from the October 13, 1898 Anamosa Journal:
The Wages Of Sin
Cora Smith Doing a Life Sentence for Murder Ends Her Mortal Career by Suicide
Close of a Life That Had Been Worse Than Wasted -- Despondency and Remorse the Cause
One of the most celebrated characters incarcerated in the Anamosa Penitentiary closed her mortal career last Monday -- died by her own hand. Cora McCamly, better known as Cora Smith, despondent at the hopelessness of her condition, tired of a life which had steeped itself in crime, weary of an existence which had made her an outcast from society and its natural enemy, ended her days with a dose of poison. The end came sometime between last Sunday night and four o'clock Monday morning.
The woman, it is said, had acted strangely for several days, was incorrigible and desperate and held the rules of the penitentiary in undisguised contempt, and when she and her mother, Betsey Smith, retired to their cell -- they had been quartered together, and apart from the rest for some time past because of their disturbing influence -- Cora seemed more prone to despondency than was habitual to her ever despondent nature. The contents of a small vial of oxalic acid -- a poisonous fluid used about the institution for the purpose of polishing metal work -- carried her off. That suicide was premeditated is shown by a singular discover in the woman's cell. An envelope containing the bodies of two dozen black spiders was secreted among the bed clothes, and it was plainly her purpose that, failing to secure the needed poison from another source, she would make way with herself by a diet of these insects. It is stated on authority there is sufficient poison contained in the carcasses of these spiders to bring about the end sought.
The novel emergency poison was not required and when her mother awoke in the gray dawn of Monday morning, the body of her daughter lay cold and stiff in the embrace of death. She had taken the one method of exit from prison bondage that lay open to her.
A communication was left by the unfortunate woman addressed to Attorney General Remley. Its verbatim contents are as follows:
"Anamosa, Iowa, Oct. 4, 1898 -- Confession by Cora McCamly. Mr. Milton Remley. Dear Sir: I will write you these few lines, as I want everything clear. I have repented for all of my sins and I feel as if they was forgiven. My health is failing so rapidly I know I am going into consumption. I want to tell you the truth about my mother's case as it will go before you. Ellen Scoville and myself poisoned my stepfather Michael Smith. Ellen made a peach pie for supper and put rat poison in it and also in his coffee, and that night I put rat poison in a glass of water and he drank it. I have never been sorry that I told the truth, but God knows I hope you will do all you can for my dear mother, for she is suffering for something she never done. It breaks my heart. I want to tell the truth about everything; my dear mother is innocent of what she is charged. I cannot stand to see her suffer so; it worried me dreadful. This is the truth as sure as God is my creator, and I repeat once more that my mother is innocent, so do all you can for her. I am not sorry for the confession I made, but I am ready to die, so I ask you again to help my mother. No one knows that I am going to do anything, but my life is a misery to me to see my mother suffering so, and to know that it is for nothing. This is the God's truth.
Yours truly, Cora McCamley.
Mr. Hunter, please see that this is mailed to Mr. Milton Remley. Cora.
History of the Crime
In recent years there has scarcely been a parallel in it's cold-blooded nature to the crime which landed both mother and daughter behind the bars and implicated another, a sister of Betsey Smith.
In the year 1892, Betsey resided with her husband, Michael Smith, in the city of Des Moines. Cora, daughter of Mrs. Smith by a former husband, and a sister Ellen Scoville, resided with them. Mike Smith was an engineer on the Rock Island Road. Domestic felicity was not an attribute of the Smith home, and for several reasons it was desirable to get the husband out of the way. The World's Fair was coming on and the money market was close. The husband carried two thousand dollars life insurance. His presence about the home interfered with the life the female members of the household had chosen. The testimony of the Scoville woman, who turned state's evidence, implicated the three in administering the poison.
Betsey Smith was sentenced to the Penitentiary for life, and the year following Cora's conviction was brought about under peculiar circumstances. She had visited her mother on several occasions, but being watched closely during their interviews, had no opportunity of unburdening herself. She later discovered that it was possible to reach the window of the women's department of the prison from the outside, and one morning a letter written by Cora to her mother was found by the matron on the window seat, describing her hours of anguish and brooding and confessing that she was the real instigator of the murder. Meanwhile, she had left the city and shortly after she was arrested in Omaha where she had ensconced herself among the "demimondes" of the Nebraska metropolis. She was brought to Iowa, placed on trial and convicted, and sentenced to a life term in the penitentiary.
The Mother Had Second Trial
Betsey Smith's attorneys succeeded in securing a rehearing last October on the grounds that inasmuch as the principle witness in the case, Ellen Scoville, was an accomplice, her evidence should have been stricken out and without this evidence, there was not sufficient to warrant conviction. The rehearing, however, did not alter the former verdict, and Betsey Smith was returned to the prison, where she and her daughter have since remained. The tragic end of the daughter closes a shameless career; a providential justice has meted the fate to her which she forced onto her step-father.
It is but another realization of the proverbial "wages of sin is death."
The funeral occurred yesterday afternoon from the Baptist church in this city, and the remains were interred in Riverside Cemetery.
EDITOR'S NOTE: the competing Anamosa newspaper of the day, the Anamosa Eureka, offered a few additional details, some differing slightly from the Journal account:
Betsey Smith came here July 2, 1894, for life for the murder of her husband. Cora had a great affection for her mother and it is supposed attempted a scheme to release her by confessing that she herself did the poisoning, and that she afterwards intended to secure a pardon by showing that she was in reality innocent. Accordingly she visited her mother not long after her incarceration and later wrote a letter from Council Bluffs that she was guilty and her mother innocent, was sentenced in court on a plea of guilty and arrived at the pen April 25, 1895. But the plan did not work as Betsey Smith was again tried last May in Des Moines and again sentenced for life. Since their return in July both women have been rebellious, and for the past two months they were kept apart in the daytime form the other women, against whom they had made threats.
