MARY ANN COTTON

By Tim Lambert

Mary Ann Cotton was a poisoner in Britain in the 19th century. The total number of her victims is not know. Mary Ann Cotton was born in Sunderland in North East England in 1832. Her father was a coal miner but he died in an accident when Mary Ann was 8 years old. However her mother remarried. When she was 16 Mary Ann moved out of the house to work as a nursemaid. In 1852 aged 20 she married a man named William Mowbray, aged 26. The couple lived in Plymouth, Devon. They had four children there but all of them died in infancy. Their deaths were, at first believed to be due to natural causes. That might seem surprising today but infant mortality was very high in the mid 19th century and it was by no means unusual to lose several children. William and Mary Ann moved back to the Northeast where 3 more children died. They were followed by William Mowbray. Mary Ann collected money from his life insurance policy.

Mary Ann Cotton worked as a nurse and in 1865 she married a former patient named George Ward. Predictably he died in 1866. Her third husband was James Robinson. They married in 1867. They had a daughter who died and a son who survived. Fortunately Robinson became suspicious when Mary Ann kept insisting he take out life insurance. He threw her out of the house.

Mary Ann married a man named Frederick Cotton in 1870. The unfortunate man died in December. His three sons then died. However shortly before the last boy, Charles Cotton died Mary Ann asked an official named Thomas Riley if he could be sent to the workhouse to get rid of him. Mary Ann Cotton claimed the boy was a weakling but Riley thought he was perfectly healthy. When he heard of the boy's death Riley went to the police and they began to investigate. The body of Charles Cotton was found to contain arsenic.

Mary Ann Cotton was arrested for murder on 18 July 1872. However she was pregnant and the law waited till she gave birth to a child in January 1873. She went on trial on 5 March 1873. Not surprisingly she was found guilty. Mary Ann Cotton was hanged in Durham County Jail on 24 March 1873.

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