Real Life Crime

Female Killers from the Big Apple

Elizabeth van Valkenburgh

On January 22, 1846, Elizabeth van Valkenburg was arrested and charged with the murder of her second husband, John van Valkenburgh. She was tried, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. The killer confessed to adding arsenic to her husband’s tea, and waiting as he died slowly and painfully. Van Valkenburgh claimed that she felt compelled to murder her husband as he would often drink, and ‘misuse the children.’ On the morning of her death, Elizabeth van Valkenburgh shocked authorities by confessing to killing her first husband as well, whom she had poisoned by adding arsenic to his rum. Despite having a broken leg, van Valkenburgh was escorted to the gallows on January 24, 1846, and was sitting in a rocking chair when the trap was sprung.

Maria Isabella Amaya

An immigrant from El Salvador, Maria Amaya was severely depressed and undergoing psychiatric treatment in 1990. That same year, on May 30th, the mother of four took the lives of all her children. Amaya stabbed the young ones, who were between 3 1/2 and 11 years old, and then attempted suicide by swallowing lye. Neighbors were shocked at the incident, describing her as a loving mother, who never disciplined her children. Amaya entered a plea of not responsible by reason of mental defect, and has been institutionalized since.

Martha Beck

Martha Beck, along with her common-law husband, Raymond Fernandez, became known as ‘The Lonely Heart Killers.’ To fulfill Raymond’s morbid sexual desires, Beck sent her children to the Salvation Army and began posing as Fernandez’s sister. They welcomed women into their home, and Beck often killed them in a jealous rage. The couple is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least 20 women between 1947 and 1949. Although their final two murders were committed in Michigan, Beck and her lover were extradited to New York where they stood trial for the murders of seventeen people. The trials were highly publicized, because of the sexual perversity surrounding the killings, and both parties were sentenced to death. Martha Beck declared that her’s was a love story, and that imprisonment had only caused her feelings for Raymond to get stronger. Beck and Fernandez were executed on March 8, 1951, in the city of New York, by the electric chair.

Lydia Sherman

Nicknamed the ‘Derby Poisoner,’ Lydia Sherman was responsible for the deaths of at least 10 victims. These included her three husbands, her daughter and two sons, and her stepchildren, all of whom she killed, by poisoning with arsenic, to collect their insurance money. Her crimes were not discovered until her third husband, and his children, died while in her care. After conducting his own investigation, their doctor informed the authorities and Mrs Sherman was arrested. She was sentenced to life in prison in 1872, and died while incarcerated on May 16, 1878.

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