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9 Jun 2012

News to Novels #20

Today's trip to the York Dungeon had me curious about other horrible histories of England.  I've been searching the internet and digging into the past on any creepy characters and terrifying tales that could make for an interesting novel.

She poisoned 21 people including her own mother, children and husbands. So why has no-one heard of Britain's FIRST serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton?
I pull up outside a house in the Durham mining village of West Auckland to find an anonymous-looking place: a slim, three-storey family home distinguished from its neighbours only by its pretty, blue-grey paint. There are no clues as to its gruesome past. Even its original house number has been changed, perhaps from fear that the evil that was perpetrated here could pass down through successive generations of residents. This is the home in which Britain’s first serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton, claimed her final victim. It is the house in which she was arrested and then taken away to be incarcerated, before eventually being executed at Durham Jail in March 1873.

Lady Highwaymen
Two women of the road who used the reverse disguise, dressing as men, were Mary Frith and Lady Caroline Ferrers.

Jonathan Wild
Jonathan Wild was a London magistrate and the most renowned thief taker in the land. He had a system though, and a thoroughly corrupt one too. Wild controlled an enormous syndicate of organised thieves. Those which had returned from the colonies for prior crimes were in a difficult position, work-wise. Jonathan Wild would recruit them and once they'd dabbled in criminal activity, he had them over a barrel. As former convicts they would be unable to give evidence against him in court, leaving him free to openly blackmail them. His protection racket operated under the legitimate umbrella of his social standing in the community - the upright citizen, the businessman, the magistrate. Wild attempted to become a freeman of the City of London (but failed) and was often seen patrolling the streets carrying a short silver staff as a badge of authority.

Thomas Neill Cream
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Thomas Neill Cream emigrated to Canada when he was four years old. Moving to America, he qualified as a doctor. In 1881 he was jailed for life in Chicago after having been convicted of killing Daniel Stott, his mistress’s husband, with strychnine. Stott’s gravestone inscription reads, “Daniel Stott Died June 12, 1881 Aged 61 Years Poisoned By His Wife & Cream”.


  1. Did you come across anything that indicates motive for these people's crimes--especially Mary Ann Cotton? Poisoning is a very deliberate, premeditated crime (unless she was an exceptionally bad cook)--not like murdering with a knife, which could be done in an irrational moment of insanity. Why would she want to poison 21 people? The door of speculation hangs open, waiting for the daring writer to step in... :D

  2. I have heard about Mary Ann Cotton. Scary woman. She cashed in on life insurance policies, so her motive could've been money, money, money. With a healthy dose of criminal insanity too.

  3. I watched a really interesting programme called Martina Cole's Lady Killers, and they had an episode about Mary Ann Cotton - she was EVIL. Great Post x