Saturday, 16 March 2013

Murderous Women

They say that there is nothing like a woman scorned, although crimes of passion resulting in execution are relatively few.  The most famous is that of Ruth Ellis, and the most horrific was Edith Thompson.  The execution of Ellis actually overshadows the fact a few women were executed not long before her.  There was Louisa Merrifield, the woman who could not keep her mouth shut and she was convicted of poisoning an elderly woman at her Devonshire Road house in Blackpool.  She was hanged at Strangeways on September 18th 1953.  Another woman was Cypriot Styllou Christofi, who strangled and tried to burn her daughter-in-law.  She was executed at Holloway Prison December 13th 1954.

    When a film was made about executioner Albert Pierrepoint, starring Timothy Spall, it opened with a woman being hanged, wearing a pinstripe jacket. This has to be Margaret Allen, a lesbian bus conductress from Rawtenstall, near Burnley convicted of a murder in 1948.  She had a penchant for dressing like a man.

     Another harrowing execution was way back in 1886. This happened at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, and the unfortunate recipient was Mary-Ann Britland, who had to be dragged screaming to the gallows.  It is said that drag marks can still be seen where the execution chamber used to be.  The hangman was Bradford man James Berry, a man who in later years, seemed to have been affected by his trade, like Rochdale executioner John Ellis, who dispatched Edith Thompson in 1923.  Berry ran the Travellers Rest pub on Cutler Heights Lane in Bradford in the very early part of the 20th century.

    In the USA, there are a couple of infamous lady killers, such as Ruth Snyder, Barbara Graham and Martha Beck.  Martha Beck was known, along with her lover, as the lonely hearts killers.  She was overweight, due to a gland problem which also greatly increased her sex drive.  She hooked with Ray Fernandez, and proceeded to use newspaper ads to fleece their victims. Any objections met with death.  They were convicted of three murders but are thought to have committed a good deal more.  They went to the chair at Sing Sing Prison on March 8th 1951.

    Barbara Graham or "Bloody Babs" as she became known as, drifted into crime as a call-girl and eventually joined a gang specialising in robbery, torture and murder.  They robbed one old lady and Graham pistol-whipped her, resulting in her death.The gang were arrested, charged and Graham, Jack Santos & Emmett Perkins were sentenced to death.  Graham went to the Gas Chamber on June 3rd 1955.  Three years later, Hollywood brought out  "I Want To Live" with Susan Hayward, with the usual playing down of the brutal nature of the crimes and sentimentality.  A TV film was made with Lindsay Wagner, which really whitewashed her, as you could not expect Miss Wagner to play an evil bitch.

     However, the most infamous was Ruth Snyder, for two reasons.  First off, her turned white overnight as she waited for execution, and secondly, a reporter had a mini camera strapped to his leg and lifted his trouser leg and operated it at the moment the current hit Ruth Snyder.  This picture was syndicated worldwide, and used as a warning about committing sin.  So what sin did Ruth commit?  Simple.  Adultery and murder.  Adultery is not a capital crime, although it seems it was in the case of Edith Thompson, but murder is.  Her lover was Henry Judd Gray, a weak man who was easily manipulated by Ruth Snyder, and she persuaded him to help her dispose of her husband Albert Snyder.  He survived a number of attempts at poisoning, but one night they hit him with a metal object but he struggled.  They then used chloroform to subdue him and then used a cord to strangle him.  Ruth was then tied up to make it look like a robbery.  It all fell apart when they were tricked into admitting their roles by detectives, and sentenced to the chair.  They were executed at Sing Sing prison on January 12th 1928.