The Borgia of America
An American Killer
Crime Spree: December 12, 1924 / February 1925
Martha Wise was born Martha Hasel in 1884. She was born into a poor farming family and carried herself as such. She was as unattractive as she was dull and had little else going for her when it came to finding a husband.
Martha also had an odd hobby. Attending funerals, whether she knew the deceased or the wailing bereaved relatives. It didn’t matter. She loved having sad people around her and hearing the weeping of the mourners.
In 1906, Martha attended a Hardscrabble “box social,” a local tradition in which young ladies demonstrate their culinary talents for potential husbands. Martha’s chicken sandwiches impressed an older man, Albert Wise, enough that he started courting her and soon proposed. The two were quickly married and Martha was moved onto Albert’s 50 acre farm.
It did not take Martha long to realize her role on that farm either. It became quickly evident that her new husband expected a farmhand more than he needed a wife. Her life became no easier and certainly no richer than it had been when she lived with her parents.
Even when pregnant, Martha was forced to do male-oriented farm work that included plowing fields and slopping hogs. And, as well, she was still expected to do the usual household chores of baking, cooking and cleaning. Not to mention all the funerals she of course looked forward to attending.
The couple did have five children, with the first not surviving infancy.
Albert Wise died suddenly in 1923, leaving his wife a 40-year-old widow with four children. Her odd fixation on funerals became more noticeable and now she openly shared in the crying and lamenting, no matter who had died.
Within a year of Albert’s death, Martha Wise found herself a new male companion in the form of Walter Johns. Walter worked as a farmhand on property adjacent to her own farm and was quite a bit younger than herself. The relationship however was frowned upon by Martha’s family. Sophie Hasel, Martha’s mother, and her aunt, Lily Gienke, made no secret of their disgust with the relationship and badgered Martha until she finally ended the romance. By the end of 1924 Walter Johns had moved to Cleveland, Ohio and the couple lost contact.
On Thanksgiving evening in 1924, several members of the family, including Sophie Hasel, fell ill with a severe stomach ailment. The others recovered shortly, but Sophie’s illness steadily worsened. She died on December 13, 1924.
New Year’s Eve of 1925 brought more illness. Martha Wise’s uncle Fred Gienke, his wife, Lily, and several of their children all began suffering stomach pains similar to those Sophie Hasel had experienced before her death. Several family members were hospitalized but Lily and Fred were both dead by February of that year. In total, seventeen relatives were taken ill with similar symptoms in the fall and winter of 1924/1925. Four of the Gienke children were left partially paralyzed from the mysterious illness.
After the deaths of the Gienkes, authorities began to investigate the cluster of deaths that surrounded Martha Wise’s family members. The county sheriff soon discovered that Martha Wise had signed at a local drug store for a large quantities of arsenic. An autopsy on Lily Gienke confirmed the presence of arsenic in her digestive tract. Brought in for questioning by the sheriff, Martha at first claimed she had obtained the arsenic to kill rats, but eventually confessed that she had used it to poison family members by putting it in water buckets and coffee pots the family drank out of.
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The Funeral Hobbyist
The Funeral Hobbyist is the story of Martha Hasel Wise. Martha Wise was an American serial killer in the 1920’s in the state of Ohio. When, as a middle aged widower, her family ridiculed her over a new relationship with a much younger man, and finally badgered her into ending it, Martha Wise retaliated by poisoning seventeen members of her family. Three of those family members died. When she was eventually arrested she claimed that the devil made her do it. Newspapers of the day described her as the “Borgia of America.” and it was one of the most sensational trials of the era in Ohio. (amazon excerpt in part) 4 Star Rating
Despite her confession, Martha 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. Martha Wise was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder on April 7, 1925.
Martha’s trial began on May 4, 1925. Defense claimed that Wise was criminally insane and that she was ordered to commit the murders by her former lover, Walter Johns. Family members including Wise’s own son, Lester, and three of the Gienkes’ children testified against her.
After only one hour of jury deliberation, Martha Wise was found guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Wise to a life sentence in prison, under the terms of which she could only be freed by executive clemency.
Returning To Prison
In 1962, as a result of Martha Wise’s good behavior in prison, Ohio governor Michael DiSalle commuted her sentence to second-degree murder and she was paroled at age 79. Wise’s remaining family refused to take her in, as did a number of rest homes for the elderly similarly declined her residency; within three days Wise returned to the 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.
Source: murderpedia | wikipedia |