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​Last Brit Sentenced To Hang: The OAP Serial Killer Who Was Caught By Her Own Dark Jokes

​Last Brit Sentenced To Hang: The OAP Serial Killer Who Was Caught By Her Own Dark Jokes

While serial killer Mary Wilson believed she had got away with her crimes 60 years ago, it was actually her macabre sense of humour that led to an eventual death sentence.

The Mirror reports that this month will mark six decades since Wilson - a small and seemingly harmless pensioner - became the last women in Britain to be sentenced to death by hanging.

Hailed the 'Merry Widow of Windy Nook', she used beetle and rat poison to murder three husbands and a lover and get her hands on their hard-earned cash.

It all started in her hometown Catchgate, County Durham, when she went to work in service for a family called Knowles.


Wilson fell for their son - a chimney sweep named John - and in 1914 the couple got married and settled down in Windy Nook. For decades the pair enjoyed a normal marriage.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

However, after 41 years, at the age of 76 Knowles died of tuberculosis - or so it seemed. In the background, Wilson was having an affair with a painter named John Russell.

Russell also died the following year aged 65. This time it was put down to 'natural causes'.


With £42 in the bank from both deaths (doesn't sound like much, but it was plenty back then), in 1957 Wilson married retired estate agent, 75-year-old Oliver Leonard. And guess what happened?

That's right - 12 days into their marriage Leonard passed away, allegedly from 'heart failure and pneumonia'.

Despite having two dead husbands under her belt, Wilson ended up marrying a third man - a retired engineer called Earnest - just four months after Leonard passed.

Two weeks later and the widow called the doctor to say Earnest had 'taken badly'. By the time the doctors arrived, he was already cold, with the cause of death noted as 'heart failure'.


This time Wilson's payout was sizable - £100 from a co-op account in addition to Earnest's house and life insurance.

Despite all the incredibly suspicious number of deaths surrounding Wilson, she was never investigated by the police. That is, until she made some rather unsavory jokes at her wedding to Earnest.

When a friend asked her what she would do with all the spare sandwiches, Wilson replied: "Keep them for the funeral."

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She also told the man who had organised her previous partner's funerals: "I should get a discount for the business I put your way."


Archivist Teresa Ashforth told the Mirror: "There was an awful lot of talk.


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"It actually first came to police notice because of gossips from the town.

"Not only were the gaps between the weddings short, the marriages themselves were brief. Looking at the statements I don't believe she ever thought she'd be caught."

Wilson was eventually investigated when the bodies of Leonard and Earnest were exhumed, only for a pathologist to find lethal levels of phosphorous and wheat grain in their bodies - both ingredients found in beetle and rat poison.


Following questioning by the police, Wilson protested her innocence and in a court case at Leeds Assizes in March 1958, her lawyers suggested the poisoning may have been caused by the men taking sexual stimulation pills.

The court was having none of it and after a six-day trial, she was found guilty of both murders.

The verdict outlined death by hanging, making her the last women in the country to receive such a sentence.

However, Wilson's old age was her saving grace - Home Secretary at the time Rab Butler later changed the sentence to life imprisonment instead.

She passed away five years later in Holloway Prison, aged 74.

Wilson's great granddaughter Andria Raistric still recalls growing up with the crimes casting a dark cloud on their family's legacy.

In an interview with The Mirror, she said: "It wasn't something older members of the family talked about but I do remember children being told to behave or great-granny would be set on them.

"Mary Wilson looked like a little cosy old lady - but she killed my great-granddad. It's horrible but it is fascinating.

"I've never hidden it from my own children so they know all about the Merry Widow of Windy Nook."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: News, crime, UK, Serial Killer

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Daisy Phillipson

Daisy is a UK-based freelance journalist with too many opinions. She loves everything film and music-related and has a track record writing for Little White Lies, BWRC, and Film Daily. Contact her at