Descendant of hanged woman pleased with outcome of event

Mary Snow plans book on great-great-grandmother

Published on March 31, 2012
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.