Thursday, September 8, 2011

Louise Vermilya: Chivalry Justice & the Serial Killer - Chicago, 1911

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 6): Chicago, Nov. 1.— “In my opinion, we are now on the verge of the discovery of one of the greatest poison mysteries in the history of Chicago.”

In these words Dr. Joseph W. Springer, coroner’s physician, summed up police belief in the mystery which surrounds the death of Arthur Bisonette, a young policeman, and eight other victims who died in the house of Mrs. Louise Vermilya.

Dr. Springer is now engaged in examining Bisonette’s stomach for poison.

~ Children Among Victims. ~

Mrs. Vermilya became very ill last night and the police suspect, that she may have swallowed poison.

There are nine deaths, all marked by unusual circumstances, which have occurred among the members of Mrs. Vermilya’s family or in her household, which, are now under police investigation:

The deaths include those of two fathers of families, several children and two boarders.

The bodies of several of these persons will be ordered exhumed immediately for chemical analysis.

Dr. Springer declared he was not yet ready to state whether he had discovered traces of arsenic.

The deaths, with their alleged causes, that Coroner Hoffman and the police are investigating at the present time are:

• Bisonette, Arthur F., 26 years old, policeman, died at the Mercy hospital last Thursday [Oct. 26, 1911].

• Smith, Richard T., conductor on Illinois Central railroad, died on March 11th, 1911, from acute gastritis after two days’ illness while boarding at the home of Mrs. Vermilya. Coroner Hoffman says Smith owned an automobile which cannot be accounted for.

• Brindkamp, Frank, 22, son of Mrs. Vermilya by her first husband, died of pneumonia, October 30th, 1910, at the home of Mrs. Vermilya’s sister.

• Brindkamp, Fred, 66 years old, first husband of Mrs. Vermilya, died after a brief illness on his Barrington, Ill., some years ago. By his death Mrs. Vermilya inherited a small fortune.

• Vermilya, Charles, second husband, 59, collector for Chicago & Northwestern railroad, died from acute gastritis after a six days’ illness, at Maplewood, August 1st, 1909. He left an insurance policy of $1,000.

• Brindkamp, Lillian, 26, daughter, died January 21st, 1906, at No. 2916 Groveland avenue of acute heart trouble.

• Vermilya, Harry G., 25, stepson, died September 20th, 1901, at No. 395 West Diversy Parkway, from heart failure brought on by malarial fever. Coroner Hoffman has evidence that he had trouble with his stepmother over disposition of property at Crystal Lake.

• Brindkamp, Cora, aged 8, daughter, died at Barrington.

• Brindkamp, Florence, 4 1/2 years old, daughter, died at Barrington.

~ Woman Nemesis in Case. ~

The woman Nemesis who gave the police important information regarding the deaths of nine persons that center mysteriously about Mrs. Louise Vermilya, and that promise to form the greatest poisoning mystery in the history of Chicago, was revealed today as Mrs. Minnie Mystock. She is employed in a bakery at No. 2902 Cottage Grove avenue. Mrs. Mystock is said also to have been interested in Bisonette, when Mrs. Vermilya said was her fiance.

[“Nine Deaths In Poison Mystery Probed By Police -  Young Policeman Among Victims in Woman’s Home—Coroner to Examine Bodies. - Woman Informs The Police -  Deaths All Among Members of Mrs. Vermilya’s Family or in Her Household—Mrs. Mystock, Also Friend of Policeman, Gives Important Clews to Mysterious Deaths— Mrs. Vermilya Herself Taken Ill.” Syracuse Herald (N.Y.), Nov. 1, 1911, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 6): Chicago, Nov. 6. – The cunning shown by Mrs. Louise Vermilya, accused of the murder of Policeman Bisonette and under investigation in connection with the successive deaths of eight other persons, in mixing arsenic with her own food in sight of the guards, has cast the fear of being dosed upon everyone charged with the safeguarding of the prisoner.

Since learning that they had been seasoning their food with pepper from a tin can which stood beside a similar can filled with enough poison to cause the deaths of a hundred men the police guards and matrons have had no food prepared on the Vermilya premises. The meals of the watchers are cooked at a nearby restaurant in the presence of a policeman and brought in by a waiter under guard.

The woman’s bed and bed clothes, her sleeping garments, her hair and everything else about her that could conceal poison have been examined. The police are aroused and are determined that she shall stand trial on the charge of murdering their comrade.

There is now every prospect that Mrs. Vermilya will recover from her attempt at suicide. Energetic methods to counterract the effect of arsenic which Mrs. Vermilya contrived to mingle with her food probably will be successful, her physicians say.

