The Story of Mary Knight

There was no question about it – Mary Knight and her mother, Catherine Hark, argued constantly. There was a long history; Mary had shown a lifelong disrespect toward her mother. Mary was the type of lady who liked to stay out with “questionable companions” in bad parts of the city.

Marriage did not settle the spirit of Mary Knight. Drinking caused much strife in her marriage and after a particularly ugly argument with Mr. Knight, Mary moved in with her mother.

The arguments that ensued brought neighbors from their homes, attempting to calm the ladies and bring peace back to their street. On the morning of May 10, 1895, the screaming became so loud that neighbors considered calling the police. Once the shouting stopped, neighbors saw Mary stagger out of the house, obviously drunk.

As this behavior was typical, they went about their daily business, ignorant of the events to come.

Later, as Andrew Probst walked past the house, he heard Mary screaming, and looking in through the window on her front porch. Andrew looked in the window himself, and saw Catherine lying on the floor with blood pools surrounding her. Mary told Andrew he couldn’t get in through the front door, and he broke a window to get in the home to Catherine. Between her unfocused eyes, the blood, and her lack of color, he saw all he needed to see to know she was dead.

When the police arrived they found Mary sitting in a drunken stupor by her mother’s side, howling and moaning. Some say she was so drunk she didn’t realize her surroundings. The murder weapon was discovered quickly, as it was a cross-piece of stove lying a few feet away. Upon its discovery, Mary was quick to proclaim her innocence of the crime. Police asked her to go with them to the station to make a formal statement, to which she flailed and screamed and fought the entire way. She was locked in a jail cell to calm down and sober up before being questioned.

Autopsy revealed that Catherine had suffered several blows to the skull, any of which could have been the fatal blow. Mary fervently denied any involvement in her mother’s death, and when confronted with evidence, Mary had a rebuttal or an excuse for everything. The blood found on her clothing, she claimed, was from cutting her hand the previous day. Later she added that she had also suffered a nosebleed, so that could have added to some of the blood on her dress and bonnet. Police consulted with a physician, who examined Mary and concluded that a nosebleed did not occur.

During the panic of the discovery of Catherine Hark’s body, Mary claimed that her mother had locked the door behind her after their quarrel, forcing Andrew Probst to break a window to get in. The door was discovered to be unlocked. Forensic analysis of crime scenes was limited at the time, so it could not be determined if Andrew Probst had left the bloody print on the door when he opened it to let Mary in, or if Mary herself had left it, perhaps attempting to lock the door to give herself an alibi.

Although Mary admitted during interrogation to arguing with her mother regularly, and that they had another argument that morning, Mary strongly denied ever becoming violent during quarrels. She simply stated that she went to the store to buy meat for their lunch that day, and discovered her mother’s body and a locked front door when she came back.

The next day Mary was taken to see her mother’s body. Dramatically mournful, Mary sobbed and wept, holding her mother’s body close to her as she wailed. The coroner asked her directly if she killed her mother, to which Mary haughtily replied that she would never do such a thing.

Dr. Lee Corbin, Montgomery County Coroner, held an Inquest the day after Catherine’s funeral. Neighbors recounted damning tales of Mary’s loud and sometimes violent outbursts toward her mother. Through eyewitness testimony, Mary’s suspicious behavior on the day of the crime was brought to light, and her story unraveled. Mary was the only witness for the defense, swearing that she was innocent of this crime, and that she did not harm her mother.

Despite having no physical evidence to prove Mary guilty, she was found guilty in the death of her mother. Judge Dwyer gave her the chance to say something before the sentence was carried out, and she denied once again that she was involved in her mother’s death.

Judge Dwyer sentence Mary to one year in jail, stating, “Your conviction has been on circumstantial evidence. Let the sentence serve as atonement for the dreadful crime of which you have been found guilty.”

Neighbors gossiped for months about this story, until September 1896 when Bess Little’s body was found in the Stillwater River in Cincinnati.

After Mary was released from prison, she kept a low profile. Not much is known about her later years.

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