Posted: August 4, 2013 in Historic Interest
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Mary Ann Ansell, eighteen, a domestic servant, was executed in St. Alban’s Gaol on Wednesday morning for murdering her sister Caroline, an inmate of Leavesden Asylum. Watford, by means of a poisoned cake conveyed to deceased through the post in September last. Prisoner insured her sister’s life for £22 odd, and after Caroline’s death last March Mary Ann applied for the insurance money, which was refused. Inquiries were made into the circumstances of the girl’s death, and the result was that Mary Ann was arrested. She was found guilty, and Mr. Justice Mathew said never in the course of his experience had he had the misfortune to try a case in which so cold-blooded and revolting a crime had been committed to obtain so miserable an end. A largely signed petition was presented to the Home Secretary last week praying for a reprieve, but the Secretary of State intimated his inability to interfere with the course of the law. A petition on Tuesday night, signed by 100 M.P.’s, praying for a postponement of the execution was also ineffectual. The execution was private, and the prison officials are very reticent, but the Press Association representative learns that the details were carried out in a satisfactory manner by Billington. The condemned girl seemed scarcely to realise even up to the last that she would be hanged, and, though assured that all hope of a reprieve was useless, she held tenaciously to the belief that one would be granted. It was only when the procession to the scaffold was actually formed that her last hope vanished, and she was in a condition of collapse when the bolt fell and she was launched into eternity. During the period which elapsed between the death sentence and the execution Ansell bore up remarkably well, and received the ministrations of the chaplain with great attention. Her health was maintained, but she was naturally very much distressed by the painful interviews which she had with her parents, who on Tuesday took a final farewell of her. Her earnest pleading to both of them for forgiveness, and the bestowal of that forgiveness by her father and mother, were pathetic incidents in a painful scene. On behalf of the prison chaplain, it is stated that the alleged interview with him was the result of a few words spoken to a reporter and amplified beyond recognition. The police-court commission was interviewed on Wednesday morning by the Press Association correspondent. He had opportunities of conversation with Mary Ansell before the death sentence was passed, and, though reluctant to speak, he at length did so, as he said, in the interests of truth. “Candidly,” he said, “I do not think she was insane. In all my dealings with her I have come to the conclusion that her demeanour was more sullen than anything else. I have seen the parents, and the father emphatically denies there is insanity in the family.” As to the murdered sister Caroline, the father said to the commissioner, “She was as right as you are until her brother was killed, and she then fretted so much that her mind gave way.”


The inquest on the body of Mary Ansell was held at ten o’clock within the gaol. The chief warder having given the usual formal testimony, the Coroner observed, “I suppose everything was carried out in a satisfactory manner?’ to which the witness replied, “Yes, it was.” A Juryman: Was death instantaneous? Witness: It was. There was not a movement of any kind. The Medical Officer said that death was due to dislocation of the vertebral column. Death was instantaneous, there being no movement or struggle of any kind. Councillor Samuel (another of the jurors): What has been her conduct or demeanour during her incarceration? The Coroner: That is scarcely within the purview of this inquest. Councillor Samuel: I am sorry I asked the question. The Coroner then summed up, and the jury returned the customary verdict in such cases.


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