The Witch of Staten Island was a moniker bestowed upon one Mary “Polly” Bodine by none other than P.T. Barnum.
Bodine was the blood sister of seafaring man George Houseman, who left his wife Emeline and 18-month-old daughter on a journey during the holiday season, 1843. While he was away, Polly would come by to keep her sister-in-law and niece company. Then on Christmas Eve night, something horrible happened the details of which continue to be debated close to 200 years later.
A fire broke out in the kitchen of Houseman’s home. When authorities responded to the scene, they found Emeline and her daughter dead of unnatural causes. Their skulls had been caved in. Several bones were broken. And Emeline’s throat had been cut. Witnesses on the scene said they were not even recognizable as human beings, according to Strange Company.
Circumstantial evidence and odd behaviors implicated Polly in the murders. For her part, she blamed a lover — George Waite, who also employed her 16-year-old son — for the crime but none of the evidence could connect him. And it was, in fact, the testimony of her own son running counter to her own that called her alibi into question. While she told authorities that she had spent the day of the murder with the pair, her son indicated he didn’t see his mother after 4 p.m., giving her ample time to commit the murders.
Making Polly Bodine an even more suspicious character was some of her behaviors. The morning after the murders, she ordered gin and pie on a Staten Island ferry … at 6 a.m. She was also said to be more consumed with the unflattering wax figure P.T. Barnum was using to represent her in his house of horrors. (It was an evil haggish creature named “The Witch of Staten Island”; Bodine was, by most accounts in her thirties and attractive.)
Something else the “guilty” crowd didn’t like about her is that she had been impregnated by Waite on multiple occasions and never carried any of the children to term, opting for abortions instead. This being 1843, though, a number of people had difficulty believing a woman could commit the levels of atrocity described in the murders.
After three trials, the State Supreme Court acquitted Bodine of the crimes, which remain unsolved. She died in 1892 after nearly 50 years living as a recluse. Her first words after receiving the news of acquittal: “Can I sue Barnum now?”
Sounds like a nice girl, huh?
(Featured Image: SILive)