AN Australian woman - shocked when she found out her ancestor was a Bolton-born serial killer - is now penning a true crime novel.

While the mention of crime in Victorian-era Britain may conjure up images of Jack The Ripper or Sherlock Holmes, Cassie Britland is left thinking about a gruesome branch of her family tree.

Cassie, from Sydney, discovered her ancestor, Mary Ann Britland, was a convicted murderer from Bolton. She later became the first woman to be hanged at Strangeways.

Britland poisoned three people with mouse-killer over a period of three months. Her victims were her daughter Elizabeth Hannah, husband Thomas and neighbour Mary Dixon.

Cassie said: “I found out about Mary Ann Britland back in 2002, when I was studying journalism at university. We had been given a homework task to practise our research skills by researching ourselves on the internet. I didn’t find anything on myself but I found a brief entry about Mary-Ann on a true crime website. Britland is an obscure surname so I knew we had to be related somehow - I had to learn more.

“I was excited as I am a big true crime fan. Once I did our family tree, I found our connection was very distant - her husband was my fifth cousin, six times removed, but it is still still really cool to have that tie to history.”

Cassie has spent time in Greater Manchester, in pre-pandemic times, to aid with the research of her book, including visits to Dukinfield Cemetery and John Rylands Library to trawl through the archives.

Cassie has completed a first draft, but has recently had a baby and plans to complete the full book soon.

She added: “Mary Ann’s case has turned out to be so much more complicated and strange than even I expected. What I have found in my research has not only challenged what I thought I knew about the case but also what I thought I knew about the 19th century and its supposed ‘wave’ of female poisoners. It has been fascinating.”