8. Martha Rendell (1871-1909), convicted child murderer
Details of the early life of Martha Rendell are sparse. It is known she left her husband and their several children in South Australia and came to Perth in her mid-thirties. Here she was instrumental in persuading carpenter Thomas Morris, who had known Rendell in Adealide, to leave his wife.
When Martha Rendell joined Morris at a weatherboard house in East Perth in 1907, she also took over the care of the five Morris children. Over the next 15 months, three of the children died from “throat afflictions”. It was only when another child became ill in 1909 that police became suspicious.
The Coroner found that Rendell had killed the children by regularly painting their throats with hydrochloric acid. Soon after, a jury found her guilty of one death despite the lack of a motive. They had heard that Rendell was a “sadist and pervert” and the judge said she was a “moral deformity”. Morris, who had been jointly charged, was acquitted. Rendell became the only woman to be hanged in Fremantle Prison. She died protesting her innocence. There was controversy at the time, with many claiming she did not get a fair trial. The debate occasionally resumes.