MICHIGAN CRIME: The Deadly Scrubwoman of Detroit, 1905
In January 1905, one of Michigan’s earliest reputed serial killers was arrested. Rose Barron was a scrubwoman at the Alhambra Flats apartment building in Detroit and it was believed she was poisoning the dining room customers by putting arsenic in their food.
Fourteen persons from ten different families were poisoned and became violently sick within one week and the fingers pointed to Mrs. Barron.
Why her? Because several members of her own family had died under curious circumstances and it was believed that Rose killed them for the insurance money. Her father-in-law had died mysteriously just a year-and-a-half earlier.
Since she had free access to the kitchen, it was simple for her to taint food with arsenic…which she was eventually accused of doing, as arsenic was indeed found in a can of baking powder. It was thought that she put arsenic in biscuits and gave them to customers, in some sort of weird retaliation for a recent demotion from cook to scrubwoman.
Charles and Merrie Abbott were Rose’s defense attorneys during the trial. The defense was led by stating the customers’ extreme illness could possibly have been caused by ptomaine poisoning or faulty building pipes. While the dueling attorneys exchanged heated words, a jury member stood up and shouted “My God, I’ve been poisoned!” Doctors rushed over to him and discovered he had only fainted…the power of suggestion may have been too much for him.
After a 19-week trial, on May 15, 1905, the jury came back after fifteen hours of deliberation and found her not guilty, as the people who were poisoned all recovered, none dying (various news items of the day list the number of poisonees anywhere from twelve to forty, and some say two people died). Even though the Detroit police department found the evidence against Rose ‘overwhelming’, she was acquitted and set free.
The former Alhambra Apartments building is located on the corner of Cass & Temple streets. To read an article from the Detroit Free Press 39 years AFTER the trial, CLICK HERE.
See the photos below of the Alhambra Apartment building as it is today.