Convicted of murder, Martha was one of four women hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol, Australia, her headstone moved and reused in a wall to help with beach erosion in the 1930’s.
The Children Fade Before Their eyes...
To the outside world they seemed a happy well matched couple but with the births of their three children, Mabel 1882, Elsy 1883 and May 1886, things changed and Martha was noticed more often than not to venture outside the home unaccompanied by her husband.
Mabel was the first to perish at the hands of Martha. Mabel had been suffering from fever, vomiting and stomach spasm for a short period of time.
Henry passed on the 4th October 1889. Elsie suffered for three weeks with gangrenous stomatitis and exhaustion and died on the 9th December 1890 aged six years. Little May soon followed and passed away on the 27th August 1891 with suspected tubercular meningitis.
Martha received approximately 120pounds in life insurance for these family deaths. The majority of this money was used for an elaborate family grave which Martha would often visit.
More Death, Arrest and Execution
Louis fell ill for around two weeks on the 18th August 1893 before consenting to the marriage between his brother and Martha and had a miraculous recovery. He fell ill again in April 1894 and a family member came to aid him back to health, but once she left, he went down hill fast. He had violent vomiting fits after unknowingly consuming 'Rough on Rats' in his breakfast served by Martha. He died May 15th.
Louis and Otto's brother Hermann arrived with their mother to settle Louis' estate and more importantly, contest the relationship between Otto and Martha. Needless to say it wasn't long until Hermann became ill. The treating Doctor had sense enough to have a sample of Hermann's vomit forensically tested and the results revealed arsenic poisoning.
Hermann and detectives laid a trap for Martha with Hermann as the bait. Hermann waited until Matha served him a cup of tea then he blew a whistle sending a barrage of police into the kitchen where they found Martha trying to tip the contents of the cup on the floor. The cup contained 10 grains of arsenic.
"The prisoner received the death sentence with extraodinary calmness. She walked out the dock unassisted, with firm step and unblanched face"
Martha was executed at Old Melbourne Gaol by hanging at 0800hrs on the 22nd October 1894, aged 30. Her motives were never revealed but her insanity was evident. Otto stuck by her side and in her defence stated that "she didn't know what she was doing".
Martha was one of only four women hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol. The others were Elizabeth Scott (1863), Frances Knorr (1894) and Emma Williams (1895).
A century after Martha's crimes her neighbourhood became notorious all over again. The Pettingill family were a well known crime family with drug trafficing, drug dealing, assult, rape and armed robbery listed as convictions. Eldest son Allen (aka Dr Death) was alleged to have ordered the deaths, or committed the murders himself, of 15 people. Two other sons were tried and acquitted of the Walsh Street Police killings.
Murder runs in the family. Martha had an older sister Ellen. The article below details what happened with Matha’s nephew, Ellen's son, Alexander Newland Lee, after being found guilty of murdering Muriel his wife and their three children by poisoning them with strychnine.
The “Register” of July 16, 1920, reported:
“LEE HANGED - The condemned man Alexander Newland Lee who was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife and three children was hanged at the Adelaide Gaol at 8 o’clock on Thursday morning. The Rev. W.H. Stanton [Lee’s spiritual adviser] said that the doomed man made no statement. The execution was entirely of a private nature, and only officials required to attend were present. Death was instantaneous. Lee maintained a calm demeanour to the end. He walked erect to the drop, turned to a warder and exclaimed “Good-bye Jim.” He met his death unflinchingly."
Put together by Ashley Hall 2013