Evil Female Murderers. Part 2

Mercy Street nos. 2 - 10, 1931
James Berry, Bradford's most famous Victorian Executioner
The 19th century might have been subject to a plague of poisonings, but it had other plagues, too. Cholera, for instance, was a frequent cause of death. Cholera affects the small intestine, and the more common signs are diarrhea and vomiting... which are also the signs of arsenic poisoning. In 1831, an outbreak in the UK claimed 52,000 lives. Who would notice a few poisonings in the midst of all that?
A chemist sells a child laudanum. By John Leech, 19th century. Wellcome Library
Charlotte Bryant was born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1904, her maiden name being McHugh. Little is known of her childhood, but by age 19 she was a nice looking girl with raven black hair and attractive eyes who fraternised with the British soldiers in the Province and was nicknamed "Darkie" by them. She was illiterate, ill educated and notably promiscuous. Her activities were strongly disapproved of by the Republicans and she was threatened with tarring and feathering - a fate that befell quite a few girls who went out with British soldiers during "The Troubles."
Charlotte Bryant's Execution
Tom Pierrepoint, who served as an executioner for 37 years and dispatched more than 300 men and women.
Daily Telegraph
Former Police Station, Fire Station and Library, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds 1901
The execution chamber at Strangeways. Originally the hangings took place in an execution shed, but this was replaced after the First World War
Strangeways Prison 1951
Courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection
Anna Chard-Williams, English Child Care Provider & Serial Killer - 1900
The north side, appropriated to debtors, men and women, consists of two court-yards, which are far too circumscribed for the inhabitants; the men's court being only 49 feet by 31 feet; the women's of the same length, and about half the width. They are entirely surrounded by the wards, which rise three stories above the pavement. The women debtors are separated from the men by a wall 15 feet in height.
Styllou Christofi and her executioner
The Old Bailey is how the Central Crimimal Court in England is commonly known, being on the east side of the street called Old Bailey
Hella Christofi
Stavros Christofi

Britland, Mary Ann;

She was executed by James Berry at Strangeways Prison, Manchester on 9th August 1886. She was the first woman to be executed there after being convicted of poisoning Mary Dixon.

Mary Ann Britland was born in 1847 in Bolton, Lancashire. She was the second eldest daughter of Jonathon and Hannah Hague (nee Lees.) She married Thomas Britland at St. Michaels, Ashton-under-Lyne in 866. They lived in a rented house at 133, Turner Lane, Ashton-under-Lyne with their two daughters. Mary Britland was a hard worker having two jobs. By ay she worked in a factory and was a barmaid by night.

In February 1886, she is said to have had a mice infestation at her home; to eliminate this she went to a nearby chemist and bought some packets of ‘Harrison’s Vermin Killer, ’ which contained both strychnine and arsenic, she was required to sign the ‘poison’s book.’

The first victim

Britland’s first victim was her own daughter, 19 years old Elizabeth Hannah, in March 1886. Her death was attributed to natural causes. Britland was able then to claim £10 on the insurance she had taken out on her daughter.

Mary Britland had been married to Thomas Britland for more than 20 years but she fell for one of her neighbours charms and started an affair with Thomas Dixon who lived just across the street.

Thomas started to suspect that something was going on but Mary denied any knowledge while she was getting closer to Dixon. Her husband was in her way. She decided he must go. He to was poisoned with the same poison as she had used on her daughter. She tried to comfort him as he writhed in agony as the poison went to work in his body. She called the doctor but by then it was too late and Thomas Britland died. His death was put down as Epilepsy and the death certificate was signed as to that being the cause.

The affair with Dixon

She was then able to claim the £10 off the insurance she had on him. Now the affair with Dixon became more involved although they had to be careful about Mrs. Dixon. This affair had been going on for around three years and they had both talked about leaving their respective partners.

