Sunday, January 08, 2023

The Richmond Poisoner

Whilst my post tonight is not about Child Criminals, is about children as the victims of crime. And it is related to my husband's family - but only by marriage, we hasten to add. Martha Needle Martha needle was an Australian serial killer known for poisoning her husband, three children, and prospective brother-in-law. She was hanged on 22 October 1894, at the age of 31. Martha was born in Morgan, South Australia in 1864 to a very poor family where she suffered a lot of physical and sexual abuse from her stepfather and mother. She left home when she was 13 and in 1881 married Henry Needle. It was apparently a happy marriage and they had three daughters. They moved to Melbourne but the marriage gradually deteriorated. Mabel, the eldest daughter died in 1885 after a short illness. Martha collected insurance upon her deatth. In 1889, Henry became ill and died after a lingering illness. Martha collected insurance for hin too. In 1890 and 1891 the other two daughters died after long slow illnesses which the doctor diagnosed as "wasting disease". Again Martha collected insurance.

Martha was avery attractive young woman which could be why the doctor did not become suspicious.

Martha then took a position as housekeeper to two young brothers - Louis and Otto Juncken. Otto fell in love with Martha, but the relationship was halted by his two brothers Louis and Herman who did not trust her. Louis then after several bouts of illness and recovery' finally died in 1894 of "inflammation of the stomach and membranes of the heart". Hermann, the third brother arrived frrom Adelaide to arrange the funeral, but was taked ill after eating a meal with Martha. He was treated by his doctor, but at this stage neither man was suspicious of Martha until Hermann had another meal with Martha and became violently ill again. Now the doctor became suspicious and had a sample of Hermann's vomit tested. It contained traces of arsenic and he called the police.

A trap was set for Martha and Hermann returned to take tea with Martha. She was caught in the act! A search of her cottage found a fresh tin of "Rough on Rats ". It was later discovered that she had purchased numerous tins of rat poison. The bodies of the rest of her victims were exhumed and found to contain arsenic. She was arrested, sent to trial and found guilty of murder on September 24, 1894. She was hanged on October 22nd 1894.

BTW, Henry was my husband's great, great uncle. I also discovered while researching Martha that in the 1920s a nephew of hers - Alexander Lee - was hanged in Adelaide for poisoning his wife and three of his seven children!!


Liz Needle, linking with Sepia Saturday 654


  1. Somehow one thinks only of men as serial murders but I guess there is equal opportunity in all things.

  2. What a gruesome story! (Reads like a summary of an Agatha Christie novel...)

  3. Diabolical. I hope the child in the prompt photo didn't go on to any such lengths.

  4. Wow and double wow! What an amazing story, true at that. So many of my relatives led boring lives. Interesting to hear that your husband's uncle had died at the hands of a serial killer.

  5. Wow, this certainly wins the Sepia Saturday prize for best match. I read her Wikipedia entry and found the story very unsettling. One has to wonder what drove the woman to plot murdering her family over such a long time. Back in September I wrote a story about a boy violinist and his family band that ended with a gruesome death. After the child became a man and started his own career in music, his father died in mysterious circumstances. Poison was suspected but murder was never proven. It's not often that musical photos lead to that kind of history.

    1. Apparently in the 1920s a nephew of Martha's was hanged in Adelaide for poisoning his wife and 3 of his 7 children. Some family.

  6. A fascinating story. Sad to think about all the suffering that occurred. Seems odd to take out a life insurance policy on a child, but perhaps that was common back then.

  7. My heavens, what 'lovely' people. Poisoning one's husband - sometimes I might understand, depending. But one's own children? That I could never understand.