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Martha Rendell
Born August 10, 1871(1871-08-10)
Died October 6, 1909 (aged 38)
Conviction(s) Murder
Status Executed by hanging

Martha Rendell (10 August 1871 – 6 October 1909) was the last of three women to be hanged in Western Australia. She was convicted of murdering her de facto husband's son, Arthur Morris, in 1908. She was also suspected of killing his two daughters, Annie and Olive by swabbing their throats with hydrochloric acid. Although the children died slow and agonising deaths, they had been treated by a number of doctors during their illness; only one of whom had expressed any doubts on their deaths.

Martha Rendell had moved in with Thomas Nicholls Morris after he had separated from his wife who had moved out and lived elsewhere. Morris had custody of his five children at the time. Rendell who had known Morris whilst in Adelaide and had followed him west, moving into the house and posed as his wife. The children were told to call her "mother".[1]

Those that knew her claimed she had a vicious nature and was not liked at all. Neighbours told how she would mistreat the two young girls. Annie was once thrashed so brutally that she could not walk. Arresting officer Inspector Harry Mann said "she delighted in seeing her victims writhe in agony and from it derived sexual satisfaction".


The Killing Method

Rendell killed 7 year old Annie first. Her method was to put something in the child's food that would result in a sore throat. It was alleged that she killed the children by swabbing hydrochloric acid on the back of their throats claiming it was medicine. This would inflame the throat until the child could no longer feed and thus would starve to death. Annie died on July 28. 1907. Dr Cuthbert issued a certificate stating the cause of death was diphtheria.

After killing Annie this way, she turned her attention on the younger girl Olive, aged 5. Olive died on October 6, 1907, and again Dr Cuthbert issued a certificate stating the cause of death was diphtheria.

In the winter of 1908 she tried the same method on Arthur the third son and youngest child still alive. Arthur, who was 14, took longer to succumb to the treatment and he died on October 6, 1908. Dr Cuthbert asked permission for an autopsy, Martha Rendell said she wanted to be present during the investigation. She stood calmly by as the autopsy was performed and the doctors found nothing to incriminate her. [2]

In April 1909 she turned her attention on the second son, George, it didn't take long for the second son to complain of a sore throat after drinking a cup of tea. Martha was quick to offer her medicine and after coating his tonsils with the syrup, the boy decided that he didn't want to go the same way as his siblings. He bolted and ran to his mother's place some streets away. Neighbours asked where the boy had gone but Thomas Morris didn't know. [3]

Police inquiries

Neighbours went to the police and inspector Harry Mann conducted inquiries. Mann heard repeated references to the children having their throats painted and their "mother's" apparent indifference to their pain and agonising screams. One neighbour claimed he often peeked in the windows to see Martha Rendell standing in front of the screaming victim, rocking back and forth as if in ecstasy. Mann located George Morris who had claimed to have run away because his stepmother had killed his siblings and was trying to poison him with spirits of salts. [4]

The inquiry was hampered by the period of time that had elapsed since the deaths and because doctors could not say what effect swabbing with spirits of salts would have. Suspicions were further aroused when it was shown that Rendell had purchased large quantities of spirits of salts during the period of the children's illnesses, but none since the last death. Armed with this information the detectives obtained permission to exhume the bodies and this was done on July 3, 1909. Police exhumed the bodies of the three children and diluted hydrochloric acid was found on the throat tissue.[5]

Rendell and Thomas Morris were both charged with murder, Rendell protested her innocence, maintaining that she was treating the children for diphtheria. Although Thomas Morris was also charged with the murders, he was acquitted as it was believed that, although he had purchased spirits of salts, he had not been aware of the crimes until after the children's deaths. However he had lied to police and to the coroner, and the jury wanted to find him guilty of being an accessory after the fact, but this was not allowed.[6]

Rendell was sentenced to death.

Public Outcry

There was considerable public outrage at the time; the press portrayed her as a "scarlet woman" and "wicked stepmother". She was hanged at Fremantle Prison on 6 October 1909. She is buried at Fremantle Cemetery, in the same grave where serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke was interred more than half a century afterwards. Martha Rendell was the last woman executed in the state of Western Australia.

The window in question

An unusual illusion appears on one of the prison windows. It is said to be the portrait of Martha who watches over the prison. The thing that makes this image so unusual is the fact that it can only be seen on the outside of the window and when inside the church looking out the glass is smooth and even with no unusual shape or texture. This is a good example of Pareidolia.


  • Fremantle Prison a brief history, Cyril Ayris ISBN 0-9581882-1-1
  • Daily News 05/10/1909
  • West Australian 30/09/1909
  • Murdering Stepmothers: The trial and Execution of Martha Rendell, Anna Haebich1997
  • South Australian Births 1842 - 1906, SAGHS 1998

External links


Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Martha Rendell- was an australian serial killer, who lived from (1871-1909) in Perth, Australia. Who killed children by making them drink Hydrochorlic acid. She was sentenced to death in Freemantle prison in Australia, and was the last person to be hanged there. However, in the prison chapels window, appeared a strange mark, which was claimed to be a ghostly face of her; or was it just a stain in the glass. Nobody knows, but what do you think?

Ghostly face of a murderer or just rippled glass? This image is undoctored, and many claim it shows a ghost. Others, however, say it is an illusion caused by the way the light hits ripples in the glass.


The image on the window seems similar to the image shown at Science and the nonphysical. Humans have special brain regions devoted to seeing faces in random shapes such as the face on Mars. --JWSchmidt 13:45, 28 May 2007 (UTC)

I think that time they shouldn't kill her by hanging, but should've give her hydrochorlic acid to drink and taste how it's like to drink it. -Arif-

  • How is this a conspiracy??


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