Mary Ann Cotton – England’s first female serial killer.

I have decided to start a new series all about true crimes. True crimes fascinate me and it dose many people. So I have decided to make a new series where I look in depth at true crime and the people who commit them. So where better to start then the person who is considered England’s first female serial killer. Mary Ann Cotton.


Mary was born in 1832 to working class parents. It is more then likely she had a difficult childhood due to this. Not much is known about Mary’s early life the little that is known is when Mary was young her father fell to his death while he was working as a coal miner. This forced Mary to enter the workforce to support her family. In 1843 Mary’s mother remarried George Stott and is said that he and Mary did not get on. As a young woman Mary got a job as a nurse but soon started to sought after a husband. In 1852 Mary married William Mowbry who was a labourer like her father.

While living in Plymouth Mary and William had five children, four of which died of gastric fever. After there deaths the couple moved to north east England where they had three more children who all died. Later in life Mary said she could not remember just how many children she had and lost during this time. The family worked hard to make ends meet, William found employment as a foreman at South Hetton Colliery then as a fireman on a steam vessel.

In 1865 William died of intestinal disorder like his children before him. This left Mary a widow with one child. She was soon paid insurance money for Williams death that equalled a year and a half years salary. Later that year Mary married George Ward but within 13 months after they were married George died from intestinal problems. Again Mary collected insurance money on her late husband.

Her next husband was James Robinson, whose wife had died and left him with a child. James’s had hired Mary as a housekeeper in November 1866 only to have his child die shortly after Mary was hired. A devastated James turned to Mary for comfort later becoming a couple. The new romance was interrupted when Mary’s mother became ill. Mary travelled to care for her mother. Within days of Mary arriving her mother died despite the fact her mother seemed to be on the mend.

Mary returned to James with her daughter and a child that was living with her mother. By the end of april 1867 this child and two of James’s children were died. Despite all this James married Mary that summer. Their first child was born in November but soon became ill and died in the May. Their second child George was born in June 1869. James had become wary of Mary soon finding out that she had been forcing her stepchildren to pawn household items for cash. James then kicked her out and retained custody of George. This likely saved his life.

Mary then married Frederick Cotton. Mary not only killed Frederick but his sister, the child Mary had with Frederick and a child called Charles from Frederick’s previous marriage. Also during this time Mary’s lover Joseph Nattrass also died of stomach related illness. It was only after the death of Charles that suspicion finally fell on Mary after a 20 year span of mysterious deaths.

Arsenic had been Mary’s weapon. The poison was easy to administer to unsuspecting victims and was easily accessible in the 19th century. So how could so many deaths go unquestioned?

High infant mortality rate, bad record keeping and substandard nutrition of the working poor helped Mary escape suspicion. She also earned sympathy as a heartbroken mother and widow.


In March 1873 Mary Ann Cotton was put on trial. She was convicted of the murder of Charles Edward Cotton. The court of public opinion convicted her of many, many more deaths. Her trail lasted 3 days upon which she was sentenced to death by hanging. Her execution did not go smoothly. The drop below the trap door was to short which meant that Mary’s neck didn’t brake. After struggling for some time Mary eventually chocked to death.

In 2016 a tv show based on her life aired called Dark Angel.

Thanks for reading the story of Mary Ann Cotton. Hope you guys like it. Hope to see you for the next post.

follow me on instagram @ellienickless and twitter @Nicklessellie


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