The Black Widows

Tommy he lay dying, his face turned to the wall,
In agony was crying and the sisters watched it all
As they had with Tom's young daughter, and their husbands gone before
Poor young Margaret Jennings, and upwards of a score

Chorus

With Scottish Legal, Wesley General, the Pru and the Pearl its said,
The day that Tom got married, he put a price upon his head

For murder was their business, poison was their way
Profit was their motive, and all were viewed as prey
Insure ‘em six times over by fraudulent deceit
With the ailments of the working man, kept safe in that conceit

Chorus

But Tommy had a brother who’d not accept it so,
That a hodman, hale and hearty, could so swiftly be laid low
And he pressed upon the doctors, the insurance agents too
And then the beadle Hargreaves, and he brought them to his view

Chorus

And as the mourners gathered, to Ascot Street they sped
To view Tom’s cold grey body as it lay upon the bed
The funeral it was halted and Maggie she was ta’en
But Catherine saw them coming and they could not her restrain

Chorus

Ten days she moved from house to house, ten days upon the run 
But rumours filled old Liverpool, and Catherine was undone
For as she skulked and scurried, more bodies they did raise 
With arsenic found in each of them, the world was sore amazed  

Chorus

The trial was quickly over, guilt found on every charge
And as they languished in the cells, the scaffold it loomed large,
Each sister blamed the other, as clemency they sought
But they hanged as one in Kirkdale gaol, their pleas had gained them nought

Chorus

Music: Na-Mara, Lyrics P. McNamara

One irony of early days of life insurance was that it induced some malefactors to murder. In the impoverished tenements of inner-city Victorian Britain, unscrupulous parties would take out multiple policies on unsuspecting partners and then poison them slowly with arsenic extracted from fly paper.  Health conditions in such areas were sufficiently appalling that doctors struggled to distinguish the effects of poison from natural illnesses.  This particular tale is recorded in Angela Brabin’s 2003 book, ‘The Black Widows of Liverpool’.