After losing her daughter and husband in such a short space of time Mary Dixon took pity on her and invited poor Mary Ann to stay with the Dixons. Obviously she had no idea that her husband was carrying on with ‘poor’ Mrs. Britland. At first Mary refused but Mrs. Dixon insisted and eventually she took up her kind offer. Mrs Dixon insisting that Mary shouldn’t have to be alone in her time of grief. Mary Ann was touched by the caring attitude shown by Mrs. Dixon. She stayed a few days enjoying the time she was spending so close to her lover. About two weeks after Thomas Britland’s death, Mary Dixon invited Mary Ann back to the Dixon home for supper and also to stay the night at the house. Thomas Dixon had gone out, and would not be back until sometime later the following day. Mary prepared a meal of bread and butter with pickle preserves and cups of tea… Both women enjoyed the evening together and parted in good humour the following morning.

Thomas Dixon returned home about 10am the following day and discovered that his wife was very sick and lying on the bed. He called in the doctor but before he arrived she had died. Although he was having the affair he was devastated at the loss of his wife. The doctor was very suspicious that three people who were in good health had suddenly died.

Now, Mary Ann had no obstacles in her way and it wouldn’t be very long before Thomas Dixon would get over the death of his wife. Of course he had no idea that Britland had killed her at this stage. She was looking forward to becoming the next ‘Mrs. Dixon’ which wouldn’t be very long to wait now, she thought. After a while she started to think that Thomas was taking rather a long time to get over the death of his wife. She couldn’t understand it and started to get a little worried; he seemed different since her death. He had received £29 from the insurance company, quite a large sum of money in those days.

She thought more and more about it but consoled herself by saying, ‘well I have waited 3 years and another couple of weeks won’t make much difference.’

The waiting  comes to an end

She didn’t know that the waiting would soon come to an end. The doctor who attended Mrs. Dixon was suspicious and as a result had gone to the police. They in turn, had started their inquiries. The bodies were exhumed and found to be riddled with Strychnine and arsenic, the same ingredients in Mary Ann’s store bought poison.

Britland’s third victim was Mrs. Mary Dixon, Thomas’s wife.

Mary Ann Britland and Thomas Dixon were both brought in for questioning. Mary Ann had barely entered the interview room before she blurted out a confession, admitting she was responsible for the deaths as they stood in her way with her affair with Thomas. However, they were both charged with murder of Mary Dixon.

The trial lasted two days in July 1886. At the end of the trial the Jury decided that while Thomas was a terrible husband there was insufficient evidence that Thomas had anything to do with his wife’s death and therefore was acquitted.

As Mary Ann had admitted the charge she was officially found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Usually Mary Ann was unflappable but on this occasion, hearing the sentence and in particular the word ‘hanged’ she started screaming out ‘No,’ no, please not that.’ she then passed out and had to be carried from the dock.

Her demeanour did not improve during the few weeks between her trial and the day the sentence was to be carried out. The prison chaplain’s prayers were drowned out by Mary Ann’s pleas of forgiveness. She had to be forcibly carried to the gallows and held over the trap door. As she was the first woman to be hanged in Strangeways Prison, maybe the warders were ill-prepared for such a scene.

At 9am as the nearby clock struck, the lever was pulled and Mary Ann Britland died by hanging.

At the inquest after, it was said she died humanely from a broken neck.

Bryant, Charlotte.

Charlotte was 33 years of age at the time of her death.

She was born Charlotte McHugh in Londonderry in 1904. She was illiterate as well as in her teen years became extremely promiscuous.

She met Frederick Bryant in Ireland during the early 1920’s while he was serving in the Army. He was six years older than her. Leaving Ireland they moved to Somerset. They were married when she was aged 19 years while he was 25.

Over the next few years Charlotte had five children, although it’s suspected that not all of these children had the same father.

By 1925 they were living in a tied cottage at Over Crompton, a small village just east of Yeovil where Fred managed to get a job as a farm labourer.

Charlotte was not a good housewife and she neglected her family while she went out in search of any ‘extra-marital’ pleasures that might be available. Her husband found it easier to ignore his wife’s nymphomania ideas and did not even object when she brought men to the house to share her bed. One of her numerous lovers was a pedlar and horse-dealer of gypsy origin named Leonard Parsons. He was a crude, unwashed man often wearing dirty and smelly clothes.

