Start here, in the chill, grey light through tall courthouse windows, in Plattsburgh, New York, on a January afternoon in 1825, when Judge Reuben Hyde Walworth looked down from his high bench and saw the young woman Peggy Facto weeping, hands held to her face. He did not pity her. She was charged with the murder of her own newborn child.

The witness George Green testified that he’d been out walking on the Beekmantown road on the morning of September fifth, when he noticed two dogs worrying at something in a rubbish heap near Peggy Facto’s house, and discovered—his voice caught in his throat as he said this—the tiny corpse of a human infant, with a string tied tight about the neck, and partially burned and partially eaten, so grievously damaged that he could not say whether male or female.

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