« VorigeDoorgaan »
him until she herself involuntarily betrayed him by a letter
wrote from the prison, addressed to Don Thaddeo Santia, Madrid. At this period it was the custom in Spain to hang out a list of letters brought by the post, the addresses of which were not sufficiently explicit. Santiago saw the letter, and by calling for it threw himself into the coils that were spread for him. Soon after, the two were brought to trial. She was one of the most beautiful women of Madrid, and belonged to one of its most ancient families; but the judges were inflexible. Both the lady and her paramour were sentenced to death, and they were accordingly executed. Until the last moment, they solemnly protested that they were innocent; but, just as the fatal cord was adjusting about their necks, they made a full confession of their guilt, and acknowledged the justice of their sentence. Now, need we ask how much better was it for the interest of the sex.to see the laws thus vindicated than it would have been to turn the trial into a farce and allow the guilty to escape ?
We return again to France for the purpose of noting the case of Madame Gottfried. In 1825 a gentleman named Rumpff established himself in a house in Bremen, which belonged to, and was also inhabited by, a widow lady of the above name,who, by common consent, was a charming woman, and who was as much celebrated for her kindness and gentleness of manner as she was for her beauty. But all regarded her as unfortunate, and they sympathized with her accordingly; they thought it a great pity that such a good woman should have lost two husbands, her father, mother, brother, and several children, all in the course of a few brief years. She used to lament, herself, with tears in her eyes, that she had to pesform the painful duty of ordering thirteen coffins of the undertaker ; but she added that she had the consolation of knowing that she had tenderly nursed all her lost friends, never leaving their bed-side until they were beyond the reach of all earthly aid. Although now forty years of age, she had still claimants for her hand, for the worst thought entertained about her was that she had a poisonous breath, which was fatal to all who inhaled it at certain times or under certain circumstances. Partly for this reason, and partly for her “ill luck,” the friends of Mr. Rumpff tried to dissuade him from establishing himself in her house. In many features of his character this gentleman was much like Dr. Burdell, the victim of a woman whose character is still more like that of Madame Gottfried. Rumpff had no faith
in the reasons assigned by his friends, and he had no idea of resigning a residence that suited him on absurd grounds. Unlike Dr. Burdell, Mr. Rumpff had a wife and family. For some time, however, the latter seemed to have great reason to congratulate himself, and his wife was, if possible, still better pleased with the change than himself, for Madame Gottfried seemed to have no other care but to render herself agreeable to both, and do all in her power for the children. Such were their relations for eight weeks, when the general joy was interrupted by the sudden death of Madame Rumpff, who was seized with a violent vomiting two or three days after her confinement. Nothing could exceed the attentions of Madame Gottfried, and so well did she play her part that the chief consolation of the dying woman in her last moments, while writhing with agony, was that she left behind her so kind a friend to protect her orphans and comfort her bereaved husband; and to all appearance her hopes and wishes were fulfilled to the letter. So friendly and affectionate was she to the children that they called her no other name than Aunt Gottfried. T'he infant was doing quite well, but the nurse who had charge of it soon became so extremely ill that she had to leave, declaring that whatever was the reason, she felt she should never be well as long as she remained in the house. Nor did Mr. Rumpff's apprentices fare better; they, too, were seized in turn with violent fits of vomiting, and some three months after his wife's death he became ill himself in a similar manner. Being a strong, robust man, he struggled resolutely to overcome the supposed malady ; but in vain; he could keep nothing on his stomach ; everything he ate caused him the most excruciating agonies, and his health declined from day to day. In about two weeks. he lost the use of his fingers and toes, and became as weak as an infant. Amid all this suffering the idea of poison never occurred to him ; but he thought that there might be some decaying substance about the house which exhaled a vapor fatal to the health of all who inhabited it. He made a close search for the supposed substance, causing the boards of the floor to be lifted, the walls to be opened, &c., but with no result. It is not strange that in time his mind began to fail ; be now began to doubt whether, after all, there might not really be some evil spirits that pursued mankind to their destruction, wasting their bodies and withering their minds. These doubts he first expressed to Aunt Gottfried ; but she told
him to trust in God, that she would watch over him like a mother; and when he described to her his sleepless nights of anguish, she earnestly wished him such sweet rest as blessed her own pillow. This state of things went on for a year, the patient growing weaker and weaker from day to day, until finally all regarded him as near his end. usual with him in the spring, he ordered a pig to be killed for his family, and the butcher sent him a small choice bit of the animal to taste. Finding that it agreed with his stomach, unlike anything he had recently taken, he deposited the remains of it in a closet for his next day's luncheon ; but when he came to take it at the proper time, he found it was not as he had left it; and looking more closely, he was startled by perceiving some grains of white powder sprinkled over it. This attracted his attention all the more readily because he remembered to have remarked the same appearance on some salad, broth, and other articles which he had recently taken from the hands of Aunt Gottfreid. The suspicion of poison occurred to him now for the first time; he said nothing, however, but privately sent for his physician. A chemical examination soon revealed the mystery ; the white powder proved to be arsenic. This discovery was made