Friday, September 23, 2011

Agnes Joan Ledford, Oregon Serial Killer & Step-Mother from Hell - 1937


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): St. Helen’s, Ore., Nov. 3 – The Columbia county grand jury indicted Mrs. Agnes Joan Ledford today on two [counts (?)] of first degree murder in the alleged deaths by poison of her step-daughters, Ruth, 13, and Dorothy, 15.

Ruth died September 6, her sister two days later. Their deaths previously were attributed to having eaten wild blackberries, covered with wind-blown spray.

[“Woman Indicted In Children’s Death,” The Gazette and Daily (York, Pa.), Nov. 4, 1937, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): St. Helens, Ore., Oct. 27 – A twice-married mother of two children, quietly but firmly defending her innocence, was held in jail at Portland without bail today while officers investigated three deaths – those of two stepdaughters and the woman’s first husband.

The prisoner, 35-year-old Agnes Joan Ledford, was arrested last night on an information filed by Sheriff M. R. Calhoun, accusing her of first-degree murder in the deaths of Dorothy, 15, and Ruth Ledford, 13, who had been all but forgotten publicly as the girls who died because they like berries.

No charge had been filed concerning the third death, that of John Matson, who died in 1932 as the husband of Mrs. Ledford, now the wife of George Ledford, a Columbia county grocer.

District Attorney David Bennett, claiming a purchase of poison on the alleged pretense of using it to kill earwigs had been traced to Mrs. Ledford, asserted the lethal mixture had been found in her home and that the equivalent of an amount missing was found in the children’s stomachs.

The prosecutor asserted that Mrs. Ledford was named beneficiary in an insurance policy for the children, who were by George Ledford and his first wife, now Mrs. Pearl Turner, Los Angeles.

“I didn’t do it: I couldn’t have done such a thing,” Mrs. Ledford told a reporter in Portland, where she was taken because there were no jail facilities here for women. Behind her she left two infant boys, one six months and the other 21 months, the children of herself and George Ledford.

Ruth and Dorothy died last month within two days of each other. At the time, sheriff’s officers expressed the belief the children had been poisoned by eating berries in a patch on to which a poisonous spray from a near-by orchard had been blown by wind.

In the investigation, Bennett disclosed that the body of Matson, whose death was ascribed to acute gastritis, had been exhumed sand the prosecutor asserted a trace of poison had been found.

This announcement led Sheriff Herbert Shelton and District Attorney J. K. Weatherford Jr., of Linn county, where Matson and Mrs. Ledford formerly lived, to go to Portland to investigate the circumstances of Matson’s death.

[“Mother Is Held In Poison Case – Death of 2 Girls and Ex-Spouse Is Probed,” (AP), The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wa.), Oct. 28, 1937, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): St. Helens, Ore., March 30 – A Circuit Court jury convicted Mrs. Agnes Joan Ledford, 35, Wednesday of the first degree murder of her stepdaughter, Ruth, 13, by poison, and recommended life imprisonment.

Mrs. Ledford was accused of administering poison to her two step-daughters, Ruth, 13, and Dorothy, 15, last fall, but was tried only for Ruth's death.

The state charged that Mrs. Ledford believed the children's deaths would force payment of $1000 in insurance. The defense contended the children were poisoned by spray blown on berries from a nearby potato field.

[“Stepmother Convicted Of Poisoning Child For Insurance,” (AP), Albuquerque Journal (N.M.), Mar. 31, 1938, p. 4]

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Victims:
John Mason, first husband, died 1932
Ruth Ledford, stepdaughter, died early Sep. 6, 1937
Dorothy Ledford, stepdaughter, died early Sep. 8, 1937

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For more examples, see Step-Mothers from Hell.

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