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

Updated November 5, 2019 6.4k views11 items
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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. 

  • 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.

  • Barbella Was Tried And Convicted Of Murder

    Barbella cut Cataldo's throat in plain sight, in front of witnesses. A bleeding Cataldo stumbled out of the bar and into the street where he collapsed and died. Barbella went home to change clothes but was soon arrested for Cataldo's murder. She told the police "Me take his blood so he no take mine. Say me pig marry" as she was taken away. 

    Barbella was booked under the wrong name, Maria Barberi, and was held for months until her trial. A judge appointed two inexperienced lawyers to defend her, although they only met with her once and didn't prepare her for her upcoming trial. When she did finally make it to a courtroom, she was badgered by the prosecution while on the stand. The judge excluded evidence that would have worked to Barbella's benefit, that Cataldo reached for a knife, for example, and discouraged the jury from showing her any mercy. The jury found Barbella guilty of first degree murder after 45 minutes of deliberation.

  • Photo: Thomas Hawk / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    She Was Sentenced To Be Executed In The Electric Chair

    Barbella was sentenced to die for her crime and taken to Sing Sing prison in upstate New York. She was going to be the first woman put to death using the newly installed electric chair. While she was in prison, she enjoyed a fair amount of notoriety and preferential treatment. Her cell was bigger than her apartment in the city, and the warden's wife took an interest in her and taught her English