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Writing History & Mysteries

When I'm not delving into historical research, I'm planning a character's demise.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Bread and Butter 02

Hoag Family Plot - Alabama Center Cemetery, Alabama, NY
SETUP: The Hoags moved onto the farm and away from Alabama Center in  April of 1856. At the end of May, Polly went to the Center to see Dr. Samuel Bateman, who was also a druggist, and purchased a half-ounce vial of arsenic on the premise to kill rats. By this point her husband Henry was suffering on and off with bouts of illness. Polly had alleged to people this was due to an accident but she was already poisoning her husband. Polly returned a couple weeks later to the Batemans to replenish her supply.
Anything in quotation marks is from actual trial testimony.
....and now for the snippet.

Calista, Dr. Bateman's wife, testified, "Polly came to my house early one morning in June, she wanted to get into the office to purchase some rhubarb, and some arsenic to kill rats or mice who were destroying her clothes and bedding. She said she had some in the house before, but had mislaid or lost it.  She was going to mix it with some bread and butter and put it between the lath.  She said her husband did not wish her to buy it, for fear of accident. Said the mice were so thick that she couldn't live in the house,"  Calista continued, "I put up a half an ounce of rhubarb for her at the same time I gave her a small vial of arsenic. I then inquired to the health of her family."

Mrs. Bateman said Polly's response was that her husband concluded to farm for a while and thought it would be harder for him, and she did not believe he would live a year. She then told Calista that Henry had been hurt by a cultivator, which struck against a stone, and hit him in the pit of his stomach and that Henry had vomited blood and had not been well since.  

As a side note, rhubarb was used in the 1800s and before as a laxative or for digestive problems.
In 1856, in the rural town of Alabama, NY one woman's family suffered from multiple unexplained deaths. The town folk grew suspicious of the now remarried Polly Frisch. An investigation commenced, bodies were exhumed, an affair—exposed. Polly would be arrested for the murders of her first husband and daughters. Her fourteen-year-old son would testify against her. If found guilty, the punishment for such a crime was the gallows. Bread & Butter is the true story of Polly Frisch who poisoned her family with arsenic and the five trials it took to convict her. 

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The above excerpt is from Bread & Butter: The Murders of Polly Frisch, a book I co-authored with my friend, Ellen Bachorski in 2000. We are re-releasing it into the modern world of POD and Kindle, etc. with fresh edits and new info.



  1. Regina is absolutely correct. It's a powerful snippet! I had no idea that Rhubarb was used for any type of medical purposes! Thanks for the info.

  2. Yeah, that doesn't sound suspicious or anything . . .

    This is a fascinating case, Cindy. Nice details!

  3. For some reason this case makes me think of "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner. (Probably just because of the poison.)

  4. I bet today it would be hard to get any kind of poison. Not that I need any, LOL.

  5. Interesting testimony. The murderess seems to have been trying to create her alibi in advance but clumsily...fascinated by this case. Great snippet!

  6. I knew rhubarb leaves were poisonous. Do the stems have an effect too?

  7. Fascinating indeed, and powerful! I get the feeling that this will be an emotionally hard book to read. Her poor husband and children. Great snippet, Cindy!

  8. It's almost like she wants to get caught--or doesn't believe she will. She's so smug about her husband's 'illness.'

    That poor man...

  9. She totally has the way to kill him while looking innocent, a little bit of arsenic in the rhubarb and hopelaboum!

  10. Cunning lady! How did I miss this last week?


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