Murdering Stepmothers: The Execution of Martha Rendell (New Writing)

by Anna Haebich
It’s 1909 in Perth, Australia, and sensational rumors of the murder of three small children by their stepmother ignite the passions of the citizens. Shocked by horrific descriptions of how Martha Rendell poisoned the children, Perth’s citizens – as one voice – demanded her execution. But did Martha Rendell truly do it? Or was she a victim of the prejudices of her persecutors? Based on a true story and meticulously researched, this compelling novel is driven by passion, imagination, and an eerie conjuring up of the past. Author Anna Haebich brings to life the people of Perth and the entangled mesh of self-righteous bigotry, slander, and unbridled revenge that they invoked to propel the trial of Martha Rendell to its inevitable end. The book documents the accused woman’s downward spiral from her dreams of a new beginning with her lover to a life of domestic drudgery and deceit; then her final days on the edge of the abyss – becoming the last woman in the state to be hanged. Murdering Stepmothers is told from the perspective of five different characters – the doctor, the priest, the photographer, the researcher, and the detective. The book creates a fresh, vivid, fusion of factual history and insightful imagining. Inspired by the author’s shared experiences as a stepmother, which perpetuated a desire to tell Martha’s story without sensationalism, it tackles the very serious, and still relevant, questions of conviction, evidence, legal processes, and right to re-trial.