He was a swarthy, blue eyed, world savvy traveller who was exactly the opposite of Bryant who liked to stay at home and enjoyed mostly his home life. He started lodging at the Bryant house sometime in 1933. Parsons did not lodge on a regular basis as his occupation often required him to travel. He was himself a married man with 4 children.

The lodger

While Leonard was lodging at their home, Frederick slept on the couch in the living room, but as soon as the house cleared out in the morning, he and Charlotte would adjourn to the bedroom for a ‘spot of intimacy.’ This arrangement tested Frederick’s tolerance, but he was willing to put up with Charlotte’s casual liaisons, particularly when they bought in extra income, but he was unwilling to play the role of ‘cuckoo’ when his rival had the audacity to share his home and his wife.

However, Charlotte fell in love with him and decided that she would rather have him as her husband.

As a result of that Frederick told Leonard to leave and to his surprise, he left. Charlotte was very upset about this and so she left too, taking two of the children with her. She stayed away for two days but then returned saying that she was worried about the children she had left behind. Frederick forgave her, which was an act that was going to seal his doom.

Shortly after Charlotte returned Leonard started showing up again for morning intimacy.

Inexplicably, within just a few weeks, he was back as a lodger in the household.

Somehow Leonard and Frederick managed to achieve some sort of détente and eventually switched places regarding their sleeping arrangements. About this time Charlotte became pregnant by Leonard, in the spring of 1935. Charlotte was not very discreet about this and early in 1934 Fred was sacked, possibly because of the village gossip that surrounded his wife. She was known locally by various names such as ‘Killarney Kate,’ ‘Compton Bess’ and ‘Black Bess’.

This meant that losing his job, he lost his house too. They moved to Coombe, near Sherbourne in Dorset.  This was a small village with the total inhabitants being just 75 people, including children. In May 1935 Frederick was taken ill with stomach pains. The doctor was called and he said that Frederick was suffering with gastro-enteritis and that he would recover in a few days time. The doctor was right and he recovered, only to fall ill again on the 11th December. He again recovered after a few days.

However, on the 22nd December, he was taken violently ill again; he was really feeling ill this time, and after a few hours, he died. His body was examined and four grains of arsenic was discovered.

The police were called and searched the house and found a tin that had contained arsenical ‘weedkiller’ amongst rubbish at the back of the house as well as traces found on some shelves in the kitchen and in one of Charlotte’s pockets.

The police carried on with their investigation but on the 10th February Charlotte was arrested. Taken to the police station where she was charged with the murder of her husband.

The trial

Her trial opened on Wednesday 27th May 1936 at Dorset Assizes in front of Mr. Justice Macnaghten. For some reason Charlotte appeared as if she couldn’t understand the proceedings. She protested in a loud and meaningful voice that she had been on very good terms with her husband but witnesses were to refute this. On Saturday 30th May 1936 she was found guilty and sentenced to ‘suffer death by hanging.’

Aged 33 years, she was executed at Exeter Prison on Wednesday 15th July 1936 by Tom  Pierrepoint

Calvert, Louie;

Hanged by Thomas Pierrpoint at Strangeways Prison, Manchester on 24th June 1926.

Thirty three Louie Calvert battered and strangled her landlady Mrs. Lily Waterhouse after Lily accused Louie of stealing some of her property.

Louie Calvert also known as Louie Gomersal was a 33 year old bad tempered petty thief and prostitute with two illegitimate children who, in 1925, worked as a housekeeper for Albert Calvert at his home in Railway  Place, Leeds.

After she had worked for him for a few months she told him that she was pregnant. The suspecting Calvert promptly married the woman

As the time passed Albert was starting to wonder about the arrival of his offspring. When he asked his wife about the impending happy event she told him that she was going to stay with her sister, in Dewsbury, for the birth. When she arrived in Dewsbury, she sent her, still unsuspecting husband a telegram. She then promptly went back to Leeds. She lodged with an eccentric widow named Mrs. Lily Waterhouse, who was forty years of age. Her husband had died in March 1925. Louie had agreed to act as maid to pay for her board and lodgings but she refused to do any house work. She then started to pawn Mrs. Waterhouse’s silverware. On discovering this Lily went to the Police and lodged a complaint against her boarder.

