you're reading...
Australian History

On this day (Australia): In 1894, serial killer Martha Needle was hanged in Melbourne Gaol

Martha Needle

On 22 October 1894, Martha Needle was hanged in Melbourne Gaol for the poisoning of her husband, and three children, in an attempt to obtain money from insurance policies.

Martha Needle was an Australian serial killer known for poisoning her husband, three children, and prospective brother-in-law. She was hanged on 22 October 1894, at the age of 31.

Needle was convicted for the murder of Louis Juncken, brother of her fiancé Otto Juncken, on 15 May 1894. Although Needle collected substantial sums of insurance money, her exact motive for murdering her family has not been determined. Several times she stated her innocence, but was eventually hanged.

Needle was born Martha Charles on 9 April 1863 in Morgan, South Australia; her father died when she was quite young. In 1870, her mother, Mary Charles, married Daniel Foran and had two more children. They were poor and lived in a small two-room house in North Adelaide.

Needle claimed that she was often beaten with a stick or rope by her mother and at 12 she was indecently assaulted by her stepfather. She left home at 13 and started working as a housekeeper, and married Henry Needle in 1882 when she was 18.

The marriage was happy and the couple had three daughters, Mabel, Elsie, and May, before the family moved to the Melbourne suburb of Richmond in 1885. After the move the relationship between Needle and her husband deteriorated; Needle was an attractive woman and enjoyed the company of men, Henry Needle was a shy, jealous man who often beat her.

The killings

On 23 February 1885, Mabel Needle died after a short illness. Needle stated that she “seemed to fade” and later collected £100 (Au$40,000 in 2010) life insurance on Mabel’s death. Henry Needle, who was insured for £200, died of a mysterious illness on 4 October 1889, followed by Elsie and May in 1890. Doctors were baffled. Needle spent almost all the insurance money on an elaborate family grave which she visited regularly.

Louis Juncken, a friend from Adelaide, operated a saddlery business with his brother Otto Juncken at 137 Bridge Road, Richmond and, in 1891, Needle sub-let the attached house and took in lodgers. Needle began an affair with Otto in 1893 but Louis and his other brother Herman disapproved and attempted to prevent their engagement.

The following year Louis became ill and died of suspected typhoid. In June 1894, Herman travelled to Melbourne from Adelaide to handle his late brother’s affairs, he ate a meal prepared by Needle and suddenly became ill. He recovered but became ill again the next day after eating breakfast.

Two days later, Herman had fully recovered but while eating a lunch prepared by Needle, he was seized by painful violent cramps. Doctor Boyd treated Herman for suspected poisoning and took a sample of Herman’s vomit and sent it to the government laboratory for analysis. The analyst reported that the sample contained arsenic.

Arrest, trial and execution

Boyd informed the police of his suspicions and a trap was set, the police asked Herman to ask Needle to make lunch. After being served a cup of tea, Herman literally “blew the whistle”, summoning detectives who arrived as Needle was struggling with Herman to upset the teacup, which was found to contain enough arsenic to kill five people.

Needle was charged with attempted murder. The body of Louis Juncken, interred in Lyndoch, South Australia was exhumed and samples sent to Melbourne. The bodies of Henry Needle and the three girls, interred in Kew, were also exhumed. All five bodies were found to contain fatal levels of arsenic and Needle was charged with the murder of Louis Juncken. The trial lasted three days; Needle pleaded not guilty, but was found guilty and sentenced to death.

During her time in gaol, Needle received continued visits from her friends. In her final letter to friend, Mrs Owen, she writes “Try not to grieve too much for me.” She was executed at 8.00am on 22 October 1894. When asked for her last words, she replied, “I have nothing to say.”


Needle was the third of four women hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol, where her death mask can be seen. The others were Elizabeth Scott (1863), Frances Knorr (1894), and Emma Williams (1895).

