Mass poisoner Marie Alexandrine Becker, born in 1877 and a native of Liege in Belgium, was fifty-three years old and married to a cabinetmaker when she began an affair with a man called Lambert Beyer - a notorious middle-aged womaniser. Though Marie was outwardly a virtuous and proper housewife, she was secretly bored with her husband. When Beyer propositioned her as she bought vegetables at a street stall, she accepted his advances immediately.

The affair with him unlocked dark passions which Marie had probably concealed for a long time. She hated the idea of growing old and felt that her dull and unexciting husband stood in the way of all the things she really wanted. The only way to recapture her lost youth, she decided, was to murder him and start afresh. She gave him a lethal dose of Digitalis, collected on his life insurance and used the cash to open a smart dress shop. Later on, in November 1934 - by which time he had presumably ceased to thrill her - she poisoned Bayer with the same lethal drug.

He apparently left her money in his will - perhaps he signed his own death warrant via this bequest because Marie's funds were getting rather low. Her new lifestyle was expensive; it also scandalised her neighbours. Becker's nights were spent in dance halls and nightclubs, wildly cavorting with men half her age. She paid young gigolos (toyboys) for sex. The dress shop was popular, but the income it generated couldn’t keep pace with her expenses.

When an elderly friend, Marie Castadot, became ill in early July 1935 - she'd experienced dizziness and nausea - the kindly Widow Becker offered to take care of her. Unsurprisingly, Castadot's condition worsened. By the 23rd day of July she was dead. Marie Becker, who knew a thing or two about ruthless opportunism, eagerly befriended other old ladies...all of them followed Madame Castadot to the grave in the months that followed.

Becker had plainly decreed that nothing was more important (or more sacred?) than her chosen lifestyle - not even human life. Having run out of acquaintances, Marie turned to poisoning her female customers with digitalis, dropping it in cups of tea in the back of her shop as they discussed the latest fashions. When the drug began to work, she would steal whatever money the patrons had and then take the stricken women back to their own homes - where they'd die of "unknown causes." Becker is definitely known to have committed at least ten homicides, but it has been estimated that she actually killed twice as many people before she was arrested.

When a female friend sarcastically remarked that her husband was aggravating her so much that she wished he would die, the poisoner told her: "If you really mean that, I can supply you with a powder that will leave no trace." The woman went to the police (who had suspected Becker for some time - they'd received anonymous letters which accused her of foul play). Marie was arrested; the bodies of her husband, Beyer, and some of her friends and customers were exhumed.

Traces of the poison were found. A search of her house revealed jewellery, clothes and personal possessions belonging to the victims. The police also found at least one bottle of digitalis. She was charged with murder.

Witnesses at Becker's trial related how the killer had attended the funerals of her victims  and dramatically feigned grief. According to their accounts, she knelt at the gravesides and wept hysterically...only to be seen shortly afterwards performing erotic dances in Liege nightclubs and lavishly spending the stolen money. Becker made no pretence of innocence. She gloated over the murders and described, with arch disdain, the way her prey had died. One of her victims, she said, "looked like an angel choked with sauerkraut." Another she described as "dying beautifully, lying flat on her back." Convicted, Marie Becker was sent to prison for life, there being no death penalty in Belgium at that time. She died in prison sometime during World War II.

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