Since the attempt Mrs. Vermilya has not been out of sight of one or more guards and every article she touches is first examined either by a detective or as trained nurse.

[“Guards Fear Cunning Of Woman Poisoner –Policemen Refuse to Eat Food Cooked in Mrs. Vermilya’s House.” The Evening Post (Frederick, Maryland), Nov. 6, 1911, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): Chicago, Nov. 7. – In the county jail today lies Mrs. Louise Vermilya, either the most fiendish poisoner since the days of Catherine de Medici, or the victim of an engulfing circumstances.

The police are baffled in their study of the woman’s personality. When first suspected, she was tearful and protesting: now she is reserved and wary. Evidently exerted a remarkable influence over men – and yet she is neither young nor prepossessing. Police find her prototype in Mrs. Belle Gunness, the Laporte murderess. Like the Gunness woman Mrs. Vermilya is stout and florid. Like the proprietor of the Laporte murder farm, the woman now under arrest here took a morbid and ghoulish delight in all that pertained to death, according to the police. In her flat her detectives say apparently the most cherished personal belonging was a big photograph of a well filled graveyard. They do not think it was preserved because of departed relatives, but simply because of the owner’s mental twist.

This morbid characteristic is revealed likewise in the stories told the police by at least one undertaker in the small Illinois towns where Mrs. Vermilya lived prior to her residence in Chicago.

“I never saw such a woman for being anxious to work around dead bodies,” said E. M. Block, an undertaker at Barrington, in which town Mrs. Vermilya resided during their first marriage. “She actually seemed to enjoy it. I never employed her, but she went around and said she was working for me. at every death she would hear of it almost as soon as I, and wouldn’t be far behind me at the house to take care of the body. More than that, the woman seemed to glory in thinking about prospective deaths.”

[“Taken From Bed To Lonely Cell – Louise Vermilya, Haunter of Undertaking Shops and Murder Trials, Now Locked in Cook County Jail – Morbid Woman Cherished Pictures of Graveyards,” The Pittsburg Press (Pa.), Nov. 7, 1911, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): Chicago, Nov. 11.—If what the police say about Mrs. Vermilya is true—if she really has killed nine men, maybe more, in her home here during the last few years, including her own son—it is a case that has but one parallel in the criminal annals of the country. [Note: the author was unaware of the many female serial killers preceding this case.]

And there are detectives art work uncovering evidence against the alleged poisoner who declare it will be ultimately shown that Mrs. Vermilya has outdone even Belle Gunness whose wholesale butchery of men on her farm in Laporte county Indiana startled the world three years ago. As the list of Mrs. Vermilya’s alleged victims grows larger and the methods she is said to have used are brought to light, the resemblance between the two women grows more striking.

There is just one difference. Mrs. Gunness killed most of her fifteen victims with a short-handled, broad-bladed meat axe that she kept with a razor edge. It is charged that Mrs. Vermilya used a subtle poison, arsenic, shaking death into the food of men who lived in her house out of a black pepper box.

Physically, the two women might have been sisters.

Mrs. Gunness was heavy-faced, broad-shouldered, big-limbed, stronger than most men of her weight. Her forearms and hands were conspicuous for their tremendous muscular development. She had dark hair, high cheek bones, small dark furtive eyes and large ears.

Mrs. Vermilya came from a farm. She was married to Frederick Brinkamp, her first husband, when she was sixteen. It was on the Brinkamp farm near Birmingham, Ill., that Brinkamp died under suspicious circumstances. After that the woman left a trail of death behind her wherever she went. At least one death a year has occurred among her associates.

Mrs. Vermiya is broad-shouldered, with huge forearms and great breadth of shoulder. Her hair is the same shade as that of Mrs. Gunness. She has the same high cheek bones, the same florid complexion the same furtive glance that makes men uncomfortable in her presence.

The parallel goes much farther Mrs. Gunness was all smiles, all kindness and good natured to her victims up to the moment that they declared themselves to be in love with her. Then she gave them chloral in the hot whisky she served her victim as their last dissipation.

As soon as the cholral had taken effect Mrs. Gunness crept up beside the sleeping man with her axe.

Mrs. Vermilya, too, treated the men who have died in her house with great affection.

Mrs. Gunness killed not only the men who loved her, but the little children upon whom she had lavished much affection. She killed Jennie, Olson, pretty seventeen-year-old girl upon whose education she had spent a small fortune. She killed her husband. Peter S. Gunness, using, it is declared, the same axe that later figured in all her crimes.

Mrs. Vermilya is alleged to have to have killed not only the men who loved her and whom she had agreed to marry, but as well her own son, the son upon whom she had lavished every motherly care until she reached manhood.

