Born Mary Ann Robson is this most profound of serial killers, Killed husbands, and possibly even her own children, she was hanged in Durham prison on 29th Match 1873, aged 40. She stood to gain from insurance policies, and killed using arsenic in cups of tea.
Born in the small English village of Low Moorsley in October of 1832, Mary Ann Robson did not have a happy childhood. Her parents were both younger than 20 when they married, her father barely managed to keep his family fed by working as a miner. When Mary was eight the family moved, Mary and her brother Robert went to a new school, where shy Mary found it difficult to make friends. Not long after the move the father fell down a mine shaft to an early death. Life in Victorian England was never easy, but especially so for a widow and her young children. the shadow of the workhouse and separation from her mother must have left dark shadows on Mary, indeed it is reported that she suffered bad nightmares. The workhouse and probably homelessness was avoided when Mary's moth re-married. Mary did not like her new step-father, but she liked the things his good salary could buy. finally at the age of sixteen she could stand the hard discipline of her step father,, she moved out to become a serving girl at a nearby house.
After three years service, and many a scandal in the local village about the many male visitor Mary took, she left to train as a dressmaker. It was not long before she married, already being pregnant. Her first husband was William Mowbray, a miner. During the first few years of their marriage, they travelled all around the country in search of work, William taking work as a miner and sometimes on the railroad. During the first five years together Mary had five children, four of them dying as infants. Even though infant mortality was high in Victorian England, this was unusually high, but, was probably viewed as just "Bad luck".
Convicted of six murders in 1873, it is believed that she actually took the lives of more than 20 victims over a 20 year period,
Cotton was eventually caught when a post mortem examination on one of her children revealed arsenic poisoning as the cause of death.