Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lydia Sherman, “The Champion Husband Killer” – 1871


Edward Struck – husband # 1
Martha Struck, 6, her own child
Edward Struck Jr., almost 4, her own child
William Struck, 9 months, her own child
Dennis Hurlburt, husband # 2
Horatio N. Sherman, husband # 3
Ada Sherman, her own child
Frankie Sherman, her own child.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): We find the following synopsis of a case which was briefly touched on at the telegraph lately in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser:

The story of the crimes of Lydia Sherman, now on trial in Connecticut goes far ahead of anything told in history of Borgia or Brinvilliers.

Lydia Sherman was first married when she was seventeen years old to a widower named Struck. The newly-married couple lived together for about seven years, during which time they had six children. Not many months after the birth of the youngest child, the husband was taken sick in a mysterious and sudden manner. In spite of all the physicians could do, the unfortunate man soon died. The widow explained his taking ill by stating he had taken a dose of medicine from the wrong bottle. No suspicion of foul play seems to have been aroused at that time. Within two years from the man’s death his six children all died, and died suddenly. No one seemed to have known  or asked why the little ones should have been so mysteriously cut down. Even then, strange to say, it does not appear that the finger of public suspicion pointed at the wife and mother.

After spending two years of widowhood Mrs. Struck married a second husband. This time, at least, she must have married for some other reason than that of love. Her happy second was a well-to-do the farmer and fisherman who had contrived to lay up a little property. But he was well advanced in life and possessed very few attractions, besides his property, that were likely to catch the heart of a widow in the full bloom of womanhood. She was very careful, however to act the part of an old man’s darling. The neighbors often saw her caressing and fondling “gude mam,” and to the outward world the little woman appeared to be perfectly contented. Shortly after his marriage the loving husband made a will in which all his estate, both real and personal, was conveyed to his young wife. Not long after the execution of this instrument he was suddenly attacted with painful and alarming symptoms. Medical aid was immediately summoned, but it was beyond their power to relieve the sufferer. In a few hours, Lydia was a widow for the second time.

In September, 1870, this remarkable woman was led for the third time to the altar. The successor of her two lamented husbands was a young Mechanic of much promise and good reputation. He was a widower, and the father of five children, three sons and two daughters. The youngest child was hardly two years old. Within a very short time after his wife had assumed her place at the head of the little household, the infant was suddenly taken violently sick and died in a few days. The next to follow was the woman’s step-daughter, a beautiful girl of fifteen years old, and one of the most beloved in her neighborhood. After the death of his two children their father became dissipated and soon went to the bad. He did not live happily with his new wife. For many months they dwelt apart from each other and talked of procuring a divorce. But, as we have said, Lydia Sherman never waited for the law when it became necessary to put a husband away from her. She persuaded the man to return to her in the early part of last month. One of her first acts was to mix up a “glass of something nice” for her repentant husband to drink. In less than two hours after drinking it he was in excruciating pain. For two days he suffered extremely and was only released by the hand of death after hours of constant agony, and Lydia Sherman was left to mourn for a third husband.

After this last death the neighbors thought it to be about time to find out why so many had died with whom this modern Borgia had been brought in contact. The grave of her last victim was opened. Chemistry was summoned to find out a clue to the dreadful mystery. In the stomach of the corpse enough arsenic was found to have killed three men. After this horrible discovery, the graves of the children and of some of the woman’s other victims were opened. The dead told the secret of their death. In every instance where time had not obliterated all traces of guilt, poison was found. Then it flashed across the minds of those who stood by the open graves why it was that Lydia Sherman  had been so often a widow and why she had never been able to bring up her children. The mystery of the mortality in the woman’s family was all revealed. The avenging hand of justice soon followed her. She was tracked to New Jersey and carried back to the little town in Connecticut where she had poisoned her last three victims. To-day she appears before the Court for a preliminary examination. She is now in her 45th year; is a woman of very ordinary appearance, but of stoical reserve and wonderful shrewdness. To the interviewers and visitors she has nothing to say. No unguarded word will ever escape her lips. But the evidence that the grave has offered is too strong against her. Her trial will doubtless be one of the most remarkable ever witnessed in this country. That she will finally be made to give her life in atonement for the many lives she has taken, there can not be much reason to doubt.

[“The Champion Husband Killer – Startling Chapter of Crimes – Particulars of the Lydia Sherman Case,” The Coshocton Democrat (Oh.), Aug. 1, 1871, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Of course, Mrs. Lydia Sherman, who lately escaped from the Connecticut State Prison, is called a Lucretia Borgia or a Brinvilliers in the newspapers. If she poisoned three husbands and seven children, as she is said to have done, she is certainly entitled to a place in the catalogue of eminent criminals of her sort. Mrs. Sherman, convicted of one of these many offences, was in the prison for life; and she exhibited there a profound cunning. Her first resource was to assume the character of a confirmed invalid, and this part she has played with astonishing skill. Naturally a fair woman, she became as dark as an Indian. It is now discovered that she had secreted in her cell yellow crayons, with which she stained her countenance. In some way she contrived to have frequent fainting fits, when she appeared as if about to die. She contrived to make a little money by the manufacture and sale of fancy articles, and this sale was very improperly allowed to retain by the Matron, from whom, it is said, she also stole $50. She obtained and secreted a white muslin dress, which, before escaping, she substituted for the prison costume  of linsey-woolsey.

The case of Mrs. Sherman is only another illustration of the proclivity of certain minds to crime, fraud, and deception, which are practiced until they become second nature. At first we are inclined to regard them as very far from wanting in intellectual efficiently. In mere cunning and shrewdness, in the faculty of ingenious simulation, and to those faculties which accompany an utter lack of conscientiousness, the depraved character often is by no means wanting. But the experience of mankind shows that this apparent strength is weakness itself. How can it be otherwise, since the cleverest criminals are oftenest found in penal durance?

The Italian proverb declares that “there are more foxes ‘ than asses’ skins coming to the market.” If honesty be the best policy, it is the best philosophically as well as morally. There seems to be a point beyond which the sharpest wrong-doer cannot go without detection and punishment, as if there was some mysterious law of right and wrong, working according to a method as yet unclassified, and in the long run, often in the short run, avenging it own violation. From the point of view the acutest wrong-doer is no wiser than a fool. His adroitness is stupidity, and his very dexterity proves a fatal clumsiness.

Mrs. Sherman, after long and painstaking preparation, contrived to get away from the prison, being somewhat favored by the negligence of the Matron who had charge of her, with some friends to help her and with some money in her pocket, she leaves Hartford only to be arrested in Providence, and returned to her old quarters. So, too, though she was sharp enough to poison three husbands and seven children, she was not sharp enough to escape detection. She was confronted, she is confronted still, by the immutable law of right. She is wily for nothing, and partly succeeds only to fail ignominiously at last. There is no such cheat in the world as a criminal’s own cunning.

[“A Remarkable Woman,” New York Tribune (N.Y.), Jun. 7, 1877, p. 4]




Lydia Sherman is plagued with rats
Lydia has no faith in cats.
So Lydia buys some arsenic,
And then her husband gets sick;
And then her husband, he does die,
And Lydia’s neighbors wonder why.

Lydia moves, but still has rats;
And still she puts no faith in cats;
So again she buys some arsenic
This time her children; they get sick,
This time her children, they do die,
And Lydia’s neighbors wonder why.

Lydia lies in Wethersfield jail,
And loudly does she moan and wail.
She blames her fate on a plague of rats;
She blames the laziness of cats.
But her neighbors’ questions she can’t deny—
So Lydia now in prison must lie.


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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