Too Close To Home: Ann Simpson – Fayetteville

Ella-Brooke Morgan, Features Editor

Trigger warning: graphic content
The documents for the 1851 Fayetteville, North Carolina trial of Ann Simpson describe the widowed defendant as “not having the fear of God before her eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, and her malice aforethought.” Even 171 years later, Fayetteville, a town not unlike Clemmons, still remembers the story of the femme fatale.
Many who knew Simpson would not have suspected such a captivating young woman to be guilty of the felonious act of spousal murder she was being tried for, and they shuddered at the thought of a rope being tied around her delicate neck. The fact that Ann had been married to the much older Alexander Simpson did not matter. The observation that she had fled to Charleston and Havana for no apparent reason did not matter. In their minds, Simpson was undoubtedly the victim of a scheme much more prominent than herself.
Alexander’s final days were tainted by relentless bouts of illness in the stomach, leaving him unable to get out of bed. Dr. W. P. Mallett, Alexander’s acquaintance, traveled to the Simpson house to find the distinguished man a shell of himself, physically tortured at the hand of some mysterious ailment. Mallett and another doctor in conjunction provided a prescription for morphine, which did nothing to ease Alexander’s troubles. A regretful Mallett left the Simpson home and heard of his friend’s death only a short time later. Mallett was forced to do a complete one–eighty-degree turn; hours after Simpson died, Mallett began the tedious–and uncomfortable–autopsy process, the results of which would implicate, in popular opinion, an innocuous suspect.
Arsenic, substantial amounts of it, were found in Simpson’s intestines. One particular witness held the key to it all–an unassuming drug store clerk named James Smith. Smith, who worked the counter at the pharmacy owned by Samuel Hinsdale, testified that Ann had come in one typical day to purchase arsenic, claiming it was to be used to exterminate rats. Smith never thought twice about the incident until his testimony, but recalled that Ann might’ve purchased ratsbane, a powdered type of arsenic that is undetectable and odorless.
While Smith’s account wasn’t necessarily the most riveting, Nancy Register, a seamstress and friend of the Simpson couple, told a story that had the jury entranced. Register described a visit to Ann: upon entering the Simpson dining room, Ann locked the door, opened a drawer, pulled out a letter Alexander had written her and began to read: “Ann, I once thought you loved me, but now I have reasons to suspect that you love another better than me. For the sake of your friends, you may stay in my house, but you must find your own clothes as well as you can. Prepare a bed for me upstairs tomorrow. You can no longer be my wife.” The statement was followed by a conversation between Ann and Register that noted Ann as being unfaithful with a man who “visited [the Simpson house] every day.” Register, concerned for her friend, offered this advice: “act differently than what you’ve done.” Ann proceeded to admit she “often loved someone other than her husband.” Despite her friend’s warnings, Ann continued to see her lover, but Register was worried that Alexander would “fly into the house, in the heat of the moment, and take [the lover’s] life.”
The period in-between Alexander’s discovery of Ann’s infidelity and his untimely death remains muddled, but one fact is clear: multiple witnesses have corroborated that Ann “forced” Alexander to drink the offending and fatal substance, a plain cup of coffee corrupted by invisible arsenic. The evidence is overwhelming, yet Ann’s lawyers fought hard, making a convincing moral case and speaking in their arguments for what would make up over 100 pages of court records. The people of Fayetteville were swayed, and Ann walked free, free to live her life as she pleased, although she was subject to intense scrutiny. That didn’t bother her, however. Many regarded her as a “stone-cold” killer; she had “no tears in her eyes” when she was “informed” of her husband’s death that was regarded as at her hands.