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Dark heart of Britain's first female serial killer; BRUM CRIMINOLOGIST INSPIRES NEW DRAMA ABOUT A NOTORIOUS MURDERER WHO WIPED OUT HER OWN FAMILY.

By ROZ LAWS What's On Writer roz.laws@trinitymirror.com @rozlaws SHE played the dutiful daughter, mother and a wife - yet concealed in the dark heart of Mary Ann Cotton was a ruthless and evil killer. Now a new ITV drama inspired by a book by Birmingham criminologist Professor David Wilson will tell the tale of Britain's first female serial killer.

It is strange that Mary Ann Cotton has disappeared from history - for she is known murdered as many as 17 people.

But her extraordinary true story will finally be brought to life by the two-part drama Dark Angel, starring Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt as Mary.

Cotton was born into poverty in the North-east in 1832. She became infamous for killing all four of her husbands, her mother, her natural children and her stepchildren.

All of them died painfully from arsenic poisoning while Cotton got away with the crimes for years and collected on the life insurance.

It's not known exactly how many people she killed but Prof Wilson puts the final toll at 17 victims.

The criminologist at Birmingham City University wrote the book Mary Ann Cotton: Britain's First Female Serial Killer upon which the drama is based.

He had been working with World Productions as a criminologist when he mentioned Cotton. Professor Wilson, who also recently interviewed Carl Bridgewater suspect Bert Spencer for the Channel 4 documentary Interview With A Murderer, said: "The more I investigated her the more I realised there were a lot of rumours, half-truths and frankly untruths about Mary Ann Cotton.

"I'm delighted that my work has inspired the ITV drama and can't wait to see how they portray Mary. Viewers might even spot me on screen as her lawyer!" Cotton got away with her crimes for at least seven years partly because arsenic was generally on sale in local shops at the time, used to destroy bed bugs.

The idea of killing people with it was new, as was life insurance.

The concept of murdering for the money hadn't really caught on then, and she lived in poor mining villages where people died all the time - one in four working-class children died in infancy.

Plus Mary Ann was a woman and a mother... and to the Victorian mindset, she would have been simply incapable of such wickedness.

? Dark Angel begins on ITV on Monday, October 31 at 9pm.

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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 22, 2016
Words:395
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