Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Weight of Grief.

Fanny Windley Hyde
Fanny Windley began working in the factories of Brooklyn at age ten. When she was fifteen, Fanny was “seduced” by her forty-five-year-old employer, George W. Watson. Watson’s unwanted attention continued for the next two years, even after Fanny's marriage. Then one day, on the stairway of the factory, she countered Watson’s lewd advances with a gunshot to the head. There was no question that Fanny Windley Hyde killed George W. Watson; it would be up to the jury to decide whether this act was first degree murder, or if Fanny was “under a weight of grief that could not be resisted.”
Date:  January 23, 1872

Location:   Brooklyn, New York

Victim:  George W. Watson

Cause of Death:  Shooting

Accused:   Fanny Windley Hyde


John Windley brought his family to America from Nottingham, England in 1864. He was a poor man and Fanny Windley had begun working in England when she was eight years old. She was ten when they arrived in America and soon after began the life of a factory girl in Brooklyn. She was a bright girl, attending school when she could evenings and Sunday, and as she approached adolescence she was also considered quite beautiful.

George W. Watson
When she was fifteen, Fanny went to work at a hairnet factory owned by George W. Watson, a forty-five year old married man with five children. About four months after she started the job, Watson’s called Fanny into his office and forced his attentions on her. To keep from losing her job, Fanny let him have his way. For the rest of her time at the factory Watson took every opportunity to take advantage of his young employee. When she tried to leave the job Watson threatened to reveal to her father what they had been doing, knowing he would view Fanny as equally culpable.

Inevitably, Fanny became pregnant and Watson gave her some medicine to induce abortion. The medicine did the job, but had the additional effect of destroying Fanny’s health. During this period Fanny had moved out of her father’s house. She came to see him after two months absence and both her father and stepmother commented on how much weight she had lost and how pale she was. Her weight had dropped from 125 pounds to 95 pounds.

At her new lodgings Fanny met a man named Hyde, a widower with a daughter around her own age. He asked her to marry him and she agreed. George Watson had promised Fanny that if she married he would leave her alone—in fact she had him swear to this on a Bible. But the promise did not last long, and soon Watson was up to his old tricks. This time Fanny told her husband, and Hyde was livid. He went to see Watson himself, and threatened to expose the situation to Watson’s wife. Once again Watson promised to leave Fanny alone, and once again he broke his promise.

In January 1872, Fanny’s brother helped her buy a gun—she said she intended to use it only to frighten Watson away from her. The pistol was small enough to conceal in the bosom of her dress and it was hidden there when she went into the factory on January 23. She met Watson on a landing of the stairway as he was leaving the office for lunch. There she shot Watson in the head, killing him. Several hours later Fanny turned herself in to the police.

Trial: April 15, 1872

The prosecution of Fanny Hyde was one of the sensational New York murder trials that dominated headlines in the 1800s. Watson’s family hired a prominent criminal attorney to assist the prosecution, making sure that Fanny was convicted and as much as possible mitigating the damage to George Watson’s reputation. The district attorney declined the offer. He believed it was an open-and-shut case of premeditated murder—Fannie had laid in wait on the stairway landing and shot Watson in cold blood.

The defense argued that it had not been coldblooded murder; it was a chance meeting on the stairway, Watson accosted her as usual and Fanny had resisted. There was evidence that she had fought him off—the body was found with scratch marks on the face. When this did not stop him, Fanny pulled the pistol from her bosom and shot. In her own testimony, Fanny recalled that Watson had called her a whore and said she should go with him. She had no recollection of the shot itself.

The defense took a two pronged attack. First they argued for justifiable homicide:
"Why, gentlemen, the meanest worm that walks the earth in human form, the frailest thing that revels night and day in the meanest dens of infamy, is mistress of her own body; and the man who dares to lay violent hands on that body against her will, and attempts to use it against her will, and she kills him, she is justified in doing so, and so the Court will instruct you."
Then they argued for temporary insanity:
"We shall demonstrate to you, as clear as sunlight, that the defendant was no more responsible at the time of firing that shot than the pistol from which it was fired. Her mind was stormed in its citadel, and laid prostrate under a stroke of frenzy."
In either case:
"Don’t you see enough in this case to show you what a weight of grief must have borne down upon this frail creature’s head and heart; that this act was perpetrated under a weight of grief that could not be resisted."
The case was given to the jury at 2:30 pm on April 19. They seemed somewhat baffled over what direction to take and at 10:30 they requested that the court provide them with precise definitions of first degree murder, manslaughter in the third degree, and justifiable homicide. The judge declared that they had already been given those definitions, but obliged them anyway. At around midnight they sent word that they were hopelessly deadlocked. The judge sent them back and told them to work out an agreement. At 7:00 the next morning they tearfully told the judge there was no possibility of agreement.

