Our 10th Murderess, Grace Marks

Grace Marks' story is so much more involved than this little blog post would allow. I highly recommend reading Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. The series Alias Grace on Netflix is also excellent.

Grace was born and raised in Northern Ireland, had 8 siblings, with another 3 who were stillborn. Her father was a stone mason, an alcoholic and was abusive. The family immigrated to Canada in 1840 when Grace was 12. Her mother died on the ship en route to Canada, and was buried at sea.

Grace took employment in a household where she met her friend, Mary Whitney. The two bonded deeply, and Mary gave her the gift of a linen handkerchief with blue trim, embroidered with blue flowers. After Mary's death, Grace sought employment from Thomas Kinnear, a wealthy Ontario farmer. He lived with his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, who was also, by most accounts, his lover. In July 1843 they were murdered. Kinnear's stable hand, James McDermott, and then 16-year-old maid Grace were later captured in Lewiston, NY with a large sum of money, some household goods, and Grace was wearing Nancy's pink dress and bonnet.

Nancy had been struck on the head, thrown down the cellar stairs and strangled with the very handkerchief that had been gifted to Grace by her dear dead friend Mary Whitney. Poor Nancy was dismembered and hidden under a large tub. Thomas Kinnear was shot with a shotgun while standing in the kitchen.

Both Grace and James were tried and convicted for the act. James was hanged, but Grace's sentence was commuted to life because of her youth and sex, and she entered the Provincial Penitentiary in Kingston, Ont., on Nov. 19, 1843. After almost thirty years of incarceration, Marks was pardoned and moved to Northern New York. After that, all trace of her was lost.

Whether she played the scandalous role described by McDermott or was duped into helping him, Marks was tormented by years of anguish over the brutal murders, enough to give her the dubious honor of one of Canada’s first criminally lunatic women.

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