on the 5th of March, and the day following she was arrested. The police found her in bed ; she protested that she was unable to leave, no matter what was their business, with her, for this she pretended to have no suspicion of. It will be remembered that Mrs. Cunningham affected to be very ill also, and that it was deemed highly improper to shock her feelings in such a state. It was otherwise, however, in the case of Madame Gottfried, for she was forcibly taken out of bed and carried off to prison. The news of so unexpected a catastrophe spread dismay all over the city. First, scarcely one believed that she could be guilty ; the general impression was that there must be some mistake. Who could believe, they said, that one so amiable, so friendly, and so pious—one so much esteemed and respected by all who knew her-would be guilty of poisoning her own friends ? A lady, too, continued another, who could see no one in pain or misery without shedding tears. Nor was this any misrepresentation, for she wept while her victims writhed in the agonies of death, and called on God to pity them and release them from their sufferings. The fact only shows, however, that she could shed tears when.ever she wished, and assume any character which she thought
was most suitable to her present circumstances. . So numerous were her crimes, and so long did it require, in consequence, to collect evidence against her, that three years had elapsed from the time of her arrest until she was brought to the scaffold. It was clearly established on her trial that she had murdered fifteen persons, and that she had destroyed the health of an incredible number. Until she saw that the evidence against her was too conclusive to be set aside, she persistently insisted that she was an innocent woman, whom unprincipled enemies had conspired with each other to ruin; then, however, she confessed ail, and wrote a history of her life, the details of which are still more revolting than those given by Nannette. The account she gives of the poisoning of her own mother would show by itself that she was a woman in nothing save the form, but the worst of fiends. Had her trial been one of those farces that have disgraced the criminal jurisprudence of this country during the last ten years, the world would never have known how one may seem kind, pious, charitable, in short, in every respect, exemplary, and still be at heart a bloodthirsty demon, capable of murder. ing her own incocent children. It is only when criminals are brought to condign punishment that they reveal those facts which prove the most valuable lessons to the private citizen, as well as to the legislator, the Christian minister, and the moralist.
But one more foreign case and we are done. We select that which took place at the republican city of Hamburgh in 1786, because all the circumstances connected with it showed that a people may have a high appreciation of freedom, and be sufficiently chivalric, and at the same time observe no distinction of sex or condition as affording an immunity from punishment when a capital crime has been committed. One morning in the mouth of February, in the year mentioned, two laborers found a package wrapped in matting on the road between Hamburgh and Lubeck. They lifted it and took it to the nearest house, where they opened it, in the presence of witnesses, to see what it contained ; and to their amazement and horror they found the contents to consist of a human body, without head, arms, or hands. Those who found it took it from house to house to seek a resting-place, but no one was willing to receive so hideous a burden; having thus failed in their efforts, they thought it best to carry the frightful package båck and leave it where they had discovered it. This occurred on Tuesday the 24th, and on the evening of the same day, as the mail coach was passing the spot, the attention of the postillions was attracted by the horses shying at a bundle lying in the road, which on examination proved to contain a human head and two hands wrapped in a handkerchief ; & little further on they discovered, in a similar manner, the trunk which the laborers had just left there. The affair was thus brought to the notice of the authorities, and an investigation was immediately commenced. The body appeared to be that of a man fifty years of age, in good health, and the articles of dress he wore showed that his condition of life was respectable. The sack enclosing the trunk was marked with the initials P. R. W., and the shirt bore the letters J. M. H., but none could tell whom did either initials represent. The laborers remembered, however, that on the morning of the day they found the corpse, about ten o'clock, they observed a carriage drawn by four black horses, with a coachman and postillion, standing in front of the new inn at a spot called the Fleishgaffel. It started on the road to Lubeck whilst they were near, and at such a pace that when it reached the Hogenberg, where the road is steep, they lost signt of it; and it was exactly at this spot they afterwards found the body. Later in the day they observed the same carriage pass through Lutzen on its way back to Hamburgh.
When the news reached the latter city, it was suspected at once that the mutilated corpse was that of a tobacco merchant named Wächtler, who, according to the report of bis wife, had left home for a long journey on Wednesday, the 22d; but the fact that no one saw him going, or knew anything of his intention to do so,"created suspicion at once, especially among those who were aware that the husband and wife had frequent disagreements. All was vague, however, until a person named Hennings came forward on the 29th, and stated that he had been applied to by Frau Wachtler some days previously for one of his livery carriages to convey her as far as Lubeck, where she expected to meet her husband. She was very anxious that he would set out on Thursday evening, but he refused to travel by night, and they agreed to start at an early hour on Friday. As she mentioned that she should have rather a cumbersome package to carry, he recommended that she should allow him to fetch it and arrange it in the carriage beforehand; but she remarked that it was not necessary ; that she would rather see to it herself, as it was something she was very careful about. Even in the morning he was not permitted to see it; he was invited up stairs to