Bread & Butter is the true story of Polly Frisch who poisoned her family with arsenic in the 1850s, and the five trials it took to convict her.
By Cindy Amrhein (HistorySleuth) & Ellen Lea Bachorski
Polly stayed by her husband, Henry Hoag, day and night all through his illness that July of 1856. It seemed he had once again contracted Cholera Morbus. His nausea and stomach cramps caused him intense pain. As his illness progressed and his pulse weakened the doctors from Alabama Center were called. Despite all their efforts Henry died. Three weeks later one of their daughters died as well. Polly remarried that fall to a man named Otto Frisch. It would be a short marriage. Her new husband deserted her in October the following year. Shortly thereafter, another of Polly’s daughters died of mysterious causes. The town’s people of Alabama agreed they saw no lack of attention on Polly’s part towards her family. Then why, in November of 1857, was she indicted for killing her 1st husband and children? The punishment for such a crime was the gallows. Would Polly be the first woman in Genesee County, NY history to be hanged for murder? Bread & Butter is the true story of Polly Frisch who poisoned her family with arsenic and the five trials it took to convict her.
Back in the early 1990s my co-author, Ellen Bachorski, and myself had a monthly newsletter called The Basom Post. Basom is a hamlet of the town of Alabama in Genesee County, New York. It was 24 pages and contained local happenings and history. Someone had asked us, “Why don’t you write about the murder of the Hoag family?” We had no idea who they were. The Hoags, as it turns out, were several children and their father buried in the Alabama Center Cemetery. All having died within two years in the 1850s. All we had to go on was the following blurb in the Gazetteer and Biographical Record and Directory of Genesee County New York 1788-1890, by F.W. Beers.
“About the year 1848-1856 Alabama Center was the scene of a crime committed by a woman, Polly Franklin who married Henry Hoag about 1844. Their children Rosa and Viola, died suddenly, and soon the father died, then another child Frances, followed him. After the death of Mr. Hoag, his widow married Otto Frisch, but soon was deserted by him. About this time suspicion was aroused, and S.E. Filkins (counselor) caused an investigation to be made, which revealed the fact that some of her family had died from the effects of poison, large quantities of arsenic having been administered to them. She was arrested and tried three times, and being finally found guilty was sentenced to be hung, but was eventually imprisoned for life.”
With the prompting of Sue Conklin, Genesee County (NY) historian, Ellen and I began our long journey into the life of Polly Frisch. As it would turn out the above was only partly correct and only the tip of the iceberg into a very complex story. We dug deep into newspaper accounts of testimony at the time of the trials, inquest files, court records, letters, genealogies from descendents and, believe it or not, forensic testing for arsenic in the remains. It was too large to tell for our small Basom newsletter. After five years of research we self-published Bread & Butter: The Murders of Polly Frisch in 2000. I’m happy to say we will soon be into our third printing.