Martha Needle 1863-1894
On the 13 June 2011, I stood outside the premises at 137 Bridge Road, Richmond in Melbourne. These premises once belonged to a saddler called Louis Juncken who lived with his brother Otto and just across the road at 124 is the building, where the Toole Brothers had their grocery store and where Martha bought her rat poison, namely "Rough On Rats".
Martha NEEDLE was beautiful, manipulative and ruthless. She poisoned her husband and her three little girls. She watched as they died excruciatingly painful deaths. When she couldn't get what she wanted using her good looks she turned to rat poison. Martha Needle was insane.
She was born Martha CHARLES on the 9 April 1863 on the Murray River near Morgan in South Australia, she was raised in a violent household, her father, a mystery, but registered as Joseph Henry Charles, had left the marital home sometime in 1861, May Charles, nee Newlands had been drawing rations for herself as a destitute and applied to the court for funds to bury year old baby Dina in 1862. The couple had parted at Julia Creek, near Anlaby. When there Mrs. Charles accused her husband of an attempt to poison her. She told him that she was ill, and that she suspected him, as she had discovered that some poison, which was kept in the place for destroying dogs, had been taken away. She states that he did not deny the charge, and remarked that as they were living so unhappily she could expect nothing else. The separation lasted about twelve months, when a reconciliation was effected and they lived together at Kapanda, but only for a few months, when they again parted, this time on account of the husband once more threatening his wife, who then went to Mr. Glen's North-west Bend Station, on the River Murray, where seven months after the second separation Martha (Mrs. Needle) was born. It is my view that when Joseph Henry Charles left this last time he also took with him his children, William b: 1854, Mary b: 1856, and Ellen b: 1859 as there is no mention of them being with mother, May at all.
About 1865 May Charles hooked up with soldier from the 40th, 2nd Somersetshire regiment of foot, Daniel Foran an Irishman from near Limerick, whom she later married on the 15th March 1870. Thus began a series of dreadful abuse for the young Martha Charles.
At the age of 12 she went into domestic service at Port Adelaide. She met and married Henry Needle 1857-1889, a carpenter, some years her senior at North Adelaide in 1882.
Three children were born of the marriage, Mabel 1882-1885, Elsey 1883-1890, and May 1886-1891, and the family moved to Melbourne.
During the first years in Melbourne living at Cubitt Street Richmond, Needle and his very attractive wife were apparently happy in each other's company, and their neighbours looked upon them as a comfortably situated and well-matched couple. When a year or two had passed, however, the relations were noticed to be less cordial. Mrs Needle went out more often unaccompanied by her husband than had formerly been her practice, and Needle became jealous and morose.
On the 28 February 1885 one of the children, Mabel, sickened and died. She was attended by a local doctor in his capacity as physician to one of the lodges of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, of which Needle was a member. About the time of the death of the child, Needle went to Sydney in search of employment, but he did not remain long away, and when he returned the relations of the husband and wife were, it is said, less happy than they had been before.
A few months later Henry Needle was seized with sickness, and he, too, was attended by the lodge doctor. His illness did not last long, but it was remarkable for a circumstance set down by the doctor to irritability and obstinacy on the part of the patient. He refused to take any nourishment handed to him by his wife. Anything she offered to him he would wave aside, or when pressed into anger would dash it over the floor or against the wall. The reason of this was not known. Some friends of Mrs. Needle, who helped her in the nursing, remarked it as peculiar, but the dying man gave no explanation, and it was believed to be due to his ill- temper and his irritable disposition. Its effect was certainly disastrous, for as he only took nourishment when asked to do so by strangers, he was not sufficiently fed, and he died ultimately, as the doctor's certificate set forth, of "subacute hepatitis, enteric fever, and exhaustion due to obstinacy in not taking nourishment. In plainer language, the patient died from inflammation of the liver and of the intestines, and from exhaustion due to lack of nourishment.
Upon Needle's death Mrs Needle obtained the services of The Trustees, Executors, and Agency Company to administer for her. A sum of £60 odd was paid to her as her third share of the £200 of the life policy, less expenses. The balance was invested by the company for the benefit of the two children then living.
On the 9th December, 1890, Elsie, one of the children, died. She was six years old, and she died after a three weeks' illness from "gangrenous stomatitis and exhaustion." Mr Hodgson attended her. After Elsie's death Mrs Needle received the child's share of the £200—about £60.
On the 27th August, 1891, the little girl May, aged 4 years and 11 months, died from "tubercular meningitis.''
