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A.K.A.: "The Guestling Murderess"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: September 1848 - February 1849
Date of arrest: April 28, 1849
Date of birth: 1800
Victims profile: Her husband Richard Geering, 56, and two of her sons, George, 21, and James, 26
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic - mercury)
Location: Guestling, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Lewes on August 21, 1849

The Guestling Murderess

Mary Ann Plumb was born the eldest of five children in 1800 and lived in the parish of Westfield. She was a housekeeper in her own home while her parents worked in the fields.

At eighteen she went into service and met Richard Geering. Discovering she was pregnant they eventually married at Westfield Parish Church and three months later the child was born.

Richard and Mary lived in a cottage near Guestling, where Richard worked as a labourer. Although it wasn’t a particularly happy marriage they had several children.

It was during this time that they moved to Guestling Green and Richard secured employment. For thirty years they lived in a tiny cottage. He earned a living for them while she devotedly raised the children.

In 1846 Richard Geering was left the sum of £20 which he deposited in the Hastings Savings Bank and the deposit book was given to his sister for safe keeping.

About this time, Mary’s eldest son William lost his wife to consumption, and he and his three children went to live with his parents at the cottage.

During September 1848 things took a violent change. Richard Geering was taken ill with a sickness and five days later died. The diagnosis was given as heart disease.

Four months later twenty one year old George became ill with violent bouts of sickness and raging thirst. Although nursed by his mother during the day and brother James by night he finally died.

Six weeks after George’s funeral James aged 26 was taken ill with the same symptoms and died on 6th March in the same year. About three weeks later on Easter Sunday, Benjamin Geering eighteen years old was taken ill, and after two or three days of sickness he was attended by two doctors who removed him from his mothers care. Benjamin recovered which threw suspicion on his mother. The doctors finally came to the obvious conclusion that he had been poisoned. The coroner under Police supervision exhumed all the bodies in the family and Mary Ann Geering was arrested on suspicion of poisoning her husband and two sons. She was sent to Hastings Gaol and the three youngest children were sent to the poor house.

At the inquest evidence showed that she had purchased arsenic from a chemist in Hastings, of which traces were found in the bodies of Richard and James and mercury in George.

Dressed all in black and wearing a black shawl with a multicoloured border, bare headed, she finally admitted to the murders.

Mary Ann Geering known as the Guestling Murderess or Murdering mother was found guilty of murder at Lewis Assizes and sentenced to hang. She died aged forty nine years old.


Trial & Execution of Mary Ann Geering

The (London) Times, 22 August 1849

Execution of Mary Ann Geering

Lewes, August 21

At 12 o'clock this day Mary Ann Geering, convicted at the last assizes of the murder of her husband at Guestling, underwent the extreme penalty of the law on a drop erected in front of the county Goal.

On Monday evening she made a full confession of her guilt in having poisoned her husband and two sons, and attempted the life of her third son, Benjamin, who was the principal witness against her on the trial; and her penitence appeared to be so sincerely manifested that the chaplain did not hesitate to administer to her the holy sacrament. Having thus disburdened her mind, the culprit slept during the whole of Monday night. She awoke early in the morning and was at once attended by the Rev. B Burnett, the chaplain of the gaol, who remained with her until the time of her execution.

The spectators were not numerous; not more than between 3,000 and 4,000 made their appearance, and no feeling was manifested when she mounted the scaffold. In about two minutes the necessary arrangements were completed and the wretched criminal ceased to exist.

The body, after hanging an hour, was cut down, very few persons remaining till that time. It was buried in the precincts of the gaol at 4 o'clock.


The (London) Times, 7th May 1849

The Poisonings in Sussex

Hastings, Saturday May 5

Mary Ann Geering, who is suspected of having poisoned her husband and three sons, underwent a lengthened examination this day at the Town-hall before Mr Briscoe, Mr Staines, and other county magistrates.

The bodies, which had been interred in the parish churchyard of Guestling, were exhumed, and the contents of the stomaches sent to Mr Taylor, of Guy's Hospital, for analysation. The analysis as yet is not complete in all the cases. In two, however, arsenic has been discovered in sufficient quantities to account for death.

The evidence, as far as it went, afforded strong grounds of suspicion, and the proceedings having lasted till a late hour in the day, the magistrate resolved to remand the prisoner.

The prisoner was then removed to the Hastings gaol.


The (London) Times, 30 April 1849

Supposed Poisonings near Hastings

From the Hastings & St Leonard's News

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon a jury was summoned before Mr N.P. Kell, coroner for the rape of Hastings, at the White Hart Inn, Guestling, near Hastings, to inquire into the circumstances attending the deaths of three persons suspected to have been poisoned.

The circumstances of the case are as follows:- On the 13th of September last a labouring man named Richard Geering, aged 56, living with his wife, Mary Ann Geering, on the Green, ar Guestling, after lingering some little while, died, but no particular suspicion was entertained at the time, although the body was observed to be in a very bad state after decease. On the 27th of December following a son named George, aged 21, living at home, also died; and on the 6th ult, a second son living at home, named James, aged 26, likewise died.

All three suffered from vomitings, and were attended during their illness by Mr. J.I. Pocock. Latterly a third son, of about 20 years of age named Benjamin, has been in a state of ill health, accompanied with unnatural hunger and vomitings. Mr Ticehurst, having occasion to attend the latter, was suspicious of something wrong, and had the patient's diet consequently altered, when he soon began to recover. This made the circumstances attending the previous deaths look so suspicious that the coroner issued a warrant for the exhumation of the bodies Richard, George, and James Geering, which had been interred in Guestling churchyard. Yesterday morning the coffins containing the bodies were dug up and removed into the church to await the disposal of the coroner.

