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Jim Kershner’s this day in history

Thu., June 27, 2013, midnight

From our archives, 100 years ago

A Spokane jury convicted Mary M. Johnston, 46, of first-degree murder in the poisoning death of her son, Raymond Johnston, 26.

Johnston listened to the verdict without visible emotion and later told reporters that her “conscience is clear.”

Yet the jury believed that she had, in fact, purchased strychnine from a local pharmacist and then administered it to him at breakfast in order to collect $2,500 in life insurance. She was the first mother in Washington to be convicted of killing her own son.

The jurors were convinced of her guilt largely because of her suspicious behavior right after her son’s death. First, she tried to get her son’s body cremated before an autopsy could be performed. She also tried to convince doctors that her son had been dying of hydrophobia – but the doctors already knew, from lab tests, that the cause of death was strychnine.

Most damning of all was the fact that she immediately tried to cash in two insurance policies on her son’s life.

Her cause was certainly not helped by her husband’s testimony. He told the court that she had drugged him three years ago. While he was in a stupor, she tried to slit his wrists. When he survived, she had him committed to the Medical Lake Insane Asylum as suicidal, but he was later able to “escape.”

He had stayed far away from his wife ever since.

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