Margaret Kritsch attempted suicide

Edith Mae Grinstead was born Dec. 21, 1896, in Tipton to high school custodian John Franklin Grinstead and his wife Mary. 

At 17, she married farmer Walter W. Kritsch in 1914. One of Walter’s best friends was William Ray Dawson. Dawson was born July 21, 1893. 

William Ray’s first wife Helena Werner Dawson died of complications following an operation. They had six children, including one who died in infancy, and lived on their farm in Modoc. The Dawsons lost their farm in 1926, and Helena died around Christmas of 1926. 

Edith Mae and William Ray Dawson went to Louisville and married five months after she became a widow on May 3, 1929.

The 1930 U.S. Census lists Edith Mae and William Ray living together with their combined nine children ages 2 to 15. 

After only a few years, the relationship became toxic. One day, Ray Dawson ordered Mary Thelma Kritsch, 14, to cut her hair. When she refused, he hit her. Edith Mae slapped him in turn, and he slapped her back. 

Then he forcefully cut Mary’s hair. Edith Mae filed assault and battery charges. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

Edith Mae, described by the Star Press of Muncie as “short and stocky … with horn-rimmed glasses,” went to live in Modoc with her friend James Tullis and his family.  There, her 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth (Betty) died in August 1931 after going into convulsions. The coroner wrote, “Don’t know cause” on the death certificate. 

Edith Mae and William Ray Dawson patched things up after the funeral. The wife withdrew her divorce petition. However, William Ray complained about Mary’s alleged additional disobedience.

“You’ll have to do something about Mary,” he said to her mother.

Edith Mae made an arrangement with Winchester Judge A. L. Bales to place Mary in his home, but that deal fell through. On Nov. 16, 1932, Mary died at home, and a suspicious William Ray asked for an autopsy. 

The death certificate had homicide as a cause of death. Edith Mae appeared in court before Bales and pleaded guilty to the murder of Mary. Bales imposed a life sentence following a trial. 

Sheriff Lee Briner took her into custody and relieved her of a jar of poison she planned to use rather than submit to imprisonment. 

“(Ray) didn’t know I was going to poison her,” she told a reporter during a prison interview. “I don’t know why I did it. I’ve asked myself a million times, and I’ve prayed and prayed.”

On the stand, Dawson denied being involved in an affair with Edith Mae while Walter was alive. Edith Mae, however, said she and William Ray had been involved in an ongoing sexual relationship. 

While in prison, Edith Mae told a different story about Mary’s death. She alleged that William Ray was involved in schemes to poison both her husband Walter and daughter.  Dawson stood trial in 1936 and was acquitted of involvement in both deaths. 

On July 27, 1936, daughter Margaret Kritsch attempted suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot because she feared being put into an orphanage. She recovered.

Edith Mae told a reporter she was praying for a pardon. At some point, her life sentence was commuted. 

Edith Mae Grinstead found work in Indianapolis as a cook and foreman at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In 1953, she married Henry G. Fritz, a fireman, mumblety-peg competitor and vendor at Edith Mae’s school. 

William Ray Dawson lived in Modoc and worked as a farmhand for Harrison P. Hunt. After World War II, he continued to farm in Randolph and Wayne counties. He lived a quiet and uneventful later life except for a drunk driving charge on July 16, 1949. He died June 29, 1967. 

Edith Mae died on May 15, 1970, and was interred at Fairview Cemetery in Tipton. She shares a gravestone under the name Kritsch with Elizabeth Mae, the baby who died under mysterious circumstances, and Mary Thelma, the daughter she murdered. Not even Stephen King could imagine that scenario.

Nay Dawson, Mother and Murderess