Sophie Ursinus

Sophie Ursinus was a German serial killer who killed using poison. Her trial was significant because it resulted in creating a method of identifying arsenic poisoning.

Sophie Ursinus

Early Life And Crimes

Sophie Charlotte Elisabeth Weingarten was born in Glatz, a city in Lower Silesia, Prussia, on May 5th, 1760. Her father was the secretary of the Austrian legation, and after he lost his position, she got married at the age of 19 to an older counsellor of the  Supreme Court named Theodor Ursinus.

The two lived in a German town named Stendal until 1792, then moved to Berlin. Counsellor Ursinus died in Berlin suddenly on September 11th, 1800, a day after celebrating his birthday. Sophie came under suspicion for not calling a doctor, and after the medicine she gave him only made his condition worse.

During her marriage, Sophie began an affair with a Dutch officer named Rogay, possibly with the consent of her husband. Rogay had left Berlin for some time, but later returned and died three years before Sophie's husband. At the time, his death was attributed to tuberculosis. It was later discovered that shortly before his death, Sophie had purchased arsenic.

On January 24th, 1801, Sophie's aunt Christiane Witte, died after a short illness in Charlottenburg. This meant Sophie was left with a large inheritance. It was again later discovered that she purchased arsenic shortly before her aunt died.

Towards the end of February 1803, Sophie's servant Benjamin Klein, became ill, specifically after the two had gotten into an argument earlier. She had given him an emetic, then soup, which only made him feel worse. Klein became suspicious and when she gave him some plums, he had them secretly examined by a chemist, who confirmed that they contained arsenic.

Investigation and Trial

Sophie was arrested and came under suspicion for poisoning her husband. His body was exhumed but during the autopsy, the examiners Martin Heinrich Klaproth and his assistant Valentin Rose, were unable to confirm if he was poisoned with arsenic. Due to the general condition of his organs and the convulsive contraction of the limbs, the suspicion still lingered that arsenic was used to kill him.

Sophie was next charged with the murder of her aunt. The body was exhumed and after examination, there was no doubt that she died from arsenic poisoning.

The murder trial ended on September 12th, 1803. In an attempt to save herself, Sophie disputed every point during her trial, but she was still found guilty of the murder of her aunt and the attempted murder of her servant, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She was allowed to have a certain amount of comforts while in prison, and was even allowed to have parties with outside guests and dress in fine clothing.

After 30 years, Sophie was pardoned in 1833 and was able to rejoin the upper-class society in the city of Glatz until her death on April 4th, 1836. She was 75 years old.

The work of Valentin Rose in this case proved that the evidence that the doctors who were present at the deaths found were not sufficient. In 1836, the Marsh Test, which is a highly sensitive method for the detection of arsenic, was developed by a chemist named James Marsh.