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The Murderess Must Die

by Marlie Parker Wasserman

August 16 - September 10, 2021 Tour


The Murderess Must Die by Marlie Wasserman

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: July 6, 2021
Number of Pages: 250
ISBN: 978-1953789877
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

On a winter day in 1898, hundreds of spectators gather at a Brooklyn courthouse, scrambling for a view of the woman they label a murderess. Martha Place has been charged with throwing acid in her stepdaughter’s face, hitting her with an axe, suffocating her with a pillow, then trying to kill her husband with the same axe. The crowd will not know for another year that the alleged murderess becomes the first woman in the world to be executed in the electric chair. None of her eight lawyers can save her from a guilty verdict and the governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, refuses to grant her clemency.

Was Martha Place a wicked stepmother, an abused wife, or an insane killer? Was her stepdaughter a tragic victim? Why would a well-dressed woman, living with an upstanding husband, in a respectable neighborhood, turn violent? Since the crime made the headlines, we have heard only from those who abused and condemned Martha Place.

Speaking from the grave she tells her own story, in her own words. Her memory of the crime is incomplete, but one of her lawyers fills in the gaps. At the juncture of true crime and fiction, The Murderess Must Die is based on an actual crime. What was reported, though, was only half the story.

Praise for The Murderess Must Die:

A true crime story. But in this case, the crime resides in the punishment. Martha Place was the first woman to die in the electric chair: Sing Sing, March 20, 1899. In this gorgeously written narrative, told in the first-person by Martha and by those who played a part in her life, Marlie Parker Wasserman shows us the (appalling) facts of fin-de-siècle justice. More, she lets us into the mind of Martha Place, and finally, into the heart. Beautifully observed period detail and astute psychological acuity combine to tell us Martha's story, at once dark and illuminating. The Murderess Must Die accomplishes that rare feat: it entertains, even as it haunts.
Howard A. Rodman, author of The Great Eastern

The first woman to be executed by electric chair in 1899, Martha Place, speaks to us in Wasserman's poignant debut novel. The narrative travels the course of Place's life describing her desperation in a time when there were few opportunities for women to make a living. Tracing events before and after the murder of her step-daughter Ida, in lean, straightforward prose, it delivers a compelling feminist message: could an entirely male justice system possibly realize the frightful trauma of this woman's life? This true-crime novel does more--it transcends the painful retelling of Place's life to expand our conception of the death penalty. Although convicted of a heinous crime, Place's personal tragedies and pitiful end are inextricably intertwined.
Nev March, author of Edgar-nominated Murder in Old Bombay

The Murderess Must Die would be a fascinating read even without its central elements of crime and punishment. Marlie Parker Wasserman gets inside the heads of a wide cast of late nineteenth century Americans and lets them tell their stories in their own words. It’s another world, both alien and similar to ours. You can almost hear the bells of the streetcars.
Edward Zuckerman, author of Small Fortunes and The Day After World War Three, Emmy-winning writer-producer of Law & Order

This is by far the best book I have read in 2021! Based on a true story, I had never heard of Mattie Place prior to reading this book. I loved all of the varying voices telling in the exact same story. It was unique and fresh and so wonderfully deep. I had a very hard time putting the book down until I was finished!
It isn't often that an author makes me feel for the murderess but I did. I connected deeply with all of the people in this book, and I do believe it will stay with me for a very long time.
This is a fictionalized version of the murder of Ida Place but it read as if the author Marlie Parker Wasserman was a bystander to the actual events. I very highly recommend this book.
Jill, InkyReviews

My Rating: 4.5 Stars
My Recommendation: 9.5 Stars
(I received this book free in exchange for my honest review)

As a true crime fanatic, I was excited to read this book. It was fascinating reading it from different points of view and getting that other aspect of the story. My dad always told me there are three sides to every story, yours, there's, and the truth.

This story highlights how you can have multiple views of the same thing and leave numerous different conclusions. But the thing is, you'll never know the whole truth of any murder mystery or any crime because nine out of 10 those who committed the crime or the victim are the only ones who know the actual truth.

