poison case again, but this time not arsenic or even white
mercury! Catherine Wilson was the lady who administered it, and
had ample opportunity, when, in 1853, she was employed as
housekeeper to a Mr Peter Mawer, an elderly gentleman who lived in
Boston, Lincolnshire. He suffered severely from gout, and when the
pain became unbearable, she would give him his medicine, a remedy
named colchicum, which was derived from the dried seeds of the
autumn crocus. Catherine discovered that colchicum, if taken in
small doses, brought relief, but was highly toxic if taken in
large quantities. And when Mr Mawer showed his appreciation of her
abilities as a personal nurse by promising to make her sole
legatee in his will, she wasted no time in showing her
appreciation by increasing the dosage!
the October of the following year, poor Mr Mawer died.
doctor who had prescribed the colchicum decided that his patient
must have been in so much pain that he had taken a larger dose
than was safe, and the resultant verdict was one of accidental
death. Catherine, shedding tears worthy of any crocodile, cashed
in on the property and belongings due to her under the will, then
headed for pastures new in London. There she joined the
high-spending, heavy-drinking circuit, in one club happening to
meet a man named Dixon, to whom she became so attached that
together they moved into an apartment at 27 Alfred Place, Bedford
Square, just off Tottenham Court Road.
They introduced themselves to Mrs Soames, the landlady, as Mr and
Mrs Wilson, and continued to enjoy the London nightlife, but Dixon
started to reveal his true colours, savagely beating Catherine
when drunk. She, however, had an antidote for such behaviour, and
gave him a large dose of the colchicum in her possession. The
result was that he started to feel unwell, very unwell, in fact.
Their landlady sympathised, especially when Catherine explained
that her ‘husband’ had had attacks like that for years and, in
fact, was not expected to live for much longer.
did he. The local physician, Dr Whitburn, when asked to sign the
death certificate, demurred on the grounds that he was not their
usual physician, and, despite the widow’s tearful plea not to cut
her dear husband up ‘because he had always been horrified at the
thought of his body being mutilated’, he stipulated that a
post-mortem should be performed. But Catherine got away with it,
nothing suspicious being discovered, and the death certificate was
Soames proved such a comfort to the grieving widow that they
became close friends, but little did the landlady realise that she
was to be the next victim of a cold-blooded serial killer.
Before twelve months had passed, Catherine opened her little box
containing colchicum again, and ill health unaccountably overtook
Catherine then assumed her role as nurse, mixed more of her
special brand of medicine, and five days afterwards her patient
died. Dr Whitburn attended again and another post-mortem took
place. Death by natural causes being assumed, another death
certificate was issued. Catherine must have felt intoxicated with
power as it became obvious to her that there was obviously nothing
to prevent her from doing it again – and again.
Soon afterwards, in 1860, while shopping in London, she made the
acquaintance of a Mrs Atkinson, and while in her company,
Catherine sympathised with her new friend for losing her purse, an
item which she herself had managed to acquire.
Some weeks later Mrs Atkinson wrote to her from the millinery shop
she and her husband owned, in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumberland (now
Cumbria), to say that she was coming to London again to purchase a
large amount of stock for the shop.
prospect of increasing her bank balance was not to be missed, so
Catherine promptly suggested that her friend should come and stay
with her. Mrs Atkinson was delighted to renew her friendship with
Catherine, so joined her at her house in Loughborough Road,
Brixton. Mr Atkinson was of course only too pleased that his wife
would have company whilst going round the wholesale dealers, but
his shocked reaction can only be imagined when he received a
telegram informing him that his wife was seriously ill and that he
should come at once. By the time he arrived, his wife was already
Catherine had already realised that any local doctor, having no
knowledge of Mrs Atkinson’s medical history, would refuse to issue
a death certificate, so she prepared for that eventuality by
telling the devastated husband that on her deathbed his wife had
implored her not to let anyone cut up her body. Accordingly, Mr
Atkinson refused to give the doctor his permission. And when he
later enquired about the hundreds of pounds that Mrs Atkinson had
brought with her to buy the new stock, Catherine expressed her
surprise that his wife had not written and told him that en route
to London she had felt unwell, left the train at Rugby and, while
resting in the waiting room there, the money had been stolen. As
for the diamond ring Catherine was wearing, well, that had been
given to her by his wife for looking after her.
will never be known just how many more women fell victim to
Catherine’s deadly poison, but the end came in February 1862, nine
years after her first murder. She had obtained the post of nurse
to an elderly and frail lady, Mrs Sarah Carnell who lived in
Marylebone. Once again she tended her charge so devotedly that
again she was promised a large legacy, but unfortunately she had
used up all the colchicum.
