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Welcome to criminalize a production of scandal and audio in partnership with a heart radio. Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Criminality, where this season we are exploring the lives and motivations of some of the most notorious lady poisoners throughout history. I'm Holly Fry. And I'm Maria Tomoaki.


And the poisoner that we're talking about today is Miriam Cotton, who is best known for lethally poisoning as many as 21 people.


And she used this season's most popular poison. That's right.


You're getting more arsenic talk today. Arsenic. It's my it's my favorite.


We always talk about I heart arsenic. Schertz coming soon, right? Exactly. I'm going to open a store. But with those kinds of numbers, she became known as Britain's first serial killer.


So let's look first at how Marianne grew up. She was born on Halloween, which I don't know if everyone knows this. Holly's favorite day of the year.


Every day is in my heart.


She was born in 1832 to Michael and Margaret Robison, and their family was working class and they were very strict Methodists. So that sets her scene as a kid. And during her childhood, Marianne was described as and we quote, exemplary and distinguished for her particularly clean and tidy appearance. She regularly attended Wesleyan Sunday School. And it was also said of her and again, we're quoting here, she was regarded as a girl of innocent disposition, an average intellect, you know, all pretty good things.


Right, right. Right up to that average intellect. Right.


I know very well that's life to the heart of things like complimentary, complimentary.


What was so outside of that clean and tidy appearance and average intellect, Marianne's childhood doesn't actually sound very much like a happy one.


Her father, when she was young, he was a strict disciplinarian and he worked as a coal miner and as a coal miner. One day tragedy struck, which you can imagine what tragedy in coal mining could be. So in February of 1842, he fell to his death down a narrow 300 foot mine shaft.


So at a very young age, he was probably only about ten. When this happened, Marianne was forced to go to work.


And within a year or just a few years, depending on what you're reading, Marianne's mother married another minor. This was a man named George Stott with a T or his name was George Scott with a C, or it might have even been Robert Scott that he left.




It happens a lot when you're looking at historical records, particularly when you're going by people's recollected accounts. Right. You'll find some interesting variations and handwriting could be very difficult as well to read. Yes.


Or Scott or maybe Robert Reich.


And there are references to all three of these names. And the Robert is kind of a surprise among the Jorges. But so these things happen.


But we feel pretty confident that her stepfather's name was in fact, George starts with a T. And so we're sticking with that.




So anyway, regardless of whether or not he was a George or Robert Mary and did not like her new stepfather and she didn't like how strict he was, so she left home at the age of 16 to pursue nursing, which she did for about three years before she returned back to her child home so that she could train as a dressmaker.


So this will obviously sound sexist to listeners today, but it was certainly very true at the time that it was hard for a working class woman to make her way in the world in the mid 19th century without the financial security that marriage offered. Certainly happened on occasion, but those were the outliers, right. So Marianne went the traditional route sort of. And that's we're about to get into. She was actually married four times in her life, although one of those times Bigamous Lee, which we'll get into in a little bit.


But it's a little early. But we're going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsor and return. We're going to go into detail about each of these four marriages. Welcome back to Criminal.


All right, let's dig into the wedded bliss of and cotton. Yeah, call it that.


So let's talk about her first husband.


So in 1850, to marry and married William Mowbray and William worked as a foreman. And then later he was a fireman on a steam vessel.


He was a working class man. They had five children together quickly while they were married, but four of them died of typhoid fever.


The couple then went on to have and also lose three more children during their marriage.


And later and I really feel this is just sad statement of her mental health that this statement gives us. Marianne would struggle to remember just how many children she had and had lost during that marriage to William just a few years into the marriage.


So again, she was having children at a pretty quick pace. William unexpectedly died of an intestinal disorder, another suspected case of typhoid fever. Just as what had taken the lives of his children, the newly widowed Marianne was left with one child and an insurance payout equivalent to half a year of William's salary. So we always mention that it's really hard to get, you know, exact at all when you're trying to calculate what, for example, 35 pounds at this time would be equivalent to in today's money.


But our estimation is that Maryanne's payout was about 4500 pounds for Americans. That's currently just shy of about six thousand dollars, not a huge amount, but not unsubstantial either. Still pretty significant, I think, in Maryann's time.


Shortly thereafter, they're actually turning out to be that many of the loved ones in Maryann's life began dying under mysterious circumstances.


So not long after William's death, Marianne began a relationship with Joseph Nattrass. She also was involved at the time with a man named John. Quick moming. But when it comes to John, there's something a bit strange. There don't appear to be any records of any kind. We're talking like since his birth death mentions anything to prove John Quick Manning's existence. So, you know, we talk about this all all the time, that records were not perfectly kept.


