4 American State Trials 88
The Trial of Henrietta Robinson for the Murder of Timothy Lanagan, Troy, N.Y., 1854
Known as the “veiled murderess,” Henrietta Robinson was arrested and charged with the murder of Timothy Lanagan and Catherine Lubee. She pleaded not guilty to the indictment, and her counsel then informed the court that Mrs. Robinson was so deranged that he had had little opportunity to talk with her to prepare her defense. The court remanded her to prison.
Her capital trial took place in the court of Oyer and Terminer of Rennselaer County in Troy, New York, in May 1854, with Judge Ira Harris presiding, and Anson Bingham (District Attorney), Henry Hogeboom and George Van Santvoord representing the People. Mrs. Robinson’s counsel were Job Pierson, William A. Beach, Martin Townsend, A.B. Olin and Samuel Storer.
Mrs. Robinson would provide no information on her past, and all that was known of her life was that she had moved to Troy in 1850, relocated to Albany in 1851, and then returned to Troy to a house opposite the Lanagan’s grocery store. Generally, she lived apart from society and went out on the public streets only when closely veiled or darkness had fallen.
Mr. and Mrs. Lanagan lived behind their store, and people congregated there to play Irish music and to dance. Mrs. Robinson attended one of these gatherings, but when she got into an argument with a man and drew a pistol on him, Mr. and Mrs. Lanagan forced her to leave the premises. The following day, she went into the store and argued with Mrs. Lanagan, but then things seemed to settle down and she resumed purchasing her groceries at their store. But on May 25, 1853, she arrived at the shop while several men were present and “conducted herself with such impropriety” that Mrs. Lanagan had to require her to leave the store. Mrs. Robinson complied, but returned later that day while Mr. and Mrs. Lanagan and their boarder, Miss Catherine Lubee, were having their midday meal. Mrs. Robinson joined them at the table, took some food with them, and then insisted on buying beer for everyone. Just then, Mr. Lanagan had to leave the table to attend to the store, and Mrs. Lanagan went to get some glasses of beer. Mrs. Robinson then asked Mrs. Lanagan for some sugar to add to the beer, and Mrs. Lanagan left to get a saucer of sugar. When she returned, Mrs. Robinson insisted that the beer glasses were not fully filled, and as she left the room again to get more beer, she noticed that Mrs. Robinson had a small white paper in her hand. When Mrs. Lanagan returned with more beer, she saw that the sugar had been added to the glasses and the beer appeared to have a film on it.
Mrs. Lanagan was then called to the store. When her husband returned to the table, Mrs. Robinson insisted that he and Miss Lubee drink the beer. When they had done so, she left the premises without speaking to anyone. Two hours later, Lanagan and Lubee became ill and, despite the best efforts of their physicians, both died within twenty-four hours from arsenic poisoning.
At her trial, evidence was adduced that Mrs. Robinson had purchased arsenic from a local drug store on May 10, 1853, and a search of her home following the poisonings disclosed a quantity of arsenic hidden under a carpet.
Throughout the trial, Judge Harris requested that Mrs. Robinson remove her veil, but she refused and her counsel seemed powerless to make her comply. Finally, the judge insisted that it was not acceptable that the defendant should be veiled during a capital trial, and she lifted her veil for a short time but kept her face covered with a fan.
Her counsel raised a defense of insanity, but the jury found her guilty and the court sentenced her to death. Later, the Governor commuted her sentence to life imprisonment, and she spent the remainder of her life in the New York State Hospital for the Insane at Matteawan, where she died on May 14, 1905 at the age of 89.
Parker’s Criminal Reports
4 American State Trials 88