Sunday, December 11, 2022

William Mawhor


William Mawhor of Fremont County, Iowa, is either singularly unfortunate or a cold-blooded murderer, for of his five wives at least four have died suddenly and in convulsions, and he is now in jail in Avoca, Pottawatomie County, Iowa, on a charge of poisoning the last one. If he had kept still, three of his wives would not have been heard of in Iowa, as he had moved often, but in a panic he told of their deaths.

Mawhor is about 60 years of age. He had accumulated about $80,000 worth of property since he came to this county in 1858. He was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1832. The theory of the defense will be that the late Mrs. Mawhor committed suicide because she was unhappy with her husband. Mawhor says he can prove that his wife often spoke of suicide as a relief from her unhappy condition because she, a young and attractive woman of 30 years, had mistakenly married an uncongenial old man.

She had been the wife of a dissolute fellow, had secured a divorce and became Mawhor's housekeeper but a few days before they were married. Her two sons came with her to Mawhor's and he induced her to take a policy of $5,000 in the Equitable Life of New York. Mawhor is made the beneficiary to the amount of $3,000, the remaining $2,000 to be divided between Mrs. Mawhor's two children. Soon after the nearest neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Harris, were hurriedly called in at night and found her in great agony with frequent convulsions. She died, and Dr. Cowger, in attendance, promptly announced 'strychnine poisoning.'

The old man made a long and rambling statement about her taking three large quinine capsules. When pressed closely, he admitted that three of his former wives had died in a similar manner. His third wife was a widow--Mrs. Martha Cone. This woman died suddenly near Axtell, Kansas several years ago. A short time ago her brothers L.J. and A.M. Songer, went to Kansas, had her body exhumed, and a chemical analysis revealed the presence of strychnine.

He said his first wife died in California of consumption in 1865, but since his arrest the Woodland, California Mail has published this story: Mawhor and his brother ran a ranch near Knight's Landing. E.H. Eastham and Levi Adams knew the Mawhors well. One day in 1860, Mawhor's brother died suddenly, and William Mawhor told the neighbors it was a case of sun stroke and nothing more was thought of the matter. Mawhor took possession of his brother's interest in the ranch and shortly afterward came east and married an Irish woman.

This woman, whom Mawhor claimed died of consumption, died very suddenly. Levi Adams remembers the death of his first wife. Its suddenness surprised the community. Adams said he remembered that Mawhor's actions were peculiar. He would not talk of her sickness and evaded reference to it. When the neighbors extended their sympathy, Mawhor usually said, "Well, every one has to die." Adams is convinced now that Mawhor poisoned the woman.

The board of supervisors of Fremont County (Iowa) recently ordered the disinterment of the remains of Mawhor's fourth wife, who is buried near Riverton. This woman was a Miss Lamb. She was taken sick one night and died the next day. The examining physicians have not yet reported on the analysis of her stomach, and the able lawyers whom Mawhor has employed insist that the evidence will be confined exclusively to the circumstances surrounding the death of the last wife, and that testimony regarding the deaths of his former wives is inadmissible. Nevertheless it is among the possibilities that Mawhor will be indicted for the murders of his third and fourth wives.

When Mawhor was searched by Sheriff R.S. Tate, a bottle of strychnine was found in a tobacco pouch in his pocket. Mawhor told the sheriff he had abstracted the bottle from Dr. Cowger's drug store in Riverton with the intention of poisoning himself, and Dr. Cowger says that about the time Mawhor was arrested he missed a bottle of strychnine. And so the evidence continues to accumulate. Nevertheless, the old fellow has many friends who stoutly maintain his innocence and declare that he is the victim of an extraordinary series of misfortunes. In proof they cite his temperance, industry, and strict integrity in business affairs.

Of course the physicians have a "theory". It is to the effect that Mawhor is a "sex fiend" so to speak. The physician best acquainted with him declares that his nature is so fiercely lechorous that when one wife was somewhat broken in health and averse to further submission he poisoned her in order to marry another. And it is noted that, except in the case of the last wife, he could have gained nothing in money by their deaths. In short, as the case now stands the prospect looks rather dark for Mr. William Mawhor of Pottawatomie County jail.

Mawhor was deemed the Iowa Blue Beard and while in jail, kept to himself, stayed quiet, and read his Bible. Despite heavy evidence of his wives' deaths and the sudden death of his brother, on September 10, 1893, a jury acquitted Mawhor.
Acquittal article from the Goodland Republic, September
15, 1893.

Sadly, mention of the wives lost because of this man was sporadic at best, as was the style at the time. The woman were Margaret (1844-1867) buried in Marys Cemetery in Yolo, California. Martha (1842-1887) buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Axtell, Kansas. Anne (1851-1889) buried in Utterback Cemetery in Riverton, Iowa. Fannie (??-1892) buried in Utterback Cemetery in Riverton, Iowa. Sadly, I could not find any information or the name of Mawhor's second wife (between Margaret and Martha.

William Mawhor died in Excelsior Springs, Missouri on January 15, 1901. Even the obituary, if you could it that, that appeared in the Axtell Anchor and Marshall County News took a very opinionated view on Mawhor's death.

Sketch of Mawhor from the Lincoln County Tribune, 1893.

Much of the information from this post came from the Topeka Daily Press, April 6, 1893 unless noted in the text or captions.