October 22, 1894
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Martha Needle is executed for the murder of her fiancé’s brother, though she was suspected of killing 4 members of her family as well
The first suspected victim of Martha’s poisoning spree was her 3-year-old daughter Mabel, who died in February of 1885. Four years later, in October 1889, Mabel’s father Henry died suddenly as well. Within a year and a half, Martha’s remaining daughters, 6-year-old Elsie and 4-year-old May, would also be dead.
In 1892, Martha took a housekeeping position for brothers Otto and Louis Juncken. Martha and Otto soon became engaged; Louis disapproved. He didn’t disapprove very long, however, as he died of a sudden illness in May of 1894.
When the third Juncken brother, Hermann, became violently ill the same year, his doctor suspected poisoning and tested his vomit. Arsenic was found, and a sting operation was formed. Hermann allowed Martha to nurse him to health, as she had dutifully done with her husband, three children, and would-be future brother-in-law. After Martha served Louis a bitter tea, Hermann blew a whistle which was the designated signal to waiting police officers. Martha was arrested and the tea tested, confirming arsenic poisoning.
The bodies of Martha’s suspected victims were exhumed and each — except one of her daughters — tested positive for fatal levels arsenic. It was discovered Martha had been putting rat poison in the drinks of her family whom she would attempt to nurse back to health. At the time, Münchausen syndrome by proxy (the mental health condition in which a person gains satisfaction by causing and treating health concerns of those in their care) was unknown, and the motive behind Martha’s poisonings were a mystery. The Age reported of the lack of motive and added, “Usually the female poisoner is either moved by some unhallowed sexual passion or she is actuated by greed.”
Martha was hanged at the age of 30 without leaving a final statement.
“‘Mentally ill or clever and calculating?’: The thrilling story of Aussie woman who poisoned her entire family.” News Corp Australia. June 2, 2019. Accessed: October 22, 2019. https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/mentally-ill-or-clever-and-calculating-the-thrilling-story-of-aussie-woman-who-poisoned-her-entire-family/news-story/929c1a55323b325bd71fefddd4d3251c
“The Will of Martha Needle.” The Age. November 22, 1894
“The Richmond Poison Case.” The Age [Melbourne, Victoria]. September 28, 1894