The Murder of the Phoebe Hoggs – Attitudes to Female Killers

Good afternoon readers!

I have just been reading a history magazine and came across an article about the gruesome murder of Phoebe Hogg and her infant daughter, also called Phoebe in Victorian London in 1890. The Victorians at the time were not only shocked at the brutality of the murders but also that they had been carried out by a woman.

The story goes that Mary Eleanor Wheeler (also known as Eleanor Piercey) was having an affair with Frank Samuel Hogg and was completely besotted with him. She decided that if she disposed of his wife and daughter, Frank would be on his knees begging her to marry him. Piercey did not go for poison, the more usual weapon women use to kill, instead she cut her victims’ throats and dumped their bodies on wasteland.

The most surprising thing about this case is where public sympathy lay. I would have expected sympathy for the brutally murdered wife and daughter. But a lot of the press coverage at the time didn’t even name the victims. Mary Eleanor was constantly mentioned in the press and treated with sympathy throughout the investigation. The trial was covered as if it was a love story. Mary was eventually convicted of the crimes and given the death sentence. Following her conviction, public sympathy led to a petition for her release. Mary still insisted she was innocent. Her petition didn’t succeed and public sympathy waned. She deservedly hung for her ruthless crimes.

My feeling is that the society of the time showed sympathy for her as they struggled to believe that a woman could be capable of such cruelty. Public opinion towards female killers has changed dramatically since then though.

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