In January, 1892, Mrs Needle became house keeper to the two Junckens, Otto and Louis, at Bridge road, Richmond, where Louis carried on the business of a saddler. The family came from Lyndoch, South Australia. In April of that year she became engaged to Otto, but Louis said he objected to his brother marrying any person who exhibited such frightful outbursts of temper as she displayed. The mother also objected by letter on the ground of Mrs Needle's weak health. Louis appears to have been first poisoned on August 18, 1893, and was ill for 10 or 13 days, but as he consented to the marriage, he was given another chance until April 1894, when the same symptoms of violent and unexplained vomiting came on. A relative came to attend him, and he speedily got better, until she left on May 10. The same night, about 7.30, Mrs Needle went to a shop and purchased a box of Rough on Rats. The following morning she prepared breakfast, and Louis was again seized with the same vomiting fits. He died on May 15, and Dr McColl stated in his certificate of death that it was due to exhaustion and inflammation of the stomach and membranes of the heart.
The next step was the arrival of Louis and Otto’s brother, Hermann Juncken and his mother from South Australia, and as the mother refused to agree to the marriage, and Hermann backed her up and said Mrs Needle and Otto had better part, the removal of Hermann became a part of the criminal's programme. Arsenic was again used. Strange to say not one of the medical men who attended the various victims of Martha Needle had suspected her of being a poisoner. Luckily Dr Boyd was sharper than the general run of his brethren, and the woman was caught by the police in the very act of offering a cup of tea containing 10 grains of arsenic to Hermann.
Later the bodies of Henry Needle, and the prisoner's two children were exhumed, and traces of poison were found in all except that of May, who had been too long dead to allow of analysis. Detectives WHITNEY and FRYER disinterred Louis JUNCKEN's body from the cemetery of Lyndoch in South Australia and 34 grains of arsenic were found.
As to her conduct since her condemnation to death at the end of 1894 a Melbourne newspaper of that time said:—"None of those who are thrown into contact with Martha Needle can fathom her character. The condemned woman's mask of impenetrable reserve has confessedly baffled the governor of the gaol. Dr Shields, the Government medical officer, and both her spiritual advisers (Mr H. F Scott, Church of England chaplain, and Mrs Hutchinson, of the Salvation Army). Even to these experienced eyes the extraordinary woman is as inscrutable as the Sphinx. No hope of a reprieve has been expressed by her at any time in fact she has firmly stated that she prefers death. This sentiment does not appear to be, as is so often observed in prisoners similarly situated, the outcome of religious conviction. Mrs Needle has not manifested any of the fervency which distinguished Mrs Knorr and the young man Knox, who were recently hanged in the Melbourne Gaol. She is, notwithstanding, taking some interest in matters spiritual, as is evidenced by her choice of a Bible, a prayer book, and hymn book for regular reading.
Her only reference to the crimes for which she has been condemned is the oft-repeated and unfaltering statement that she is entirely innocent, and she expresses the conviction that she will go to heaven."
Martha Needle after a four day trial before Mr. Justice HODGES at the Melbourne Criminal Court was pronounced GUILTY.
She was hanged on Monday the 22 October 1894 at Old Melbourne Gaol.
Oddly enough Martha spent most of the insurance money on an elaborate grave for her family, which she visited almost every day.
Otto JUNCKEN stuck by Martha throughout saying," She didn't know what she was doing".
In her Will, made five days before the date of death and was witnessed by the sub-matron of the gaol and a law clerk. After the customary introduction the testatrix says, " I give, devise and bequeath all my real and personal property to Otto Juncken, of Bridge Road, Richmond, for his own absolute use. I appoint the said Otto Juncken sole executor of this my will." The only property left by the deceased is an amount of £25 payable under a policy of insurance on the life of the deceased by Citizens' Life Assurance Co.
Below is the letter written by Martha to Otto penned a few hours before her execution, which he received the next day.
Melbourne Gaol, Monday, 4 o'clock.
"My Darling— As you wished me to write I will do so, but truly I do not know what to say to you on this my last morning on earth. In a few hours I shall be free from all sorrow, but you, dear Otto, must live on for as time. It may be a very long time or it may not, but whichever way God wishes it will be. But, never mind try to bear up under the very sad blow. Rest assured we shall meet again where there is no parting. Your good father, also poor Louis and my dear little ones will welcome you. You know, dear, Elsie and May loved you on earth they will do so in heaven. Think how they will all welcome you to our happy home on high. I must ask you not to think unkindly of me for saying what I did last night to Mr Scott. I think it right that you should know what that man did say about you but I want you to thoroughly understand that I did not believe that you ever did say so to him, and I told him so. You must not think what he said upset me, for it did not, only it annoyed me to think that such a man would tell an untruth. True, he may think he was doing right we must hope he did think so. Now you will want to know what sort of a night I have had — fairly good. You and all dear ones have been in my thoughts and prayers, dear Otto. Please read the 139th Psalm from the 7th to the 13th verse, as I have asked God to forgive me anything that I have done to displease Him, and trust to His forgiveness, so do I forgive all that have ever done me any sort of unkindness, for I know that they are very sorry now for me, be the wrong little or big. Give my everlasting love to all enquiring friends. I must now say good-by to you for a time. When you receive this you can think of me as being in a happy home with my loved ones waiting and watching for you. I know, dear Otto that you will get ready for that happy meeting with us all. With love and sympathy from your loving
In June 1894 Martha's mother Mrs FORAN formerly CHARLES who had re married David FORAN in Port Lincoln in South Australia, in 1870 told a reporter at the Melbourne Argus.
