Martha Needle

Publication Date: 
Monday, May 7, 2018

The extraordinary Martha Needle clearly stands out as one of Australia’s worst murderesses of all time. And from an international perspective, she still ranks among the world’s most prolific female killers. Throughout late 1894, her epic tale was dramatically reported around the globe as ‘the story of the century’, and continues to be widely chronicled as one of the most mind-boggling poisoning cases in the annals of crime. Luridly dubbed the ‘Black Widow’ by the world’s press, this manipulating young woman deviously used arsenic to exterminate all those around her who stood in the way of her personal ambitions – which ultimately even included her own children. 

The Martha Needle story had it all: family conflict, betrayal, gruesomeness, dodgy lawyers, guileless doctors, questionable police, a mysterious and attractive accused, romance, and even a hint of sexual scandal. 

Although she was officially only convicted of one murder, Martha paid the ultimate price for her single evil deed. After a landmark investigation and trial, she was hanged at the gallows – even though not all contemporary members of society approved of executing a woman. But a multitude of scandalous secrets also fell through the well-oiled trap door with the tight-lipped poisoner on that grim fateful morning. It was readily accepted at the time of her early demise that she had left other victims in her wake. 

After spending years studying the case across a number of Australian states, the author has uncovered many rare documents and archives, some concealed from public view at the time of Martha’s court case and execution. Compelling new evidence is now fully examined for the very first time, firmly placing Martha Needle in the frame for a string of at least five further murders and two attempted killings – something of a cry for justice from beyond the grave. 

There are further questions that are also crying out to be examined in this gripping account. How did Martha engage such a chameleon-like character to seduce naïve members of the medical profession? How did she manage to evade suspicion for so long, maintaining her warm façade of innocence? And how did her one error of judgement and a brilliant example of detective work finally bring her undone? 

It is now time for the astonishing story of Australia’s legendary Femme Fatale to finally be told. 

Brian Williams

Dr 'Joe' Brian Williams is a writer, lawyer, educator and public presenter, who can count a PhD (Monash University), LLB 1st Class Honours and a Master's degree among his six university qualifications. He has published widely in the areas of true crime, popular history, sport and biography - developing a special interest in crime and criminology. He has numerous radio credits, and has also appeared on the high-rating television series 'Crimes That Shook Britain'.