Born in 1885, by the age of 40, Martha Wise was an impoverished widow, living alone on a farm near Medina, Ohio. She fell in love with Walter Johns, a man much younger than herself, but members of her family were blunt in their denunciation of the May-October romance, heaping ridicule on Martha for her “cradle-robbing.”
Furious at her mother’s nagging, Martha Wise poisoned the old lady on New Year’s Day 1925, waiting a month before she silenced her uncle and aunt, Fred and Lily Geinke, with a double dose of arsenic. Her efforts to annihilate the Geinke family in a single stroke however were futile, as other members of the clan recovered from the grievous illness after several days of near death. They took their suspicions to the local prosecutor.
Under questioning, Martha Wise confessed to the three murders, but said, “It was the devil who told me to do it. He came to me while I was in the kitchen baking bread. He came to me while I was working in the fields. He followed me everywhere.” She also cleared the books on other felonies, with her confessing to a string of burglaries and arson incidents. “I like fires,” she explained. “They were red and bright and I loved to see the flames shooting up into the sky.” At Martha’s trial, sensational reports described her as the “Borgia of America.”
The Trial of Martha Wise
Despite her confession, Martha Wise pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering Lily Gienke in front of a grand jury on March 23, 1925. She told the grand jury that she was irresistibly attracted to attending funerals, and that when there were not enough funerals in the community, she was driven to create them by killing. Martha Wise was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder on April 7, 1925.
Wise’s trial for murder began on May 4, 1925. She was represented by Joseph Pritchard and prosecuted by Joseph Seymour. Defense claims included that Martha Wise was criminally insane and that she was ordered to commit the murders by her former lover, Walter Johns. A number of setbacks plagued the defense, including the May 6th suicide of Wise’s sister-in-law, Edith Hasel, and the subsequent collapse of her husband Fred Hasel, both of whom had been prepared to testify for the defense; the recantation of testimony by a man named Frank Metzger, who told the prosecution on cross-examination that the defense had asked him to perjure himself to support claims that Wise was insane; and Wise’s choice to take the stand on her own behalf. Family members including Wise’s son, Lester, and three of the Gienkes’ children testified against her.
After one hour of jury deliberation, Martha Wise was found guilty of first-degree murder. The jury urged mercy in sentencing, and the judge sentenced Wise to a life sentence in prison, under the terms of which she could only be freed by executive clemency.
In 1962, as a result of Wise’s good behavior in prison, Ohio governor Michael DiSalle commuted Wise’s sentence to second-degree murder and she was paroled at age 79. Wise’s remaining family refused to take her in, and a number of rest homes for the elderly similarly declined her residency. Within three days Martha Wise returned to prison, lacking anywhere else to go. Her parole and the commutation of her sentence were revoked. Martha Wise died in prison on June 28, 1971.
credit murderpedia / Michael Newton – An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers / wikipedia