I will say that though I enjoyed this book and its multi POV's and having those different aspects of the story, there was some point of views that I didn't particularly like only because I didn't particularly like that person or that voice. But you will have that when you do write any book that has these multiple POV's.

Outside of that, this book was constructed with care and was well crafted. It kept me reading. I wanted to know as much of the truth as I possibly could. Especially for the time in which this took place, it is fascinating how they would proceed with such murder cases in that time.

The only other thing that pulled me out of the story is that I did have trouble reading the dialogue with the descriptions, which has to do with the time this book is set in. So if you're not used to historical books that are more authentic to the language of the time, I will suggest taking your time reading to understand the slang fully. That way, you can fully immerse yourself in the book.

Overall I give this book my high recommendation in my sample approval. The multiple aspects and layers of this book will have you thinking about what truly transpired to drive this woman to murder.

Happy Reading

-E.A. Walsh

Read an excerpt:


Martha Garretson, that’s the name I was born with, but the district attorney called me Martha Place in the murder charge. I was foolish enough to marry Mr. William Place. And before that I was dumb enough to marry another man, Wesley Savacool. So, my name is Martha Garretson Savacool Place. Friends call me Mattie. No, I guess that’s not right. I don’t have many friends, but my family, the ones I have left, they call me Mattie. I’ll tell you more before we go on. The charge was not just murder. That D.A. charged me with murder in the first degree, and he threw in assault, and a third crime, a ridiculous one, attempted suicide. In the end he decided to aim at just murder in the first. That was enough for him.

I had no plans to tell you my story. I wasn’t one of those story tellers. That changed in February 1898, soon after my alleged crimes, when I met Miss Emilie Meury. The guards called her the prison angel. She’s a missionary from the Brooklyn Auxiliary Mission Society. Spends her days at the jail where the police locked me up for five months before Sing Sing. I never thought I’d talk to a missionary lady. I didn’t take kindly to religion. But Miss Meury, she turned into a good friend and a good listener. She never snickered at me. Just nodded or asked a question or two, not like those doctors I talked to later. They asked a hundred questions. No, Miss Meury just let me go wherever I wanted, with my recollections. Because of Miss Meury, now I know how to tell my story. I talked to her for thirteen months, until the day the state of New York set to electrocute me.

We talked about the farm, that damn farm. Don’t fret, I knew enough not to say damn to Emilie Meury. She never saw a farm. She didn’t know much about New Jersey, and nothing about my village, East Millstone. I told her how Pa ruined the farm. Sixty acres, only thirty in crop, one ramshackle house with two rooms down and two rooms up. And a smokehouse, a springhouse, a root cellar, a chicken coop, and a corn crib, all run down, falling down. The barn was the best of the lot, but it leaned over to the west.

They tell me I had three baby brothers who died before I was born, two on the same day. Ma and Pa hardly talked about that, but the neighbors remembered, and they talked. For years that left just my brother Garret, well, that left Garret for a while anyway, and my sister Ellen. Then I was born, then Matilda—family called her Tillie—then Peter, then Eliza, then Garret died in the

war, then Eliza died. By the time I moved to Brooklyn, only my brother Peter and my sister Ellen were alive. Peter is the only one the police talk to these days.

The farmers nearby and some of our kin reckoned that my Ma and Pa, Isaac and Penelope Garretson were their names, they bore the blame for my three little brothers dying in just two years. Isaac and Penelope were so mean, that’s what they deserved. I don’t reckon their meanness caused the little ones to die. I was a middle child with five before me and three after, and I saw meanness all around, every day. I never blamed anything on meanness. Not even what happened to me.

