October 6, 1909
Fremantle, Western Australia
Martha Rendell becomes the last woman executed in Western Australia
Rendell was convicted of killing her de-facto (common law) husband’s 14-year-old son, Arthur Morris. Arthur’s sisters, Annie (7) and Olive (5), also died under suspicious circumstances and were suspected to have been murdered by Rendell as well. Doctors at the time ruled the children had died of diphtheria, and Rendell claimed to have treated the children by rubbing a cotton swab soaked in medicine on their throats. It was alleged later that Rendell had applied hydrochloric acid to their throats which would cause inflammation and prevent them from eating, until the children effectively starved to death.
Rendell worked her way from the youngest child to the oldest. After Arthur was killed, Rendell turned her attention to the youngest surviving child, George Morris, who began suffering from a sore throat a few months after Arthur’s death. Rendell rubbed syrup on George’s tonsils, which frightened him. He ran to his mother’s house where he remained until neighbors grew concerned at his disappearance and contacted police. When an inspector located him, George claimed he had run away because his stepmother had killed his siblings and tried to kill him as well. During further investigation, it was revealed Rendell had a long history of abusing her stepchildren, and had been purchasing large quantities of spirits of salt (hydrochloric acid) for some time, and abruptly stopped after Arthur’s death. These factors led to Rendell’s arrest and eventual conviction.
Rendell and the children’s father, Thomas Morris, were both arrested and tried, though Thomas was acquitted. Rendell was executed a year to the day of Arthur’s death.