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Welcome to criminalise a production of scandal and audio in partnership with I Heart Radio.


Hello and welcome to Criminal. Yeah, I'm Holly Fry. And I'm Maria Trimark. And this week we are talking about a woman named Mary Beth now, and she had a knack for getting ahead in life by employing poison. That is how she eventually gained her nickname, which was the Black Widow, likening her, of course, to the spiders that kill their mates for money at least once they had served their purpose.


The most amazing thing about Mary, not that she was accused of poisoning at least a dozen people, but that she got away with it and with each time she got wealthier. Spoiler alert. I know. Marie was born Marie D'Ovidio to a farming family in London, France, in 1896, and she was educated at a convent school.


Not all that unusual for the place and time.


And she was remembered by her classmates, though, as being, quote, vicious and immoral and wild with boys.


Well, you know, they also described her as mean. So she didn't really carry a lot of favor from early childhood when she was 24.


So we're fast forwarding a little bit to what she's an adult. She married her cousin August 19 year. The two actually were first cousins. The way that that worked out was her mother was his father's sister. Now, this was not an arranged marriage. This was just your.


Yeah. Just just just a friendly cousin. Marriage moving along. Yeah. So these two cousins in love had been married for seven years when August became ill and he died and the official cause of his death was listed as tuberculosis.


But we're going to find out later is that he he did not die of TB or as it was commonly called at the time, the galloping consumption. But let's not gallop ahead of ourselves.


So when he died, Marie's husband left her seven thousand two hundred forty francs. And while that wasn't like a huge amount, she wasn't set for life. It also was not a meager sum to come into you. Right.


She was still she living with her parents and so she didn't have to worry about a rent or anything. This was her money when she was 31. That's when she became a widow. And it didn't take very long for her friends to start encouraging her to find another husband, as she sort one did at the time. Her parents, too, encouraged her to remarry, although they may have been more concerned about gaining an extra hand for their farm than about Marie's love life or her personal security.


Listen, I'm from Fahnestock. I understand this ideology.


I'm not saying anything wrong with that. It just, you know, like using your daughter to be in love is also a good thing. Right? There's a there's a reason that a lot of farm families have late in life babies. And it's because Mohan's. I'm not kidding. Right.


Grieving for her husband, Marie initially turned down every potential suitor that her friends and family suggested.


But then in 1928, Maremont Leo Benard and it is said that her cousin Pascaline made this match and remarried him within a year after her first husband's death.


They all ran a saddle and harness shop, which was about 48 miles away from her parents farm. And although their marriage remained childless and there were some rumors about infidelity, we'll talk a little bit about that. The two of them actually appeared to be a pretty contented couple together. Neighbors and friends could never recall ever seeing them fight.


So Leon had a nickname for his new bride, which was Mouche, which means fly in French. And I'm actually really not sure if that should be in the positive or the negative category of the relationship. But there it is.


You know, it's also common for French people to call their beloved a cabbage.


So it could be perfectly lovely, like, you know, and and among couples, you know, you never you never know what's going on between people.


Like, it might have been a very loving, happy, funny nickname. It could have just been that she was a pest.


I have no idea my sweet little fly because it's French. It sounds cute, right? Yeah. Over the years, Layal and Marie actually became pretty wealthy. They did really well for themselves. They ended up owning six houses. They had an inn, they had a cafe, and they also owned two farms where they bred horses. So not to that's that's money.


Yeah. Yeah, I'm not very long after they got married, Leon began disappearing in the evenings and it was not for work. And the local gossips didn't hesitate to point an accusatory finger at two women in particular in town. One they told Marie was her cousin Pascaline, the very same woman who had introduced the two. And he was also said to be having an affair with the postmistress, Louise Pintu.


And it turns out that Leon did have a roving eye, but it always seemed like Marie just kind of turned a blind eye to his indiscretions when he died in October of nineteen forty seven.


His doctor did not list the cause of death as anything suspicious.


It was listed as Yarema. So knowing what Marie's future would hold, as we have this great perspective, his cause of death is actually pretty interesting. OK, and this is why.


So this is a condition that most commonly develops when you've already been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. This isn't something that you're just like, oh, like a UTI or something. You know, this is something that's long standing disease. Your kidneys. It happens when all the toxic waste products in your body start to build up because your kidneys just can't remove them from you anymore.


And once they get to a toxic level, that can be fatal.


So here is why we are telling you all of this and why it is interesting. This type of kidney damage can also be caused by repeated long term exposure to arsenic.


Oh, very. Know what's happening in this little Frenchtown cell damaged. So the investigation into the murders surrounding Mary initially focused only on the death of Leon, we'll get to that. It turns out that she wasn't just targeting a husband. When we come back, we're going to expose Murray as a serial poisoner. Welcome back to criminality.


We were about to name these targets, so nine years before Leon Baynard died of Eurema in 1938, loyals great aunt Madame Marie-Louise Loconte died presumably of natural causes due to her old age. She was 86 at the time and she had been ill for a considerable period before this. It was actually Marie who was sort of her nursemaid and cared for her at the end of her life.


So because she had never had any children, there was great speculation over who would be remembered in her will. And the whole family knew that Marie-Louise had a considerable amount of savings.


And Marie Itliong thought that they were going to be the recipients of her wealth. After all, she had moved in with them at that point and Marie had been her caregiver. But it turned out it was neither of them that was named in the will. Leon's parents, who were still alive, inherited everything serious.


They received nothing for their good deeds.


Neither Marie nor Leon attended the funeral and the second death that Marie is accused of at this point, because remember, we're going back in time before her husband is actually her husband's best friend.


Interestingly, according to some accounts of this story, Toussaint was one of the men who may or may not have had an affair with maybe there were some infidelities in this marriage.


The other affair speculation was that there was a German handyman who worked at their home and on their farm.


Marie's infidelities, though, may or may not have been factual, or both men denied the affairs over the years, and Marie never seems to have even addressed them.


This is probably the gossip mill in her small town at its finest, but you never know because sometimes rumors have basis, in fact.


So to go back to that first person Maria mentioned to some Revy and his wife Blanche may have actually been boarders in Maria Leon's home or they might have actually just been neighbors. The record gets a little unclear on this point. But what we do know is that Toussant and Leon were very good friends.


So to still have been unwell and Marie had helped his wife care for him during this time, it wasn't a poor man. I read in one source that he was a baker, but I couldn't verify that really anywhere.


He was a poor when he died, and probably no surprise, his wife was named as his sole heir in his will as one does.


This was really not acceptable for Marie. She felt once again as though she had been slighted since she had once again been his deathbed caregiver. But as we'll see, she had some other projects going on.


This was definitely this is definitely a woman who knew how to diversify her potential revenue streams.


That's one way of saying it again through nefarious means. Right. But it's still a revenue stream.


She's just making herself wealthy here. So it was Marie's father who was the next pass away in May of nineteen forty, which was about ten months after Tucson's death.


Marie and her mother shared the assets, which included two farms. And after her father's death, Marie's mother moved in with her in liohn. Never move in with Maria Leon. Yeah, that's now the business just don't work at their house. Good life advice, solid life advice. It's like to dine with the Borgias, right?


Yes. Which makes their in a whole fascinating.


I know, right. I think. Didn't they have a cafe to.


You were delicious.


Just four months after the death of Marie's father, Leo's grandmother fell ill and Marie stepped in to care for her. And when dear Krahmer died, she left her assets. Once again, they went to Leo's parents.


So if it sounds like it's a bad time to be Leon's parents, it was, yeah.


A short two months later, Leon's father accidentally ate poisonous mushrooms and collapsed and died. And he had willed his assets to his wife. So now she had all the things right as also makes sense.


So as you might imagine, as we continue down this list of victims, Leon's mother was not a widow for a very long four months.


That's a fairly short time, four months after Leon's father's death.


That puts us now in January of 1941.


For anybody who's keeping score here, Leon's mother fell ill. So guess who nursed her on her deathbed? Marie. So here's the thing, you would think the line of the line of deaths for them to finally get this at this point accumulated hefty inheritance would go right to them. But no, neither Marie nor Leon were named in the will. Instead, Leon's mother left all of her assets to her daughter, Layon sister, Lucy. Two months go by after Leon's mother's death, and Leon discovers that his sister, Lucy, had hanged herself in her home.


So while we don't know very much about Lucy or her story, which is very clearly a tragic one, hurt her death was suicide, not by poison.