"Of the first marriage six children were born—four girls and two boys. Only three of the girls are living—namely, in order of age Mary, wife of James Hall, who resided at or near Hoyleton, Ellen, wife of Joseph Lee, who resides at Marrabel, and Martha (Mrs Needle). The boys died young. The father is said to have frequently told his wife that he was heir to some property in Chancery, and he promised to take her to his friends in England. The couple parted at Julia Creek, near Anlaby/Kapunda.
Whilst there, Mrs Charles accused her husband, Joseph of an attempt to poison her. She told him that she was ill, and that she suspected him, as she had discovered that some poison which was kept in the place for destroying dogs, had been taken away. She states that he did not deny the charge, and remarked that as they were living so unhappily she could expect nothing else. The separation lasted about 12 months, when a reconciliation was effected and they lived together at Kapunda, but only for a few months, when they again parted, this time on account of the husband once more threatening his wife, who then went to Mr Glen's North-west Bend Station, on the River Murray where seven months after the second separation Martha was born. About four months after the birth of this daughter Mrs Charles removed to Port Lincoln, and had her daughter living with her until, when about 12 years of age, she went into the service of Mrs Drew at Port Adelaide.
Mrs FORAN complains bitterly of Martha's treatment of her, and says that she was cruel and headstrong, with an ungovernable temper. She accuses her also of threatening her life, and inciting her half-brother to join her in most cruel acts towards her mother.
Otto Johann Wilhelm YUNCKEN 1865-1945 was the son of Danish born Otto YUNCKEN 1826-1890 and Irish born Margaret Mary FITZGERALD 1835-1913. He had 5 brothers Herman, Louis, Charles, Franz Thomas and Albert. and three sisters, Augusta Amalia, Emma Louisa and Anna Ellen. Their father emigrated from Schleswig in 1855, then a duchy of Denmark though predominantly German-speaking. Their mother emigrated from Mitchelstown, County Cork, in Ireland at about the same time.
Otto married Bertha ABRECHT 1880-1949 on the 31 July 1901 in Melbourne.
The name YUNCKEN was always reported as JUNCKEN but it seems the family spell it with a 'Y'
"Otto Johann Wilhelm Juncken changed the spelling of his name to "Yuncken" about the time of the First World War but the South Australian Junckens generally still retain the original spelling."
Source: grandson, Andy Yuncken
Henry NEEDLE born in 1860 at Weedon, Northamptonshire, the son of Thomas Wilson NEEDLE b:1823 and Hannah Margaret BRAIN 1822-1908. They arrived on Ship "Forfarshire" with 5 children, Fanny, Martha, Caroline, Thomas and Henry.
Martha's mother was born Mary/May NEWLAND/NEWLANDS daughter of Duncan NEWLAND married her first husband Joseph Henry CHARLES on the 5 December 1853 at Inverbrackie, South Australia.
I believe Joseph Henry CHARLES died about 1865.
May Foran with her husband Daniel were well known to the police. Both spent time locked up for drunkeness and the children put into care.
From the SA Register 13 July 1876: Mary Foran, married, woman, was charged with leaving her son Daniel, aged 10, without means of support. Mrs Foran was ordered to be imprisoned for one calendar month with hard labour, and her two children (the other a boy of five years) are to be sent to the Industrial School till they are 12 yoars of age.
From the SA Register 3 April 1875: Mary Foran, married woman, was similarly punished for a like offence and mulcted in 20s. for uttering foul words, on March 31, in Sussex-street.
From the SA Register 15 March 1877: Mary Foran, an old offender, for a similar offence was fined 10s. and was sent to prison and kept at hard labor for two calendar months for being an habitual drunkard.
The second husband Daniel FORAN was born Caherconlish, Limerick, Ireland we have to go by military records in 1826 and arrived in Australia with the 2nd Somersetshire Regiment of Foot. He deserted 3 times and each time had a 'D' tatooed under his arm FORAN had two 'D' tatoos. He lived with May Charles till he married her in Port LIncoln on the 15 March 1870. He died on the 9 January 1927 telling people he was over 100 years old. He was charged and went to gaol for two years for indecently assaulting Martha when she was 13.