A teenaged girl with an unwanted baby daughter agreed to let Louie adopt the child. The day after Mrs. Waterhouse had been to the police, neighbours heard loud banging coming from the Waterhouse premises. Then within minutes of the noise Louie left the house with the baby and explained to the alarmed neighbours that the noises had come from the baby’s bed which had broken while she was folding it up… One of the neighbours, a Mrs. Clayton, said to Louie that she thought she had heard Mrs. Waterhouse making strange noises. ‘Yes’ replied Louie, ‘I have left her in bed crying because I am leaving her.’ She then left, saying ‘goodbye.’

Later a policeman turned up to find out why Mrs. Waterhouse hadn’t returned to the police station to sign the complaint she had made against Louie. He heard the noises earlier in the day. He obtained a key and let himself in with it. He found Mrs. Waterhouse lying on the bed, battered and strangled to death.

It didn’t take the police long to find Louie at her home. On examining her past they found that she had been implicated four years earlier in the death of a man named John Frobisher. She had been involved with Frobisher and he had been found floating in the nearby canal. His death had been attributed to a drowning accident. One of the police officers remembered that Frobisher had been found minus his boots. The officer asked Louie to remove her boots and they were then established that they had belonged to Mrs. Waterhouse.


Lily was arrested and taken to the police station where she was charged with Lily’s murder.

Lily appeared before Leeds City Magistrates charged with lily’s murder and was remanded in custody to stand trial at Leeds Assizes. The trial was heard before Mr. Justice Wright on the 5th and 6th May and she was found guilty. She was sentenced to death without any apparent surprise, but later she claimed that she was pregnant again and could not therefore be hanged until after she had given birth.

She was taken to Strangeways Prison in Manchester to await execution. She was examined by a doctor who thought it was possible that she was in the very early stages of pregnancy, although unlikely. It shouldn’t at this stage give any concern if she were executed.

However, this did cause concern to the general public who started up a petition to get her reprieved. Two or three signatures were obtained in her home town of Ossett in Yorkshire. This was, as usual, rejected and her execution was scheduled for the 24th June.

Whilst in the condemned cell Louie confessed to the murder of John Frobisher in 1922. At that time Louie was calling herself Louie Jackson and worked as Frobisher’s housekeeper at Mercy Street, Wellington Lane, Leeds. His body had been found by a patrolling policeman floating in the canal on the 12th July, 1922. He had a wound at the back of his head and a fractured skull.

A degree of suspicion had fallen on her initially but the Coroner’s Court returned a verdict of misadventure and ruled out the death as a simple drowning.


Precisely at 8am and upon a signal from the Prison governor, Thomas Pierrpoint, Britain’s number one hangman entered Louie’s cell accompanied by two male warders. A woman warder told her to stand up and Pierrpoint took her arms and quickly strapped her wrists behind her with a leather strap and then led the way out of the cell. Louie was led into the execution chamber and stopped while Pierrpoint marked the letter ‘T’ precisely over the divide of the trap doors. Pierrepoint’s assistant then put leather straps around her ankles and thighs. A white handkerchief was placed on her head followed by a hood.

Pierrepoint slipped the safety pin out and the trap doors opened and Louie disappeared.

It had taken no more than 20 seconds to carry out the sentence of the court her body was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down.

At the inquest it was ascertained that the hanging was carried out humanely. Her body was then buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls. This was the first female hanging at Strangeways since that of Mary Ann Britland in 1886. (See above.)

Louie Calvert was a small unattractive 33 years old who had used several aliases throughout her life. Working as a prostitute she used the name of Louie Gomersal but to the Salvation Army she used the name Louise Jackson. She attended their meetings regularly. By this time her son, Kenneth was 6 years old and she doted on him. She asked that he visit her in the condemned cell but it is not known whether or not he was allowed. After the execution he was taken into care.

