1884: Mary Lefley, exonerated by a deathbed confession

On this date in 1884, Mary Lefley was hanged at Lincoln County Gaol for lacing her husband’s pudding with a lethal dose of arsenic.*

It was less than four months since William Lefley ate the rice pudding his wife Mary had left him in the oven while she called at a nearby town. This strange poisoning case is admirably covered by Capital Punishment UK, whose work we’ve featured here before. It’s one of the essential online sources on British execution history.

Shrieking in terror, Lefley had to be dragged to the gallows — still protesting her innocence. She’d never admitted to the crime, and they’d never been able to show that she purchased any arsenic.

There was some thought that William may have committed suicide: he’s known to have attempted it once before. But the more outlandish defense hypothesis that some unknown third party might have snuck in and poisoned the morsel gained unexpected credence in 1893 when a farmer made a deathbed confession to having done just that … over a wholly unrelated-to-Mary financial grudge.

* Mary Lefley knew the last notorious Lincolnshire poisoner, Priscilla Biggadyke — who hanged for poisoning off her husband in 1868. “They are hanging me for my past!” Lefley exclaimed when she was convicted. (Priscilla turned out to be innocent, too.)

On this day..

9 thoughts on “1884: Mary Lefley, exonerated by a deathbed confession

  1. Does anyone know anything about Mary Otter Holmes? I can find nothing about her on the internet and the 2016 comment by Elizabeth Davies has made me curious especially since all I can discover is her maiden name, husband and children and birth and death dates. Very odd.

    • I think you may be at cross purposes here. Mary Lefleys maiden name was Holmes . I don’t think anyone mentioned a Mary Otter Holmes.

  2. Mary Lefley was my Grandads great aunt .How awful .never knew about it until today August 2020

    • Try applying for that programme that investigates miscarriages of justice on behalf of descendants like your you self I think it’s called “murder mystery in my family ”
      Or something like that
      It’s worth a try
      They made three series I think

  3. Mary Lefley was my 4x great aunt. She was born in Stickney (where Priscilla Biggadyke came from) as Mary Holmes in 1839.

    • William Lefley was an ancestor of mine. So sad that Mary was hung for something she probably didn’t do.

  4. I saw some years ago on the BBC website the Biggadyke case leading to a posthumous pardon. I also have some files here on Prescilla. I am happy to share the information.

    NB the confession was of purchasing the arsenic on Mary;s behalf, not of having administered the arsenic into the pudding.

  5. Trying to find the actual evidence that Priscilla was pardoned, if anyone has information I would like to know.

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