They sleep in the same cell and Sunday night Cora was reading a library book when the lights went out at 9 o'clock. She then went to bed with her mother. At 2 o'clock the latter was awakened by Cora's heavy breathing and gave the alarm. Prison Physician Druet quickly arrived and every effort was made to restore her but without avail.
The story that she swallowed spiders is incorrect though nineteen spiders were found rolled up in her handkerchief. Her sister, Mrs. Chapin, came from Des Moines and superintended the funeral, conducted by Chaplain Beyer in the women's department, and Cora was given a nice burial in Riverside Cemetery.
AND THE REST OF THE STORY... (from the July 25, 1901 Anamosa Eureka)
Notorious Betsy Smith Wants Pardon
"I understand the notorious Betsy Smith wants a pardon and will ask for executive clemency at the coming session of the Iowa legislature," said James Howe in a recent conversation relative to the parole of S.R. Dawson. Mr. Howe was prosecuting attorney during the second trial of this celebrated case and it was due to his efforts that the murderess was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment at Anamosa. "I would feel like giving Betsy a pardon," mused the attorney as his mind wandered back to the sensational scenes in the criminal court room and the conclusive evidence submitted there of the cold blooded, premeditated and deliberately planned murder, "but I should want it granted twenty-four hours after the murderess is dead. That's the kind of pardon I think she deserves."
"By the way," he continued, "that was one of the most sensational cases ever tried in a Polk County criminal court. The story of Smith's murder appealed to every man, woman, and child in the city, so that when the case came on for a hearing it was necessary to stretch ropes about the jury box and attorney's table and employ extra bailiffs to prevent the surging mob from packing every sqare inch of space in the court room."
"Let me see," reflected the attorney when pressed for the story as he could tell it. "Mike Smith was an engineer on the Rock Island, removed with his family, consisting of a wife and two step-daughters, from Grand Junction sometime in '90. He resided in the city for a few years during which time it began to be whispered about that Mrs. Smith and the two daughters were leading questionable lives. They began to keep company with disreputable characters and were going at a pretty fast pace. About this time Smith, who had saved some $600 from his wages as an engineer, wanted to buy a home in Valley Junction. He suspected the infidelity of his wife and it was for that reason he desired to leave the city. Mrs. Smith, however, had become infatuated with one Belaire, who, with Cora's lover, advised her to remain here and open a house of prostitution, so that, when Smith announced his intention of breaking up house-keeping, there was a scene. At that time the Smiths were residing in the Meek block on Seventh Street.
"On the afternoon of April 16 Smith drew his money from the bank with which to make the Valley Junction purchase. That night while sleeping he was shot through the head, the bullet entering the right eye at the lower right hand corner and plowing its way beneath the bridge of the nose to a point one-half inch to the left of the left eye where it extricated itself.
"The family swore that it was burglars, but the State was able to prove from the location of the bullet in the feather bed that no one bent on robbery every fired the shot. No arrests were made, however, and with the money drawn by Smith from the bank the family continued to live, Mrs. Smith with the two daughters following up the reckless dissipation begun shortly after coming to Des Moines from Grand Junction. They removed to East Fifth and Grand Avenue where Belaire and Chub Davis, lovers of the two women, continued to visit them.
"In the meantime the B. of L.E., in which organization Smith was insured for various amounts including $3,000 for the total loss of both eyes, considered the advisability of having a guardian appointed to look after him and see that he received the benefits of the insurance. According to the rules of the order the money could not be paid until one year after the sight of both eyes was destroyed. An investigation as the the character of Mrs. Smith and her two daughters was begun with the result that a guardian was appointed to look after the blind man and see that he got his share of the insurance money. When this became known to Betsy and her daughters the $600 which Smith had saved was gone and they resolved to take his life so that, in any event, they would get the old woman's share which amounted to $1,000. Accordingly six or seven attempts were made to kill Smith by means of poison, the efforts failing for the reason that overdoses were given. Finally on the afternoon of April 24 a large dose of rough on rats was administered by Betsy who left the house accompanied by Belaire, Cora, and Davis. The quartette returned at ten o'clock that night in a drunken condition. Mike was suffering from the effects of the poison administered earlier in the day and kept constantly calling for water. It was given him by Cora who afterward admitted that she had poured in another dose of the poison. Smith died in about two hours. A physician was called but twenty minutes before his death.
"The public is familiar with the remaining details. Betsy was indicted in June, '95, conviction of murder inthe first degree following after a month's trial. Judge Balliett heard the first case, J.J. Davis prosecuting. An appeal was taken to the Sureme Court resulting in reversal of the lower court on the grounds that the court refused to keep the jury together. Four years later Judge Conrad heard the case and I prosecuted. She was again convicted and sentenced a second time. Later Cora, the daughter, confessed to administering the second dose of poison. She was indicted and also convicted of murder. The sensational story of her death by poison in prison by means of spiders which she caught on the stone walls of Anamosa and ate is still fresh in the minds of the public."
We reproduce the above from Monday's Des Moines Daily News, which will no doubt interest many of our readers as Betsy Smith once was a resident of Grand Junction. Last Friday we visited the Anamosa prison and through the kindness of O.M. Treman, the usher, we were shown each and every department there, little thinking that Grand Junction had contributed on of the worst criminals within its walls. (--Grand Junction Headlight).