Mrs. May Woodman Was Out to Kill, But Her Target Was Not Her Spouse | HistoryNet MENU

Mrs. May Woodman Was Out to Kill, But Her Target Was Not Her Spouse

By Pam Potter
1/22/2018 • Wild West Magazine

The Tombstone woman went after lover with a ‘Bulldog’.

Five-foot-four, gray-eyed May Woodman, armed with a nickel-plated Bulldog pistol, walked down Fifth toward Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, on February 23, 1883. She approached her lover, William “Billy” Kinsman, and engaged him in a short conversation of unknown subject. As they stood talking in front of the Oriental Saloon, she suddenly raised her pistol and with cold deliberation pulled the trigger, shooting him in the stomach. He crossed his hands over the wound and staggered away from her, but she followed. Once again she raised the pistol and pointed it at her lover. This time witness Thomas Keefe grabbed her, jarring her arm, which caused her to fire the second bullet into the boardwalk instead of her man. Police officer James Coyle then took hold of May, and Keefe released her. No matter. The first bullet had been more than enough to put an abrupt end to the stormy Woodman-Kinsman relationship.

May Woodman was born Mary McIntyre in 1855 in California. On the 1880 census she is shown as Mary Woodman, a married woman living at home with her parents, Henry and Ellen McIntyre. There is no mention of her husband, Lewis (or Louis) Woodman. William Kinsman was born in England on December 20, 1854, to John and Catherine Kinsman. Prior to Tombstone, they lived in Virginia City, Nev. Billy, his parents and sisters were all living in Tombstone in 1883 when Woodman shot and killed him. May and Billy were reportedly cohabiting at the time. May was a familiar face on the streets of Tombstone. According to the Tombstone Republican she was a “friend of the cowboys.” Billy was a sporting man who frequented the Oriental and other gambling establishments. Soon after the murder, Kinsman was buried in Boot Hill. According to members of the Kinsman family, he was reburied in the family plot at San Francisco’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery on September 27, 1885, the same day his father was buried.

Trouble between May and her husband probably went back at least two years. How long Lewis suspected his wife of adultery is not known. But he all but spelled out her unfaithfulness when he printed a notice in the July 1, 1881, Tombstone Epitaph: “To Whom it May Concern. I hereby warn all persons against giving my wife, Mary R. Woodman, any credit on my account as I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by her, she having left my bed and board without just cause or provocation. Signed, LOUIS C. WOODMAN.” (Testimony at May’s criminal trial refers to her husband as Lewis Woodman.)

As for what sparked the trouble between May Woodman and Billy Kinsman, an oft-repeated story suggests it began with a practical joke. It seems some of Billy’s mischievous friends had placed a notice in the paper, pledging the gambler’s troth to May. Kinsman got wind of the prank and reportedly printed a retraction. The closest corroboration of this story is a notice in the December 22, 1881, Epitaph, announcing the marriage of William Kinsman to Mrs. May Holzerman. The December 25 edition of the paper reported: “Some unprincipled person came into this office a few days ago and requested us to publish the announcement of a marriage between Wm. Kinsman and May Holzerman, which we did. It has since been discovered that no such occurrence ever took place, the alleged bridegroom denounces the statement as an unmitigated falsehood.” If the May referred to was actually “Woodman” not “Holzerman,” it might have made her angry at her lover. First, Kinsman’s friends had made a fool of her with the false announcement, and then, when Billy denounced it, she looked like a jilted lover.

Prior to her trial, May was in the family way. Dr. Daniel McSwegan testified for the defense. According to his testimony, May and Billy had summoned him to the Woodman house to discuss whether or not Kinsman could be the father. In 1883, of course, there were no paternity tests, but the couple questioned Billy’s ability to procreate. We don’t know if the good doctor’s answer was the one they wanted or not, but he assured them that, yes, Billy could be the father of her child, despite having just one testicle. May’s doubts about Billy’s breeding abilities suggest there may have been other candidates for the cause of her delicate condition. McSwegan assured the court that although the couple requested a potion May could take to end the pregnancy, he refused. (The doctor later faced trial in a March 1885 abortion case, which was dismissed by a grand jury.) While May bunked in the pokey, Dr. George Goodfellow, another Tombstone physician, tended to her. He delivered a 4- to 5-month-old miscarried fetus and determined that May had been brutally mistreated while pregnant.

The Territory of Arizona v. May Woodman was filed on March 16, 1883, in the 2nd Judicial District Court, Cochise County. On May 12, 1883, after hearing testimony, the court instructed the jury to decide the case on the facts as given by the witnesses, adding, “Although the jury may believe from the evidence that the deceased and defendant lived together in open adultery, and although the jury may further believe from the evidence that the deceased got the defendant in the family way and that deceased tried to have the defendant take medicine for the purpose of procuring an abortion, still all this would not justify the defendant in taking the life of the deceased.” The jury returned its verdict in a half hour. May had been indicted for murder, but the jury found her guilty of manslaughter. She was sentenced to five years in the Yuma Territorial Prison. Upon hearing her sentence, May turned angrily to Judge Daniel Pinney and said, “May God curse you forever!”

At the Tombstone jail shortly after her sentencing, May attempted to take her own life. She was prescribed a mixture of chloride hydrate and morphine to help her sleep. But instead of taking the potion in the doses administered, she allegedly saved it up and took an overdose. Dr. Goodfellow was able to revive her.

Once she got to Yuma, May was apparently on her best behavior. She seemed to have impressed a doctor there named M.F. Price. On August 6, 1883, the doctor wrote a letter to May’s mother, reporting on the prisoner’s health and adding that May was well liked and was conducting herself in a ladylike manner.

While May, the second female ever incarcerated at Yuma, languished in her cell, a rumor surfaced she was again pregnant. An Arizona Sentinel reporter interviewed May, the warden and Captain Frank Ingalls, the prison superintendent. The investigation determined that prison policies and the great care taken to separate May from the male population made it impossible for her to have been impregnated. The Sentinel said the tale was someone’s calumny, designed to smear Ingalls. The rumor died.

May’s mother started a campaign to have May pardoned. H.M. Van Arman, acting governor of Arizona, received 200 signatures from Tombstone citizens, including most of the jurors, on a petition. He granted May a conditional pardon on August 22, 1883, to take effect May 15, 1884. The condition he imposed was that she leave the territory for good. Van Arman was concerned that May’s contended insanity might cause future problems, so he wanted to protect society, at least Arizona society. Dr. Goodfellow, in a letter to a Dr. Frank Ainsmith, referenced her fragile “neurotic temperament.” May had testified at her trial that she suffered from insanity and could prove it if the judge would wait for witnesses to arrive from San Francisco.

After her conditional pardon, May Woodman left the walls of Yuma Territorial Prison and promptly disappeared. Certainly there is no record of her ever having returned to Tombstone, scene of the crime. Her future, beyond Yuma, remains a mystery.


Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here

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