Monday, December 6, 2010

The Witch of Staten Island

The year was 1843, it was Christmas Day. In a house that once stood on Forest Ave. across from where now there is a Wendy's and a Perkins, lived sea caption George Houseman, his wife Emeline, and their 20-month-old daughter, Ann Eliza. While the caption was out at sea, as he was on this day, his sister Polly Bodine stayed with the family, as the wife Emeline was scared to be alone. All three of them slept together in one bed in a corner in the kitchen. This being because winters where so hard on Staten Island and they wanted to be closer to the wood burning stove, of course in the summer the bed was moved to a bedroom. As two boys where on their way home from a skating party at 9:00 pm, they noticed a fire blazing, it was a house on fire! The boys rang the fire alarm as fast as they could. Fires where not taking lightly, all the houses where made from wood. People from the surrounding houses came rushing to the house, although they figured that no one was home for the holidays. They knocked down the door and ran into the blazing home searching to make sure there wasn't anyone in the home. That is when they uncovered the horrific scene of a infant babies skull crushed, and her mothers throat cut, her arms broken, and what appeared to be a number of hits to the head using an axe.

Polly Bodine was no where to be found. She didn't live with her brother, she lived across the street with her father. But George's wife was always so scared of people breaking in. She even begged George to take the $1,000 in cash he kept in the house, to his mothers.

The court reports the condition of the body of Emeline as follows: ''The back part of the head was very much burned, part of the skull wanting, and the brain baked by the action of the heat. On the left arm, both bones of the forearm were broken, and one of the bones was white and clear, the other blackened by the heat. . . .'' The baby girl even worse off.

After a few days police had a suspect, and her name was Polly Bodine. No one could figure out why she would do such a thing since she was always so helpful with her niece, and kept her sister-in-law company many a nights. As far as the money that was in fact stolen, Polly had her own money. But nonetheless suspicion fell onto her. She was always at the center of local gossip, even old Staten Island was the same with the gossip. At a time when abortion was unexceptional, Polly had one, while being seperated from her husband, she was sleeping with another man named George Waite who had a drug store in Manhattan. The way she acted following the event had not worked in her favor. On Dec 26th she said she was in the city visiting her lover Waite, but she was seen on the ferry boat leaving Staten Island drinking Gin and eating pie. She was later spotted in a pawn shop, pawing items that belonged to the victims. She was wearing a hooded cape and looked completely detached.

She was arrested on New Years Eve for her crime and gave birth to a still born 3 days later. Her trial was the talk of all media outlets, reporters from all over came to report on the matter, one by the name of Edgar Allan Poe. In his own words he said ''This woman may, possibly, escape. For they manage these matters wretchedly in New York.'' All the top news papers where running stories about the case. People where outraged, a women who had an abortion and a still born, who also killed another child and the mother, ought to be killed herself.

Poe turned out to be right though, she was acquitted at her first trial because it lacked  ''circumstantial evidence in the fourth degree.'' No one really knew what this meant. Another trial went forward but was moved to Manhattan in hopes to find a jury that wasn't biased. She was convicted of the crime but somehow the verdict got over turned. On her third trial her lawyer managed to get her out of the situation completely. She was found not guilty and after spending two years in jail, her first words where " Can I sue Barnum now?" P. T. Barnum made a wax exhibit dedicated to the crime in his museum and dubbed her The Witch of Staten Island. He presented her as a 70 year old toothless hag.

Polly moved back to Staten Island with her reputation ruined. She died at the age of 82 leaving behind two grown children. The case, 152 years later remains unsolved. The final resting place of Emeline and her infant daughter Eliza sits across from a Shoprite in Granitville.


  1. I found your site after reading the Old Staten Island pages. Do you by chance, remember a reclusive, eccentric woman who was called "The Indian Woman"? She lived on an offshore island and rowed to the Island to scavenge. I remember her well. The Advance ran a story on her sometime in the 70s. She had passed away in a boarding house on Richmond Terrace.

    I wish I could get my hands on that because I have written a short story based on her character.

    I am 68, and I remember her always walking in every season in a heavy dark brown coat, head down; a complete mystery.

  2. no i havent heard about her but it is something that i am going to look into.. if u ever want to ask me anything email me my emails on the blog bc im reading your comment now and u sent it a month ago.. i dont get alerts about comments for some reason

    1. Did u ever find any info on the Indian woman

    2. Did u ever find any info on the Indian woman