[“Did She Scatter Death from Black Pepper Box?” The Sandusky Star-Journal (Oh.), Nov. 11, 1911, p. 1]

FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6): April 8.—The jury in the case of Mrs. Louise Vermilya, charged with murdering Richard T. Smith, a railroad man, was discharged by Judge Sullivan, after members of the jury informed the court that they could not agree upon a verdict.

The jury had been out eight hours Members of the jury from the of the first ballot was taken stood 9 to 3 for conviction, it was said. Not a man wavered in his opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the woman, who was accused of having poisoned Smith with arsenic.

[“Vermilya Jury Disagrees! - Judge Discharges Men Who Stood Nine to Three For Conviction.” Syndicated, The Gettysberg Times (Pa.), Apr. 8, 1912, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): Chicago, April 17. — Two indictments, two murders, against Mrs. Louise E. Vermilyea [sic] were dismissed today by Assistant State's Attorney Baker. Mrs. Vermilyea’s case was known as the famous pepperbox murder mystery: A jury disagreed after her trial on a charge of poisoning Richard F. Smith. The death of Policeman Arthur Bissonnetta [sic] was laid to her hand in an indictment.

The woman has been out on bail. Charges that evidence against the woman had been manufactured was a factor in dismissal of the case.

[“Mrs. Vermilyea Free,” The La Crosse Tribune (Wi.), Apr. 17, 1915, p. 5]


9 deaths:

1) Arthur F. Bisonette – 26, policeman, died Oct. 26, 1911.
2) Richard T. Smith – boarder, died Mar. 11, 1911.

3) Frank Brindkamp – 22, son of Mrs. Vermilya, died Oct. 30, 1910.

4) Fred Brindkamp – 66,  first husband of Mrs. Vermilya, died “some years” before 1911 in Barrington.

5) Charles Vermilya – 59, second husband, died Aug. 1, 1909, at Maplewood.

6) Lillian Brindkamp – 26, died Jan. 21, 1906, at No. 2916 Groveland ave.

7) Harry G. Vermilya – 25, stepson, died Sep. 20, 1901, at No. 395 West Diversy Parkway.

8) Cora Brindkamp – 8, daughter, died at Barrington.

9) Florence Brindkamp – 4 1/2, daughter, died at Barrington.



Dec. 10, 1910 – Charles Boysen poisoned at LV home
Oct. 26, 1911 – Arthur Bissonette, policeman 22nd st. station, boarder, dies
Oct. 26, 1911 – Charles C. Boysten (Boysen), undertaker whom LV often assisted, goes to Mercy Hospital at 1:00 a.m. to take charge of Bissonette’s body 5 minutes after his death (at 12:55 a.m.) , on LV’s instructions. LV had strenuously attempted to prevent the dying Bissonette from going to hospital.
Nov. 4, 1911 – LV suicide attempt
Nov. 6, 1911, 10 a.m. arraigned before Municipal Judge Walker
Mar. 7, 1912 – nolle charge on Bissonnette murder after discovery he had been taking medicine containing arsenic; rearrested and charged with murder of Richard T. Smith.
Mar. 11, 1912 – indicted
Mar. 28, 1912 – testimony by Joseph O. Smith regarding brother making out insurance to LV
Apr. 5, 1912 – KV testified she does not own the pepper box
Apr. 8, 1912 – hung jury on Smith murder trial.

Note: LV Lies: LV Falsely claimed she had assisted undertaker in Crystal Lake in embalming; “She gave this as a reason why she could discuss the deaths with composure,” LV falsely described Bissonette as an alcoholic, whereas he was known to be temperate. LV falsely claimed Bissonette, who was engaged to Lydia Rivard, that he was intending to marry her (LV).


Charles C. Boysten (Boysen), undertaker, Cottage Grove ave, whom LV often assisted
Will T. Davies, jailer
Lydia Rivard, fiancée of Bissonette, residing in Minnessota
Hoffman, coroner
A. E. La Roque, uncle of Bissonette
Burres, attorney for Vermilya
Rose Wiseman, nurse who handed LV the poisoned pepper box
Elizabeth Nolan, girlfriend of LV’s deceased son, Frank Brinkamp
Police Captain Harding, ordered detachment to control crowd outside LV home
Mrs. William Bucholtz, sister, attended LV after poisoning herself
Detective Flynn
Police Matron Mrs. Fitzgerald
Miss Rosa Diseman, nurse
Mrs. C. A. Alberling, sister-in-law






For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.


For more on this topic, see Chivalry Justice Checklist & Links


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