It is still an interesting death in Marie's lineup because Lucy didn't have a will when she died. And she had at this point just inherited a whole lot of real estate and a substantial amount of money from her parents.


I mean, I think it was fairly substantial. It was like close to like 300000 francs or something like at least two houses. It was it was a nice chunk. Yeah.


That I'm sure Marie thought should be hers. So during the time she numerary, it said that Lucy had remarked at least once, and we quote this I will not leave that Marie woman even a teaspoon. So that Marie woman really kind of says it all, doesn't it?


But under French law, her assets without a will would go to her next of kin. And that was Leon.


Yeah, I think that Lucy probably talked to Marie's classmates. Maybe they did.


She's she's mean. She's been living like none of them like them. So less than a year after Lucy's suicide, Blanche, remember, she was, to some Levey's widow, also died and Marie had stayed by her side as she lay dying and listen very thoughtfully bought her house right out from under her.


What happened there was under a life annuity contract, which you could still do now. It was very popular at the time. In France, ownership of Blanche's house would have been transferred to Leon and he would pay her monthly until she died. But she died so quickly that he actually never ended up having to pay her anything.


So Blanche is grateful for Marie's comfort. Is the one person who did named Marie as her sole heir in her will finally.


Right. It's like I'm getting the recognition I deserve. She's like I feel all wholl now I can just take my money.


And I don't think she ever felt whole. But that's my speculation. I think you're probably onto something there.


So but for three years, it was quiet in her family. Three years went by without any deaths among Maureen Leon's friends and family. And they spent this time just generally buying things and enjoying their wealth.


You know, they've had a lot of mourning and death, so people probably thought, oh, at last they're going to have a good time.


They wear black all the time. Right. The vineyards are finally enjoying life.


Yes. Good for them. In 1945, Marie's elderly cousins, Pauline and Virginie, were the next to go.


The two of them had made that foolish mistake of moving in with the Banaz and Marie was caring for them.


This gets so strange because under Marie's care, first Paulene died after she mistook a bowl of lye left on the counter for her dessert one night.


Now, I do want to say that lie at the time it wasn't so weird to have it on the counter because you could wash your dishes with it. Right. But the idea that you would mistake it for like a bowl of ice cream or something seems really suspicious.


And the other thing that's really suspicious is that amazing as it may sound, Virgini made the very same mistake not even a week later. So this might be a good teachable moment. There's a rule of thumb.


Don't eat things you find left behind on the counter.


But if they look like ice cream, I have a I have a family member who accidentally ate a spoonful of butter that way and they were horrified.


But it was better to know when you discover it's a lie. I also like how much did they eat before they realized, like, were they just what's going on? I would think that it would sort of feel funny in the mouth before he would swallow, but I don't spit it out. Right. We know that both Pauline, as we said, and Virgini were poisoned. However, it may not have been with it. Right. You know, this is sometimes it's just it makes the story a little bit better.


But when you when you go back and you recall what's going on, llI doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense here. But, hey, maybe it was like and we don't know like this is the account given by Marie Benard right at her trial. Yes. So, I mean, I'm sure her cousins get really, really dopey in a lie.


I thought it was Desser. I mean, it probably won't surprise either that Marie and Leon were heir to both of their wills, however.


So she made them alive Sunday, not long, not long at all after Leon and Marie inherited both Pauline and Virginities Estates. Leon, who was 55 at this time, started to experience terrible abdominal pain. And he also had vomiting and symptoms of kidney failure. He had a heart attack and he finally fell into a coma. And in October of 1947, he passed away and there was only one heir named on his will.


Like they had no children. He lost his family and his sister, Tsumori, inherited everything.


But wait, wait, there's one more I feel like there there we could all benefit from a flow chart at this point of how the wealth is transferred and who has died and what's been accumulated.


Right. So there's one more. Less than two years after her husband died, Marie's mother, who is elderly and who was losing her sight, became sick with the flu, which was apparently really quite strong that year.


So everyone was sort of falling down with it. But at this point, Marie was her mother's only heir and her mother died and she inherited a sizable nest egg from her.


So this is once again, maybe a good time to pause. We haven't even gotten to any of the crazy trial business yet.


And when we return, we're going to talk about why all of these deaths were not simply bad Baynard family like. Welcome back to Criminality, where we're talking about how there was no such thing as the Baynard family, Ching's, although the vineyards had suffered an extraordinary number of deaths in a really short period of time.


Still, no one suspected that it was anything more than just bad luck. I mean, think about the number of funerals they went to, like, what, five years? The locals actually started referring to it as the Baynard family jinxed until Layon died.


And when he died, Marie inherited all of their accumulated wealth and she finally emerged as a suspect, but not at first. As it turns out that when he fell ill, Leon became suspicious of his wife and he told his possible lover, Louise, that Marie was trying to poison him.


In the days after Leon's death, his possible mistress, Louise, concerned and very suspicious of Marie, sent a letter to the public prosecutor's office.


And initially her claim that Lionel suspected his wife of poisoning him was just outright dismissed.


But that, along with the suspicions of other citizens that had been brought to the prosecutor's office, caused investigators to finally be swayed to at least take a cursory look into this vast swath of deaths.


The first of the bodies that they exhumed was Marie's first husband.


So it way back here to toxicologists found a significant amount of arsenic in his organs.


And so, you know, maybe he didn't die of tuberculosis after all. And recall when we mentioned earlier that Eurabia can be caused by arsenic poisoning. When Murray's second husband was exhumed, an autopsy found that he, too, had ingested a large amount of arsenic over a period of time.


So at this point, these two bodies both come back with arsenic and the judge orders the bodies of every member of Marie's family who died within 25 years before this to be exhumed.


So by the time this investigation was over, fatal levels of arsenic had been found in 11 bodies. Each time a body was exhumed. And then the findings were that it had been poisoned. The headlines would announce another one for Marie.


So it's interesting to note of all of the bodies that were exhumed. No arsenic was found in the remains of Marie's mother in law. Her cause of death had been pneumonia.


So, I mean, actually, perhaps this was really one case where Mother Nature did the work for Marie.


Yeah, she was probably like, who? I can put the arsenic away. Marie was arrested. That took place on July 21st, 1949, and she was charged with the poisoning of a total of 11 people, including her two husband's parents, two cousins, a great aunt, two close friends, and possibly a couple of in-laws.


She may have been accused of more than the poisonings, though. There's an account of her trial report, and it only appears in one right up of her trial that Marie was also accused of fraud. They reported that she had cashed pension payments that had been meant for one of her aunts, but it never comes up again.


While awaiting trial, Murray's attorney, a dapper man named Owen Reedy Clouzot, explained her defense. He said, quote, In this country of good wines and fine living, no one might possibly conceive of one murder, two murders, even three murders, but 11 murders. Murray's first trial took a little while for it to begin.


It began in February 1952. You remember she was arrested in 1949.


Yeah, well, they had to dig up all those bodies and do tests. They did. I mean, that does take a while. Exhumations are not you don't rush them. So in the courtroom, Murray's attorneys question the coroner's methods and the tests that were being used for finding arsenic in a body. They accuse the scientists who conducted the tests of mishandling evidence or in some cases altogether losing the evidence.


They also led with a new theory suggesting that arsenic could enter a corpse from the soil around it through the actions of anaerobic bacteria. And no one tested the soil.


So the defense could just go with that theory.


Unable to come to any sort of verdict, the court ruled that it needed more time to review the scientific evidence and adjourned.


So a new panel of experts comes in and it takes them two years to review the forensic evidence from the first trial. They were forced to eliminate five of the charges at this time because there actually was no longer in a physical evidence to test anything in the corpse.


Whatever they examined for arsenic, summary's second trial was also declared a mistrial. Seven years later, Murray went on trial again. But by now we are talking about nineteen sixty one. So that means that like over the 12 years since this all began, in a legal sense, even more of the physical evidence had been lost and that left very little physical evidence against her. After all, we are talking about, even in a best case scenario, like going from the first trial, nine years at this point having gone, he was like 12 from the first, maybe nine from the second or so at least.


It's like a decade that we're talking about here. Yeah.


So experts admitted in court that the techniques that had been used to detect the arsenic were actually outdated tests and that there were too many factors to put the pieces together anyway, which I thought was really says that like you're in court, you're like, that's too much to do here.


Just I can't do it. It's such an epic case. Like I don't know anymore. Murray's attorney in the meantime, had learned that the caretaker of the cemetery, just where many of these people were buried, had grown a garden near the burial sites.


