She Cut Her Abusive Boyfriend's Throat & Was The Second Woman In America Sentenced To Electrocution

In 1895, Maria Barbella became the second woman in the US sentenced to the electric chair – right behind Lizzie Halliday's 1894 sentence; Halliday ended up in an asylum. Martha Place, the first woman actually killed in the hot seat, was executed in 1899.

Barbella was an Italian immigrant, a battered woman, and ultimately a murderer, killing her cheating boyfriend on a hot April day. She wasn't a serial killer and didn't hurt a bunch of people but became quite famous due to her crime – and her sentence. 

  • Maria Barbella Started Seeing Domenico Cataldo When She Was 24

    Maria Barbella's family made their way to the US from Italy in 1892. Maria lived with her parents and siblings in New York's Little Italy neighborhood, worked 60 hours a week as a seamstress and passed Domenico Cataldo's shoeshine stand every day on her way back home. Cataldo, 29 years old at the time, was also an immigrant from Italy. As she walked by him each day, Cataldo made advances at Barbella. He soon started walking her home, tell her about his dreams of opening a barbershop and getting married.  He was careful not to walk her the entire way, however, for fear of having to meet her parents. 

  • Despite Barbella's Parents' Objections, The Two Continued To See Each Other

    Barbella's parents found out about Cataldo and wanted to meet him. Maria had tried to keep their friendship a secret and, even after her parents knew about him, Cataldo stalled and made excuses to avoid them. Finally, after the Barbellas met Cataldo, her father told Maria that she was never to see him again. Maria listened to her father, but Cataldo was relentless in his pursuit. Maria tried to avoid him, even walking out of her way, but Cataldo persisted.

  • One Night, Cataldo Drugged Barbella And Raped Her

    Despite her parents' deep disapproval, Barbella relented and started seeing Cataldo more and more. Despite the attention he gave to Barbella, Cataldo was abusive and unkind. At some point during their time together, Cataldo gave Barbella a drink that was drugged and had sex with her while she was unconscious. Barbella was horrified, embarrassed, and afraid to go home to her parents when she realized what had happened. She confronted Cataldo, who promised to marry her as soon as he found a place for them to live together. 

  • He Promised Over And Over Again To Marry Her – But Saw Other Women And Tried To Pawn Her Off On Someone Else

    Cataldo told Barbella that he would marry her, but, as time went on, he showed no signs of actually following through on that assurance. The two did live together, during which time Barbella begged him repeatedly to keep his promise. She was desperate to try to salvage her honor and her reputation.

    After Barbella found out Cataldo was seeing other women, he changed his story and told her that he wouldn't marry her but would instead find another man for her. According to Maria, he said "I’ll find you a young man willing to marry you. I’ll tell him you’re a widow. I’ll buy you a black dress. You’ll marry him because I want you to. Then I’ll come to visit you while he’s at work."

  • On Top Of Everything Else, Cataldo Had A Wife And Kids Back In Italy – And He Was Going Back To Them

    It didn't take long for Maria to reach her breaking point. She learned that Cataldo was already married and had children in Italy and had a one-way ticket to go back to them. In a fit of anger, she went to once again beg Cataldo to marry her. The two had an argument during which, by some accounts, Barbella's mother came to the door and Cataldo stormed out. 

  • After He Told Her "Only Pigs Marry," Barbella Slit Cataldo's Throat

    The argument followed Cataldo to a local bar. Accounts differ in terms of exactly what happened, but it is generally accepted that while Cataldo was playing cards, Barbella confronted him yet again. She demanded that he marry her, and he replied that "only pigs marry." She then cut his throat. 

    In some versions of the event, Barbella grabbed his head and deliberately slit his throat from ear to ear, like a slaughtered pig. Other versions have the cut as an accident or an act of self-defense, one that wasn't meant to kill Cataldo at all.