Undaunted, and really believing that she was invulnerable, she
simply changed her recipe. When asked by her patient to collect
some of her usual medicine from the chemist, Catherine did so, and
also brought what she said was a ‘soothing draught’ which would
make her employer feel better. As it was not yet time for the
usual medicine, she poured some of the emollient fluid into a
tumbler and handed it to Mrs Carnell who, on holding the glass,
exclaimed that it felt warm. Nevertheless she took a mouthful –
then spat it out again, only to stare in horror as the drops which
had landed on the top sheet started to burn holes in it! Realising
her error, Catherine Wilson ran from the room and fled from the
house, but a detailed description of her was circulated and six
weeks later, in April 1862, she was arrested, charged at
Marylebone Police Court with attempted murder, and put on trial.
court she was accused of administering oil of vitriol (sulphuric
acid) to Mrs Carnell. Her lawyer suggested that it was accidental
and no fault of his client’s; the chemist’s inexperienced
assistant must have given it to her by mistake.
judge scornfully rejected that theory, pointing out that had the
lad given a glass bottle of sulphuric acid to the prisoner in the
dock, it would have become red-hot and burst while she was
carrying it back to the house, and therefore she must have had it
in her possession in its own container!
jury was sent out to consider their verdict, and while they were
doing so, the counsel for the defence was approached by a man who
identified himself as a detective of the Lincoln police force, the
officer then informing the lawyer that in the event of the
prisoner being found not guilty, he had warrants for her arrest on
no fewer than seven murder charges. Eventually the jurors filed
back into the courtroom and for some reason known only to
themselves, perhaps giving her the benefit of the doubt, the
foreman delivered the result of their deliberations – not guilty!
Catherine Wilson, surprised and delighted at having been found
innocent, stepped from the dock – and was immediately arrested by
the Lincoln police officer.
was held in prison while investigations into the deaths of Messrs
Mawer and Dixon, Mrs Atkinson and Mrs Soames were carried out.
Corpses were exhumed and post-mortems conducted. The results were
beyond doubt, the doctors agreeing that the colchicum seeds had
been infused and probably administered to her patients and
partners in such ‘health restoring’ drinks as brandy, wine, or
tea. This damning evidence was given to the court at her
subsequent trial at the Old Bailey, Catherine Wilson listening
apparently unconcerned; not a flicker of emotion betrayed her
feelings, even when the judge donned the black cap and sentenced
her to death.
execution day, 20 October 1862, 20,000 spectators crowded the area
around Newgate to watch a woman who had committed so many horrific
crimes receive the justice she so richly deserved, but she ignored
the jeers and catcalls as hangman William Calcraft placed the
noose around her slim neck.
Catherine Wilson had needed several drops of colchicum to dispatch
her victims – the executioner required only one drop to dispatch
Hangmen were usually the target of public abuse and even their
wives were reviled by spectators and neighbours, one being Ann
Cheshire, wife of executioner Thomas Cheshire. So infuriated was
she in August 1829 when four small children shouted ‘Jack Ketch!’
after her, that she promptly picked them up and dropped them into
a cellar area ten feet deep, fortunately without hurting them to
any great extent. Although in court she claimed that it was all an
accident, nevertheless she was bound over to be of good
Amazing True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott
AMONGST female poisoners Catherine Wilson takes
a leading place. She had an active career as a professional
murderess extending to ten years, perhaps even longer than that,
but we do know that she committed murder in 1853, and she was not
brought to justice and executed until 1862. A very long career,
indeed, for a woman whose ignorance was only equalled by her
cunning, and whose gaunt and unfavourable exterior was in keeping
with a black heart and a diseased brain.
The first time the public heard the name of
this poisoner was in the month of April, 1862, when she stood in
the dock in Marylebone Police Court, and was charged with having
attempted to murder a Mrs. Connell by administering poison to her.