And his garden included potatoes, which, as is the case with many root vegetables, contain naturally occurring arsenic in their skins. The caretaker also admitted that he had sprinkled his garden with fertilizers that contained arsenic. And so both of these things could have contaminated the soil around the bodies.


At least that was the defense's argument.


So in addition to a problem with this evidence, there were witnesses now who retracted their earlier testimonies from the first and second trials.


And one of those witnesses to retract her testimony was his potential mistress that we talked about with Leon Lui's, who now admitted that Leon had actually never told her that he suspected his wife of trying to kill him is fabrication.


It kind of seems like she suspected the wife and added Leyland's name to make it have more gravity. I feel that way to the queen of Poisoners, which is another nickname that Marie came to be known by, was acquitted during her third trial in December of 1960 when the jury took only three hours and 25 minutes to deliberate.


So in the end, Marie's case lasted across 12, maybe 13 years. She was in prison for about five of those years, but for most of the time she was out on bond. But when she walked straight faced, as they reported from the courthouse on December 12th, 1961, she remained a free woman. A free woman with a lot of inherited assets. She lived almost 20 more years. She died in 1980 on Valentine's Day.


Yeah, Maria is one of those interesting cases because you and I have talked many times about the fact that in researching any of these women that we've talked about on this show so far, there's almost always something that you admire or identify with them or, you know, Maria is a little harder like me. There's not a lot that's likable about her. Yes. No, I completely agree. Inless main thoughts, Maria.


It's time for what's your poison? What is your poison this week, Holly? So this week we are going with the swan song Kans, which is the French 75 to those of us who don't speak French well.


And in case you've ever wondered, also, numbers are always hard in any, any foreign language. But the the it's just a little fun quirk that in French Swardson cans really means 60, 15. Oh, really? Yeah. Before I even start with this, I will say that if you go looking for recipes for the French, 75 or less OUESSANT cans, you will see variations because some use gin and some use cognac.


Oh, I didn't see that. I only saw the ones that used gin. Oh yes.


This is a fun argument to get into with bartenders or just to just, you know, not an argument, even just a discussion. Right. There's there's room on my bar tab for all kinds of delightful cocktails. But I went with gin because I am not by nature a gin drinker. So I'm trying to expand my horizons. So this one is one ounce of gin, a half ounce of fresh lemon juice, a little dash or two of simple syrup.


Some recipes call for a specific amount and then three ounces of champagne or another sparkling wine is fine if you don't have champagne.


So this is kind of like a Ricky. It's it's very similar to a lot of other drinks. Yeah. I mean, the basic ingredients are all there, right. So you just put the gin, the lemon juice in the simple syrup into a shaker. You can also use a flavored syrup. If you want to kick it up a notch, throw it in your shaker and shake it up with some ice. And then you strain it into a chilled champagne flute and you top it with the champagne and the sparkling wine.


But I'm not really a gin person myself, but it sounds delicious.


It's amazingly delicious. I used vanilla syrup instead of just a plain simple syrup because I like vanilla and everything, obviously. So, so remarkably delicious.


So you also tried a different cocktail this week as well, which which is the Hemingway, which I actually was really curious about because of the Hemingway is absinthe and champagne, right?


It's actually called death in the afternoon. It was invented by Hemingway and I texted Maria death in the afternoon should be renamed black in the afternoon and broke my heart because it was I was like, I want to try the Hemingway.


Maybe I did. Yeah.


That was not a delightful of the two cocktails. One was an absolutely delightful romp and one I could not finish. No, ma'am.


I like to think of of Marie and Leone sitting out those three years where they were just enjoying their wealth and buying horses and houses and stuff that they would sit out on their porch and have a 75 because it would have been invented by then.


There's some there's some debate about when it was invented.


But this is 20th century. You know, this is you know, yeah, it would have existed.


But one of the things that drew me in and you to it is the fact that it kind of was a nice representation because it contained chain of like Marie's ascendancy finance.


I liked that it had champagne and I liked it. It had this like really like Sidiq because that, you know, like lemon juice, you kind of like went into it as well.


And I was like, I could really see that being Marie. Yeah. Yeah. Criminality is a production of Shadowland Audio in partnership with I Heart Radio for more podcasts from Shadowland Audio. Please visit the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.