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|
|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|
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.