On the farm there was always work to be done, a lot of it by me. Maybe Ma and Pa spread out the work even, but I never thought so. By the time I was nine, that was in 1858, I knew what I had to do. In the spring I hiked up my skirt to plow. In the fall I sharpened the knives for butchering. In the winter I chopped firewood after Pa or Garret, he was the oldest, sawed the heaviest logs. Every morning I milked and hauled water from the well. On Thursdays I churned. On Mondays I scrubbed. Pa, and Ma too, they were busy with work, but they always had time to yell when I messed up. I was two years younger than Ellen, she’s my sister, still alive, I think. I was taller and stronger. Ellen had a bent for sewing and darning, so lots of time she sat in the parlor with handiwork. I didn’t think the parlor looked shabby. Now that I’ve seen fancy houses, I remember the scratched and frayed chairs in the farmhouse and the rough plank floor, no carpets. While Ellen sewed in the parlor, I plowed the fields, sweating behind the horses. I sewed too, but everyone knew Ellen was better. I took care with all my chores. Had to sew a straight seam. Had to plow a straight line. If I messed up, Pa’s wrath came down on me, or sometimes Ma’s. Fists or worse.

When I told that story for the first time to Miss Emilie Meury, she lowered her head, looked at the Bible she always held. And when I told it to others, they looked away too.

On the farm Ma needed me and Ellen to watch over our sisters, Tillie and Eliza, and over our brother Peter. They were born after me. Just another chore, that’s what Ellen thought about watching the young ones. For me, I liked watching them, and not just because I needed a rest from farm work. I loved Peter. He was four years younger. He’s not that sharp but he’s a good-natured, kind. I loved the girls too. Tillie, the level-headed and sweet one, and Eliza, the restless one, maybe wild even. The four of us played house. I was the ma and Peter, he stretched his

back and neck to be pa. I laughed at him, in a kindly way. He and me, we ordered Tillie and Eliza around. We played school and I pranced around as schoolmarm.

But Ma and Pa judged, they judged every move. They left the younger ones alone and paid no heed to Ellen. She looked so sour. We called her sourpuss. Garret and me, we made enough mistakes to keep Ma and Pa busy all year. I remember what I said once to Ma, when she saw the messy kitchen and started in on me.

“Why don’t you whup Ellen? She didn’t wash up either.”

“Don’t need to give a reason.”

“Why don’t you whup Garret. He made the mess.”

“You heard me. Don’t need to give a reason.”

Then she threw a dish. Hit my head. I had a bump, and more to clean.

With Pa the hurt lasted longer. Here’s what I remember. “Over there.” That’s what he said, pointing. He saw the uneven lines my plow made. When I told this story to Miss Meury, I pointed, with a mean finger, to give her the idea.

I spent that night locked in the smelly chicken coop.

When I tell about the coop, I usually tell about the cemetery next, because that’s a different kind of hurt. Every December, from the time I was little to the time I left the farm, us Garretsons took the wagon or the sleigh for our yearly visit to the cemetery, first to visit Stephen, Cornelius, and Abraham. They died long before. They were ghosts to me. I remembered the gloom of the cemetery, and the silence. The whole family stood around those graves, but I never heard a cry. Even Ma stayed quiet. I told the story, just like this, to Miss Meury. But I told it again, later, to those men who came to the prison to check my sanity.

Penelope Wykoff Garretson

I was born a Wyckoff, Penelope Wyckoff, and I felt that in my bones, even when the other farm folks called me Ma Garretson. As a Wyckoff, one of the prettiest of the Wyckoffs I’m not shy to say, I lived better than lots of the villagers in central New Jersey, certainly better than the Garretsons. I had five years of schooling and new dresses for the dances each year. I can’t remember what I saw in Isaac Garretson when we married on February 5, 1841. We slept together that night. I birthed Stephen nine months later. Then comes the sing-song litany. When I was still nursing Stephen, Garret was born. And while I was still nursing Garret, the twins were born. Then the twins died and I had only Stephen and Garret. Then Stephen died and I had no one but Garret until Ellen was born. Then Martha. Some call her Mattie. Then Peter. Then Matilda. Some call her Tillie. Then Eliza. Then Garret died. Then Eliza died. Were there more births than deaths or deaths than births?

