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The Grisly Crimes of Martha Place: A Brutal Tale That Ends In the Electric Chair

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

On the fateful day of March 20, 1898, in a modest Brooklyn apartment, a deeply disturbed Martha Place committed an act of unfathomable cruelty. Fueled by intense jealousy and resentment, she turned her rage upon her own stepdaughter, Ida Place, in a manner that would leave the entire community in shock and disbelief.

But let’s back up.

Born in New Jersey, Martha Place was struck in the head by a sleigh at age 23, possibly giving her CTE. Her brother claimed that she never completely recovered and that the accident left her mentally unstable with violent outbursts. As Martha Garretson she was employed by widower William Place as his housekeeper, but their relationship became closer. William already had a daughter, Ida, by his first wife, and Martha resented the affection shown by her new husband towards the17-year-old girl such an extent that it apparently affected her mental balance Martha married widower William Place in 1893. William married Martha to help him raise his daughter, although it was later rumored that Martha's jealousy of Ida was so strong that William called the police at least once to arrest his wife for threatening to kill Ida.

On the morning of February 7, 1898, an argument broke out at the Place home in Brooklyn. William and Martha fought, and Ida took her father’s side. When William left

for work, Martha turned on her stepdaughter. That evening, William Place arrived at his Brooklyn, New York home and was attacked by Martha, who was wielding an axe. William escaped for help and when the police arrived, they found Martha Place in critical condition lying on the floor with clothes over her head and gas from burners escaping into the room. Upstairs they discovered the dead body of 17-year-old Ida Place lying on a bed. Her mouth was bleeding and her eyes disfigured from having acid thrown in them. The evidence later indicated Ida Place died from asphyxiation. Martha Place was hospitalized and arrested. The calculated nature of the crime and the sheer brutality with which it was executed sent shock-waves through the city, revealing a level of cruelty that defied comprehension.

Martha Place's trial captivated the public's attention, exposing the chilling details of her crime and delving into her psyche. As the evidence mounted against her, the courtroom witnessed the unraveling of a deeply disturbed individual. The defense sought to build a case around Martha Place's history of mental instability, attempting to shed light on her troubled state of mind at the time of the crime.

However, the jury remained unconvinced by the defense's arguments. The gravity of the crime and the premeditated nature of Martha Place's actions were deemed too significant to attribute solely to mental instability. It became evident that this was not a crime borne out of temporary lapse or uncontrollable impulse, but a calculated act of extreme violence driven by jealousy and resentment.

In a groundbreaking decision, Martha Place became the first woman in history to receive a sentence of death by electric chair. This landmark verdict signified a pivotal moment in the evolution of the justice system, reflecting society's growing belief in the necessity of holding individuals accountable for their actions, regardless of their gender.

The punishment handed down to Martha Place was a direct response to the exceptional cruelty she had exhibited. The intentional and calculated nature of her crime, the prolonged suffering inflicted upon her stepdaughter, and the absence of any mitigating circumstances all contributed to the severity of the sentence. The legal system recognized the need to ensure that Martha Place would never be able to harm another individual again, thus justifying the imposition of a death sentence by electric chair.

Martha Place's crime stands as a chilling testament to the depths of human cruelty and the capacity for calculated violence. The severity of her punishment, a life sentence without the possibility of parole, underscored the magnitude of her offense and marked a significant moment in the history of justice. Although Place was the first woman to die by the electric chair, she was not the first woman sentenced to it; that woman was Maria Barbella, who was later found not guilty of her crime and released.

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