Martha M. Place
Martha M. Garretson
September 18, 1849
|Criminal penalty||Death by electrocution|
Martha M. Place (September 18, 1849 – March 20, 1899) was an American murderer and the first woman to die in the electric chair. She was executed on March 20, 1899 at Sing Sing Correctional Facility for the murder of her stepdaughter Ida Place.
Born Martha "Mattie" Garretson on September 18, 1849 in Readington Township, New Jersey to Ellen (née Wyckoff) and Isaac V. N. Garretson, Martha Place was struck in the head by a sleigh at age 23. Her brother claimed that she never completely recovered and that the accident left her mentally unstable. Martha married widower William Place in 1893. Place had a daughter named Ida from a previous marriage. William married Martha to help him raise his daughter, although it was later rumored that Martha was jealous of Ida. William called the police at least once after his wife threatened to kill Ida.
On the evening of February 7, 1898, William Place arrived at his Brooklyn, New York home and was attacked by Martha, who was wielding an axe. William escaped for help and when the police arrived, they found Martha Place in critical condition. She was lying on the floor with clothes over her head and gas from burners was escaping into the room. Upstairs they discovered the dead body of 17-year-old Ida Place lying on a bed. Her mouth was bleeding and her eyes disfigured from having acid, which William used in his hobby of photography, thrown in them. The evidence later indicated Ida Place died from asphyxiation. Martha Place was hospitalized and arrested.
Place proclaimed her innocence while awaiting trial. One contemporary newspaper report described the defendant in this way:
She is rather tall and spare, with a pale, sharp face. Her nose is long and pointed, her chin sharp and prominent, her lips thin and her forehead retreating. There is something about her face that reminds one of a rat's, and the bright but changeless eyes somehow strengthen the impression.
Martha Place was found guilty of the murder of her stepdaughter Ida and sentenced to death. Her husband was a key witness against her.
The governor of the State of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, was asked to commute Place's death sentence, but he refused. Having never executed a woman in the electric chair, those responsible for carrying out the death warrant devised a new way to place the electrodes upon her, deciding to slit her dress and place the electrode on her ankle. Edwin F. Davis was the executioner. According to the reports of witnesses, she died instantly.
Although Place was the first woman to die in the electric chair, she was the third to be sentenced to die by this method, the first two being serial killer Lizzie Halliday (1894 conviction commuted and sent to an asylum) and Maria Barbella (sentenced in 1895 and acquitted the next year).
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