During the worst of the birthing and the burying, Isaac got real bad. He always had a temper, I knew that, but it got worse. Maybe because the farm was failing, or almost failing. The banks in New Brunswick—that was the nearby town—wouldn’t lend him money. Those bankers knew him, knew he was a risk. Then the gambling started. Horse racing. It’s a miracle he didn’t lose the farm at the track. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my sisters, about the gambling, and I certainly didn’t tell them that the bed didn’t help any. No time for shagging. Isaac pulled me to him at the end of a day. The bed was always cold because he never cut enough firewood. I rolled away most days, not all. Knew it couldn’t be all. So tired. There were no strapping boys to

help with the farm, no girls either for a while.

As Garret grew tall and Ellen and Mattie grew some, I sent the children to the schoolhouse. It wasn’t much of a school, just a one-room unpainted cottage shared with the post office, with that awful Mr. Washburn in charge. It was what we had. Isaac thought school was no use and kept Garret and the girls back as much as he could, especially in the spring. He needed them for the farm and the truth was I could use them for housework and milking and such too. Garret didn’t mind skipping school. He was fine with farm work, but Ellen and Mattie fussed and attended more days than Garret did. I worried that Garret struggled to read and write, while the girls managed pretty well. Ellen and Mattie read when there was a need and Mattie was good with her numbers. At age nine she was already helping Isaac with his messy ledgers.

I was no fool—I knew what went on in that school. The few times I went to pull out Garret midday for plowing, that teacher, that Mr. Washburn, looked uneasy when I entered the room. He stood straight as a ramrod, looking at me, grimacing. His fingernails were clean and his collar was starched. I reckon he saw that my fingernails were filthy and my muslin dress was soiled. Washburn didn’t remember that my children, the Garretson children, were Wyckoffs just as much as they were Garretsons. He saw their threadbare clothes and treated them like dirt. Had Garret chop wood and the girls haul water, while those stuck-up Neilson girls, always with those silly smiles on their faces, sat around in their pretty dresses, snickering at the others. First, I didn’t think the snickering bothered anyone except me. Then I saw Ellen and Mattie fussing with their clothes before school, pulling the fabric around their frayed elbows to the inside, and I knew they felt bad.

I wanted to raise my children, at least my daughters, like Wyckoffs. With Isaac thinking he was in charge, that wasn’t going to happen. At least the girls knew the difference, knew there was something better than this miserable farm. But me, Ma Garretson they called me, I was stuck.


Excerpt from The Murderess Must Die by Marlie Wasserman. Copyright 2021 by Marlie Wasserman. Reproduced with permission from Marlie Wasserman. All rights reserved.


Was writing your first love? 

    No, my second. As a child I drew and loved art. I wrote a story in third grade that my teacher 
praised but I never wrote fiction again until after I retired. Both art and fiction are equally creative—
you can turn your attention in almost any direction. If an art teacher gives two students an assignment,
they are likely to produce totally different images. Similarly, if a writing teacher gives two students
a prompt, they are likely to produce totally different stories.

Where do you like to write? 

    I write in one boring place, at my desk in my small home office. Writing historical crime fiction,
I need lots of books and old-fashioned papers at hand. For example, with this book I had an eighty-page
court transcript, marked up with notes and highlighting, that resided on my desk for months. I suppose
some writers can do all of this on a computer, especially if they have a big screen where they can keep
multiple documents open at once, but I use a small laptop. My desk chair faces a window, and 

I have a dedicated spot for my cup of strong, black coffee.  

Is writing everything you thought it would be?

    Along with most writers, I find writing harder than I expected. Not only do you need a riveting plot,
but you need complex characters, believable dialog, and good pacing. While striving for those attributes,
you need to keep in mind the senses—smells, feels, heat, cold.  When I finished a different novel, I
realized that not once did I mention any of the characters’ posture, so I had to go back and revise just
to focus on how people stood and moved. And that’s just one example. The list of elements writers must
keep in mind seems endless.

Who is/was your favorite character to write about?

    I admit to falling in love with all my characters, but if I had to single out one it might be my
protagonist’s first lawyer, Mr. Knittle. 
How can you not fall in love with such a name?  He is a
historical character, so that was truly his name, though some of the newspapers spelled it Nittle.
We know little about him, other than that 
he was appointed by the court to represent an indigent
woman accused of murder. I can imagine him freaking out, realizing that this was
a capital case and
that if he failed, his client would be executed. So he squirms out of representing her, but, let’s just say,
he doesn’t fade away. 

