Margret Zollinger

Murderer, Bäretswil, Switzerland, 1505 - 1535

Margret Zolliker (Zollinger) was the daughter of a Heinrich Zollinger of Itzikon, who was an estate manager in charge of properties on behalf of the Duke of Grüningen and the monastery of Rüti. Margret was born around 1505, and as a young adult she became the housekeeper to a Jacob Stössel, who was the Catholic priest of Bäretswil. Prior to the Reformation many of the priests publicly kept "wives" (the local expression at the time was "Pfaffenkellnerin"). The Reformation intended to clean up this situation, and since celibacy was no longer required, the government of the city state of Zürich passed a law requiring these priests to marry their "housekeepers". Things however were more complicated in Bäretswil, as the Reverend ended up in court in February 1533, because an Anna Müller had claimed that he had promised to marry her, and that they had a sexual relationship based on that promise. Margret Zollinger was a witness, and declared that two Benedictine monks had already married her to Stössel, but that this marriage had not yet been made public. The court declared that they recognized Jacob Stössel's obligation towards Margret Zollinger, and that the Reverend was to marry his housekeeper within 14 days in a public marriage at the church of Bäretswil.

But in 1535 Margret Zollinger was arrested in Bäretswil on the accusation that she had murdered the Reverend Jacob Stössel by poisoning him. She was imprisoned at the castle at Grüningen, and interrogated and tortured there until she confessed. It must be assumed that the Reverend had refused to follow the court order and marry her, and that she decided to revenge herself by poisoning him. The subsequent court case caused much public interest , and ended with Margret Zollinger being given the death penalty. She was publicly hanged in Grüningen. The court documents themselves are no longer on record, but the accounts for the costs of the court case are given in great detail in Grüningen documents.

Based on this court case the government of Zürich then passed a law on Nov. 3, 1535 prohibiting apothecaries in the Zürich countryside from selling poison. From then on poison could only be purchased on the basis of a document describing the purpose of its use, signed by the "Vogt" of that person.

Reference: Gustav Zollinger Dentist II, pg. 48, 120 and 121.

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