Mrs. Connell had been living apart from her
husband, and, having found a lonely and companionless life irksome
to her, she began to long for a reconciliation with the man who
had wooed and won her not so many years previously. Of course, to
effect this it was necessary to find a sympathetic woman who would
be able to approach Mr. Council and delicately and tactfully sound
him as to his views regarding a reunion with his wife. For some
unexplained reason Mrs. Council asked Catherine Wilson to act as
intermediary, and to prepare her for the task Mrs. Council invited
the widow to have tea with her. She opened her heart to her guest,
did not conceal the fact that she had a little money of her own,
and volunteered other information, while the hard-faced creature
with the eyes of a tigress sat opposite and planned her death.
The conversation was abruptly ended by a cry of
pain from Mrs. Connell. She had not noticed that although Mrs.
Wilson was only a guest she had poured out the last cup of tea for
her, and she thought that her illness was the result of worry and
Of course Mrs. Wilson instantly became
sympathetically attentive. The hard eyes even moistened as she
helped Mrs. Connell upstairs and laid her gently and tenderly on
her bed. Then she ran off to the nearest chemist's shop and
brought back a bottle of medicine, but when Mrs. Connell took some
of it her sufferings became intensified. Catherine Wilson
soothingly offered some more of the " medicine " she had brought
from the chemist's, and Mrs. Connell, writhing in her agony, again
tried to drink it, but spilt a little of it on the bed-clothes.
The " medicine " was so strong that it actually burnt holes in the
Mrs. Connell did not die, though she suffered a
great deal, and at one time nearly succumbed.
The matter was too serious to be allowed to
rest, and, as she had been told by Mrs. Wilson that it was the
chemist's fault for giving her such medicine, she called on him
for an explanation. The chemist, astounded and angered by the
charge, quickly proved that the medicine he had sold was perfectly
harmless, and when the police were sent for he demonstrated
conclusively that if anything noxious had been added to the
contents of the bottle the only person who could have done it was
the woman who had conveyed it from his shop to Mrs. Connell.
After that there was only one thing to do, and
that was to arrest Catherine Wilson, who had disappeared a few
days previously. Her flight was in itself almost a confession, and
for six weeks she managed to evade the detectives who were
searching for her, but by chance she was recognized by an ofhcer
when he was off duty, and he took her into custody.
After several appearances at the Marylebone
Police Court she was committed for trial, and, under close
supervision, she calmly awaited the day of the great ordeal.
And while she is in prison we can trace her
history up to the spring of 1862.
It was towards the close of the summer of 1853
that a widower of the name of Mawer advertised for a housekeeper.
He lived in the pleasant town of Boston, in Lincolnshire, was
prosperous, and he would have been quite happy but for gout, an
enemy with which he was daily fighting, using as his principal
weapon a poison — colchicum — which, taken in small doses, is
often prescribed by doctors. In large quantities it is, of course,
Catherine Wilson was one of the applicants for
the post, and she was successful in obtaining it. She called
herself a widow, and, perhaps, there had been a husband once who
may have been her first victim. Mr. Mawer, however, thought her a
respectable, hardworking woman, and she certainly proved
unremitting in her attentions to him.
Within a few months they were intimate friends,
and the housekeeper was so assiduous and helpful that Mr. Mawer's
gout became much better. He told Catherine Wilson that it was
entirely due to her, and to prove his gratitude he informed her
that he had drawn up a will bequeathing everything to her. It was
a fatal disclosure, for had he not disclosed to her his
testamentary dispositions there can be little doubt but that he
would have lived much longer than he did. The poisoner began her
fell work at once, tempted by the prospect of gain, and as she had
the poison already in the house there was no way of escape for the
In October, 1854, he died, poisoned with
colchicum, as the doctor discovered ; but, as Mr. Mawer was known
to have used that poison to counteract the gout, no suspicion was
attached to the " heartbroken " housekeeper.
Mr. Mawer's fortune was not as large as the
woman had imagined it to be. Still, it amounted to a few hundred
pounds, and the murderess, who had good reasons for not wishing to
remain too long in Boston, packed up and came to London.