Chard Williams, Ada;

She was aged 24 years and was hanged at Newgate Prison by James Billington after being convicted of drowning a small child.

Florence Jones, a young unmarried mother with a baby, Selina saw an advertisement in a local newspaper which offered to find adoptive homes for unwanted children. She answered the advertisement and agreed to pay the sum of £5 to a Mrs. Hewetson (Ada Chard-Williams.) However, she could only pay £3 on the day. Being an honest woman she went back later with the balance of the £5 and found that both Mrs. Hewetson and her baby had vanished.

Florence immediately reported the facts to the police. Williams wrote a letter denying to the police the facts but in effect she admitted that she was a ‘baby farmer’ who bought and sold babies for profit. The police soon discovered that Mrs. Hewetson was really Ada Chard- Williams but had no body to prove that a murder had been committed. However, they found little Selina corpse washed up on the banks of the Thames at Battersea.

Fisherman’s bend

Like Amelia Dyer, Chard-Williams had her own ‘signature’ way of tying up bodies she wished to dispose of. She used a knot called a ‘Fisherman’s bend’ which was a crucial piece of evidence at her trial at the Old Bailey on the 16th and 17th February 1900. She was hanged at Newgate Prison on Wednesday 8th March 1900. She was the last woman to be hanged at Newgate Prison. She was suspected that she killed several other children but nothing was ever fund to link her to them.

This murder hit the headlines of the newspapers as her husband was also put on trial with her. He was William Chard-Williams, aged 43 while his wife was 23. They were indicted for the murder of Selina Ellen Jones, an illegitimate child of 18 months. The trial it is said ended under remarkable circumstances.

Cold blooded

The murder was deliberate and cold blooded, and of the baby class. Early in September a Woolwich newspaper contained this advertisement: ‘Young married couple would adopt healthy baby, very small premium. Write first to Mrs. Hewetson, 4, Bradmore-lane, Hammersmith.’

This was the assumed name of the prisoner, Ada Chard Williams. The advertisement was replied to by Miss Jones, who lived with her mother at Woolwich, and whose child, Selina Ellen Jones, was handed over to the advertiser with a premium of £3m and some clothing after the latter had made several deceitful statements.

The facts were that the woman’ Hewetson’ or Williams and her husband had been living since July in No. 3, Grove-Villas, Grove Road, Barnes. Thither she had taken the unfortunate little child, who endured 3 weeks of ill treatment, and was then murdered. The little body being recovered on September 27th on the fore-shore of the Thames at Battersea, the parts bound together with cord like a trussed up fowl.

There was no direct evidence forth coming of the murder. Dr. Kempster,  who performed the post mortem examination said the child was first stunned and then strangled, and after death was thrown into the river. Circumstantial evidence was furnished by ‘of the cord around the body’ known as ‘fisherman’s bends.’ And these were curious to police constable Voice, who had learned them while he was in the Navy, and who afterwards, found in Mrs. Hewetson’s house, which she had abandoned hurriedly, similar cords and corresponding knots.

The defence offered no evidence but much was discussed regarding the term ‘Fisherman’s Bend.’ The presiding Judge, Mr. Justice Ridley, discussed with the barristers as he had experience with this particular knot while salmon fishing and spoke about it like an expert.


The Jury retired for 30 minutes and returned finding Mrs. Chard-Williams ‘guilty as charged.’ But as regards her husband they merely declared him ‘an accessory after the fact.’

The Judge sentenced Ada Chard-Williams to death by hanging. She replied in a very loud voice, ‘Thank you, my lord.

The Judge was unsure what to do regards the husband; He then invited counsel for both the defence and prosecution to come into a private room for discussions.

The result being that they would disregard the verdict given and enter a plea of not guilty.

The Judge then discussed with the Jury their findings and invited them to retire and discuss what they had just been told. After a short while they returned and gave a verdict of not guilty and he was released.

However, on emerging from the dock he was immediately re-arrested by a City officer on a warrant charging him with fraud.

At 8am on the 8th march 1900 she was hanged at Newgate Prison by James Billington.

At the inquest after it was said she died humanely and her death was instant.


Styllou Christofi.