How do you form your story ideas? 

    I am an extreme version of a pantser. In other words, I write by the seat of my pants. I begin with a
crime, or possible crime, but it needs to be one that is both serious and about which we know little.
The best source for learning about such crimes is readily available—the newspapers of the era.

Do you keep notes during the day? (In case something inspires you or, if you had a lively conversation and thought, “hey that would be great in a book.”)

    Yes, I have a notebook where I write down ideas. Even more so, I learn from reading other mysteries
and historical fiction. I will come across a turn of phrase that grabs me, jot it down, and then come back
to that later and use it in an altered way. I am indebted to literally hundreds of authors.

Do you write in one sitting or in bursts?  

    I treat writing like a part-time job and write a few hours every morning. Sometimes that yields a
whole scene.  Sometimes I read what I wrote the day before, press delete, and start over. Sometimes
I start writing, realize I have more research to do, and go down a rabbit hole. But I work steadily, not
in spurts. I 
am not reluctant to call myself a creature of routines. Routines carry value.

What was the last book you read? Did it live up to your expectations?  

    The last book I read that I want to rave about was Hamnet, which has already been acclaimed by
others. You don’t need to love Shakespeare, and you don’t even need to have read
Hamlet, to enjoy
and admire the

For, The Murderess Must Die, what was your most difficult part to write? 

    The Murderess is a middle-aged woman named Martha Place. She has many burdens in her life,
but the biggest was when she had to give up her toddler son for adoption. It is heartbreaking to imagine
a woman having to face that option, simply due to poverty. I had to force myself to imagine her

Did this book follow your original plan? Or did it turn into something completely different?

    As I said, I am a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants, without an outline. But with historical
fiction you sometimes know the last scene. I knew Martha Place was destined to walk to the electric
chair. What I didn’t know is that I would decide 
to imagine life not just for Martha, but also for her
victim, her teen-aged stepdaughter Ida. I realized I could not shine a spotlight
just on the perp, ignoring
the victim.  I should have known that 
from the get-go.

Did your characters ever stop talking to you at any point in your writing? 

    My characters jump into my brain and don’t let go. I love them all and I feel responsible for them all.
They are chatty, especially at night.

Was it hard to stay motivated during your writing process? What were some of your go-to strategies to stay on point? 

    I have no problem with motivation. When I start a project I must finish it, even if it takes years. I do
have a problem with
self-confidence when it comes to writing, but I turn that into determination rather
than quitting. If I feel down in the dumps, I can always find an essay in a magazine about writing or an
online source, where writers explain the value of persistence. 
I think to keep at it, you need to enjoy
the process, not just the result. For me, writing is a puzzle. Just as you might stick with a complex
jigsaw puzzle for the hard first-half, stick with writing. Consider it a brain teaser.

Do you have a playlist for this book? Or any song that helped you develop a particular scene? 

    Great question, but one I can’t answer. I am not a music buff.  I suppose if I had to select a song to
accompany this book, it would be Amazing Grace. I can picture Martha Place singing 
that in Sing

Lastly, what is one key piece of advice you would give to anyone wishing to go down the writing path? 

    Learn how to respond to criticism from your early pre-pub readers, often called beta readers, who
may suggest revisions that seem wrong to you.  I see three ways to respond: Get discouraged and
give up. Get angry and ignore the advice. Or my recommended path: figure out why the reader
responded as she did and see if there’s a different way, maybe a simpler way, to correct the problem
than the one she suggests.  


Marlie Wasserman

Marlie Parker Wasserman writes historical crime fiction, after a career on the other side of the desk in publishing. The Murderess Must Die is her debut novel. She reviews regularly for The Historical Novel Review and is at work on a new novel about a mysterious and deadly 1899 fire in a luxury hotel in Manhattan.

Catch Up With Marlie Wasserman:
Instagram - @marliepwasserman
Twitter - @MarlieWasserman
Facebook - @marlie.wasserman



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