Polly Bodine – Witch of Staten Island

Last Updated: 11/4/2018

It was the week of Christmas 1842 when Emeline Housman and her 19-month-old daughter, Ann, were found murdered in their Staten Island cottage. Their charred bodies had been hacked up; it appeared someone had set the fire to conceal the crime. Within the week, Housman’s divorced sister-in-law, Mary “Polly” Bodine, was arrested amidst seemingly damning circumstantial evidence.

Staten Island in 1842 was a collection of insular farming communities descended from Dutch farmers and seamen. Polly and Emeline were both born to families with multigenerational roots on the island; during the ensuing trial there was serious question as to whether twelve jurors who were not closely related to the victims, the accused, or both could be located within Richmond County.

Bodine was tried three times before three judges, resulting in a hung jury, a conviction (subsequently reversed), and finally an acquittal in an Orange County courtroom. Although largely forgotten today, Bodine loomed large in the consciousness of mid-nineteenth century New York as the prototypical murderess and proof to many of the reluctance of American juries to hang a guilty woman.

Accused: Mary “Polly” Bodine
Victims: Mrs. Emiline Housman, 27 year old housewife, and her 19 month old daughter, Ann Eliza Housman
Weapon Bludgeon; fire
Date of Homicide December 24, 1843
Location of Homicide Graniteville, Staten Island (in a house now located on Richmond Avenue)
Defense Theory The accused was framed by a conspiracy of pawnbrokers
Inquest Before the Richmond County Coroner
Indictment Staten Island procedure
First Trial – Location and Dates Richmond County Courthouse. Commenced on Monday, June 24, 1844; the jury received the case on July 3, 1844; dismissed as deadlocked on July 6, 1844.
First Trial – Judges Circuit Judge Amasa J. Parker sitting with First Judge of Richmond County, Albert Ward and Associate Judges R.D. Littell, L.H. Cortelyou, N. Crocheron and D.L. Clawson
First Trial – Prosecution Lott C. Clark, the Richmond County District Attorney; James R. Whiting, the former New York County District Attorney; and Commissioner Phelps
First Trial – Defense David Graham, Jr.; Roderick N. Morrison; and Clinton DeWitt
First Trial – Outcome Jury hung after a two-day and two-night deliberation (voting 11 to 1)
Second Trial – Location and Dates City Hall. Jury selection began on Thursday, March 20, 1845; a jury was seated late on Saturday, March 22, 1845; Judge Edmonds charged the jury on April 10, 1845
Second Trial – Judges Circuit Judge Edmonds sitting with Aldermen Winship and Dickinson
Second Trial – Prosecution Lott C. Clark, the Richmond County District Attorney; and James R. Whiting, the former New York County District Attorney
Second Trial – Defense David Graham; Clinton DeWitt; and J.S. Carpenter
Second Trial – Outcome Jury conviction, with a recommendation to mercy, after fifty hours of deliberation
Third Trial – Location and Dates Held at Newburgh, New York. Commenced on April 6, 1846 and ended on April 17, 1846; jury selection occurred on April 6 and 7, 1846
Third Trial – Judges Judge Barculo
Third Trial – Prosecution Lott C. Clark, the Richmond County District Attorney; and James R. Whiting, the former New York County District Attorney
Third Trial – Defense David Graham; Ambrose L. Jordan; and John W. Brown of Orange County
Third Trial – Outcome Jury acquittal

Bibliography:

Will M. Clemens. “The Staten Island Mystery of 1843: Polly Bodine, the Veiled Woman, and Her Three Trials for the Housman Murder.” Era Magazine. 14:4. pp. 324-333. (Oct, 1904).

Henry L. Clinton. Celebrated Trials. Harper & Bros. 1897. ix, 626 pages.

  • 347-348 (anecdote).

Henry L. Clinton. Extraordinary Cases. Harper & Bros. 1896. ix, 403 pages.

  • “Case of Polly Bodine.” pp. 15-23.

Harold Schechter. Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of. Ballantine Books. 2012. 416 pages.

  • “Polly Bodine, ‘The Witch of Staten Island.’” pp. 49-57 citing pamphlet The Early Life of Polly Bodine. 1946; Extraordinary Cases; Clemens.