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Catherine Mandeville SNOW






Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - The body was never found
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 31, 1833
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1793
Victim profile: John William Snow (her husband)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Salmon Cove, Newfoundland, Canada
Status: Executed by hanging on July 21, 1834. The last woman hanged in Newfoundland, Canada

Catherine Mandeville Snow, (c. 1793 – July 21, 1834) was the last woman hanged in Newfoundland, Canada.

Born Harbour Grace, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Snow as a young woman moved to Salmon Cove near Port de Grave where she took up residence with one John William Snow, a native of Bareneed. Together they parented seven children, and married on October 30, 1828. Their marriage was unhappy, and there were frequent fights. According to reports, Catherine would fight back and throw things at him.

On the night of August 31, 1833, John Snow disappeared, and neighbours wondered quietly and then loudly if he had been murdered. Magistrate Robert Pinsent launched an investigation, and the general suspicion was confirmed when dried blood was discovered on John Snow's fishing stage.

Catherine and her first cousin Tobias Mandeville were implicated in the murder, along with Arthur Spring, one of Snow's indentured servants. Catherine ran away to the woods, but eventually turned herself in to the courthouse at Harbour Grace. According to the confession, John Snow was shot while going from his boat to the stagehead, but his body was never found.

The trial took place at St. John's on January 10, 1834, and despite their confessions, all had pleaded not guilty. Snow and Mandeville were represented by George Henry Emerson, while Spring's lawyer was Bryan Robinson. The attorney general told the all-male jury, I can't prove which one fired the shot, both were present for the murder. As to Catherine Snow, there is no direct or positive evidence of her guilt. But I have a chain of circumstantial evidence to prove her guilty.

During their trial it was discovered that Snow was pregnant with her eighth child. Nevertheless, the jury returned a guilty verdict in thirty minutes and on January 31, 1834, both Arthur Spring and Tobias Mandeville were hanged. Many in Newfoundland were determined that Snow not meet the same fate. Bishop Michael Fleming made Snow a cause célèbre. The governor, Thomas John Cochrane delayed her hanging until the baby was born.

On July 21, 1834, as crowds gathered on Duckworth Street, Snow walked out on the platform. Her last words were,

I was a wretched woman, but I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child.

According to the Public Ledger, The unhappy woman, after a few brief struggles, passed into another world.

2012 Re-trial

On April 1, 2012, a re-staging of Snow's trial was held in St. John's. Approximately 400 local residents attended. Snow's modern-day defence lawyer argued, “the evidence of the affair is so prejudicial, it's impossible to extricate it from the statements ... there's no way she could have a fair trial.” After hearing the evidence, the modern jury acquitted her.


A re-examination of the Catherine Snow case

MARCH 22, 1834

On this day March 22, 1834 James Kelly and Gera Purcel stood at the baptismal font in the small Roman Catholic Chapel on Henry Street in St. John’s, the baptismal sponsors for a new born child. The child was the talk of Newfoundland. He was little Richard Snow – his father had been murdered a few months previous. His mother Catherine Manderville Snow had been convicted of the murder.

Catherine Mandeville Snow was the last woman hanged in Newfoundland.

Snow as a young woman moved from Harbour Grace to Salmon Cove near Port de Grave where she took up residence with John William Snow, a native of Bareneed. Together they had seven children, and married on October 30, 1828.

It was not a happy union, there were reports of frequent fights. According to reports, Catherine would fight back and throw things at him. On the night of August 31, 1833, John Snow disappeared. The local magistrate launched an investigation. With the discovery of blood on John Snow’s fishing stage, the investigation became a murder investigation.

Murder charges were laid against Catherine and her first cousin Tobias Mandeville (25) and Arthur Springer, (28) one of Snow’s indentured servants.

The twelve hour trial took place at St. John’s on January 10, 1834. The jury returned a guilty verdict after thirty minutes of deliberations for all three.

On January 31, 1834, Arthur Springer and Tobias Mandeville were hanged.

During the trial it was discovered that Catherine Snow was pregnant with her eighth child. The local newspaper the Royal Gazette reported:

“Twelve respectable Matrons should be empanelled to decide on the truth or falsity of the Prisoner’s allegation; (that she was pregnant) the twelve matrons met on Saturday morning, and returned a verdict that the Prisoner was in the situation stated in her plea.”

Many in Newfoundlandwere determined that Catherine Snow should not hang. Bishop Michael Fleming, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland made Snow a cause célèbre. The governor, Thomas John Cochrane delayed her hanging until the baby was born.

On July 21, 1834, as crowds gathered on Duckworth Street, Cathwerine Snow walked out on the platform. At her side was Rev. Thomas Waldron the same priest who had baptized her child. The local newspaper The Newfoundlander reported:

“Rev. Mr. Waldron, was unceasing and assiduous in affording her the soothing consolation of religion, and preparing her for the last awful moment.”

Her last words were,

“I was a wretched woman, but I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child”

The St. John’snewspaper the Public Ledger reported:

“The unhappy woman, after a few brief struggles, passed into another world.”

Recommended Reading: The local newspapers of the day – The Newfoundlander and Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser reprinted much of the testimony that can be found on microfilm at the Rooms Provincial Archives Division.

Recommended Reading: (Historical -Fiction) Catherine Snow by Nellie P. Strowbridge, Flanker Press,St. John’s, 2009.


Then and Now - Woman Hanged for Being A Slut

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

One month ago, on Thursday, March 29 in St. John's NL, a mock re-trial of the infamous 1834 case of Catherine Snow was held. Mrs. Snow was the last woman to be executed in Newfoundland. She was tried and convicted of the murder of her husband. Two men who worked for the husband were also tried and convicted of the murder. One of them was Catherine Snow's cousin and alleged lover, the other an indentured servant. The husband, John Snow, had disappeared in August 1833 and no trace of him was ever found. Catherine Snow protested her innocence of the crime right up until the moment of her execution.

After the recent mock retrial, several journalists reported with satisfaction that the modern "jury" of some 400+ citizens (both male and female in our "enlightened" age) had voted to overturn the conviction of Catherine Snow, and all hands appeared to be pleased that justice had finally been served. I am afraid I am of a far less agreeable temperament, however. I am too inconveniently inclined to look not just at the general outcome of a vote, but at the details and what they might say about how people think. Which is why I have written about this today.

The case was notorious because Catherine Snow was widely believed to have been innocent of the murder of her husband, yet was convicted of the crime by an all-male jury reacting mainly to the accusation that she was an adulteress. There was no physical evidence at all connecting Catherine Snow to the crime. Even for that time, such a deficiency of evidence would have ordinarily caused sufficient doubt about a person's guilt to prevent a murder conviction - and perhaps even prevent a wrongful arrest in the first place - especially when there were two people already convicted who had confessed to the crime.

But Catherine Snow's case was special, you see. She was a woman, and a wife. As a wife, she was the property of her husband, John Snow, in accordance with English common law in the 1830's. Because she was little more than a piece of chattel, a woman's human rights were almost non-existent. Unlike a male prisoner, Catherine Snow was not considered a person of equal worth to a man, so the care that might normally have been given to ensure that justice was served in a capital crime trial appears to have been considered unnecessary.

Moreover, as a woman who may have been unfaithful to her owner/husband, she was a "wretched woman" and a "sinner" of a most particular kind, who deserved to be punished. Gossip and rumor from John Snow's home-townspeople was enough to tarnish Catherine's Snow's reputation which, in turn, was enough to prejudice a judge and jury to convict her without evidence - and apparently without hesitation - even when the penalty for the conviction was death.

Likewise, the indentured servant, Arthur Spring, was John Snow's property. In those harsh times, it was difficult to survive indentured servitude - what with beatings, overwork and the habitual refusal of owners to honor the terms of 'contracts', only about 40% of indentured servants survived to avail of their eventual emancipation - but should a servant dare to challenge a master's authority, the full weight of the law and the citizenry would come down to crush him or her. Just like runaway slaves in the USA during that era, indentured servants were hunted down if they ran away from an abusive master, and the law would punish anyone who tried to help them:

"Deserted, from the service of the Subscriber, on Monday last, JOSEPH DELANEY, an indented apprentice, about 5 feet 3 inches in height; had on a Moleskin Jacket and Blue Trousers. Whoever harbours or employs the said apprentice, after this public notice, shall be prosecuted with the utmost rigor of the law. JOHN BERRIGAN, Tailor, St. John's, June 6, 1833." (item in local newspaper)

According to testimony, John Snow was a moody, difficult, possibly violent man. He is believed to have beaten his wife and mistreated his servants. None of this was considered relevant in the murder trial, perhaps rightly so, but it begs the question of why other irrelevant testimony was allowed by the judge and taken into consideration by the jury. For example, there was no evidence connecting Catherine Snow to the crime of the alleged murder and disappearance of her husband, but the court heard repeated references to her alleged infidelity and to the reports that Catherine was believed to have fought back against John Snow's beatings by throwing things at him.

Most of the 1834 jury - male citizens all - would also have been the owners of wives and indentured servants. Just the idea that a wife and a servant might have had the audacity to plot with the wife's alleged lover to murder their owner no doubt chilled the blood in the jurors' veins. A woman trying to take her fate into her own hands - defying her husband, fighting back against his "discipline", taking a lover - seems to have been so upsetting to these men that they convicted Catherine Snow of the murder of her husband out of fear that she might embolden other women (like their wives) and as a punishment for her rebellion against her lot in life. In spite of confessions from the actual killers - including outright testimony from one of the killers that Catherine Snow had known nothing of the plot (even though he had nothing to gain by exonerating her) - and in spite of the fact that there was absolutely no evidence to support the charges, the jury, knowing very well that she would be sentenced to death, took less than half an hour to convict her.

They convicted her, basically, because they saw her as a rebellious slut. They convicted her because they wanted to make an example of her. The male citizens of the colony wanted to send a clear message to women: never forget that a woman whose reputation had been ruined - whether by her own actions or by the malicious gossip of others does not matter - would be stripped of any defense for any crime, She would be judged on her perceived character, not on whether or not there was any evidence that she is guilty of a crime. Shorter version: sluts would be shown no mercy.

At the retrial last month, it was established that the facts of the case are clear. There was a total absence of incriminating evidence against Catherine Snow in 1834 and this fact remains undisputed today. No new evidence which might have pointed unambiguously to her guilt was ever brought forward. The woman was wrongfully executed and the modern "trial" was meant to demonstrate how modern social mores - and stricter legal protections that "guarantee" that convictions will be based upon evidence - are superior to those of a bygone era.

And then they held the vote.

A majority (approximately 250) of the modern "jurors" voted to acquit Catherine Snow, which led to the jubilant reports about the exoneration for Catherine Snow, the wonders of modern justice and the superiority of modern egalitarian sensibilities. Not widely reported, however, was that nearly 200 of the assembled "jurors" withheld their "aye" for acquittal, declaring that there was not enough evidence to acquit.

You've read that correctly: nearly half of a crowd of modern men and women, living in a society which claims to go by the principles of innocent until proven guilty and convictions based upon evidence, would not acquit a defendant of a crime for which there was no evidence against her and, furthermore, made the astonishing assertion that in order to acquit, they would require evidence of innocence. Apparently, unless Catherine Snow could prove that she did not murder her husband (your honor, here is a gun without my fingerprints on it - and here is another gun without my fingerprints on it - and another...) - obviously a nearly impossible task since there was no physical evidence in the case - these jurors refused to acquit, leaving the ghost of Catherine Snow still languishing in jail, I guess. They were not going to acquit her because there was no evidence not connecting her to the crime. WTF?

Also, four modern "jurors" voted "guilty". Apparently, they had just arrived from 1834 via some sort of time machine.

The self-congratulatory reporting on CBC and in the local newspaper, TheTelegram, focused only on the majority opinion. The full vote was glossed over and even the verdict - acquittal - was incorrectly reported with misleading headlines like "Retrial Finds Last Hanged Woman Not Guilty". The story was spun as an example of modern fairness and equal treatment of both genders before the law. Aren't we just the best society now?

I guess I am just curmudgeonly. Being far less inclined to uncritically accept the rosiest interpretation of this event, I insist on focusing on the large minority who did not vote for acquittal - and the fraction who, incredibly, still voted "guilty". What does it say about modern society when a case this clearcut can still only produce a split decision, rather than the unanimous acquittal that the facts of the case demand (after failing to result in the resounding dismissal it ought to have received instead of ever having gone to trial at all). Spectators remarks - and particularly some misogynistic comments below the news articles - reveal that slut-blaming and slut-punishing are alive and well.

We talk of how things have gotten so much better for women. In some ways, things have gotten better. Since about midway through the 20th century, in some western countries at least, women have finally ceased to be the legal property of men for the first time in history. Stories like this, however, reveal just how deeply cultural misogyny is ingrained. If Catherine Snow was really on trial today, I am uncomfortable with her odds. We've still got a long way to go.



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