Mary Elizabeth Wilson (pictured) was a remarkably cheerful character

Mary Elizabeth Wilson (pictured above) was a remarkable and cheerful person

Mary Elizabeth Wilson was remarkable for being a cheerful woman, having lost three husbands in two years.

She joked that she should get a trade discount at the funeral of her third husband, an estate agent from the wealthy who had died just 12 days before their marriage in Newcastle, in the summer 1957.

Her humour didn’t change when she wed Ernest, her fourth husband, a mere few months later. Mary readily answered a friend’s question about what to do with the cakes and sandwiches that were left at her wedding reception.

Keep them to be used at Ernest’s funeral. She chuckled, “They’ll still be fresh enough,” she said.

Her new husband laughed with her, but within two weeks he too was dead — dispatched with rat poison, although not before his new bride had ensured that she would inherit his bungalow and a tidy sum in life insurance.

If her stoic attitude toward widowhood had not raised suspicions from the police, she might have been able to get away with murder. After two bodies of her husbands were found to have high levels of poison after exhumation in 1958, Wilson, 64, was found guilty. Because she was only 64 years old, the death penalty was not handed down to her.

Wilson was buried in Holloway Prison on the death of Wilson in 1963. Holloway Prison is a North London prison that has housed some of Britain’s most notorious women inmates for over 150 years. 

Amelia Dyer (pictured) was a Bristol-born midwife whose trial in 1896 was one of the most sensational of its time and turned her into a household name and even the subject of popular songs

Amelia Dyer (pictured), a Bristol-born Midwife, was the star of the 1896 trial that made Amelia Dyer a sensational figure and the subject of many songs.

Few will grieve the death of the dark jail, which serves as a reminder about the terrible crimes committed throughout the 20th century by people like Myra Hindley and other hateful characters.

Take, for example, Amelia Dyer — a Bristol-born midwife whose trial in 1896 was one of the most sensational of its time and turned her into a household name and even the subject of popular songs.

Operating under various aliases, she purported to run a fostering service, telling unmarried mothers that for a fee of £10 — a sizeable sum in those days — she would take their unwanted babies and ensure that they were placed in comfortable middle-class homes.

She strangled them with white dressmaking tape, and then dumped the bodies into rivers. Only one corpse was found and police were able identify her from the label of wrapping paper that she used as a shroud.

She was later accused of having killed up to 300 children. A jury found her guilty in four-and-a half minutes despite her plea of insane. She was held in Holloway while she tried to kill the infants, but she was forced to hang her at Newgate. Holloway didn’t have its own gallows at that time.

This problem was quickly fixed and five more women were to face Holloway’s hangman’s line.

Ruth Ellis (pictured) was the last woman to be executed in Britain in 1955 for the murder of her boyfriend David Blakely

Ruth Ellis (pictured) was last British woman executed for her murder of boyfriend David Blakely.

Annie Walters (the ‘Finchley Baby Farmers,’ better known by their alias Amelia Sach) and Annie Walters were the two first. Although their motives and methods were very similar to Dyer’s, they used poisoning to kill the many babies who fell into their care.

Their evidence included the massive amount of baby clothing found in their homes when they were brought up to court in 1903.

Amelia Sach tore up her innocence until the very end. Henry Pierrepoint, the executioner, noted that Amelia Sach collapsed in her cell the day before her death. She had to be taken to the scaffold screaming and crying. Annie Walters was unharmed, even though she was being hooded alongside her accomplice.

She called out calmly, “Goodbye Sach,” as Pierrepoint opened the trapdoor to dispatch the pair in the final double female hangings in Britain.

Edith Thompson was 29 years old, and she was next to die. This scarlet-colored woman took an imaginative approach to her murder. Percy, a fashion buyer in London, was convicted for inciting her 18-year-old lover, Freddie Bywaters.

Holloway was home to some rowdy scenes over the years including this rooftop protest by Pat Breslin, 18

Holloway hosted some wild scenes throughout the years, including this protest from Pat Breslin (18).

According to the love letters she provided at her trial, she acknowledged lacing her husband’s mashed potato in fragments from a crushed lightbulb and a heavy dose of poison.

After this did not work, the Thompsons agreed to attend the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus and Percy would be dragged into a bush by the Bywaters as they returned home. They would then stab Percy. This he did, paying the price when he and Edith were hanged simultaneously — she at Holloway, and he at nearby Pentonville — in 1923.

Holloway’s door was open to many people, not just murderers. There were many famous political prisoners who were imprisoned. Some received more favorable treatment than the others.

Emmeline Pankhurst, along with her two daughters Christabel, and Sylvia were all Suffragettes. They had gone on hunger strike and been forced to eat. However, Lady Mosley was the lovely wife of Oswald Mosley who lived in British prisons.

The former Diana Mitford, who was held in prison for fascist sympathies in World War II, had a friendship with Winston Churchill. She and her husband were allowed in Holloway’s cottage, where other prisoners served as domestic staff. According to legend, Sir Oswald made the female prisoners mad by letting them sunbathe while removing their clothes. This caused a lot of controversy.

When Styllou, a Greek Cypriot woman, was sentenced to death for hitting her daughter in law across the head with her shovel and killing her, there wasn’t much outrage.

This was far from the ideal crime, considering that it took place in their shared home. Christofi was unable to dispose of her body, as she attempted to douse it with paraffin and set it on fire in an attempt to cremate.

The whole house was set ablaze and she discovered the corpse, which had been burned to the ground, in December 1954. She took the scaffold to Holloway seven months before Ruth Ellis, who is the last British woman to be hanged.

She was 28 years old and a mother to two children. After shooting David Blakely four times in front of Magdala Pub, Hampstead, North London, she was found guilty of murder.

Myra Hindley might have suffered a similar fate, Holloway’s most notorious resident. But in November 1965, a month after she and her lover Ian Brady had been arrested for the Moors Murders and while they were awaiting trial, the carrying out of the death penalty was halted, ahead of its abolition in 1969 — partly owing to the outcry over the death of Ruth Ellis.

There was little such outcry when, in 1954, a Greek Cypriot woman named Styllou Christofi became the fourth woman to hang at Holloway, convicted of killing her daughter-in-law by bashing her across the back of a head with a shovel

It was not a huge protest when Styllou Christofi, a Greek Cypriot woman, became the fourth woman hanged at Holloway in 1954. She had been convicted for beating her daughter-in law across the head with a shovel.

Although many people would love to see Hindley go, Hindley believed she was not worthy of a sentence. Hindley made one of Holloway’s most outrageous escape attempts. She was assisted by Pat Cairns (lesbian police warder) who later became her lover.

Although the plan was formulated in 1973, it was only discovered decades later by officials who opened their files. It called for them to leave Britain and flee to Brazil. Brazil had no extradition agreement with Britain.

They also took passport photos for Hindley who was wearing a wig while posing in the prison chapel.

The original plan was to create metal copies outside. However, the plot was defeated when police discovered that the parcel might have been a bomb. This was at a time in which the IRA was terrorizing the British continent.

Hindley would later be moved to other prisons, ending her days at Suffolk in 2003, but there would be no shortage of other evildoers to take her place — most notably the serial killer Rosemary West, who was convicted of ten murders in 1995. Fred West was Fred West’s husband and he committed suicide while in Winson Green prison in Birmingham.

Although she has been moved many times, Holloway is still a formidable and imposing presence. 

Holloway executions are gone. Their remains were long removed from graves on the estate and moved to a Surrey cemetery. However, demolition will not erase this prison’s terrible and dark past.