Mary Bateman "The
It might seem
incredible to us today that a relatively uneducated woman who was a career
criminal could successfully convince a large number of people that she
possessed supernatural powers and healing abilities but Mary Bateman succeeded
in doing so in
In 1782, after knowing
him for just three weeks, she married John Bateman who was a wheelwright but
marriage did not curtail her activities and the couple had to move regularly to
avoid arrest. They had four children,
including a son also christened John. By
1799 Mary was living in
It is generally thought
that Mary poisoned three people in 1803 although she was never tried for or
convicted of these murders. The victims were two Quaker sisters who lived above
their draper's shop with their mother in
Mary frequently used a “Mrs. Moore” to help her in her scams. This non existent lady was the initial fount of all Mary’s “wisdom” and was always consulted on behalf of Mary’s clients. They were told that money she took from them was of course to go to Mrs. Moore.
In 1806 Mary invented a new alter ego called “Mrs. Blythe” to help her in her plans.
in the Bramley area of
The next letter predicted an illness in the Perigo house affecting one or both of them. It instructed Rebecca to take half a pound of honey to Mary who would mix into some special medicine that Mrs. Blythe had made. Also the Perigo’s were to eat puddings for six days into each of which they were to mix a daily marked packet of powder that Mary would give them. Rebecca went to see Mary who did as the letter instructed and she left with the honey and the packets of powder.
On the 5th of May, another letter arrived instructing the Perigo’s to begin eating the puddings on the 11th of May. Interestingly it said that only sufficient pudding was to be made for each day, nobody else was to be allowed to eat any of it and that if there was any left over it must be immediately destroyed. It also said that should William or Rebecca become ill they were not to get the doctor because he would be unable to help. Unsurprisingly this letter, like its predecessors was to be burnt.
So the scene for the final act was now set. The Perigo’s would poison themselves and kindly destroy all the evidence of Mary’s involvement.
To begin with eating
the puddings produced no ill effects but on the sixth day they tasted different
and caused William and Rebecca to have severe stomach cramps and vomiting. As directed a doctor was not consulted and
Rebecca who continued to eat the honey, died on
William decided at length to examine the little silk purses that contained the guinea notes and gold coins that Mrs. Blythe had asked to have sewn into Rebecca’s bed clothes, surely they should still contain the notes and coins that had been placed in them. Instead they contained cabbage leaves and copper coins. Now it seems that the penny had finally dropped with William. He arranged a meeting with Mary on the pretext of buying another bottle of medicine and took assistance with him, in the form of Constable Driffield. Mary had brought with her a bottle of liquid containing oatmeal and arsenic with which she presumably hoped to silence her principal accuser. As soon as she saw the constable she tried to make out that it was William Perigo who had bought the bottle for her. He was not impressed by this charade. Mary was now taken into custody and when the constable searched her house and were able to recover many of the items that had been sent to Mrs. Blythe by the Perigo’s.
She appeared before the
magistrates the following day charged with Rebecca’s murder. They committed her for trial at the Yorkshire
Lent Assizes of 1809 which opened at
Evidence of the
handwriting on Mrs. Blythe’s letters being identical to Mary’s was given and
how Mary had sent the letters to
Mary’s defence was straight forward denial of any involvement with the death.
Sir Simon Le Blanc summed up and told the jury that to bring in a guilty verdict they had to satisfy themselves on three points. These were that Rebecca had died from poisoning, that the poison had been administered with the knowledge and contrivance of Mary and that it had been done in the expectation of causing Rebecca’s death. He went on to remind them that although there was a strong case against Mary for having systematically defrauded the Perigo’s this did not make her automatically guilty of murder.
The evidence of criminality and murder was so overwhelming that it did not take the jury long to deliver its verdict. In accordance with the usual procedure Mary was asked if she had anything to say as to why sentence of death should not be pronounced on her. Breaking into floods of tears she pleaded her belly, in other words claimed to be pregnant. As a result the judge ordered the court doors to be locked and immediately empanelled a jury of matrons to examine her. They found her not to be pregnant and so he proceeded to sentence her to be hanged and afterwards dissected on the following Monday. She was aged forty one at this time and had an infant child with her in prison up till the time she was condemned.
Over the weekend Mary wrote a letter to her husband in which she enclosed her wedding ring and asked him to give it to their daughter. She admitted some her crimes but continued to deny the murders. It was reported by the Leeds Intelligencer newspaper that she continued her criminal habits even in the condemned cell, telling the fortune of one of her female attendants for a guinea. On the morning of execution she was up at for a communion service in the chapel.
Mary was executed on
After execution Mary’s body was sent to the Leeds Royal Infirmary for dissection and afterwards put on display. The public paid three pence each to view her body and thirty pounds was raised for the hospital. Strips of Mary’s skin were sold as curios.
Her skeleton was used
initially for anatomy classes and afterwards, together with a plaster cast
death mask of her skull put on display.
It can still be seen in the
Mary was always
stealing from and defrauding people and was well known as a thief so why wasn’t
she informed on by the people of
Back to Contents Page