Wilson, Catherine (1842–1862)

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Wilson, Catherine (1842–1862)

English nurse, poisoner, and executed murderer . Born in 1842; died by hanging on October 20, 1862, in London; parentage unknown; married a man named Dixon.

Not all women achieved their places in history through good works; Catherine Wilson made her mark as a notorious poisoner of innocent victims. Wilson's early life is unknown. From 1853 to 1862, she lived in London, England, and worked as a nurse and housekeeper to ailing persons who also happened to be wealthy. Wilson won the trust of her patients and persuaded them to make out new wills bequeathing their property and money to her. She then poisoned them.

Wilson first caught the attention of the authorities after she murdered her husband, a man called Dixon, in London. Doctors wanted to perform an autopsy on the dead man, but Wilson pleaded against the procedure, claiming her husband was terrified of being mutilated. The doctors relented, and Catherine's crime went undiscovered.

By 1862, Wilson was nursing and living with the ailing Sarah Carnell and her husband. Because of Catherine's tender ministrations, Sarah wrote a new will that left most of her property to Catherine. Soon after, Wilson brought the sick woman a "soothing drought." The drink burned Sarah's mouth, however, so she spat it on the carpet and called her husband who quickly entered the room. The Carnells stared in awe at the burned holes on the carpet where the fluid had landed. Wilson fled, and Mr. Carnell took the tainted glass to the police. The glass contained enough sulfuric acid to kill 50 people. Wilson was captured several days later and charged with attempted murder, but she was cleared of the charge thanks to her defense attorney who claimed a chemist (pharmacist) had given Wilson the wrong prescription. But time had run out. The bodies of seven other victims who had been attended by Wilson had been exhumed and were found to contain an assortment of poisons ranging from arsenic to colchicum. After her trial in London's Old Bailey, Wilson, who did not confess to a single murder, was condemned to die by hanging. On October 20, 1862, a crowd of 20,000 watched her swing from the gallows.


Nash, Jay Robert. Look For The Woman. NY: M. Evans, 1981.

Gillian S. Holmes , freelance writer, Hayward, California

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Wilson, Catherine (1842–1862)

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