Fascinating creatures, these Borgias. They’re called that, in the true crime set anyway, after infamous Lucrecia Borgia (Wikipedia), the 16th-century poisoner.
An essay appears today on CrimeRant, where the authors were kind enough to share some old “Clews” about arsenic poisoners. There are at least hundreds of known arsenic murderesses in history. A new one out of California, Cynthia Sommer, just joined the Devil’s harem of human vipers, if the charges are true.
One of the most fascinating examples of an arsenic killer appears in a book just published and which I just read, Kent State’s latest true crime offering, “The Good-Bye Door” by Diana Britt Franklin (read the Clews interview with the author). It tells the story of the Blonde Borgia.
Or to paraphrase true crime legend Edmund L. Pearson, “For the Borgia Medal, Cincinnati Presents : Anna Hahn.”
Photo: Anna's last photo from the State of Ohio's collection of 1938 execution photos
Anna Hahn – what a piece of work! In the 1930s, she trolled the German districts in Cincinnati for elderly German men with money that she subjected to her charms and then her cooking. When caught, she denied everything, "breathed fire." A jury of eleven women sent her to the chair.
An all-male jury never would have given this woman the death penalty. Everyone was openly shocked by it -- except this reader, because all-woman juries were something new, and the women felt they had something to prove, I'm sure.
If you read this incredibly well researched book about Anna Hahn and her fate, you’ll feel you’ve come to know her quite well. She thought so much of herself ("I've got a brain as big as this room," she told a cop at one point) and so little of her victims ("he was such a stupid old man.") And yet she left behind in her cell a confession that almost makes you feel sorry for her. Throughout this document, she repeatedly expresses puzzlement at her own behavior:
When I think of that poison even now, I feel a strange something come over me, something happens to my mind... I do not try to excuse myself for my actions. They were not me at all. I have made my peace with God, and someday He will explain to me what caused my mind to become so warped to do these things. It all seems like a terrible dream....
The author had on hand two resources to tell this story, since everyone involved is dead – a partial transcript of the trial and newspaper accounts. Fortunately, the case was so heavily covered in the Midwest that there were tens of thousands of words to sift through. The author has distilled this incredible coverage down to the most interesting and revealing facts. Included are details about Anna’s upbringing in Germany and about her brazen methods of finding victims (at one point, she walked into an apartment building and just flat-out asked where she could find an elderly man).
The last scenes are something. The poor woman lost it at the end, while her little boy was trotted to the prison by a lawyer desperate to save his client from the chair – a child begging the warden not to kill his mom – a plea that failed. When her last photo was taken (above), there are not circles but moats under her eyes. And she was a peroxide blonde, by the way, before she went to Death Row. If you can get through the chapter on her execution without shedding a tear you’re made of tougher stuff than I am.
Anna Hahn may have left "a trail of death and human misery" (Columbus Dispatch) but in the end, her last victim was herself.
For more Clews on poisoners: