Saturday, 4 October 2014

Mary Ann Britland - Triple Murderess

I came across this murderess some years ago whilst doing research for a proposed book that was never published.  Mary Britland hit upon her murderous rampage because she decided that her neighbour, Tom Dixon, was the man that she wanted to be with.  As ever, there are always stumbling blocks to these plans, and in this case, there were two.  They her own husband, also named Tom, and Tom Dixon`s wife, coincidentally named Mary.  Mary Ann had two daughters, with the family home being in Turner Lane in Ashton-Under-Lyne.  She put her plan into action.  She visited the local chemist to purchase some rodent poison called "Harrison`s Vermin Killer."  She told the chemist her home had an infestation of mice.  This substance comprised of Arsenic and strychnine, and so being potentially dangerous, Mary Ann had to sign a register of poisons with all her details.  It was February 1886.

    The following month, March, her eldest daughter Elizabeth died, aged just 19.  The cause of death was "natural causes" and Mary Ann was duly paid the life insurance she had on her daughter.  Mary Ann waited for a suitable length of time to pass before she targeted her husband - less than two months! - and on 3rd May, she was hit by a second tragedy.  Her husband Tom died.  Diagnosis was Epilepsy.  He had life insurance on him also.  The wife of Tom Dixon extended a hand of sympathy and comfort to Mary Ann, by inviting her and her now only daughter, to stay in their home.  This act of great generosity was repaid by murder.  Less than two weeks later, Mary Dixon died.  Three deaths in rapid succession triggered deep suspicions with authorities so all three deceased were exhumed.  Doctors carried out thorough examinations and all three contained poison.  Mary Ann was arrested by Police and charged with three murders.  Tom Dixon was also arrested for killing his wife, but was released when it was proven conclusively that he was completely innocent.  Mary Ann confessed that she had poisoned Elizabeth, the reason for murdering her own daughter, was that she thought Elizabeth had realised what she was planning.

    Mary Ann was executed at Strangeways Prison on August 9th 1886 by Bradford hangman, James Berry.  It was said that she had to be dragged screaming and wailing to the gallows.  A story was that scrape marks were still visible many decades later where she resisted and had to be dragged.  I do not know if this is true, but this is the only execution of a woman at Strangeways that can fit this tale.