On 15 July 1920, Alexander Newland Lee, the son of Needle’s older sister Ellen, was hanged at Adelaide Gaol for the 1 April murder of his wife Muriel, who had been poisoned with strychnine.

During the Great Depression, the Brighton City Council built bluestone walls to protect local beaches from erosion. The stones were taken from the outer walls of the Old Melbourne Gaol and included the headstones, with initials and date of execution, of all those executed and buried on the grounds.

Although most were placed with the engravings facing inwards, Needle’s stone was faced outwards, and the initials MN and the date are still clearly visible in the Green Point wall. Over time, sand drifts buried her headstone until its precise location was rediscovered near Wellington Street.

Source: Wikipedia

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 15,358 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

In a recent briefing, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Avril Haines warned, “I would characterize it as the Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here.” So, where is the Russia-Ukraine war heading? What is Russian President Putin planning next? Is Europe ready for […]

China is defying global order to expand power, US admiral warns

China is defying global order to expand power, US admiral warns

The Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are destabilizing international order in an effort to expand their global power, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, warned lawmakers during a House hearing on Tuesday. In his written testimony submitted to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Adm. Aquilino explained that the Department […]

China – Autocracy and decoupling technical tests

China – Autocracy and decoupling technical tests

We have noticed that the embrace with China had become suffocating in the last twenty years. The West universe of consumers and China the factory of the world. We started with modest and low value-added materials and products, to refine the trajectory and revolution to the most refined and complex technologies, such as 5G and […]

Four ways China is growing its media influence in Southeast Asia

Four ways China is growing its media influence in Southeast Asia

As President Biden welcomes leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to a special summit this week in Washington, D.C., his administration is affirming Beijing as the U.S.’s main rival and underscoring the region’s importance in U.S.-China competition. The two-day event is part of the U.S effort to woo ASEAN members caught in a […]

Confronting Russia will deter China, says Japanese defense minister

Confronting Russia will deter China, says Japanese defense minister

A strong international response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is critical to deterring China from embarking on territorial conquests in Taiwan or the South China Sea, said Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi. “China has been carefully observing the current situation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and they are paying particularly close attention to what […]

How Russia-Ukraine copied Finland war without lessons

How Russia-Ukraine copied Finland war without lessons

Finland is a unique country with a distinct language and culture. However, its possession was always contested between Sweden and Russia. Though Finland mainly remained under Swedish control in 1809, it was annexed by Russia. Using the end of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in late 1917, Finland declared its independence from the […]

China plans system to take out asteroids hurtling toward earth

China plans system to take out asteroids hurtling toward earth

China plans to develop a system for monitoring asteroids that pose a threat to earth, highlighting the nation’s growing ambitions for its space program. The country will also explore ways for taking out asteroids that endanger the planet, Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration, said in a TV interview, according to […]

Russia-Japan tensions flare anew over the Kurils

Russia-Japan tensions flare anew over the Kurils

Formally, Russia is not at war with Ukraine, where it claims to be conducting a so-called “special military operation.” But with Japan, given that Moscow and Tokyo never signed a peace treaty officially ending World War II, the two Asian neighbors remain technically at war. And after Japan recently described four Kuril islands whose ownership […]

Solomon Islands has Washington in state of alarm after a security pact with China

Solomon Islands has Washington in state of alarm after a security pact with  China

A tiny island chain in the South Pacific has Western governments scrambling after it agreed to a security pact with China that the United States and its allies fear could enhance Beijing’s military power in this strategically important region.  The deal between China and the Solomon Islands, a nation of 700,000 people that had deadly […]

China says its ‘future helicopters’ will be equipped with ground-breaking technologies

China says its ‘future helicopters’ will be equipped with ground-breaking technologies

Militaries all around the world are looking at integrating modern technology into their military weapons. China, as usual, appears to be making serious efforts to prepare for the future battleground, this time, with plans to include artificial intelligence and high-speed features in its future choppers. During a recent public lecture, a prominent Chinese military helicopter […]

%d bloggers like this: