, motherly face of Mrs. Anna
Cunningham? Authorities, investigates the death of Mrs.
Cunningham’s husband and four children at intervals of a year,
intimate that such is their belief.
Mrs. Cunningham, recovering in a hospital from an attempt to
strangle herself, has admitted the poisoning of three children.
Dr. Thomas Carver aroused the interest of authorities in the
matter when Mrs. Cunningham’s 20-year-old son, David jr., was
taken to the hospital and found suffering from arsenical
poisoning. Large quantities of poison were found in the Cunningham
home. Mrs. Cunningham said she bought it to spray plants. She
collapsed when questioned further.
The family lived until seven years ago at Bachley’s Corners, Ind.,
on a little farm. When David Cunningham, the father, died they
moved to Gary.
Mrs. Anna Cunningham attended church regularly at Bachley’s
Corners. Neighbors respected her, but they all said she was a
“little queer.” She was eccentric and had peculiar ideas about
children and other things.
In 1919 the father died there. His death was much the same as
those that followed – intense stomach pains, a sudden attack and a
few days’ illness, all indicating poison. He had been insured for
Then Mrs. Cunningham sold the farm of 37 acres for $4,000 to Mrs.
Katherine Betts, who owned an adjoining farm.
Harry Cunningham urged that the family go to Gary. A year after
they left Bachley’s Corners, Isabelle, 28, died. She had been
insured for $1,000 just five weeks later, at the age of 18. He was
insured for only $320.
In 1923 the younger brother, Walter, 13, died, insured for only
The last to be attacked was David jr., who was rushed from a Gary
hospital in Chicago, where he is fighting to save his life.
Insurance carried in his name totaled $1,000.
Harry, 23, was the next victim of the sudden illness. He died in
1921, less than a year after he had been insured for $2,500.
Charles, the second brother to die, suffered the same fate a year
before her death and Mrs. Cunningham had paid but one premium.
All policies named the mother as beneficiary.
Mae Cunningham, 17, who is the only surviving girl in the family,
said that her mother had been ailing and hysterical at times after
they moved to Gary.
“She used to chase us around with the butcher knife,” she said.
“That was when she got fits. Usually she’d collapse after having
worked herself up into a frenzy.”
“She had a bible, which she used to take into her room. She would
lock the door and read it for hours at a time.”
[“Hold Mother In Poison Case - Mrs. Anna Cunningham
Confesses to Killing Three Children,” syndicated (Central Press),
The Emporia Gazette (Ka.), Apr. 16, 1925, p. 8]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 0f 3): Crown Point, Ind. - Confinement in
prison for the rest o her natural life was the sentence meted out
to Mrs. Anna Cunningham, 49 year old widow, by a jury in Lake-co
criminal court today, which found her guilty of first degree
murder in connection with the fatal poisoning of her ten-year old
son, Walter. The jury deliberated more than 24 hours.
Before Judge Martin; Smith could formally pass sentence, defense
counsel petitioned the judge to withhold sentence until the
defense could file a motion for a new trial. The request was
granted. Mrs. Cunningham sobbed bitterly when the judge read the
jury's verdict, but did not collapse.
Suspicion first rested on Mrs. Cunningham in connection with the
mysterious deaths, of five members of her family in sis years when
David Cunningham, Jr., 24, became ill suddenly in Gary and was
removed to a Chicago hospital for treatment last April.
Oscar Wolff, coroner of Cook-co (Chicago) investigated on
information given by George Arnold, 25, a cousin of David
Cunningham, who said the Cunninghams had lived principally on
insurance paid on lives of the five deceased members.
Mrs. Cunningham was arrested in Gary April 11. The charge followed
examination of the vital organs of the bodies of Walter, 10, and
Harry, 23, her sons. Physicians found traces of poison in Walter’s
organs, but none in those of the other young man.
The accused woman signed a confession on April 15. On the same day
she fell ill into a state of coma, from which she was revived only
after hours of effort. In the confession, which was later
repudiated as having been obtained when she was in a delicate
condition, Mrs. Cunningham said she fatally poisoned Isabelle, 20;
Charles, 18, and Walter, 19. She also admitted having poisoned
David Jr., who is only partially recovered. She said she fed the
poison to her children on bread and butter sandwiches.
Indicted on three first degree charges on June 2, by the Lake-co
criminal court grand jury, Mrs. Cunningham on July 16 went on
trial for the alleged killing of her youngest child.
David Cunningham Jr., and Mae, 19, are the only survivors of the
family. In her purported confession, Mrs. Cunningham said she
poisoned the three children and also tried to kill herself so they
all could “join in Heaven” David Sr., the father and husband.
Physicians have pronounced the woman a victim of epileptic
Deaths in the family began on July 2, 1918, when the father and
husband died. Isabelle died December 31, 1919; Harry on October
18, 1921, Charles, September 21, 1921, and Walter, September 15,
David, last to become ill, is partially paralyzed, but gradually
[“Life Term Prison Is Given Indiana Woman - Convicted Poisoner
Collapses When Verdict of Jury Is Read - Appeal Is Noted - Slaying
of Two Other Children Is Charged to Prisoner,” syndicated (AP),
Jul. 26, 1925, p. 1]
FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): Crown Point, Ind.,. Oct. 12, —Without
funds to perfect an appeal to the Indiana supreme court, Mrs. Anna
Cunningham, forty-nine, convicted of poisoning her son Walter,
will enter the state penitentiary at Indianapolis tomorrow to
begin a life sentence for murder. Judge Martin Smith in the Lake
county criminal court today denied a motion for a new trial.
In a confession obtained in Chicago after her arrest and
repudiated during the trial, the gray-haired widow said she had
given poison to four of her children, three of whom died. The
defense contended the mother was unbalanced mentally at the time
the disputed confession was made.
Mrs. Cunningham’s husband, a farmer near Valparaiso, and three
children, Isabelle, 18; Charles, 19, and Walter, 13, all died
during six years. An investigation revealed that Walter, the last
to die, had been poisoned.
When arrested the widow stud she had killed the children because
she loved them and wanted them to join the father “in heaven.” She
declared she too had taken poison in hopes of joining him.
[“Poison Mother Enters Prison - Mrs. Cunningham Denied New Trial
Motion,” syndicated (AP), Oct. 13, 1925, p. 1]
SEX: F RACE: W
TYPE: S MOTIVE: PC-nonspecific.
MO: "Black widow"
poisoner of husband and children.
sentence on one count, 1925.
Michael Newton -
An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans