Martha Wise

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Martha Wise
BornMartha Hasel
1884
Hardscrabble, Ohio
DiedJune 28, 1971(1971-06-28)
Ohio
Cause of deathNatural causes
Criminal penaltyLife
Conviction(s)First-degree murder of Lily Gienke
Killings
Span of killings1924–1925
CountryUnited states
State(s)Ohio
Killed3
Injured14
Weapon(s)Arsenic
Date apprehended1925
 
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Martha Wise
BornMartha Hasel
1884
Hardscrabble, Ohio
DiedJune 28, 1971(1971-06-28)
Ohio
Cause of deathNatural causes
Criminal penaltyLife
Conviction(s)First-degree murder of Lily Gienke
Killings
Span of killings1924–1925
CountryUnited states
State(s)Ohio
Killed3
Injured14
Weapon(s)Arsenic
Date apprehended1925

Martha Wise (1884 – June 28, 1971), born Martha Hasel, was an American poisoner. After her husband died and her family forced her to end a relationship with a new lover, Wise retaliated by poisoning seventeen family members, of whom three died, in 1924. She was convicted of one of the murders, despite defense claims that she was mentally ill and that her lover had ordered her to poison her family. The case is considered one of the most sensational of the era in Ohio, where it occurred.[1]

Early life[edit]

Wise was born in 1884 to Sophie Hasel and her husband,[note 1] farmers in Hardscrabble, a town in Medina County, Ohio.[2] Three brothers and a sister were also born to the family,[1] although contemporary sources name only one, a brother named Fred.[3] In 1906, Martha Hasel met the substantially older Albert Wise at a box social;[2] the two were married, though Wise neglected to give her a wedding ring.[4]

The marriage was not happy. Martha moved onto Albert's 50-acre (20 ha) farm, but quickly discovered that he expected a farmhand more than a wife, and life was no less poor as a married woman than it had been when she lived with her parents. Even when pregnant, she was forced to do farm work that was generally male-oriented (such as plowing fields[2] and slopping hogs[4]) as well as the usual household chores of baking and cleaning. The couple's first child, Albert, did not survive infancy; four others, Everett, Gertrude, Kenneth, and Lester, did.[2]

Wise's main source of diversion during this period was funerals; she seldom missed a visit to any funeral held in or near the town, whether she had known the deceased or not. When questioned, she simply said that she liked funerals.[2] Albert Wise died suddenly in 1923, leaving his wife a 40-year-old widow with four children. Her odd behavior and fixation on funerals became more noticeable,[2] and she began not only attending funerals, but openly crying and lamenting at them, no matter who had died.[4]

Deaths[edit]

Within a year of Albert Wise's death, Martha Wise, though not considered a particularly good or attractive catch, found new male companionship in the form of Walter Johns, who worked as a farmhand on property adjacent to her farm. The relationship was frowned upon by Wise's family, and both Wise's mother, Sophie Hasel,[2] and her aunt, Lily Gienke,[1] made no secret of their desire for Wise to end the relationship. By the end of 1924, Wise had acquiesced, and the relationship ended.[2] Johns moved to Cleveland and the couple lost contact.[4]

On Thanksgiving evening, 1924, several members of the family, including Sophie Hasel, fell ill with a severe stomach ailment. The others recovered shortly, but Hasel's illness worsened, and she died on December 13, 1924.[2]

New Year's Eve of 1925 brought more illness. Wise's uncle Fred Gienke, his wife, Lily, and several of their children all began suffering stomach pains similar to those Hasel had experienced before her death. Several family members were hospitalized, and Lily and Fred were both dead by February 1925.[2] In total, seventeen relatives were taken ill with similar symptoms in the fall and winter of 1924/1925.[5] Four of the Gienke children were left partially paralyzed from the mysterious illness.[6]

Investigation[edit]

It was the devil who told me to do it. He came to me while I was in the kitchen baking bread. He came to me while I was working in the fields. He followed me everywhere.

Martha Wise[6]

After the deaths of the Gienkes, authorities began to investigate the cluster of deaths.[note 2] The county sheriff, Fred Roshon, soon discovered that Martha Wise had signed at a local drug store for a series of purchases of large quantities of arsenic. An autopsy on Lily Gienke confirmed the presence of arsenic in her digestive tract. Brought in for questioning by the sheriff, Wise at first claimed she had obtained the arsenic to kill rats, but eventually confessed that she had used it to poison family members by putting it in water buckets and coffee pots the family drank out of.[2]

Trial[edit]

Despite her confession, Wise pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering Lily Gienke in front of a grand jury on March 23, 1925.[7] She told the grand jury that she was irresistibly attracted to attending funerals, and that when there were not enough funerals in the community, she was driven to create them by killing. Wise was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder on April 7, 1925.[8]

Wise's trial for murder began on May 4, 1925.[2] She was represented by Joseph Pritchard and prosecuted by Joseph Seymour.[3] Defense claims included that Wise was criminally insane[9] and that she was ordered to commit the murders by her former lover, Walter Johns.[10] A number of setbacks plagued the defense, including the May 6 suicide of Wise's sister-in-law, Edith Hasel, and the subsequent collapse of her husband Fred Hasel, both of whom had been prepared to testify for the defense; the recantation of testimony by a man named Frank Metzger, who told the prosecution on cross-examination that the defense had asked him to perjure himself to support claims that Wise was insane; and Wise's choice to take the stand on her own behalf.[3] Family members including Wise's son, Lester, and three of the Gienkes' children testified against her.[2]

After one hour of jury deliberation, Wise was found guilty of first-degree murder.[2] The jury urged mercy in sentencing, and the judge sentenced Wise to a life sentence in prison, under the terms of which she could only be freed by executive clemency.[4]

Later life[edit]

In 1962, as a result of Wise's good behavior in prison, Ohio governor Michael DiSalle commuted Wise's sentence to second-degree murder and she was paroled at age 79. Wise's remaining family refused to take her in, and a number of rest homes for the elderly similarly declined her residency; within three days Wise returned to prison, lacking anywhere else to go. Her parole and the commutation of her sentence were revoked.[1] Wise died in prison on June 28, 1971.[2]

In media[edit]

Wise was featured in a 1930 Toledo News-Bee article series profiling "[w]omen who are paying the price for folly, women who gambled against society and lost".[4] A 1962 issue of the St. Joseph Gazette called the Wise case "one of Ohio's most publicized crimes of the era",[1] and she has been labeled the "poison widow of Hardscrabble"[9][2] and a "poison fiend".[3]

Wise's case was covered in a 2008 episode of the Investigation Discovery network series Deadly Women.[11]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sources name the mother, but provide only the last name "Hasel" for the father.
  2. ^ Sources disagree on what triggered the investigation; the New York Daily News claims a series of unexplained fires raised suspicions, while the Daily Mirror cites reports of foul play by recovered victims of Wise's poisonings.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Unwanted Woman Back to Jail Where She Has Spent 37 years". St. Joseph Gazette. UPI. Feb 03, 1962. p. 11. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "The Poison Widow of Hardscrabble". New York Daily News. Oct 07, 2007. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Curse of Fate Follows Poison Fiend to Court". The Evening Independent. United News. May 9, 1925. p. 19. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Morrow, Walter (Nov 19, 1930). "Weeping Martha Wise Sobs Over her Three Murders". The Toledo News-Bee. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Trial Waits while Victim is Buried". The Border Cities Star. May 9, 1925. p. 16. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Arsenic for all who insulted her looks; THE BORGIA OF AMERICA.". Daily Mirror (via Highbeam Research). Mar 17, 2012. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Pleads Not Guilty to Poisoning 17". The Border Cities Star (Medina, Ohio). Mar 23, 1925. p. 10. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  8. ^ United News (April 8, 1925). "Woman Poisoned 17 to Satisfy her Love of Funerals". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 3. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "To Prove Insanity State will Call Mrs. Wise for Own Evidence". The Border Cities Star (Medina, Ohio). May 7, 1925. p. 16. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  10. ^ "May Try Another for Poison Plot". The Evening Independent (Columbus, Ohio). United News. May 15, 1925. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  11. ^ Directed by John Mavety, written by Paul Hawker (Oct 16, 2008). "Fatal Attraction". Deadly Women. Season 2. Investigation Discovery.