They weren't perfectly kept in the eighteen hundreds. You know, there were trouble with them in the nineteen hundreds before that. There might have not even been any.


But there have also been a lot of records lost over the years, whether it's fires or wars or even just, you know, something boring like organizational failure.


But it's difficult to know exactly what was going on with her relationships at this time. However, there was also a man named Richard Quick Maham, and Richard does appear to have, in fact, existed. He can be found in some records and many believe that this may be the real name of her lover. You may notice that. Richard Quick man and John, quick, meaning some similarities there. This could have been another one of those cases where there's a whoopsie in the communication.


So soon, Marianne became pregnant by this man, Richard. That is not Joseph, who she is on record as having been involved with. Right.


She got married at this time as well, but she didn't marry Joseph or John or Robert or whatever her name is we can come up with.


She married George.


George Ward was an engineer.


And I am sad to say that he actually plays a very small role in this story.


They had no children and just a little more than one year after they had wed, George died after an illness and his primary symptoms, which by now we can all guess were intestinal problems.


Once again, Marianne collected insurance money from his death.


Yeah, if you're putting together a criminal a bingo card, you should probably make sure arsenic and intestinal issues are on there to make sure you're a winner.


Arsenic and vomiting after son Marion did get married again. Her third husband was a man named James Robinson, a widower whose wife had died and left him with young children to care for. James is a really interesting part of Marianne's story, and we're going to get into that in just a little bit. It started, though, their relationship when he hired her as a housekeeper. That was in November of 1866. And shortly after she was hired, one of his children, who was still just an infant, died in her care.


Devastated by the loss of his child, James turned to Marianne for comfort and the pair quickly became a couple.


So their romance was blossoming. But Maryann's. Mother became ill and it was probably with a hepatitis flare up, although it changed a little bit, most of the records suggest that that's what it could be.


And so Marianne traveled to be with her, to be her caregiver.


And despite having been on the mend for a few days before her daughter's arrival, just nine days after Maryann arrived, her mother died.


When Marianne returned home, things were pretty quiet for not very long at all, in fact, by the end of April 1867, three of James's children had died.


Despite all of that bad luck, though, Marianne and James got married that summer and their first child, a daughter named Margaret Isabella, was born that November. So she was a healthy baby, Margaret Isabella became ill, and by March, she, too had died. Miriam and James had a second child named George, and George was born in June of 1869.


So unlike her former husband, James, actually, and this is what we thought when we said he's an interesting character in her life and this is why he began to grow suspicious of Marianne and not just because of the number of deaths that seemed to surround her.


Marianne was adamant, and we say that with all caps that her husband take out a life insurance policy on himself.


But James pretty much flat out refused the request. And it wasn't just that she harped on him about that.


He had also found out that she had been forcing her stepchildren to pawn items from their home for cash.


So James wasn't having any of this and he asked Marianne to leave. He did. And a surprisingly great move for his son, retain custody of George and of the four husbands that she had. James is the only one who survived being married to Marianne.


Right. And we haven't talked about all of her husband. So we've gotten to the point where she moves to a fourth marriage. This was to a man named Frederick Cotten, desperate without a husband. Marion's friend, Margaret Court introduced Marianne to her brother, Frederick. Frederick was a recent widower as well. He had two children who were named Frederick Jr. and Charles Edward. And it was not long before Marion and Frederick Cotton were married.


But there was a small, big problem with Maryann's marriage to Frederick, though she was still actually legally married to her third husband, James, which makes this fourth marriage to Frederick an act of bigamy, which, as we all know, not legal, definitely.


I always find this to be an interesting aspect of her story because she is known publicly as Mary Anne Cotton. But that was the one last name that never legally was hers.


I know it's sort of kooky, but it's the last name she took, so I understand why it stuck. But yes.


So bigamy, though, was not the only thing that was complicating this this marriage. We're going to use air quotes when we say marriage to Frederick.


You'll recall earlier we mentioned a man named Joseph Nattrass, who was one of Marianne's lovers. She was in a relationship with him, women, you know, earlier in this episode. So shortly after she married Frederick Mary and learned that Joseph had become single again. And hearing about this, she convinced Frederick to move closer to where Joseph lived.


But the why of the move was most definitely not known to Frederick.


But they packed up and they went and then she secretly rekindled her old romance.


She stayed married to Frederick, but spoiler alert, not for a whole lot longer. Frederick, their infant son, Robert Frederick's child from a previous marriage, Frederick Jr. and Frederick, Sister Margaret, who had introduced them all, died very quickly and all from undetermined stomach ailments.


And then. Of course, right, Joseph then became ill with suspected typhoid fever, and he also died not long after Frederick had passed away.


And conveniently for Marianne, his death happened just after he revised his will in her favor.


Yeah, even though they were not married, right, but she got everything, she still got everything by 1870 to had lost an astonishing number of family members and close friends, 16, 16.


But there was one left, her seven year old stepson, Charles Edward, who just to help everybody keep track, was the son of her fourth husband, who she wasn't legally married to. Frederick, if it feels like this is the time for a flowchart, we concur. I completely agree.


There needs to be columns and colors right there between the branches. The. Is there more than when Charles is there?


I have I have to keep it all together so things get a little bit odd and suspicious at this part of the story. And I'm not suggesting that they weren't suspicious before now.


But then this happened.


Marianne went to a local workhouse and tried to give Charles this is Charles Edward to them. Yes, she did try to give away her stepchild, but they refused to take him to a workhouse.


If you happened to be wondering what that is in Victorian England, where houses were primarily we're poor and homeless, people worked for food and accommodation. Women usually had domestic jobs like sewing men did hard labor, such as stone breaking.


There's the people who live. There are also it could include people who were physically and mentally ill, those who were disabled, elderly people who had nowhere to go.


And additionally, unmarried mothers also lived in the workhouses. And so in general, though. These were not places that you really wanted to be, and there were also orphaned and abandoned children who lived there, if you kind of look around in history for very long, you'll find instances of families who were simply too poor to provide for their kids and would give them to workhouse. But no one ever wants to do that. Marianne did not come under suspicion until she showed up at a work house looking to be done with her stepson.


But there are actually two versions of the workhouse story that we want to get into here, right?


The first one goes like this. When asked if she, a recent widow, was planning to marry the man she was having a relationship with, Richard Quick man, she had gone back to him. If you recall, he was one of her lovers we mentioned earlier.


And she allegedly replied, and we quote this reply, It might be so, but the boy is in the way.


Perhaps it won't matter as I won't be troubled long.


It's a little ominous, a little bit a little bit suspicious. Gosh, it's like a day long, like an easy making.


I'll figure this out with your help or without it. The second version of this workout story goes like this, that the coroner in town asked Marianne to help care for a woman who was ill with smallpox.


She was, as you'll recall, trained as a nurse after all, at least for a while. But her response probably was not as he might have expected instead of a yes or no. She replied that if he wanted her to do this, she was going to have to commit her stepson to a workhouse first when the workhouse thing didn't work out either.


Whichever story you know, it's true or not, it didn't work out.


And for Charles ended up staying with Marianne and he died within five days.


So unlike the dozen or so deaths before him, Charles's death didn't go unnoticed. We were looking at multiple versions of what went down here. And there are two versions of this story about the death.


Yeah, it's the dovetail with like splitting realities. There are two versions of the workhouse part in two versions of what actually happened when Charles died. So in the first version, Charles's death seemed suspicious to the manager of the workhouse that Mary Ann had spoken with and he contacted the police. This is probably not the real version that happened, though, right?


You know, it's difficult to think that and it's hard to find sources that would suggest that, five, to you know, even a week later, the manager of the workhouse would even know that that happened but is out there.


So we want to address it. The second version is where the coroner, who was also a parish official, was suspicious of the child's death after Marianne's comment.


And he's the one who went to the police.


He also convinced the attending physician to delay writing a death certificate until the circumstances of the boy's death could be investigated.


And it's this version where we hear that Marianne also went to the insurance office and discovered that no money would be paid out to her for Charles's death until a death certificate was actually issued.


But regardless of which of these stories is the real deal, the story ends with the authorities concluding that Marijan had poisoned the boy and they also suspected that they knew how she had done it. With that magical star of the season, arsenic, arsenic.


So finally, after 20 years of mysterious deaths and probable poisonings, it was only after the death of her one stepson that finally the suspicion fell upon Marianne and the authorities were totally right.


We're going to take a quick break for Marion's story and we will hear from one of our sponsors. But when we return, we're going to dive into Marianne's trial. Welcome back from Analia, so let's get to talking about Maryanne's trial and her botched execution.


Arsenic was Marianne's weapon of choice, as it was for a lot of people who poisoned in Victorian England. As we have talked about throughout this entire season, arsenic was a very popular poison because it was both easy to administer and easily accessible. It's believed that Maryanne's method was to brew poison tea and serve it to her victims.


She was suspected of all of these poisonings, but at this point in her story, no one had actually performed any tests, taken any samples.


Nothing had happened yet.


And in the meantime, a local newspaper became interested in the story and they started their own investigation into Mariyam. And their stories inspired a doctor by the name of William Kilburn to do his own scientific investigation. He had actually attended to Charles when the boy was ill and he had taken and kept samples from his time with him. And when put to the test, Dr Kilburn confirmed that the samples from Charles's body contained arsenic. He took his results to the police and Marion was arrested and charged with murder.


So we talk a lot about women who have murdered many people, adults, children, doesn't matter, friends, family.


So there is this world where husbands and children can be poisoned without the attention of authorities.


But there are there are reasons. This was a time when there was a problem with substandard nutrition among working poor. There was a high infant mortality rate, which was just a fact of life at the time. And as we talked about before, let's not forget that the record keeping a little sketchy at this time as well.


Right? The the life expectancy was a little different. So when people died, it was tragic, but kind of a shrug in many ways.


Yes, it was it was a part of sort of daily life. In March 1873, Mary Ann Cotton was put on trial. The prosecution was led by Charles Russell. His team called several of Miriam's neighbors as witnesses. According to two local newspapers, The Halesworth Times in the East Suffolk Advertiser. These witnesses did not paint a flattering picture of Marianne Hummell.


Foster and his team were responsible for Marianne's defense.


Dr. Kilburn testified that he had found arsenic in Charles's body.


And interestingly, the defense team then asked the doctor about wallpaper in the boy's room.


And this actually isn't as weird as it sounds, because during this time, arsenic was used to make a lot of things green clothing, you know, any sort of fabrics, wallpaper, lots of things turn green because of arsenic.


And it was suggested by the defense that Charles had been poisoned by fumes from the wallpaper, but not by Marianne.


And Dr. Killorn discounted this whole proposition.


And he replied that not only were the walls in the boy's room not green, he thought that the idea of death by inhaling arsenic from your wallpaper was dubious at best.


Yeah, it's such an odd defense because it would bring up so many other questions. Well, why isn't anybody else sick?


That was. Yeah, it was so interesting.


Way to try to. Defend her. But going back to scientific evidence, it was not only Dr. Kilburn who found arsenic in Charles's body, a doctor at Leeds College of Medicine also tested samples and also concluded that the boy had died after being small but repeated doses of arsenic. He, too, suggested that death by Greenwall paper was highly unlikely.


Additionally, both doctors also reported that they noticed similar symptoms were reported in three other people who Marion was accused of murdering.


So let's get back to Maryanne for a second. So how is she holding up through all of this?


I mean, this is she's on trial for murder.


So local papers reported that she paid very close attention to the evidence that she occasionally smiled during her trial.


But mostly she had the demeanor that you'd expect from someone who was on trial for murder.


She appeared fearful. The trial lasted three days before the jury went out to deliberate, and it only took them about an hour before they returned, she was found guilty for the lethal poisoning of her fourth husband, son Charles Edward Cotton.


In the court of public opinion, though, she was convicted of many, many more killings.


Many say, though, she was never put to trial for any of these murders, she was held responsible for the lethal poisonings.


And this is a list. Eleven of her children, three of her four husbands, one lover, one friend and her mother, and in almost every instance.


In fact, I think it's the I think it's only Frederick's sister, Margaret, that this doesn't hold true for Mary.


Collective life insurance on every single one of them. An interesting note about the man Marion did not poison, she didn't kill her third husband, James Robinson, who seems to have survived because if you recall from earlier, he refused to take out a life insurance policy on himself and in regard to her children to survive. Her daughter, Margaret Edith's quick Manning, who was born while Marion was in jail awaiting trial, survived, although we don't actually really know what became of her after her birth.


And her son George, from her marriage to James Robinson, survived, almost certainly because James kept custody of him while waiting for her execution.


Marion did give a final statement, and included in that statement she claimed something very interesting.


She claimed that although she had indeed administered the arsenic, she had not done so intentionally.


You know you know, everybody's innocent until the very end.


Was she like I just kept accidentally putting it in everybody's drinks. I don't know what I thought I was doing. I honestly had trouble with that.


I was like, how can she not know what? I didn't do it on purpose. I did it because I thought it was sugar. I don't did it.


Yeah, I just did it. So on March 24th, 1873, at the age of 40, Marion was hanged at Durham County Jail.


Her execution was really well publicized and there were as many as 50 people who came as spectators just to watch it happen.


It's an afternoon program. So her execution, however, did not go as planned. And this is really grim. So bear bear with us on this.


