I recently ran across a story in the local paper written by an Oregon State University Professor. He brought to light the first female murderer in Oregon’s territorial prison. Her story is interesting to my mystery writer mind. Back when she took an ax to her husband, they didn’t take spousal abuse into consideration for a woman’s actions. But this story lends itself well to several directions a mystery writer could take it.
Charity Lamb and her husband traveled to Oregon Territory in 1852 via the Oregon Trail. They had five children ages, nineteen to a newborn baby. The Oregon Territory at that time had few woman and the family was busy trying to build a house and starting crops.
The husband on several occasions had punched, kicked, and thrown a hammer at Charity leaving a large gash on her forehead.
The nineteen-year-old daughter fancied she was in love with a drifter. The man was also smitten with the daughter and showed Charity kindness. Mr. Lamb refused to allow the two to marry and forbid the daughter to converse with the man when he left the area. Charity helped her daughter write and mail letters to the man. Mr. Lamb caught Charity with one of the letters and told her he would kill her before he’d let her leave.
A day later as he was leaving to go hunting, Mr. Lamb turned at the gate, drew up his rifle, and aimed it at Charity. One of the children noticed and he turned the barrel, shooting into a tree. That day Charity and the daughter planned a way to murder Mr. Lamb. That night as they all sat down to dinner, Charity excused herself and walked back in with an ax and hit Mr. Lamb twice with it, making a two inch cut in his skull. Mr. Lamb wasn’t dead. Charity and her daughter fled to the neighbors and a doctor took care of Mr. Lamb until he died a week later. But not before telling everyone he didn’t mistreat his wife.
Charity and her daughter were looked upon as ruthless women, until the children were put on the stand and told of the abuse Mr. Lamb had given their mother. The daughter’s trial was first. She was acquitted. But at that time the courts couldn’t figure out how to try Charity. It was self-defense but not really as the man was sitting at the table not attacking her when she axed him. Which made it seem like insanity, but they found her sane.
And so, Charity Lamb received second-degree murder with life in prison. She was the only woman at the territorial prison. Years later she was sent to the insane asylum where she lived out the rest of her sentence, dying in 1879.
From this story I see spousal abuse as a means for someone to murder and in the case of the daughter she wanted to be with her love. Two good reasons to kill, well for a character in a murder mystery not in real life. But it does happen in real life, so using these premises in a book, would work in the reader’s mind.
What do you think? Would a story like Charity’s be plausible or unbelievable in a book today?