History Collection says that Mary Ann Cotton was in the midst of death and tragedy almost from the day she was born, but to be fair, that was in 1834, and the same thing could be said of almost all Victorian Britons. In spite of that early tragedy, she seemed to have a promising career ahead of her, first as a nurse, then a dressmaker. And here’s where things get a little shady, because documentation wasn’t the most reliable at the time. By 1864, six of her nine children were dead, and the following year, she committed her first known murder.

That was the murder of her first husband, William Mowbray. She collected on his insurance policy, and by the time she married George Ward, two more of her children were dead. Ward died in 1866, and her next husband, James Robinson, booted her out of the house when he caught her stealing money and pawning his possessions.

Next was the widower Frederick Cotton, who died mysteriously in 1871, then Joseph Nattrass, who died in 1872. More and more of her children and stepchildren died along the way, and it wasn’t until she told a parish official that a current stepson would soon “go like all the rest,” that the deaths surrounding her started to be investigated in earnest. She went on trial in March of 1873, was found guilty, and hanged the same month.

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