Descendant of hanged woman pleased with outcome of event

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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Mary Snow plans book on great-great-grandmother

Mary Snow, a CNN news anchor, is the great-great-granddaughter of the last woman hanged in Newfoundland. She was interested in the outcome of Catherine Snow's mock retrial in St. John's this week. — Submitted photo

The great-great-granddaughter of the last woman hanged in Newfoundland says she's amazed by the contemporary interest in the case, and pleased there is so much doubt in her ancestor's guilt.

Mary Snow, a CNN news anchor, has been following the story of Catherine Snow's mock retrial from her home in New York. Thursday evening, the Newfoundland and Labrador Historical Society organized a public event with Supreme Court judges Seamus O'Regan and Carl Thompson as well as defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan, examining how Catherine's murder accusation was handled in 1833 and how it likely would have been tackled under today's laws.

After a review of the evidence and trial, the audience - about 400 people, including judges, lawyers, historians, politicians and others - acted as jurors in the case, voting overwhelmingly in favour of Catherine's innocence.

Just four jurors felt she was guilty, while a number of them indicated they didn't have enough evidence to convict or acquit her.

"To see that there is so much doubt that this woman did anything wrong is amazing," Mary told The Telegram Friday. "There's been a stain on her name and there have been generations that have been living in shame; nobody wanted to be associated with her. It's fascinating to see the interest, so many years later."

Catherine Snow (nee Mandeville) was charged with the murder of her husband, John Snow, in Salmon Cove, after he went missing in August 1833. His body was never located, although blood was found on his fishing stage. Also charged were Catherine's first cousin, Tobias Mandeville - with whom she was having an affair - and Arthur Spring, one of her servants.

While Mandeville and Spring both confessed to having participated in the murder (neither of their confessions verified in court), each pointed to the other as the one who shot John Snow. Spring said Catherine had incited them to murder her husband, although the only evidence against her was circumstantial. Catherine maintained her innocence to the very end, when she was convicted of murder and gave her last words, standing at the gallows on July 21, 1834: "I was a wretched woman, but I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child," she said.

Mandeville and Spring were also hanged, shortly after the trial. Catherine, who was found pregnant during the trial, was given a reprieve until her baby boy was born. A movement to keep her from being hanged failed.

Mary, whose grandfather was born in Newfoundland and moved to the United States as a child, came to St. John's a couple years ago, researching Catherine's case. Before her father died, she said, he researched the family tree and had written a small book for the family about their heritage. Mary is hoping to complete the research and write a book of her own.

"It was shocking, to say the least," Mary said of the moment she learned her great-great-grandmother had been deemed a murderess. "I've always been so intrigued by the story, and as the mock trial showed (Thursday) might there were always so many questions about whether she had anything to do with it. Also, we're related to John Snow, so why was he murdered, or did he die in an accident? Was this an accidental death, and with all this circumstantial evidence people rushed to judgment?"

Mary's been to the provincial archives and has pored over news articles from the time, editorials, books and other documents. Many of the court documents, written by hand, were destroyed by fire, and there's no tombstone to visit, she said, making research challenging.

As for her own theory about Catherine's guilt?

"It's hard to tell," Mary said. "It seems like she was innocent and she never really had a chance to defend herself."

Mary doesn't know of any existing family members in Newfoundland, but is hoping to connect with relatives who might be able to fill in pieces of her family history.

Organizations: CNN, Newfoundland and Labrador Historical Society, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Newfoundland, New York, Salmon Cove United States St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Audrey Goodyear
    December 05, 2012 - 19:27

    Is there a book published that I could purchase?

  • Bob Hollett
    April 28, 2012 - 19:54

    Was there ever a follow up on the baby. It would be Interesting to see what happened there to him or her, and decendants.

  • Mark Escorcia
    April 12, 2012 - 04:28

    It is bittersweet to see that after all this time,a wrongful conviction was proven and this is a relief for the Snow family-my distant relatives.My mother recently told me about the story of how someone on my father's side of the family was convicted of a murder and hanged,but she couldn't remember the nameThis she got from the aforementioned family tree book the late Gerard Snow,Mary''s father,wrote.So I Googled and came across this article in my search.Now I can tell my mother about this article to bring a happy ending to it all.

  • DON II
    April 01, 2012 - 21:28

    To RodII: I do not tar everyone with my criticisms at all as there are many lawyers, Judges, police and jurors who try their best to make the right decisions. However, there are many more who do not! In the course of my career I have witnessed the so called justice system in Newfoundland at work and I did not like what I saw. Efforts to change the justice system in Newfoundland have been resisted for years and unethical practices continue in open court and many more are covered up behind closed doors! My reference to the justice system in Mississippi is not based on hearsay at all. Have you seen the movie "Mississippi burning" which is based on well documented fact? Have you read the numerous cases involving bigotry and prejudice in the Courts in Mississippi? In the early 1960's, President John F. Kennedy was forced to send a large armed force made up of the US Marshall Service and US Army troops to Mississippi to enforce the orders of the US Supreme Court when local Courts, politicians and police refused to do so. There is no hearsay involved regarding the existence of an incompetent, corrupt, unethical or prejudicial legal system being in operation in Mississippi or in Newfoundland my friend!

  • Nellie P. Strowbridge
    March 31, 2012 - 14:54

    I hope those who see Catherine as guilty have read my novel Catherine Snow. I think they will get a different perspective. I spent a long time researching her story and the justice system of the day. Also, go to the archives. It takes digging to get to the truth.

    • Vic
      April 01, 2012 - 11:27

      Sorry Nellie, is your book a novel or non-fiction? I haven't read it, but I assumed it was non-fiction until you just said novel. Historical documents might give me a different perspective, but a novel wouldn't. How can a person separate truth from the writer's creative additions?

  • The case is also significant
    March 31, 2012 - 13:35

    The case is also significant in that the people prevented the bodies from being gibbeted. There was a lot of public disgust for the despicable act of gibbeting as was commonly ordered by magistrates in those days; according to an article online entitled “Collective Action In Outport Nfld: A Case Study from the 1830’s” by Linda Little. Apparently, a large crowd felt victorious in that they took possession of the bodies and held the burial themselves thus preventing the indecent act of gibbeting. And so the case may have set precedence in NfLd justice in that way as well.

    • Vic
      April 01, 2012 - 11:28

      It's my understanding, from reading archival documents from the time, that the men's bodies' were gibbeted; only Catherine's wasn't.

  • Fred from Brigus
    March 31, 2012 - 12:42

    I grew up in Clarkes Beach right next door to Salmon Cove. I have always been a history buff as was my dad who told me many a story of the history of the area and this is the first time I've heard of this story. Quite interesting. There are many Snow families in the area so I sure some of the are descendants of Catherine.

  • Casey
    March 31, 2012 - 12:37

    Talk about living in the past. Geez!

  • RODII
    March 31, 2012 - 12:07

    WOW, DONII, your tarring everyone with that brush, please be more careful. you must have worked many years in the NL justice system to to have so much knowledge which you convey so eloquintly, but to repeat some thing you heard about Mississippi is only hear-say, I think that the best thing we can all do is apologize for mistakes made in the past and try to do better in the future, finger pointing gets us no-where.

  • Grandma
    March 31, 2012 - 11:52

    To Karen - the Seamus O'Regan who was judge in the mock trial is the father of the TV host. I, for one, am glad we no longer have a death penalty. It does nothing to assuage the heartbreak caused by murder and provides no hope for the accused in the event of a miscarriage of justice. What a terrible burden and grief is brought upon jurors should the miscarriage be proven after an innocent has been put to death. Our thoughts need only reflect back 2000 years to One also falsely accused and know the guilt is ours.

  • Lane
    March 31, 2012 - 11:00

    Revisiting this case shows us that our justice system has moved forward in some ways, and has moved backward in other ways. Catherine Snow may not have been found guilty using today's standard of proof. And if she were found guilty, she would not have been subject to the death penalty (although one could argue whether this is a good thing or not). But if today's legal status and treatment of unborn children had existed in Catherine Snow's day, she would have been hung before her son was born (since there is no legal basis for protecting unborn babies, at any stage of development, in Canada today). If today's attitude toward unborn children had prevailed then, CNN anchor Mary Snow and her family would not exist.