British Army Soldiers guilty of desertion were branded with the letter "D" (until 1871). Originally the branding was done by the drum major using needles and gun powder. In 1840 marking instruments were used and it became more like a tattoo. Daniel Foran had at least 2 such marks.
Here is a bit more info regarding Daniel Foran's assault of Martha Needle. From: the South Australian Advertiser Tues 4 April 1876 Daniel Foran, who was charged with indecently assaulting his stepdaughter, Martha Charles, aged 13 years, at Adelaide, in December, 1875, and found guilty, was next brought up for sentence. His Honor alluded to the enormity of the crime of which prisoner had been found guilty, and sentenced him to the full term allowed by the Act, viz., two years with hard labor. two years? she should have given him a dose of Rough on Rats.
According to police reports, Mrs Foran was "addicted to drink and has many convictions for drunkenness, indecent language and wilful damage recorded against her" From the SA Register 13 July 1876: Mary Foran, married, woman, was charged with leaving her son Daniel, aged 10, without means of support. Mrs Foran was ordered to be imprisoned for one calendar month with hard labour, and her two children (the other a boy of five years) are to be sent to the Industrial School till they are 12 yoars of age. From the SA Register 3 April 1875: Mary Foran, married woman, was similarly punished for a like offence and mulcted in 20s. for uttering foul words, on March 31, in Sussex-street. From the SA Register 15 March 1877: Mary Foran, an old offender, for a similar offence was fined 10s. and was sent to prison and kept at hard labor for two calendar months for being an habitual drunkard.
PUBLISHED IN The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) Thursday 22 March 1900
Mary Foran, aged 63. who said she was a Highland Lady, was charged by M.C. Wells with being idle and disorderly. The evidence showed she was frequently drunk, and earned a small living by knitting and telling fortunes. She was sent to gaol for two months. Daniel Foran, aged 31, was charged with a similar offence, and was sent to gaol for one month.
Martha's half brother also named Daniel Foran a chronic alcoholic died in a cell at Wallaroo, South Australia on the 29 March 1902.
THE ADVERTISER 31 MARCH 1902 PRISON CELL MYSTERY.
Wallaroo, March 29.
Daniel Foran was brought into Wallaroo yesterday from Alford, and handed over to the police. He was acting strangely, and ' Dr. Fulton attended him in the police cell this morning, in the presence of the police and Mr. James Malcolm, who came to hold an enquiry.
Some time afterwards Foran died, and an inquest will be held tomorrow. Dr. Fulton at the request, of Mr. Malcolm will conduct a post-mortem examination this afternoon.
Deceased was at times a heavy drinker. He called at Mr. Mudge's Farm, Tickera, and told them he wanted to give himself up to the police. The last words he mentioned this morning were, "I did not do it."
FROM THE ADVERTISER 1st APRIL 1902 INQUEST AT WALLAROO.
Wallaroo, March 30.
On Sunday morning Mr. James Malcolm held an inquest at Wallaroo on the body of Daniel Foran. John St. Jagor Mudge, of Wiltunga, said he recognised the body as that of a man he handed over to Mr. McKee. He came to his farmhouse about 2 a.m. on Friday last. Witness said the man was a lunatic, and took care of him.'
When daylight came he started with him to Wallaroo, and meeting Mr. Wm. McKee, handed him over to him. He did not notice any sign that deceased had been drinking. William McKee deposed to taking charge of the deceased and handing him to the police at Wallaroo. He saw at once that the man was a lunatic.
Thomas Kensington Fulton, M.D., said he visited deceased on Friday and Saturday last. He made no complaint, but witness saw he was insane. He had in the cell all that he required. He was a complete wreck. Some of the wounds were on his body on Friday, and were nearly healed.
He made a post mortem examination, and found that the body was very filthy and emaciated. There were evidences of failure of the heart's action, also of alcoholism, self-abuse, and reckless living. Mounted Constable Joseph Richard Jemison said Mr. McKee had taken the deceased to the station on Friday morning. The man appeared to be insane. He locked him up on a charge of lunacy, and gave him his dinner about 1 p.m. Dr. Fulton examined him for lunacy, and witness saw him at intervals, and attended to him, giving him meals. On Saturday morning he went into the cell with some gentlemen, and found deceased in a sitting position. He was either fainting or dying. He gave him some water and brandy, but the man expired before the doctor arrived. He had every care and attention.
The jury returned the following verdict:-"The said Daniel Foran came to his death by failure of the heart's action, accelerated by self abuse and reckless living." The coroner commended the police for their great kindness to deceased while in the cell.
Below is a photograph of Martha NEEDLE nee CHARLES 1864-1894