Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Black Widows: Veiled in Their Own Web of Darkness

Hard-Hearted Hannah - New

Why on earth would any woman want to murder her husband? In the nave world that pre-existed television news, men actually imagined that the gentle creatures with whom they shared their beds were too passive ever to entertain thoughts of murder.

Its hard to say how many husbands suffered horribly painful deaths after the little woman decided that she had quite enough and planned what was often the perfect murder. Poison was the weapon of choice. It was easy to come by and its results were often mistaken for acute disease.

Ann Jones in her book Women Who Kill, tells about Hannah Hanson. After a failed marriage to Ward Witham, she moved to Boston in the early 1830s where she supported herself and her three children by sewing. There she met George Kinney and they became good friends. She also met up with Lowell, MA minister Rev. Enoch W. Freeman who was both her cousin and an old boyfriend.

Hannah became Mrs. Enoch Freeman in 1835, but sadly one year later the Rev. Freeman met his maker under some unusual circumstances. There was scandal about jealousy involving another woman and so Hannah had to leave Lowell.

Resourceful woman that she was, she went back to Boston and married her friend Mr. Kinney. Again, misfortune plagued the new bride and her groom. Mr. Kinneys business failed, so she had to go back to sewing and millinery to support the whole family. Work she did willingly until she discovered that her husband indulged himself in gambling and drinking binges.

It was not the alcohol that did him in, however, it may have been the herb tea Hannah fixed for him that carried him off in great pain in August of 1840. When the arsenic was found in his body, the police wondered about it got there.

Was he suicidal because of the failure of his business? Did he overdose on the many medications that were prescribed by his various physicians? During that time, arsenic was taken in small amounts for syphilis and other medical purposes. Arsenic, if he were taking it in conjunction with the powerful opiates he had been prescribed, could have resulted in accidental death.

Or, did Hannah get miffed over having to work for money he wasted on his own pleasures? Actually, there was no direct evidence found to tie her to her husbands death, except that the Rev. Freeman had died in an identical way.

She was tried and acquitted because twelve men could not believe that an attractive, hard-working and moral woman would ever do such a thing.


Shirley Allen, more than 100 years later, was more organized than Hannah if, indeed, Hannah did kill her kill her two husbands.

Michael Newton in Bad Girls Do It! writes that Shirley married Joe Sinclair in October of 1968, but tried to poison him some eight months later. He wisely got out of her life. In 1977, Shirley married again, this time to John Gregg, who she believed had him make her the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. When he unexpectedly collapsed and died, she was unpleasantly surprised to find out he didnt make her the beneficiary after all.

Bad Girls Do It!

Lloyd Allen was the man she married in 1981. He went downhill almost immediately and died of indeterminate causes the next year. The $25,000 life insurance policy and nasty rumors resulted in an autopsy and a finding of antifreeze ingredients in Lloyds body.

Shirley finally got caught when her daughter told police that she saw her mother put what she believed was antifreeze in Lloyds drinks. Shirley wasnt as fortunate as Hannah and was sentenced in 1984 to life in prison.

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