Mary Elizabeth Wilson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Mary Elizabeth Wilson (c. 1893 – 1963), also known as the Merry Widow of Windy Nook, was a serial killer and the last woman to be sentenced to death in Durham, in 1958.[1] However, the sentence was not carried out as it was commuted to a prison sentence.

Wilson's maiden name was Mary Elizabeth Cassidy, she was born in Catchgate, Stanley, Co. Durham and married her first husband John Knowles around November 1914. They settled at a house in Windy Nook, Gateshead. Her lover John Russell eventually moved in with them. In 1955, Knowles died. She waited five months before marrying Russell. Her second husband died in 1956 (or early in 1957). The attending physician declared that both men had died of natural causes. Wilson inherited their money, £42.[2]

In June 1957, Wilson married her third husband, Oliver Leonard, a retired estate agent. He died only 12 days into their marriage, leaving her £50. She soon married a fourth husband, Ernest Wilson. His estate included up to £100, a bungalow and life insurance. He died within the year. This time, she did not even bother to attend the funeral.[2]

By this time Wilson had become a main figure of local gossip, concerning both the frequency at which her spouses died and her rather cheerful attitude towards the pattern; she had joked at her latest wedding reception that left-over sandwiches would be fresh enough to use in the next funeral. She had also asked for a trade discount from the local undertaker, for providing him with plenty of business. These instances of morbid humour brought her to the attention of the police.[2]

An exhumation of the bodies of her last two husbands revealed high levels of phosphorus. Her defence claimed the substance was contained in their medication.[2] Wilson was convicted of murdering two of her four husbands with beetle poison in 1956 and 1957.[3] The remains of her earlier two husbands were exhumed at a later date and pointed to the same cause of death. There was no reason, however, to have a second trial.[2]

While Wilson was sentenced to death, her advanced age allowed her to get a reprieve. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She died while incarcerated at Holloway.[2]


  1. ^ Chris Lloyd (19 November 2008). "Brassed off by the cold and back again". The Northern Echo. Archived from the original on 28 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Sarah Robertson (28 November 2004). "Cops have last laugh". Sunday Sun. 
  3. ^ "Merry Widow Is Sentenced To Be Hanged". The Palm Beach Post. 30 March 1958.