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Martha M. Place
Born 1854 or 1855
Died March 20, 1899 (age 44)
Sing Sing, New York
Conviction(s) Murder
Penalty Death by electrocution
Status Executed
Spouse William Place

Martha M. Place (1854 or 1855 – March 20, 1899) was the first woman to die in the electric chair. She was executed on March 20, 1899 at age 44, in Sing Sing prison for the murder of her stepdaughter Ida Place.

Contents

Background

Born in New Jersey, Martha Place was struck in the head by a sleigh at age 23. Her brother claimed that she never completely recovered and that the accident left her mentally unstable. Martha married widower William Place in 1893. Place had a daughter named Ida from a previous marriage. William married Martha to help him raise his daughter, although it was later rumored that Martha was jealous of Ida. William called the police at least once to arrest his wife for threatening to kill Ida.

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Murder

On the evening of February 7, 1898, William Place arrived at his Brooklyn, New York home and was attacked by Martha, who was wielding an axe. William escaped for help and when the police arrived, they found Martha Place in critical condition lying on the floor with clothes over her head and gas from burners escaping into the room. Upstairs they discovered the dead body of 17-year-old Ida Place lying on a bed. Her mouth was bleeding and her eyes disfigured from having acid thrown in them. The evidence later indicated Ida Place died from asphyxiation. Martha Place was hospitalized and arrested.[1]

Trial

Place proclaimed her innocence while awaiting trial. One contemporary newspaper report described the defendant in this way:

She is rather tall and spare, with a pale, sharp face. Her nose is long and pointed, her chin sharp and prominent, her lips thin and her forehead retreating. There is something about her face that reminds one of a rat’s, and the bright but changeless eyes somehow strengthen the impression.

Martha Place was found guilty of the murder of her stepdaughter Ida and sentenced to death. Her husband was a key witness against her.

Execution

Having never executed a woman in the electric chair, those responsible for carrying out the death warrant devised a new way to place the electrodes upon her. They decided to slit her dress and place the electrode on her ankle. Edwin Davis was the executioner. According to the reports of witnesses, she died instantly.

The governor of the State of New York Theodore Roosevelt was asked to commute Place from the death sentence, but he refused. Martha Place was buried in the family cemetery plot in East Millstone, New Jersey without religious observances.

Although Place was the first woman to die in the electric chair, she was not the first woman sentenced to it; that woman would be Maria Barbella, who was later found not guilty of her crime and released.

See also

References

  1. ^ Reports of Cases By New York (State). Court of Appeals, CA Dist Courts of Appeal, New York (State) NY, Harvard University v.157 1899

Further reading

  • Shipman, Marlin (2002). Penalty Is Death : U.S. Newspaper Coverage of Women's Executions. Columbia, MO, USA: University of Missouri Press.  

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