Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mary Ann Cotton, Britain's FIRST serial killer, She poisoned 21 people including her own mother, children and husbands

I pull up outside a house in the Durham mining village of West Auckland to find an anonymous-looking place: a slim, three-storey family home distinguished from its neighbours only by its pretty, blue-grey paint.

There are no clues as to its gruesome past. Even its original house number has been changed, perhaps from fear that the evil that was perpetrated here could pass down through successive generations of residents.

This is the home in which Britain’s first serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton, claimed her final victim. It is the house in which she was arrested and then taken away to be incarcerated, before eventually being executed at Durham Jail in March 1873.

Few have heard of the so-called ‘Black Widow’ killer who posed as a wife, widow, mother, friend and nurse to murder perhaps as many as 21 victims, living off her husbands before eventually claiming their estates. Two decades before Jack the Ripper would terrorise the streets of Whitechapel in London, Mary Ann Cotton had already become a killing machine, perhaps murdering as many as eight of her own children, seven stepchildren, her mother, three husbands, a lover – and an inconvenient friend.

Even crime aficionados, those familiar with such names as Shipman, Nilsen, Sutcliffe and West, know little or nothing of her. She has been largely erased from history and remains today only a half-remembered local curiosity even in her native North East. Read More