The jury having been sworn, proceeded to the churchyard. The three graves from which the bodies had been taken were on the east side of the church, and were very watery. The coffin containing the body of Richard Geering was first brought out of the church and placed on a tombstone. The lid was then unscrewed, and on its removal the body was found to be in an advanced state of decomposition, except in the region of the abdomen. The features of the deceased were too much impaired to be recognized, but the identity of the coffin was vouched for by the maker, who was also the sexton at the time of the interment. Mr. Ticehurst, Mr. W. Duke and Mr. F. Duke, then proceeded to make a post mortem examination of the body. The effluvium was dreadful, and the body swimming in water. To remove the latter holes were bored in the coffin. The whole of the deceased's intestines were removed and placed in jars. The coffins containing the bodies of the two sons were then brought out and opened. The face of George was but little disfigured, while that of James was far gone. In each case the inscription on the coffin lid was discernible. The intestines of the two sons were also removed and take into the possession of Mr. Ticehurst. In all the bodies it was found that the stomach was in an unusually good state of preservation. From the stomach of George Geering a small piece of white, gritty matter, resembling arsenic, was produced, and gritty matter was also observable in the case of the father. On the whole, the appearances presented by the different bodies seemed to be strongly indicative of death by poison. The examination being so far concluded, the jury assembled in the church, where they were addressed by the coroner, who stated that Mr. Ticehurst was of the opinion that the analysis of the contents of the bodies could not be complete until Thursday next, and perhaps would not be ready even then.

The inquest therefore stood adjourned until the ensuing Thursday, at 10 o'clock a.m., when the jury would be required to give their attendance at the White Hart Inn, for which they were required to enter into their own recognizances in the sum of 10 (?l) each.

The proceedings then terminated for the day.

At about 6 o'clock in the evening the woman Mary Ann Geering was brought into Hastings in custody of the police, and lodged in the watchhouse. One of the grounds of suspicion against her is the alleged fact that her husband and sons were members of a sick club. It has been stated that they were members of a burial club, but this we believe is an error. Some of the matter ejected from the stomach of Benjamin Geering has been reserved for analysis.

Supposing the suspicions entertained in this case to prove well founded, this will form one of the most appalling circumstances that ever took place in this part of the country, and serve to swell still more the already fearful catalogue of crimes which has been presented to the public during the last few months.

The woman Geering was apprehended in the course of Thursday morning at her house. She was brought into Hastings in a cart in custody of Superintendent Thompson and police-constable Jeffery. She will be brought up before the county magistrates at the Clerk's-office this morning, at 11 o'clock.

Transcribed by Joanne Mays Becker -


Flagrant Case of Murder

The Patriot (London, England)

Aug. 6, 1849

At Lewes Assizes on Wednesday, Mary Anne Geering, a woman of masculine and forbidding appearance, aged forty-nine, was arraigned for the murder of her husband and two of her sons, and for attempting to destroy a third son. The case with which the Court proceeded was that of Richard Geering, the husband, alleged to have been poisoned with arsenic by the prisoner. The evidence was much the same as that given at the sittings of the Coroner's jury. Fellow-labourers of Geering described how he was taken ill twice immediately after dining. Benjamin Geering, the young man whom it was alleged the mother had attempted to poison, related the circumstances of his father's death, and that of two of his brothers: the symptoms were those of poisoning.

He also described his own illness: two doctors attended him, and he was saved. His father and brother belonged to a burial club; this society made a collection of a shilling from each member for the burial of a deceased subscriber. A daughter and two other sons of the accused were examined. They bad not heard complaints that their house was troubled with rats, or that it was necessary to have arsenic to destroy them; nor that arsenic was required for the horses which James Geering, one of the deceased, had charge of. Richard Geering had some money in the savings-bank: he and his wife often quarreled about it; the woman appears to have drawn most of it out on the death of her husband, the prisoner attributed his death to a family complaint, disease of the heart; the medical attendant was thus imposed on, and gave a certificate accordingly: he had treated the deceased for a bilious intermittent fever as the immediate disorder.

Mary Anne Geering had wished that her husband was dead; after his decease she was auxiliary to have the coffin screwed down quickly. Surgeons detailed the appearances presented when the corpses were exhumed: the internal organs exhibited the signs of an irritant poison. The viscera were sent to Professor Taylor. A large pill, evidently made by an unprofessional person, was discovered in a house. Dr. Taylor’s evidence was the most important: he found that all the organs of Richard Geering – even the centre of the heart – were impregnated with arsenic: he collected a portion, no less than seven grains. In the remains of George Geering he found no arsenic, but the appearances of an inflammation were those of poison.

He discovered the mineral in the body of James Geering. A portion of what Benjamin has ejected from his stomach contained arsenic; and the large pill was composed of arsenic, opium, and another ingredient. The chemists and a woman proved that the prisoner had several times bought arsenic, on pretenses which other witnesses had proved to be false. After a variety of minor evidence, the case for the prosecution closed. Mr. Hust, who had volunteered to act for the prisoner on her daughter’s begging that she might have counsel, rested his defence mainly on the absence of any strong motive for the crimes imputed: the money obtained from the dab would be nearly swallowed up by the burial-expenses. After an absence of ten minutes, the jury found a verdict of "Guilty." Sentence of death was passed; which the prisoner heard almost unmoved.



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