    • Matilda
      April 26, 2012 - 11:11

      Lane, you are presuming that Mary was descended from the child born before she was hung. She did have children before this. Do we know if her last child was a boy? Maybe we will have to wait for her book to find out her antecedant.

  • DON II
    March 31, 2012 - 09:39

    I am sure that the late Catherine Snow would be very proud if she could have known that her descendants would become so successful in the United States of America. A fate which would have surely been denied to them if they had remained in Newfoundland! With regard to the trial of 1834, it would be very interesting to know if evidence had been adduced as to who was the real father of the baby that Catherine Snow had delivered before she was hanged. That fact may have shed light on why John Snow was murdered and by whom. Regardless or Catherine Snow's guilt or innocence, the problems with Newfoundland justice remain since that trial in 1834. The risk of being railroaded and unjustly convicted in a Newfoundland Court is very high. The competence, bias and prejudice of Police, Lawyers and Judges has always been very suspect in Newfoundland. I have heard the justice system in Newfoundland compared with that of the State of Mississippi where Courts regularly railroaded poor Whites and Black defendants. The fallibility of juries which are comprised of ill informed and prejudiced local people who would not know the difference between a habeas corpus and a mia culpa. Depending on juries, in whose hands an accused fate, freedom and fortune rests, to render a proper verdict is a very frightening prospect indeed! Most modern juries are influenced by media and TV shows like CSI which solve crimes in an hour using state of the art technology. The jurors get talked at way over their heads by slick lawyers and prejudicial judges who can easily manipulate the outcome of any trial. Even appeals in Newfoundland are a fait accompli and the verdict is usually a foregone conclusion. Newfoundland is famous for its sham trials. Most judges are very reluctant to embarrass their fellow Judges by overturning the lower Court Judges decision. The prevailing attitude in Newfoundland is: "Guilty...what's the charge?"

    • Darrin
      September 27, 2013 - 21:21

      DonII: You write as if you were an intelligent person, when in fact, your comments reveal you to be more of an ignoramus. When you write "I am sure that the late Catherine Snow would be very proud if she could have known that her descendants would become so successful in the United States of America. A fate which would have surely been denied to them if they had remained in Newfoundland!"... are you saying her descendants could not and would not have been successful if they had remained in Newfoundland? If their intellect and ambition and desire led to success in the oh-so-wonderful US of A, then I am sure they would have used their talents to be as successful in Newfoundland. But it all depends on how one defines success: maybe if they had stayed in Newfoundland, they would live by a different definition of success than the one you hold, and would have used their brains and/or brawn to carve a life of success on their own terms. You sound like you have a real chip on your shoulder. Ugh!

  • seanoairborne
    March 31, 2012 - 09:13

    Good play on the heartstrings,bye's.I salutes ya!I myself finds er guilty!!

  • Karen Finn
    March 31, 2012 - 09:13

    This is very intersting and i enjoyed reading about this ....the article commented on a mock trial on Thursday ...is this something that will be on CBC perhaps ..do you have any more details ...would love to see this mock trial especially with Seamus O'Regan ..please let me know ..thank you

  • cynthia Stevenson
    March 31, 2012 - 09:05

    My ancestors also came from the Salmon Cove across from Port de Grave area. There is to this day along the shore of Salmon Cove near the point a cove called Stake Cove or sometimes Stake Hole. I was told about 50 years ago that the place got it's name because a man locally known as Irish John Snow was murdered there with a Stake Maul. Since that time I learned that the local story is not the official one. However people in the area believe that there is blood on the rock that juts outinto the sea. There is red pigmentation in the rock. By the way this is a very beautiful area,today accessible by boat although It can be found going through the community pasture but it is also dangerous because in that cove which is almost cave like there is a hole in the surface of the earth if you go in there in boat and look up it can easily be seen.My ancestors said that John Snow lived in that area. In the Springtime before the grass starts to grow one can see foundations of homes and rock walls. Very Scenic near Salmon Cove Point, an area known locally as the Plain, Rip Raps and Cupids. Today Salmon Cove across from Port de Grave is in the community of South River. Hope this can get to the descendants of John and Catherine Snow.

  • Robert
    March 31, 2012 - 08:57

    I would agree with the decision that she probably did not murder her husband. However, from what was presented she may very well have been an accessory to murder. "Maybe" she did not deserve to die but innocent she was not.