Mary is a legend, and her name is often used if children do not behave. Parents would tell their children they would set granny Mary on them.
Mary, who is known as the Merry Widow of Windy Hook, was born in Catchgate, Stanley Durham. Little information is available before her first marriage.
She was in the employment of the Knowles family and befriended John Knowles, the son of her employer. Mary and John began a relationship and soon afterward in November 1914, they got married. They moved into a house in Windy Hook, Gateshead.
John Russell was a lodger in the house of John and Mary. Mary did not waste time to start an affair with John Russell. In 1955, her husband died, and after five months she married John Russell.
In 1956, John Russell died. The doctor declared both deaths as natural causes, and she inherited 42 pounds from both men.
In June 1957, at the age of 64, she married a retired estate agent Oliver Leonard. Twelve days into the marriage Oliver fell ill and died the next morning. A local doctor confirmed Oliver died from heart failure at the age of 75. Mary inherited 50 pounds from Oliver.
Mary’s next husband was Ernest Wilson, a retired engineer. Ernest was wealthy, with life insurance, a bungalow, and his estate was worth 100 pounds.
At the reception of her marriage to Ernest, Mary jokingly said the leftover sandwiches and cake would still be fresh to use in the next funeral. She also told the local registrar that they should be giving her discount for all the business when she took in records to register her husband’s death. After the marriage to Ernest, she moved into the bungalow which he owned. Within a year of marriage, Ernest died. She did not even attend his funeral.
The Cheerfull Serial Killer is caught
By now she was hot gossip in town. All her husbands died in quick succession after marrying her. The people of the town also talked about, her cheerful attitude when her husbands died. All this talk and her jokes made the police suspicious.
The investigators exhumed Oliver, and Ernest’s bodies and tests confirmed high levels of phosphorus, upon this information the police arrested Mary and charged her with murder.
At her trial, her defense argued there was little known about phosphorus poising, and the men could have ingested the poison through sexual stimulation pills, which contained phosphorus. The prosecutors struggled to find a motive but, the jury came back with a guilty verdict.
Mary was found guilty in 1958, on the murders of Oliver and Ernest and was sentenced to death. She was the last woman to receive the death sentence in Durham. Due to her age, she was granted clemency and was sent to Holloway Women’s Prison for a life sentence.
In later years John Knowles and John Russell’s bodies were exhumed, and both of their bodies contained beetle poison. As Mary already had a life sentence, it unnecessary for another trial.
She died at the age of 70. She served four and a half years of her prison sentence.