The New York Times reported that the jury had been swayed by sentiment toward a pretty woman. Ten jurors had voted for acquittal while the other two wanted third degree manslaughter. A compromise was proposed in which they would find Mrs. Hyde guilty of fourth degree manslaughter. The resulting fine of $1,000 would be paid by the ten jurors favoring acquittal. It was not enough to sway the holdouts and the jury remained deadlocked.

Verdict: Hung jury


Fanny Hyde was released on $2,500 bail. In January 1873 her case was called again and Fanny failed to appear, forfeiting her bail. In March she was arrested and sent to Brooklyn’s Raymond Street jail to await trial. There she met Kate Stoddard, the city’s latest sensational defendant. In September 1873 Fanny Hyde was again released on $2,500 bail. She was never heard from again.

Originally posted July 7, 2012.


"The Case of Mrs. Hyde." The New York Times 23 Apr. 1872.

Hyde, Fanny Windley, and William Hemstreet. Official Report of the Trial of Fanny Hyde, for the Murder of Geo. W. Watson, Ncluding the Testimony, the Arguments of Counsel, and the Charge of the. Portraits of the Defendant and the Deceased. New York: J.R. McDivitt, 1872.

Jones, Ann. Women Who Kill: Profiles of Female Serial Killers. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1980.


J.J. says:
July 8, 2012 at 5:03 PM

I found your blog through the Online Colleges Rankings. After reading this post, I plan on eventually backtracking through your posts all the way to the start. Thank you!

Anonymous says:
August 2, 2012 at 2:30 PM

What is with the euphemisms? He raped her.

Robert Wilhelm says:
August 3, 2012 at 11:20 AM

I stay true to my sources.

Unknown says:
August 8, 2013 at 7:56 PM

Yes, but in those days rarely was it called rape, rarely was anyone prosecuted for rape and in most instances it was believed the woman brought it upon herself... hence the term "seduced."

Leslie says:
March 30, 2014 at 10:44 PM

Still, it was obviously rape imo and should be called what it is in your article. We're not living in the victorian age now.

Leslie says:
March 30, 2014 at 10:45 PM

Still, it was obviously rape imo and should be called what it is in your article. We're not living in the victorian age now.

Robert Wilhelm says:
March 30, 2014 at 11:38 PM

If it is obvious, what more needs to be said.

Unknown says:
June 7, 2021 at 10:56 AM

I heard about this story on the YouTube channel, BRIEF CASE. Being a huge history buff, I decided to research the case further, to see if there was an update to what might have happened to Mrs. Hyde.
What do you think happened? I believe with the help of her of family and supporters, she was "spirited away" out the country to some distant place in Europe, or perhaps, Canada.

Unknown says:
June 7, 2021 at 11:01 AM

I agree with you. Some people just like to argue, just to be known.
Nothing more needed to be said.

Peter Osler says:
October 26, 2021 at 8:04 PM

Very interesting. Thanks

Deborah says:
November 30, 2021 at 7:36 AM

Leslie, put a liberated sock in it. Gaslight stated the facts. You know nothing about the situation but what Gaslight gave you and then rush to want to change what was investigated to your satisfaction. The term 'seduced' was the term of the day. Get over it. Besides, she may very much have submitted to him to keep her position. Not unheard of. Read much? Try Sinclar Lewis' "the Jungle'. Facts are facts but do not make the mistake of changing words to meet with your personal (and modern day) morals. You're asking Gaslight to redefine the historical.

RobT says:
January 27, 2023 at 12:16 AM

The last sentence reads: "She was never heard from again." That is not exactly true. Frances "Fanny" Windley Hyde went on to live her life, which, sadly, was short. She died in Brooklyn on January 4, 1883, at the age of 29 of TB and is buried with her father and stepmother in Cypress Hills Cemetery. She has a Memorial on the website Find a Grave.

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