Our 2nd Murderess, Mary Ann Cotton

Mary Ann Cotton (1832 – 1873) was considered the most prolific British serial killer of her day. She's suspected of murdering up to twenty-one people with Arsenic! There is a film about her called Dark Angel. It's pretty good, and stars Joanne Froggatt (who some of us may know as Anna from Downton Abbey).

Mary Ann was born in Northern England. Her father was a miner who died when she was eight, leaving the family so poor. Her mother remarried when Mary was 16. Mary loathed him (we know it's likely that she had good reason) and fled the family home. She left home and was married at 20. She had five children, but four of them died in infancy, which was a high rate of infant mortality even for the Victorian era. Her husband died in 1865, and Mary Ann collected his life insurance.

Mary wasted no time, marrying again just a few months later, only to have her new husband die of an unexplained illness within the same year as the first! The following year, Mary's mother died after a sudden illness. Mary then wed a widower who had four children by his late wife, two of whom died soon after he met Mary. He became suspicious of Mary (aren't we all) when she kept pestering him to take out life insurance. In late 1869, having borne him a daughter, Mary walked out, making him the only husband to survive a marriage to her.

Within a year, Mary hooked another widower, Fredrick Cotton, whose surname she took though the marriage was not legal because Mary hadn't divorced her previous husband (perhaps she forgot that he was still alive, having left so many dead husbands in her wake already). Soon, Frederick's sister, two sons from his previous marriage and a number of friends died after sudden illnesses. Frederick himself died in December 1871, followed by the baby Mary had by him. Mary quickly remarried, and, I know you won't see this coming, but her new husband died shortly after.

Mary's final victim was Fredrick's son, Charles. When Mary tried to collect on the life insurance she had taken out on Charles Cotton's life, the insurance company refused to pay until the body had been investigated. Charles remains were exhumed and a significant trace of arsenic was found in his stomach. Charges soon followed and Mary Cotton was tried for the murder of Charles Cotton, was convicted and sentenced to death.

On March 24, 1873, Mary Cotton was hanged, the first female serial killer in Britain stands.
And, true to creepy Victorian standards, there was a children's rhyme about her. In my humble opinion, it lacks originality, naming none of the details of her infamy. It basically just says 'nah nah nah nah nah, you're dead'.

Mary Ann Cotton,
Dead and forgotten
She lies in her bed,
With her eyes wide open
Sing, sing, oh, what can I sing,
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string
Where, where? Up in the air
Sellin' black puddens a penny a pair.

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