Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rennette Cure Bussey, Suspected New Orleans Serial Killer - 1926


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 5): New Orleans, Feb. 27 – Is Mrs. Rennette Cure Bussey – wedded at 16, mother at 22, a widow bereft of husband and entire brood at 23 years of age – guilty of unbelievable Borgian cruelties, or is she the victim of a chain of unfortunate circumstances that have resulted in the charge of poisoning her five-year-old daughter Verdia?

She claims the allegations, and friends declare, she is a victim of circumstance.

Mrs. Bussey is under arrest, charged with murder. Little Verdia died after a lingering, wasting illness. Physicians said it was mercurial poisoning. Police accuse the mother of administering the poison. But as little Verdia lay dying, and at the funeral, Mrs. Bussey, taken from her jail cell under guard, sobbed and wept convulsively over the passing of the last of her brood.

Though there is but the one charge against her, police accuse her of causing the deaths of her husband and two other children.

Lawrence Bussey, the father and husband, a city fireman, died April 3, 1925.

Clarence, 3, died on Dec. 5, 1925, at 3 years of age.

Esther, a baby [of] 16 months, died Jan. 1, 1926.

Verdia, 5 years old, died Feb. 21, 1926.

Physicians attributed the deaths at the time to various maladies – peritonitis, acute indigestion, liver and kidney maladies.

The three bodies were exhumed by order of court after Mrs. Bussey’s arrest on the charge of  giving poison to Verdia. Chemists declare traces of mercurial poison were found in badly decomposed organs of all three.

Verdia told court attaches just before her death: “Mamma gave me something to eat on a piece of bread and told me to eat it. In a little while I was spitting up blood. She said she’d whip me if I told anybody.”

Dr. George Roeling, coroner; Henry Mooney, district attorney; and Edward Smith, chief of detectives, declare that sufficient evidence to warrant a charge of poisoning all four members of her family being placed against the wife and mother, was in hand.


Frail and delicate, only 4 feet 6 inches tall, and weighing less than 99 pounds, Mrs. Bussey is probably the most remarkable crime suspect New Orleans detectives ever have to deal with. She is calm when questioned about the deaths of the four members of her family, and is firm in her denials of guilt.

Mrs. Bussey’s attorneys refuse to allow her to be photographed in close-up.

Newspapermen, seeking other photos, discovered that in the ten days preceding Verdia’s death, and before she was arrested, Mrs. Bussey went to all relatives of herself and husband, gathered up photos of both of them, and saying she was borrowing them somewhere.

New Orleans’ detectives and prosecutors admit it is the most astounding – and probably baffling – criminal case the courts here have known in a score of years.

[“Mother of Three at 22 Accused of Slaying Husband and Babes,” The Mansfield News (Oh.), Feb. 27, 1926, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 5): New Orleans, Mar. 3. – Possibility that Mrs. Renette C. Bussey, 23, may be charged with another poisoning loomed today as Ocsar Petrie requested the body of his mother be exhumed and an autopsy performed. Mrs. Petrie died last March shortly after Petrie told police Mrs. Bussey had given him a bowl of soup to give his mother.

Mrs. Bussey is now being held in jail without bond in connection with the death of four members of her family within eleven months. She has denied poisoning them.

Petrie, who is 24 and a plumber said in a signed statement, told police he had been a suitor of Mrs. Bussey’s since the death of her husband. His mother had read a letter from Mrs. Bussey asking if he would marry her in the event of Bussey’s death, and had threatened to tell Bussey, Petrie declared. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Bussey gave him the soup for his mother, the statement said.

[“Woman Faces New Charges – Mrs. Bussey, Held for Death of Four, Now Suspected Of Poisoning Friend,” Iowa City-Press Citizen (Io.), Mar. 3, 1926, p. 3]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 5): New Orleans. May 1. – Attorneys for Mrs. Bennett Bussey, found guilty of manslaughter by a jury in criminal court here last night, today began preparing a motion for a new trial. Pending action on this petition, the 23-year-old defendant will not be sentenced. Twenty years imprisonment in the state penitentiary is the maximum penalty under the law.

Mrs. Bussey originally was charged with administering poison to her year-old daughter. Verdia Bussey.

However, during the course of the trial, which began Monday, she was held responsible for the deaths by poisoning of two other children, Esther Bussey, 16 months old, and Clarence Bussey, 3 years old.

The jury deliberated six hours before determining upon the verdict, which was termed as “cowardly” by Hugh Wilkinson, of counsel for the defense. He claimed Mrs. Bussey should have been found either guilty of first-degree murder or acquitted.

Underworld characters and socially prominent persons were among the throngs which frequented the courtroom during the hearing's progress.

Women were in a majority among regular attendants.

[“Mrs. Bussey's Plea for New Trial Holds Up Court's Sentence,” syndicated (AP), The Biloxi Gulf Coast Daily Herald (Mississippi), May 1, 1926, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT: (Article 4 of 5): New Orleans, La., May 3. – Attracted by the crime with which she is charged, criminologists and psychologists in New Orleans are centering their attention upon Mrs. Renette Cure Bussey, 23-year-old mother of three infants who, within eleven months, have died. They see in the calm, tolerant exterior of this alleged unnatural mother, something that might open to them a new avenue of thought and study. Mrs. Bussey has been brought to trial for the murder of her five-year-old daughter Verdia, through administration of mercury poison.

Two other children, aged 16 months and three years, also succumbed to poison. With the exception of her husband, who also died under suspicious circumstances, poison was found in the organs of the deceased. Now she calmly – almost, indifferently – faces trial for her life. And the district attorney is demanding the death penalty.

[“Mother Tried For Daughter’s Death Loss Of Other Children Probed,” syndicated (Central Press), New Castle Press (Pa.), May 4, 1926, p. 7]

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FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 5): New Orleans, Dec. 7. – Mrs. Renette C. Bussey, after being held in the parish prison for nearly nine months in connection with the death of her infant daughter in February, will be allowed to sign her own bond and will be released from custody today.

The release came as the result of the result decision of the state supreme court, which refused to reconsider its earlier decision that testimony introduced at the trial of Mr. Bussey could not be admitted. Mrs. Bussey had been tried and convicted on a charge of manslaughter and had appealed the decision to the higher courts.

[“Woman Held For Killing Her Baby Will Be Bonded,” syndicated (INS), The Bee (Danville, Va.), Dec. 7, 1926, p 5]

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