It sure I promised the hangman is the person who calculates the distance required to break the prisoner's neck. So it's based on the prisoner's weight, their height, just sort of their general build.


But this day and this hangman misjudged the drop distance.


And instead of breaking the prisoner's neck, Mary actually died of a slow choking death instead.


And Marianne, it seems, has a bit of a legacy. It did not take long for Madame Tussauds to decide to include Miriam in the Chamber of Horrors area of the Wax Museum, where the wax figures of other prominent murderers from history were on display. And this is what the exhibition catalogue stated about Miriam.


And this is a quote, the series of cold blooded murders for which this wretch was hanged on the morning of Monday, March 24th, 1873, are crimes against which no punishment in history can atone for the child she rocked on her knee today was poisoned tomorrow.


Most of her murders were committed for petty gains, and she killed husbands and children with the unconcern of a farm girl killing poultry.


The story of her crimes is still fresh in the public mind.


And that's the end of the quote.


And today, and actually this has been the case since 1972. You can see Marianne's small black Wedgwood teapot said to be the one in which she brewed her arsenic laced teas, and that is at the Beamish Museum in the United Kingdom. So we're going to the British Museum.


Yes. As soon as possible. Right. As soon as we don't have to wear masks anymore, which I totally want to do a poison to her.


Good. The good stories.


Absolutely. Like early on in the season, we had a woman named Tilly Klimek, and you can still go to her house. I want to go to her house, but I got to get to Chicago.


So let's end Marianne's story with a little bit of, curiously, a nursery rhyme.


It was written shortly after her execution and dedicated to her Mary Cotton. She's dead and she's rotten, lying in bed with her eyes wide open thinking, Oh, what should I sing? It goes on, but I won't.


Oh, very Maryanne's poison Holly with arsenic, but let's please say that yours is not. Not today, OK, maybe tomorrow. Yeah.


So for this edition of What's Your Poison, I always when I'm trying to come up with something, I think about pieces of the story that for some reason or another stick in my head. And in the instance of Mary and the things that really just stuck with me were James Robinson, who thankfully had the wisdom to get out of that situation. Gosh, right.


You know that man and saving his child. Right. He's the highlight of this whole story. He is.


There's not a lot to be, like, giggly about right at all. And also the teapot. And so I thought it would be nice to make a warm tea dedicated to James that we're going to call the one that got away.


I love this. And I don't even know what goes in it yet. Oh, it's very simple and yummy. You can make it without the alcohol. It's another one of those. And you can you can switch up the nature of how you serve it if you want. So in a saucepan, first of all, make your cup of tea however you like. Like a black tea. Now then I'm sorry. Should it be a black to your could you use like an herbal.


Would you prefer a black on this one.


I think you're going to want a black tea on this one. You could do in herbal, but I think it's going to be overwhelmed by other flavors. That's what I wondered. Yeah.


So while you're brewing your tea in a small saucepan, you're also going to take a half cup of milk. I used oat milk. You can use whatever kind you like, a quarter cup of heavy cream.


An ounce of maple syrup and then just a dash of cinnamon, and you're just going to let that start to bubble around the edges, you don't want it to boil over and get a skin makes to make sure it's warm, very like the lowest low simmer so that your ingredients are combining.


You know, cinnamon is never going to dissolve completely, but it will clump up for a while before it gets warm enough to really disperse through the whole thing pretty evenly. So once that is done and you've got your tea in this milk concoction, you're going to put an ounce and a half of bourbon in your cup, pour in your tea and then pour in this maple milk with cinnamon. You can sweeten it more if you like, and you can drink it as it is hot, but you can also put it over ice like you can either let it cool first or you can do that thing where you transfer it back and forth in vessels with ice that it cools more quickly.


And it is very delicious. Cold, I must say.


Throw a cinnamon stick in that and don't tell people it was inspired by poison and tell them it's like your your yummy Thanksgiving, you know, post dinner cocktail or take the bourbon out and give it to your son George.




Without the bourbon, it's still secret because it's a maple cinnamon latte made with tea basically at that point.


And again, I also want to make sure I stress because, you know, I like everybody to customize everything to the way they like it.


You can use as much or as little of that milk mixture as you wish. I like, you know, one party, one part, the milk mixture, because I do like things to be very much in that latte space where there's a lot of dairy.


But if you want to lean more heavily on the the tea or the milk, you totally do it. It sounds delicious. Bourbon. And I'm going to need to make it because it sounds very holiday ish and I'm feeling very holiday ish.


So maybe this one is going to have to happen. Yes. Thank you once again for joining us today and spending this time with us. And we cannot wait to meet you back here next week for another poison story.


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