Lizzie Halliday was an Irish-American serial killer who operated in upstate New York in the 1890s and killed at least four victims. And others even claimed that she was Jack the Ripper.
In the 1890s, the Catskills were a tranquil region. Until one lady, the renowned Lizzie Halliday, one of the most insane early serial killers in America, disturbed the tranquility by concealing bodies on her property.
The phrase “the worst woman on Earth” was used to describe Halliday after she killed at least four people and probably many more. Many people thought she was responsible for the heinous Jack the Ripper killings
Who exactly was Lizzie Halliday?
When Lizzie Halliday made her journey from Northern Ireland to the US, she was just three years old. She was married for the first time in 1879. She would go down the aisle five more times over the following 14 years. Did Lizzie contribute to her husbands’ high mortality rate, or was she just unlucky?
The New York Times stated in an article from 1894 that it was unknown if these guys passed away naturally or were killed.
She chose older men like George Smith, a veteran, and Artemus Brewer, a “veteran and pensioner.” The Times reported that “in a few months she tried to kill Smith by offering him a cup of poisoned tea.” “After her plan failed, she ran away.”
Arson was a part of Lizzie Halliday’s criminal career. She started a shop while residing in Vermont, burned it down, and then filed an insurance claim. Halliday was sentenced to two years in prison for the offence.
After serving her first sentence, Halliday accepted a position as Paul Halliday’s housekeeper. They got married. In the newspapers during her murder trial, it was stated that “their married life does not seem to have been nice.” Halliday stole a horse, then she and a neighbor escaped on it. She was committed to an asylum for the crime after pleading insane.
Still devoted to his wife, Paul greeted her when she returned from the asylum. He declared to the media: “No fool like an old idiot.” Instead of changing her evil ways, Halliday killed her stepson by setting fire to their home .
The Murder Farm of Lizzie Halliday
Paul Halliday vanished after the passing of his son. Worried neighbors asked about Paul’s whereabouts, but the black widow replied that her husband was only traveling.
The neighbors looked around Halliday’s absence and searched the farm. Because of her criminal history, many residents of the sleepy town believed she had murdered her spouse. However, the searchers came across something even more unsettling than just one body.
The searchers located two women’s bodies in the Halliday barn, concealed beneath a stack of hay. They were Margaret and Sarah McQuillan, mother and daughter. To kill them, Halliday had lured them to the property.
For the murders, police swooped in to apprehend Halliday. Additionally, when the police examined the farm, they discovered Paul Halliday’s dismembered body hidden beneath the floorboards.
Prisoner Lizzie Halliday wasn’t a willing one. She assaulted the sheriff’s wife while she was detained in jail awaiting trial. She succeeded in lighting a fire inside her cell. She also made so many attempts at suicide, including one in which she slit her own throat with shattered glass, that the authorities tied her to the floor.
The Catskills Ripper, Lizzie Halliday
According to the New York World, “it is unprecedented and almost without parallel in the annals of crime, from its circumstances, origin, conception, and execution; its unique characteristics, the abnormal personalities and peculiar locations it involves, and, above all, in the strangeness and mystery of its great central figure.”
Nellie Bly, a reporter, spoke with Lizzie Halliday when she was incarcerated. The black widow admitted to committing numerous other deaths, telling the journalist, “It is a long story, and it is over many homicides in addition to those that are already known.”
Authorities started to question if Halliday had an even lengthier criminal history while she was incarcerated. A serial killer had terrorized London in 1888. The murderer, often known as Jack the Ripper, was never apprehended.
In 1893, sheriff Harrison Beecher dropped a shocking revelation. The sheriff stated, “Recent investigations reveal that Mrs. Halliday is most likely associated with the infamous Whitechapel murders.”
The sheriff made his judgment based on inference. Around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, Halliday was in London. Her victims were dismembered. Halliday also frequently brought up the Ripper’s imprisonment.
The sheriff stated that “Mrs. Halliday continually speaks of those murders.” She also mentions the numerous New York-born women who have been abducted, murdered, dismembered, and thrown in the Hudson River.
Halliday was called the “Catskills Ripper” by the media.
The worst woman on earth.
In 1894, Lizzie Halliday was put on trial for murder. She was swiftly found guilty of the McQuillans’ and her husband’s murders by the Sullivan County court. Police were unable to link Halliday to any additional crimes, despite the fact that she had very certainly killed more people. She made a mistake by concealing the remains on her property, where she could easily be implicated in the murders.
Halliday became the first woman ever to be sentenced to death by electric chair when the jury placed her on death row.
However, the court intervened and mitigated the punishment. Halliday was taken to the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane rather of being imprisoned.
One person said Halliday was “a kind of degraded humanity.” She believed she had the ability to fool whomever she chose, and was “ignorant, nasty, crafty, and revengeful.”
And in the asylum, Halliday persisted in misbehaving. She tried to flee while attacking the personnel. And in 1906, Halliday used a pair of scissors to stab nurse Nellie Wickes 200 times. Wickers’ passing solidified her status as the Catskills Ripper’s last victim.
The chase for female serial killers
The late 19th century saw the emergence of a new phenomenon: serial killers who carried out brutally precise murders on several victims. But there were other Victorian serial killers than Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes. Multiple murders were also committed by women like Mary Ann Cotton and Lizzie Halliday.
But female serial killers were very different from their male counterparts. One example is that they were more prone to murdering family members. Additionally, they were less likely to commit murder with knives or guns—poison was frequently the weapon of choice for women.
What propelled Halliday to kill, and was she involved in the murders of Jack the Ripper? She never revealed.
Halliday altered the stereotype of female serial killers in some respects. She allegedly murdered strangers in addition to her husband and stepson. She also used a rifle, knives, and scissors while trying to kill with poison. She dismembered her victims, just like the Ripper.
Perhaps aptly, Lizzie Halliday’s obituary referred to her as “the worst woman on Earth” when she passed away in the asylum in 1918.
- Farrell, Elaine; McCormick, Leanne. “‘Bad Bridgets’: The criminal and deviant Irish women convicted in America”. The Irish Times. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
- Telfer, Tori (2017). Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 62.
- Robert Wilhelm. “The Worst Woman on Earth“. Murder by Gaslight. Retrieved December 22, 2014.