Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sallie Hardman (Gibbs), Ohio Black Widow Serial Killer - 1878

FULL TEXT: The Springfield (Ohio) correspondent of the Cincinnati Enquirer sends to his paper a story of a mysterious chain of circumstances that has lately agitated the little village of Enon, situated about six miles from Springfield. He says:

In 1855, Sallie Hardman, the buxom daughter of Nelson Hardman, now mayor of Enon, married one Samuel Heck, a heavy-headed German, possessor of some money and a good farm near Enon. After a number of years of life in Enon, the Hecks sold their Ohio possessions and removed to Robinson, Crawford County, Ill. Heck was taken sick in Illinois, and, after a gradual wasting away – a slow decline – died, and left all his property to his wife. The widow claimed that there was one child from this marriage, but acknowledged that it died young.

Before Heck’s death, it is said, his wife, accompanied by a young man named Henry Lionberger, made a visit to Enon. A short time after Heck’s defense his widow and Lionberger, a good-looking, healthy young fellow, were married, and moved to Enon, where they opened a country store, millinery being the chief department. Lionberger owned considerable property in Illinois. During her residence in Enon, Mrs. Lionberger was a favorite among the gentlemen, a number of whom frequently called upon her, and considerable unsavory gossip about Mrs. Lionsberger was a legitimate consequence. Finally, Lionberger was seized with some slow disease, gradually wasted away, and died in 1876. He left no will, at least none was ever heard of or offered for probate in Clark County until last Christmas. On that day she who was the widow Lionberger made a special call on the Clerk of the Probate Court in Springfield and asked that Lionberger’s will be probated. This was a year and a half after Lionberger was buried. The will was evidently drawn up by a novice, and evinced a woeful lack of knowledge of orthography and good grammar. It bequeathed the better part of 100 acres, located in Crawford County, Ill., to the widow. It was witnessed by a man named John M. Little, from West Liberty, Ohio, and by Mr. Nelson Hardman, the widow’s father.

Six or seven months after Lionsberger’s death, his widow, now a fat, comely matron of 40 years, married John F. Gibbs, a carpenter, of Enon, greatly against the wishes of Gibbs’ parents. A short time after their marriage Gibbs informed one of his friends that his wife had produced a will, purporting to be that of the late Lionberger, witnessed by his wife’s parents and by one Little, a cigar peddler, that frequented his house; but that the will was evidently got up by his wife. She wished him to sign the will as a witness, but he wouldn’t do it. From the moment there was trouble in the family. She had been to Illinois, prior to the discovery of this will, to possess herself of this property, and had been met with opposition. On her return she was heard to say that she would circumvent the Illinois heirs of Lionberger after all. Whether the discovery (?) of the will was in accordance with her circumventing plans remains yet an open question. Anyway, the will made such trouble, and finally culminated in an open quarrel, in which Mrs. Gibbs offered John a note of $500 to leave the country. He was all the time protesting that the will was a forgery, and she wanted him to go where his protests would not make so much trouble. He was agreeable to the $500 plan, but after his acceptance she backed out. The old folks – her folks – were called in, and the matter was temporarily settled.

Gibbs’ wife had possessed herself of Lionberger’s chattel property, and now wished to secure his real estate in Illinois. After this will scene, his wife made several trips to Illinois, to what purpose he never knew nor could find out. He built her a handsome house, which she now owns, and for which he never received a cent.

Nearly eight months ago Gibbs was seized with a queer sickness of the stomach, and began to fade away and grow weaker. The circumstances recalled the manner of decease of his two predecessors in his wife’s affections, and aroused his suspicions. He went to Dr. Duckwell and stated that he believed he was being poisoned. The fact that his wife of late would not allow him in the kitchen when she was cooking had aroused his suspicions. He had not drank tea or coffee for months, owing to these suspicions – though his wife had urged him to do so with unusual solicitude. The doctor thought he showed some symptoms of slow poisoning, but gave him medicine for ‘indigestion.’ His wife threw the medicine away, and she’d doctor him herself. Though he sported but a small mustache, his wife insisted upon his always drinking from a moustache-cup that she had procured for him. He finally ‘kicked’ against this cup, but she always managed to keep one certain cup at his place at the table.

Finally he went to a Dayton physician, who carefully investigated his case, and told him that something serious was the matter with his food. This confirmed his now well-grown suspicions, and he determined to leave while yet there was hope for his life. His wife recently made trips to Springfield, where it has been found that she purchased “August flowers.” These, it is said, she administered to Gibbs, and also gave him some for his mother, who had so opposed Gibbs’ marriage.

Whether she drugged this patient panacea is not known. this much is known, that the more Gibbs took the worse he grew.

Last week his wife had to pay a note for $135 in Springfield. Gibbs offered to bring the money and make the payment. His wife consented. Gibbs also packed all of his carpenter tools, telling his wife that he was going to try to help his father, who was building a house in this city. On last Thursday he left home, and neither he, the $135, not his kit of tools have been since heard from by his wife. His friends say that they know where he is.

He first came to Springfield, and there remarked to an undertaker that he was in the business of trying to cheat him [the undertaker] out of a job – he was fleeing from his wife, and never intended to return.

Enon is filled with rumors and stories over Mrs. Gibbs’ several husbands and their similar manner of disease and death, and many are free to say that Gibbs has simply escaped death by his departure. The citizens are making the village pretty ‘hot’ for Mrs. Gibbs, whose general reputation, they declare, is not like Caesar’s wife.

[“Sallie Hardman’s Victims. – Two Husbands In The Grave And A Third A Fugitive – A Story of Poison That Is Agitating An Ohio Village.” The New York Times (N.Y.), Aug. 18, 1878, p. 10]



Samuel Heck, husband #1
Henry Lionberger, husband #2
John F. Gibbs, husband #3, escaped attempted poisoning



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


For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America (as of January 20, 2014, the collection contains 61 cases)


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