Cynthia Nixon Learns Her Ancestor Was an Axe Murderer on TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are?

Cynthia Nixon talking to Professor of History Wendy Gamber.
Cynthia Nixon discovered on TLC's ancestry show Who Do You Think You Are? that one of her ancestors was axe murderer Martha Curnutt, who killed her abusive husband. Here she speaks to Professor of History Wendy Gamber about her lineage.  Simon Fanthorpe/TLC

Eek! Cynthia Nixon discovered on the Wednesday, July 23 episode of TLC’s celebrity ancestry show Who Do You Think You Are? that her great-great-great grandmother Martha Curnutt murdered her abusive husband Noah Casto with an axe.

The account was unearthed by family historian Jennifer Utley, who came across a newspaper clipping from 1843 detailing the events which took place in Missouri. The Sex and the City star, 48, who appeared on the show in search of the unknown lineage on her father’s side, teared up as she read the article aloud.

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“[Casto] had been in the habit of treating his wife in a manner too brutal and too shocking to think of,” Nixon read of her ancestors. “On the morning of the day mentioned he told his wife to get up and get breakfast for himself and her two children, and then to commence saying her prayers, for she should die, he swore, before sunset.”

“She got up and made a fire and returned to the room where her unnatural husband slept,” the article continued. “He was lying on his back in a sound sleep. She took the axe with which she had been chopping wood and with one blow sunk it deep into his head, just through the eyes.”

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Curnutt was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison. Out of 800 inmates, Curnutt was the only female in the Missouri State Penitentiary at the time.

An emotional Nixon, who visited the prison in person, considered Curnutt’s circumstances and her actions. “I certainly wouldn’t call it a happy ending, by any stretch of the imagination,” the star said. “But certainly I think a better ending than if Noah had killed Martha and maybe killed her children, too.”

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Nixon learned that Curnutt gave birth to a daughter, Sarah, during her incarceration — although the identity of the child’s father still remains a mystery. Curnutt was ultimately pardoned in December 1844, after serving less than two years, and returned home, where she used her maiden name.

Cynthia Nixon - tlc
Cynthia Nixon at her great grandmother’s gravesite. Simon Fanthorpe/TLC

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On the season’s premiere, Nixon visited Curnutt’s grave site in Leasburg, Missouri. “I admire how she must have wanted to give up so many times,” she reflected, “and how she kept going and how she didn’t accept things.”

Nixon concluded, “The axe murderess in our family… I think we will remain in awe of her.”

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