Mary Ann Cotton: The Black Widow Part I

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Today we will tell you about an English woman whose life path, though not very long, was paved with corpses. Her name was Mary Ann Cotton (née Robson) and she was born in 1832 in the village of Low Moorsley, exactly on All Saints Day. That woman was sentenced to death for poisoning after the authorities discovered that her stepson’s body had been imbued with arsenic.

However, this was not her only crime. Nowadays, she is considered a serial killer and she is suspected of having poisoned 11 of her 13 children, as well as her three husbands. It was almost always for purely practical purposes – to collect their insurance money or to get rid of them when they had gotten in her way of achieving her goals.

Mary Ann was the child of a miner, who died very early and left her an orphan. Her mother remarried and Mary Ann grew up with a stepfather. She first took a job as a nurse and then as a seamstress. In 1852, Mary Ann married her first husband, William, also a miner. After her death, it became clear that 4 or 5 of her children had died during the time they lived together. None of their deaths were recorded. Only one birth was registered with the authorities – that of her daughter Margaret Jane. Little Margaret died after the birth of Mary Ann’s second daughter. Her son John Robert, who was born later, also died of stomach fever. Mary Ann’s husband also died of intestinal inflammation and she received his life insurance of 35 pounds, which is equal to about 3,500 pounds today.

The widowed woman moved in with a man called Joseph Nattras. At that time, her second baby girl, named Margaret, died of typhoid fever, leaving Mary Ann with only one out of the 9 children she had given birth to. She sent the surviving child – Isabelle – to live with her mother. Meanwhile, while scraping along as a Sister of Mercy, she married George Ward, who was a patient of hers. The man was feeling ill all the time and he died of paralysis and intestinal problems not long after that.

The unfortunate widow became the housekeeper of a recently widowed man, who had a little baby. The baby soon died of stomach fever and the widower – James Robinson – turned to Mary for comfort. The two started living as husband and wife, and Mary Ann got pregnant again.

There was a long list of identical deaths that followed Mary Ann wherever she went. Stomach symptoms, paralysis, and fatal outcome were typical of them all.

Pregnant Mary Ann was called to care for her mother, who had been suffering from hepatitis, and who quickly developed excruciating stomach pains that led to her death, although she had initially begun to recover. She was followed by Mary Ann’s daughter Isabelle, who had been left with her to raise. Obviously, the child got in the way of Mary Ann’s new life. James Robinson, for whom she worked as a housekeeper, married her, and she gave birth to two children, the first of whom also became ill and died. The Black Widow’s third husband was lucky, as he found out that Mary Ann was misappropriating his money and pawning his belongings, and he divorced her, taking custody of their surviving child.

Dear friends of Training Centre Raya London, stay tuned for the next part of the story about this terrifying case on our blog!


Author: Iveta Radeva

Image: vocal.media

Training Centre Raya London is a new and fastly developing English Language School specialized in teaching English as a second language. Founded in 2015 we are small enough to provide a personal service, but large enough to have very good facilities and resources for the students to learn English in UK.