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Sophie Charlotte Elisabeth URSINUS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 1 - 3
Date of murder: 1798 - 1801
Date of arrest: February 1803
Date of birth: May 5, 1760
Victim profile: A young Dutch officer named Rogay (her lover) / Theodor Ursinus (her husband) / Christina Witte (her aunt)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Berlin, Germany
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment on September 12, 1803. Pardoned in 1833. Died on April 4, 1836

Sophie Charlotte Elisabeth Ursinus (born Weingarten) (5 May 1760 4 April 1836) was a German serial killer who is believed to have been responsible for poisoning her husband, aunt and lover, and of attempting to poison her servant. Her trial led to a method of identifying arsenic poisoning.

Early life

Sophie Weingarten was born in Glatz (now Kłodzku), a city in Lower Silesia, Prussia, the daughter of the secretary of the Austrian legation. Her father having lost his position, at the age of 19 she married the much older counselor of the Supreme Court Theodor Ursinus. She lived with him in Stendal until 1792 and afterwards in Berlin. Privy Counsellor Ursinus died there, suddenly, on 11 September 1800, a day after celebrating his birthday. His wife came under suspicion for not summoning a doctor, after the medicine she administered to him made his condition worse.

During her marriage Sophie had started an affair with a Dutch officer named Rogay, possibly with the consent of her elderly husband. He left Berlin for a time, but later returned and died three years before her husband. At the time his death was attributed to tuberculosis. It was later discovered that shortly before his death Sophie Ursinus had purchased a quantity of arsenic.

On 24 January 1801 an aunt of Sophie Ursinus, Christiane Witte, died in Charlottenburg after a short illness, leaving her a large inheritance. It was again later discovered that Sophie Ursinus had purchased a large quantity of arsenic shortly before her aunt had died.

At the end of February 1803 Sophie Ursinus's servant, Benjamin Klein, became ill, after having quarreled with her sometime earlier. She gave him an emetic, then soup, which made him worse. He became suspicious and when she gave him some plums, he secretly had them examined by a chemist, who confirmed that they contained arsenic.

Autopsies and trial

Sophie Ursinus was arrested and soon came under suspicion of having poisoned her husband. His body was exhumed but at the autopsy the examiners, the chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth and his assistant, Valentin Rose, could not confirm that he had been poisoned with arsenic. But there was a suspicion, from the general condition of the bodily organs and convulsive contraction of the limbs, that arsenic had been used to poison him. She was next charged with murdering her aunt. Again the body was exhumed but this time the examiners, contrary to what the doctors had said at her death, had no doubt that the aunt had died from arsenic poisoning, and that Sophie Ursinus had administered the poison.

The trial for murder ended on 12 September 1803. In her attempt to save her life and honour Sophie Ursinus had disputed every point, but was found guilty of the murder of her aunt and the attempted murder of her servant, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She was allowed a certain amount of comfort while in prison in Glatz, and was even allowed to have parties with guests and dress in fine clothes. She was pardoned after thirty years in 1833 and rejoined the upper-class society of Glatz until her death in 1836.

The work of Valentin Rose in proving that the victims in this case were actually poisoned showed that the evidence of doctors who were present at death was not sufficient. In 1836 the Marsh test, a highly sensitive method in the detection of arsenic, was developed by the chemist James Marsh.


Sophie Charlotte Elisabeth URSINUS

The daughter of an Austrian diplomat, Sophie Weingarten was born in 1760.  At age 19 she married elderly privy councilor Ursinus of Berlin, a loveless union arranged by her parents. 

Ursinus ignored his wife's steamy affair with a young Dutch officer named Rogay, and t carne to a bad end with Rogays premature death from "consumption." Sophie's husband was the next to go, on September 11, 1800, and maiden aunt Christina Witte followed on January 23, 1801.

In fact, while doctors suspected nothing, all three had been poisoned by Sophie.  Rogay had planned to leave her for another woman, while the murders of Ursinus and her aunt were strictly business, carried out for the inheritance she would recelve.  The chink in Sophie's armor was a servant named Klein, who knew the details of her crimes.  When she suspected him of planning to desert her, Sophie started dosing Klein with poison, but he recognized the symptoms and was quick enough to save himself, repaying her treachery with a full statement to the police.

Detectives called on Sophie's villa near Berlin, disrupting a game of whist when they served the warrant for her arrest.  In custody she admitted poisoning Klein, bestowing a generous pension upon her aggrieved servant.  A jury later convicted her of killing Christina Witte, and Sophie was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Not that incarceration meant hardship, necessarily.  Transported to the prison at Glatz on the Silesian frontier, Sophie was lodged in a deluxe suite of rooms normally reserved for the warden.  Comfortable furniture was provided, along with servants to wait on the guests at Sophle's frequent dinner parties.  Money was no problem, since the court allowed Sophle to keep both her husbands estate and her inheritance from Aunt Christina.  Given the run of the prison, she entertained lavishly until her death on April 4, 1836. 

Sophie was laid to rest with great pomp in Glatz cemetery, serenaded by a childrens choir while clergymen lined up to praise her generosity.  If anyone recalled her victims, they refrained from mentioning such awkward matters at the graveside service.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


Portrait of murderess Sophie Charlotte Elisabeth Ursinus wearing early nineteenth century "empire" fashions and playing a guitar.



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