The Strange Story of Waity Burgess

During the late 1820's, the small town of Sterling, Connecticut was torn apart by the presence of Waity Burgess, an unusual woman who had murder on her mind. It was not enough that she cavorted with married men but that she induced one of them to murder his wife for her. And these were all events that she claimed to have "predicted" using the supernatural powers of divination.

Years before, when Waity had married a farmer named Welcome Burgess, it was well-known in the community that she had carried on with many lovers. Unfortunately though, much to Welcome's dismay, she continued to see many of them even after she was married. After fathering five children, Welcome died and Waity moved her family to Chestnut Hill, Connecticut. She was in her middle 30's by this time and reportedly very attractive and alluring. She soon made herself known to men in the community and her sexual antics actually aroused the locals so much that a torch-carrying mob came to her home one night and pelted the house with rocks. Waity quickly packed up her things and left town.

She moved on to Sterling, where she became acquainted with her next husband -- a farmer named Oliver Watkins. The only problem was that Watkins was married at the time, but Waity was determined not to let this stop her plans.

She moved into a house with her father, a resident of Sterling, who agreed to let her live there on the condition that she stay away from the male population of the town. He had no illusions about his daughter's nature but he was powerless against her when she began to be seen about town with her intended target, Oliver Watkins. The two of them also traveled to nearby communities to attend fairs and markets. Roxana Watkins, Oliver's wife, was a patient woman and said nothing about the affair, which was quickly becoming public knowledge.

The reason that Roxana remained silent had more to do with her husband's legendary temper than any sort of embarrassment. She and her husband had two children together and while never cruel, could be quick to anger. On one occasion, Watkins became so angry at his oxen while plowing a field that he wore out a whip on them and only stopped beating them when his neighbors intervened. Roxana had no idea what he might do if she accused him of adultery. However, she would only be able to stand his behavior for so long...

As the affair continued, Waity began working on Watkins, telling him that his wife was lazy and that she "lets hr clothes lay outdoors until they rot". Waity on the other hand was very neat and tidy, she claimed, and would spin her own wool and flax. She was so industrious that she would make her own cloth and would have enough left over to sell. Waity continued this for so long that when Roxana finally confronted her husband about his affair, he shouted at her and struck her with his fists until she begged for mercy. This silenced Roxana but Waity was not going to settle for an affair -- she wanted Watkins to marry her. She subtly began to suggest that he send his wife off. To where, she did not say, but soon her meaning became clear as she wanted Oliver to murder her.

Not long after, Waity appeared in several stores in town and ordered broadcloth, saying that she was soon to be marrying a widower. Her father, disgusted with his daughter, threw her out of his house and Waity took up lodging in a rooming house. This move, she explained, traumatized her so much that she was now able to "predict the future". One night, she startled local residents by racing around town in her nightgown, holding a crystal ball in one hand. "There will be a sudden death in the neighborhood," she told those who asked her what she was doing. "For there is a winding sheet in my crystal and I never knew this to fail but that a sudden death followed."

On the night of March 21, 1829, Oliver Watkins pretended to be asleep, waiting for his wife to doze off. He then crept from the bedroom , retrieved his horse whip and returned. He slipped the whip around Roxana's neck and then, using his massive strength, crossed the ends around her throat. The pressure was so great that a string of beads that she was wearing burst apart and scattered all over the bed and floor. She was dead within minutes. Watkins then returned the whip to the barn and slipped back into bed. Some hours later, he rose with a shout and called for this mother-in-law, who was asleep in an adjoining room. He told her that Roxana must have choked herself somehow with her beads and he stuck with that story until the authorities arrived.

A coroner's jury found Roxana's death to be accidental but the state's attorney harbored suspicions and he eventually had Watkins arrested for murder. During his trial, Waity kept her distance and insisted that she barely knew Oliver. Even when he was convicted and sentenced to hang, she refused to have anything to do with him or to admit that she had goaded him into the killing. After all of it, Watkins refused to blame her or even to admit that he was guilty of murder. He was hanged on August 2, 1831 and it was the last public execution in Connecticut. It was a memorable affair and accounts say that the crowds of onlookers made the hillside "black with people."

Waity Burgess did not attend and some days later, she placed her children in an orphanage and moved to Foster, Rhode Island. She was not here longer before she convinced a widower to take her in. Somehow though, her reputation had followed her and within a week, a crowd of locals had assembled outside of the house, had battered open the door and had dragged Waity into the night. She was sent away with her few belongings and she vanished into the shadows of history forever.

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Copyright 2004 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.