Murdering Stepmothers – the execution of Martha Rendell – by Anna Haebich

Author: Anna Haebich
Publisher: UWA Publishing
Copyright Year: 2010
ISBN: 9781921401459
No of Pages: 208
Review By: Sharon Halasz
Book Synopsis:
Sensational rumours of the murder of three small children by their stepmother cause a furore in Perth in 1909.
Shocked by horrific descriptions of how she poisoned the children, citizens demand her execution as one voice. But did she do it? Or was she a victim of the prejudices of her persecutors?

Convicted of murder, Martha Rendell was the last woman hanged in Western Australia. Anna Haebich has woven thorough research into a fascinating tale. This story shares the point of view of four credible fictional characters, reflecting the attitudes and beliefs of Perth in the early 1900s – a newspaper photographer who covered the trial, a police detective who studied Sherlock Holmes, a retired doctor and a reverend who visited her in prison. Anna Haebich wraps up with her own thoughts and possible interpretations of the truth.
Wicked stepmothers in the Wild West over a hundred years ago? A tough time for women. We’ve certainly come a long way in the past century. After reading this book, I felt sympathy for Martha Rendell. It appears she was condemned by the press and public before the trial even finished. Once convicted, her execution followed with indecent haste.
Innocent or guilty? Would modern forensic techniques be of any assistance? I hadn’t realised capital punishment was abolished so recently. As a Western Australian and familiar with the suburbs described here, I’m tempted to explore the past. I enjoyed this insight into a dark part of our local history.