She did not come alone, for when she took
lodgings at the house of a Mrs. Soames, at 27 Alfred Street,
Bedford Square, she was accompanied by a man of the name of Dixon,
whom she described as her husband. And packed away in her trunk
was a large packet of colchicum, which had been left over after
Mr. Mawer had been disposed of. There was enough of the poison to
kill half a dozen persons. Perhaps if Mr. Dixon had been aware of
that he might not have been so anxious to caress this human
But Catherine Wilson soon discovered that she
had very little use for Dixon. He did not make enough money to
please her, and when the last of Mr. Mawer's legacy had been spent
she began to look about her for a fresh vicitm. Dixon was clearly
in the way, particularly so since that Saturday night when he had
returned home intoxicated and had struck her. The wretched man had
no money, and Wilson had grown tired of him. Besides, their
landlady, Mrs. Soames was by now Wilson's intimate friend, and she
had learned that Mrs. Soames was by no means dependent on letting
lodgings and that she had moneyed relatives and friends. Before
she could attack Mrs. Soames it was necessary Dixon should be
One day Dixon was taken ill, a curious wasting
illness accompanied by terrible pains in the chest. Wilson
hastened to assure everybody she knew that her " husband " had
always suffered from consumption, although, as she had to confess,
outwardly he appeared to be very strong and healthy. After
administering a few small doses of colchicum the monster finished
off with a strong dose, and then the " widow " tearfully implored
the doctor not to cut her " dear one " up because during his
lifetime he had expressed a horror of that " indignity."
But the doctor would not give a death
certificate without a post-mortem examination, for, Mrs. Wilson
having insisted that the cause of Dixon's death was galloping
consumption, the medical man was curious. His curiosity deepened
when on opening the body he found the lungs absolutely perfect.
Consumption then was not the reason. But what was ? The doctors
were puzzled, yet in some extraordinary manner Catherine Wilson
wriggled out of danger, and Dixon was buried. No one accused her,
and even if the doctor had his suspicions he never gave a hint of
The " widow '• went about in mourning, and as
she was quite alone in the world now Mrs. Soames was sweeter and
more sympathetic than ever, and night after night the two women
sat in the cosy little room Mrs. Wilson rented, and there
exchanged confidences. The poisoner had a long series of skilful
lies ready to impress her friend, but Mrs. Soames, who had nothing
to conceal, disclosed the story of her life, and added particulars
of her friends and relations.
When she told Mrs. Wilson after breakfast one
morning that she was going out to receive from her stepbrother a
legacy which had been left her by an aunt the poisoner once again
experienced that irresistible desire to take human life. But here
there seemed to be no reason why she should run the risk of
committing a cold-blooded crime. By killing Mrs. Soames she could
not become possessed of her property, for the landlady had
children, and she also had several male relatives who would have
interfered at once had Mrs. Soames died and made a comparative
stranger her sole heir.
Mrs. Soames was paid the money and returned
home, where her married daughter had tea ready for her. They drank
it alone, but as they were finishing Mrs. Wilson came to the door
and asked the landlady to come upstairs with her. The request was
complied with at once.
What happened at the interview we can only
conjecture. Probably Mrs. Wilson first congratulated Mrs. Soames
on the receipt of the legacy. Then she may have invited her to
join her in a drink to her continued prosperity. Whatever did
happen it is certain that from the time of that secret interview
Mrs. Soames was never the same woman again.
The landlady could not get up next morning at
her usual time. This was remarkable, because she was noted for her
early rising, and she was not happy unless superintending the work
of her house. Mrs. Wilson was, of course, deeply concerned for her
friend, and she asked the daughter to be permitted to look after
Without waiting for permission the depraved
creature appointed herself the only nurse, and she would not allow
anyone else to give the patient her medicines. All the special
food, too, passed through her hands, and when compelled by sheer
exhaustion to take a little rest Wilson did not return to her own
bedroom, but snatched a couple of hours sleep in an arm-chair in
Mrs. Soames's room.
On the fourth day of her illness Mrs. Soames
had ceased to vomit, and was not suffering any pain. Catherine
Wilson pretended to be delighted, though really she was puzzled by
the marvellous recovery the landlady had made. By sheer luck she
had managed to resist the poison her " nurse " had been giving
her. Of course she did not suspect this, nor could she gather from
the concerned look on Wilson's face that the truth was that the
murderess of Mr. Mawer and Dixon was going to give her a large
dose of colchicum that very day and kill her.
Bending over the patient, Wilson offered her
another dose of medicine, and the trusting woman took it with
gratitude, for she had told her " friend " that her recovery was
due to her nursing. But within a few minutes the landlady was
screaming in agony again, and an hour later Catherine Wilson was
silently weeping by the window while the doctor, who had been
summoned in haste, announced that Mrs. Soames was dead.
The same doctor had attended Dixon, and
although the symptoms were similar in both cases he did not
suspect Catherine Wilson of murder. Mr. Whidburn — that was his
name — ^\vas studiously correct, and, as in the case of Dixon, he
refused to give a medical certificate without a post-mortem
examination. He made the examination himself, and then certified
that death had occurred from natural causes. Mrs. Soames's nearest
relation received the certificate, and the murderess was safe. She
surprised the family, however, by a demand for the payment of ten
pounds which she said her late landlady owed her, and when she
adduced proof in the shape of a signed promise to pay by Mrs.
Soames the money was handed over. Nothing was said as to anything
Mrs. Wilson may have owed Mrs. Soames. Later it was known that she
had borrowed a fairly large sum from the kind-hearted landlady,
and it was suspected with good cause that the promissory note for
ten pounds was a forgery. But these were of no importance when
later the gravest of all charges was made against the poisoner.
The death of Mrs. Soames resulted in another
change of address for Catherine Wilson, and she went some distance
away from Bedford Square, engaging rooms in Loughborough Road,
The poisoner was well off, and did not stint
herself, and it was assumed by her new acquaintance that the late
Mr. Wilson had dowered her with sufficient goods to enable her to
live independently of the world.
It may be noted here that a few weeks before
the death of Mrs. Soames, Wilson had spent nearly a fortnight
shopping with a friend from the North, Mrs. Atkinson. One day Mrs.
Atkinson had had the misfortune to lose a purse containing
fifty-one pounds. It was a terrible blow, and Mrs. Wilson was so
grieved for her that she offered to lend her all the spare cash
she had. The offer was refused — as Wilson had known it would be —
and Mrs. Atkinson had returned home without having breathed a word
against her old friend. But when Catherine Wilson came back after
seeing Mrs. Atkinson off from King's Cross she was in funds, and
the following day she made an extensive purchase of clothes for
herself. Picking the pocket of her best friend was the smallest of
sins to a woman who could take human life without a moment's
It was the custom of Mrs. Atkinson to come to
London once a year, and generally during the month of October. She
and her husband lived in Kirkby Lonsdale, in Cumberland. Mr.
Atkinson was a tailor, while his wife ran a millinery and
dressmaking establishment on her own account. Strict attention to
business and frugal living were the sources of the prosperity of
the Atkinsons, and, on her annual visits to London Mrs. Atkinson
never came provided with less than a hundred pounds with which to
buy stock. She carried the notes concealed about her person, and,
of course, her severe loss in 1859 made her more careful than ever
when she came to London in the October of 1860.
Mrs. Atkinson's visit to the Metropolis was
exceedingly well-timed from Wilson's point of view. All the money
she had obtained during the previous twelve months had vanished,
and she was behind with her rent. Her new landlady, fiercely
practical, was demanding payment every day, and her affairs were
so bad that, beyond the paltry breakfast she extracted from the
landlady, she often saw no food during a whole day. It would not
have done to have disclosed the true state of affairs to her
friend from the North. That might have frightened her away. She
invited her to stay with her, and then she told her landlady that
her prosperous friend would lend her the money to pay all her
debts. In the circumstances the landlady was only too pleased to
see Mrs. Atkinson in her house, Mrs. Atkinson left Kirkby Lonsdale
in perfect health, and looking forward with zest to her stay in
London. A keen business woman, she, nevertheless, knew how to
combine business with pleasure, and, having said good-bye to her
husband, she departed in excellent spirits. Mrs. Wilson met her at
the terminus, and after a substantial tea — for which, of course,
the visitor paid — they went by omnibus to Loughborough Road,
Brixton, and, as the landlady afterwards testified, Mrs. Atkinson
arrived there in the best of health, light-hearted and jolly. She
must have been a sharp contrast to Catherine Wilson, whose
countenance was repulsive, and whose manner was the secretive one
of the poisoner.
The women went about everywhere together, Mrs.
Atkinson paying all expenses. On this occasion the visitor had
brought a hundred and ten pounds in notes with her, for business
had been good and her customers were increasing. The hungry eyes
of Catherine Wilson gleamed at the sight of the notes, and her
bony fingers longed to clutch them. Every day saw the number of
notes grow gradually less as Mrs. Atkinson was buying stock, and
the poisoner kneM' that unless she hurried there would not be
enough money left to make it worth her while to add to her list of
On the fourth day Mr. Atkinson was busy in his
shop at Kirkby Lonsdale when a telegram was handed to him. He read
it anxiously — for telegrams were a novelty — and nearly collapsed
under the blow. The message was from Loughborough Road, Brixton,
London, S.W., and it said that his wife was dangerously ill.
Flinging all business on one side the unhappy man hastened to
London, arriving only in time to watch her die. She was
unconscious when he entered the room, and passed away without a
word to him.
The broken-hearted husband was stunned by the
blow, and his poor wife's " friend " was prostrated. Mrs. Wilson,
he was informed, had taken to her bed upon being informed of her
dearest friend's death, and her grief was so intense that she was
with difficulty induced to give a brief account of Mrs. Atkinson's
last day on earth.
The doctor assured Mr. Atkinson that no one
could be more surprised than he was at the fatal termination of
Mrs. Atkinson's illness. An extensive practice had brought him
into contact with death in many shapes, but there was nothing like
this in all his experience. He advised a post-mortem examination
to ascertain the cause of death, and the husband of the murdered
woman seemed inclined to sanction that course when Catherine
Wilson came forward with a pathetic story of a dying request from
Mrs. Atkinson that she, her best friend, would see to it that her
body was not " cut up."
In the most natural manner the poisoner told
her lie, and Mr. Atkinson, to whom every word of his wife was
sacred, withheld his approval, and no examination took place.
Now, Mr. Atkinson was well aware that his wife
had brought a hundred and ten pounds to London with her, and he
searched for the notes amongst her effects. When he failed to
discover a single one he turned to Mrs. Wilson for an explanation.
Had his wife paid all the money away ? It was most unlikely that
she had. But he was even more astounded when Mrs. Wilson informed
him that his wife had arrived in London with only her return
ticket and a few shillings.
" Didn't she write and tell you what happened ?
" said the poisoner, who was dressed in black, and carried a
pocket handkerchief with which she dabbed her eyes every other
" No, I didn't get a single letter from her,"
said Mr. Atkinson. " I was a bit surprised, but I thought she was
too busy to write."
Catherine Wilson knew this, for she had
destroyed two letters which Mrs. Atkinson had written to her
husband, the unfortunate woman having entrusted them to her to
post. She now pretended to fathom the reason for Mrs. Atkinson's
" She was so tender-hearted, Mr. Atkinson," she
said, with a catch in her voice, " that she wouldn't tell you the
bad news. I'm sorry to say that she was robbed of all her money at
" Rugby ! " exclaimed Mr. Atkinson, in
astonishment. " What was she doing at Rugby ? I don't understand
" She was taken ill in the train," said the
woman, lying glibly, " and when it stopped at Rugby she got out.
Soon afterwards she became faint again, and when she recovered she
found she had been robbed. Then she came on here and told me, and
I've been lending her money to get about. She was hoping the money
would be recovered before she had to tell you. Oh, she was
goodness itself, and I have lost my dearest and only friend."
She sank into a chair, sobbing as though her
heart was breaking, and Mr. Atkinson, who had been seized with a
suspicion, engendered by a memory of the loss of the purse
containing fifty-one pounds the year before, dismissed his
thoughts as unfair to the woman who was mourning so
whole-heartedly over the loss of the wife he loved. He did not
dwell any longer on the disappearance of the notes. After all, his
wife was dead, and all the money in the world could not bring her
back to him.
He journeyed home again, and Catherine Wilson
waited only for a week to go by before she paid her debts, added
to her wardrobe, and proudly exhibited a diamond ring which she
said Mr. Atkinson had given her as a small token of his gratitude
for her care of his wife. It had been the property of the late
Mrs. Atkinson, but the poisoner had stolen it before the body of
her victim was cold.
It may well be asked how Catherine Wilson could
commit so many cold-blooded murders unchecked. It seems to us that
it ought to have been impossible for a healthy woman to die in
agony and yet be buried without a coroner's inquest. But that is
what happened sixty-one years ago, and we must be thankful that
nowadays a person of the Catherine Wilson type would have an
extremely brief career.
The cases described do not comprise all her
crimes. There were two other persons she attacked with her poisons
who happily escaped with their lives, and there was an old lady in
Boston who died in such circumstances that it is practically
certain Catherine Wilson poisoned her. She had been friendly with
her, and her sudden death benefited Wilson to the extent of over a
Such is the history of the woman who was
arrested for attempting to poison Mrs. Connell. The period between
committal for trial and the proceedings at the Old Bailey was a
protracted one, but the prisoner maintained a sullen demeanour
whilst under the care of the prison authorities.
Occasionally she protested her innocence, but
she was crafty enough not to say much, and when she entered the
dock at the Central Criminal Court she was still a human enigma to
all who had come in contact with her.
That she appeared confident of a favourable
verdict was obvious, and it had to be admitted that whilst the
prosecution had plenty of surmise and suspicion they had very
little legal proof. The defence relied almost entirely on the
absence of motive and the fact that no one had actually seen the
prisoner place the poison in Mrs. Connell's medicine. There were a
great many suspicious circumstances which the prosecution rightly
demanded an explanation of, but the prisoner's counsel pointed out
that his client must be assumed to be innocent until her guilt was
proved. It was no part of his duty to incriminate her or assist
the prosecution. The judge summed up in a way which indicated that
in his opinion the prosecution had not established beyond all
doubt the guilt of the prisoner, and the jury, realizing that if
they made a mistake and sent an innocent woman to the gallows they
could not undo it, decided to be on the safe side. They,
therefore, returned a verdict of " Not Guilty," and Catherine
Wilson, poisoner, forger and thief, left the dock with a smile on
her hard face and a glint of triumph in her eyes.
How she must have laughed in secret at her
victory ! What fools she must have thought the twelve good men and
true were ! Her character was vindicated, and she was safe. She
was to suffer a severe shock, however.
A few days later an amiable-looking man stopped
her just as she was leaving her lodgings.
" Excuse me," he said politely, one hand in his
pocket wherein lay an important legal document, " but are you Mrs.
Catherine Wilson ? "
" Yes," said the poisoner, who feared no one
after her Old Bailey triumph. " What do you want with me ? "
" I am a police officer," he answered,
producing the paper, " and I must ask you to accompany me to the
station. I have a warrant for your arrest on a charge of murder."
" Murder ? " she gasped, terrified for a
moment. Then she laughed. " Whose murder f " She might well ask
that question seeing that there were several with which she could
have been charged.
" That of Mrs. Soames, of 27 Alfred Street,
Bedford Square," he answered, glancing at the warrant.
The police had not been idle during that long
remand following the mysterious poisoning of Mrs. Connell. They
had delved completely into Catherine Wilson's past, and when they
had compiled a list of her crimes the authorities decided that
they would arrest her again and charge her with Mrs. Soames's
death. They could have added others, but, knowing with whom they
were dealing, they thought it better to keep the cases of Mr.
Mawer and Mrs. Atkinson in reserve. Should her first trial for
murder result in acquittal they would charge her with having
caused the death of Mrs. Atkinson, and so on, until they had
removed this danger to society.
But the prosecution made no mistake this time,
and Catherine Wilson was in the coils from the moment she listened
to the outline of the case against her at the Police Court.
Further facts were brought forward at the Old
Bailey, and so skilfully did the authorities present their case
that when the jury returned their verdict of guilty, and Mr.
Justice Byles was passing sentence, he could say : " The result
upon my mind is that I have no more doubt that you committed the
crime than if I had seen it committed with my own eyes."
With a smile of contempt the poisoner left the
dock and when she was led forth to die in pubUc, and twenty
thousand persons watched her List moments, she presented the same
cool, sneering manner, absolutely indifferent to her fate, quite
unafraid of death, and without a word of sorrow or repentance for
her terrible crimes.
Charles Kingston - Remarkable rogues; the
careers of some notable criminals of Europe and America