She was 54 years of age and hanged by Albert Pierrpoint on Monday 13th December 1954 for murdering her German born daughter in law.

Her full name was Styllou Pantopiou Christofi and born in 1900 and was a Greek-Cypriot.

She was tried in Cyprus in 1925 on a charge of murdering her mother-in-law by jamming a lighted

torch down her throat. She was found ‘not guilty’ and released.

She came to Britain to see her son, Stavros, whom she had not seen for about 12 years. He lived and worked in London as a waiter. He was very popular at work. He had married a German woman named Hella, aged 36 years and were very happy and had three children.

Christofi did not get on with Hella and on the night of 29th July, 1954, struck Hella on the head with an ash pan from the boiler during an argument and consequently a fight.  She then strangled her and in order to dispose of the corpse, she dragged it into the garden, poured paraffin over it and set it alight… A neighbour witnessed this but did not realise that what was burning was her neighbour’s body.

Christofi, who spoke little English, later ran into the street to raise the alarm and then stopped a passing car saying ‘please come, fire burning, children is sleeping.’ When the police arrived they became suspicious on finding blood stains in the house. Christofi explained by saying, ‘I wake up, smell burning, go downstairs, Hella burning. Throw water, touch her face, not move, run and get help.’

When she came to Britain she moved in with her son and daughter-in-law and became the classic ‘mother-in-law.’ She came to dominate the household and at first Hella, the daughter –in –law was happy but that soon changed because of how bossy Stavros’s mother was. She spoke very little English and had no idea how a modern British family was brought up.

On the evening of 29th July 1954 after her son had left their Hampstead home, Mrs. Christofi stunned Hella by striking her on the head with the kitchen stove’s ash pan. Next she strangled her. Later that night a neighbour, Mr. John Young was taking his dog for a late evening walk, he saw flames coming from the garden. This was the paraffin soaked body of Hella burning.


The police were right to be suspicious about the incident and arrested Christofi. After further inquiries she was charged with the murder of Hella and was tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty and sentenced to death.

She came to trial at the Old bailey on the 25th October 1954 before Mr. Justice Devlin. The evidence was placed before the judge by Mr. Christmas Humphreys. It took the Jury of 10 men and 2 women just under two hours to reach a verdict and that was ‘guilty.’ She appealed but it was turned down by the Home Secretary. (Appeal number 912 of 1954.)

Meanwhile Stavros was working as a waiter at the ‘Café de Paris’ in London’s West End while his wife worked in a fashion shop. They were both happy at work and brought in a decent salary.

Styllou was a matriarch of the old school and quickly made her feelings known. Speaking little English she soon developed a dislike for this country that she had come to live in. She continually found fault with everything that Hella did. She complained in particular about the way she was bringing up her grandchildren, that was all wrong.

Hella put up with this sniping for a while but finally her patience snapped and she gave Stavros an ultimatum. Hella had arranged to take the children on holiday to her family in Germany and she demanded that on her return Stavros would have shipped her mother back to Cyprus and out of their lives forever. Stavros spoke to his mother about this ad Styllou decided that if anyone had to go it would be Hella and not her.

The car Styllou stopped was being driven by Mr. Burstoff and his wife who was returning from their restaurant and shouted t them in broken English.

While waiting in the condemned cell Styllou’s only complaint was that her son, Stavros had not been to see her and she just could not understand why?

Being a member of the Greek Orthodox Church she asked that a cross from the church be placed in her cell where she could see it in the execution cell. The request was granted and the cross was nailed to the wall in front of the drop. It would have been the last thing Styllou would ever see and remained in the cell until it was dismantled in 1967.

The execution was the first one at Holloway since Edith Thompson had been hanged there over thirty years previously in January 1923. The execution took place in the execution room on ‘E.’ Wing.

Albert Pierrpoint noted in his autobiography how little press interest there was in her execution and asked the question’ was it because she was middle aged, unattractive and foreign?’

Styllou body was buried in the precincts of the prison but later exhumed and reburied in Brookwood cemetery in Surrey when Holloway was redeveloped in 1971.



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