NOTE: Until further research is done the identification of Elizabeth “Betsy” Reed as a serial killer needs to be considered tentative due to the fact that only the short article “A Wholesale Murderess” mentions the additional five murders Reed was suspected of committing.
The news reports do not mention that her home was the tiny village of Harrietsville. She was jailed and tried at nearby Lawrenceville.
FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): A Mrs. Reed, under sentence of death at Lawrenceville, In. [error in original; should be Illinois], for the murder of her husband, after several ineffectual attempts to hang herself, has confessed not only the poisoning of her husband, for which she was condemned, but two other persons before, as well as the murder of a nephew for his money; and, as though those enormities were not enough, she had also confessed having caused the death of two children by starvation!
[“A Wholesale Murderess,” from "a New York paper," Milwaukee Daily Sentinel (Wi.), Jun. 3, 1845, p. 2]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Execution Of Mrs. Elizabeth Reed.—A few days since we published a report which was current in our exchanges, that this human fiend, who was under sentence of death in Illinois, had cheated the gallows by eating glass. The Charleston (Ill.) Reporter refutes this report, and gives a minute account of her execution, pursuant to sentence. She was hanged at St. Lawrenceville, Ill., on the 23d ult. She stated upon the gallows, that she felt an interest in the redeeming blood of the Prince of Peace, and died, but to live forever in a state of bliss made perfect to the glory of God the Father! She was very unwell on the morning of the execution, and with a weak and feeble step she was conducted to the scaffold, and hung in the presence of eight thousand spectators. After her spirit had taken its flight to another world, her body was taken. You have been to the house of poverty. Was it down and dissected by the physicians. Her stomach upon examination, was found to contain a number of pieces of brick as large as peas, and also pulverized glass, by which she had in vain attempted to save herself from an ignominious and public death. It is justly presumed that she could have lived but a few days longer. She has made her confession, which, with the trial, the speech of Mr. Linder, (her counsel,) and the sentence of the Court, (pronounced by Judge Wilson.) have been published at Charleston. In her confession is related the circumstances attending the murder of the husband, consummated by the administration of poison by herself. The story is said to be of thrilling interest and deep horror.
This woman believed in endless damnation for the greater part of mankind; but for herself, she felt an interest in the redeeming blood of the Prince of Peace. We ask the community to think of these things. The victims of the gallows, with scarcely an exception, are persons who have been educated in the belief of the doctrine punishment for the sins of this life. They always call the Partialist clergy to console them, in the hours of imprisonment and in preparation for death. This is not a matter of surprise. If a man can bring himself to contemplate the endless torture of his fellow creatures with complacency, he is prepared for the perpetration of cruelty in its very worst forms.— Trumpet.
[“Execution of Mrs. Elizabeth Reed.” (from a newspaper called Trumpet) Star In the West, and Glad Tidings (Cincinnati, Oh.), Dec. 12, 1845, p. 157]
NOTE: The short article is the only account (which was reprinted in several papers) discovered so far which mentions any murder apart from that of her husband. The original Milwaukee Daily Sentinel article gives the state ad “In.” (Indiana), but the correct state is Illinois. Some newspapers reported, incorrectly, that Mrs. Reed had successfully committed suicide by ingesting ground glass while awaiting execution. The trial was held at Lawrenceville, Lawrence County, April 26, 27, 28, 1845. She was executed in Lawrenceville on May 23, 1845.
Victims (according to “confession” reports):
Child No. 1, starved to death.
Child No. 2, starved to death.
Unknown name adult No. 1, poisoned to death.
Unknown name adult No. 2, poisoned to death.
Aug. 15, 1844 – Leonard Reed, husband, died
May 1844 – accused of poisoning husband’s sassafras tea, Heathsville, Ill.
Aug. 1844 – burned down jail in Palestine, Ill.
Sep. 1844 -- indicted, Lawrenceville, Ill.
1845 – Attempted suicide.
April 1845 – trial.
May 23, 1845 – Hanged at St. Lawrenceville, Ill.
Geraldine Satterthwaite, The Saga of Elizabeth Reed, 1997
This book is a compilation of the court proceedings and newspaper clippings pertaining to the conviction of Elizabeth Reed for the murder of her husband in Crawford County, Illinois. Includes article "Hanging of Elizabeth Reed" by S.E. Jones originally published in the Lawrence County News, August 18, 1932.
Troy Taylor, The Big Book of Illinois Ghost Stories, Syackpole Boobs, 2009, p. 78 ff.
For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America (as of January 20, 2014, the collection contains 61 cases)***