Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Virginia Doyle, Detroit Serial Killer - 1870

This case involves one attempted murder plus two earlier suspected murders.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): A colored Lucretia Borgia, named Virginia Doyle, was arraigned at the Police Court in Detroit, on Friday [Mar. 4], upon a charge of attempting to poison Mrs. Catharine De Baptiste, the mother of the prisoner’s first husband. Mrs. De Baptiste has been for some time past at the house of Mrs. Doyle, No. 274 Beaublen street, and it is alleged that poison has been introduced in small quantities into her food and medicine of late. The defendant is at present living with her third husband, and George Taliafero, a son by her second husband, was led to suspect his mother by drinking some beef tea that had been prepared for Mrs. De Baptiste. It made him quite sick, and he determined to keep a close watch. A bottle of medicine was procured from a druggist and a piece of apple substituted for the cork. A small splinter of wood was thrust into the apple as if to prevent it from falling into the bottle; but this splinter was placed directly over a mark upon the neck of the bottle, it is alleged that Taliafero then went, out of the room for a few moments, leaving his mother there with the sick woman. When he returned he found that the stopper of the bottle had been no turned that the stick was not above the mark, and a piece of the apple was lying on the table. It is alleged by parties who are acquainted with Mrs. Doyle that De Baptiste and Taliafero both died very suddenly, and, that just before the death of the latter, he complained of a burning sensation in the stomach.the death of the latter, he complained of a burning sensation in the stomach.

[“A Colored Lucretia Borgia.” The Evening Dispatch (Philadelphia, Pa.), Mar. 7, 1870, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Detroit Tree Press, July 31. – Virginia Doyle, the woman who was convicted some time since of mixing arsenic with port wine and attempting to poison her mother, Mrs. Catherine De Baptiste, was brought down from jail yesterday morning for sentence. Her case was taken to the Supreme Court on a bill of exceptions to the rulings of Recorder Swift, but the higher court sustained the positions of the court below, and remanded the prisoner back for judgment she has been in very feeble health since her conviction, and appears to be utterly broken down in mind and body. Two policemen carried her into court, and during the proceedings, before her case was reached, she sat veiled and trembling with nervous excitement, as though in expectancy of her impending doom. When asked if she had any thing to say why sentence should not be paused upon her, he replied that she was as innocent as an angel of the crime of which she stood convicted. The Court expressed a full belief in her guilt, and twelve impartial men, who were swain to do her justice, had, after careful and patient deliberalion, reached the same conclusion. His Honor also alluded to the magnitude of her course, her fiendish and inhuman attempt to destroy the mother who gave her being, and declared that ordinarily he should consider it a case where the full punishment should be inflicted.

The law had placed the offense in the same category with murder in his second degree, and prescribed a life sentence if the court should see fit to inflict so severe a penalty. But inasmuch as she was in extremely poor health, and had the jury’s recommendation to mercy, be should act with comparative leniency. The sentence was that she should be confined in the Detroit House of Correction, there to be kept and employed for the period of twenty years. Immediately after receiving her sentence she was borne out of the court-room, placed in a carriage and conveyed to the House of Correction, unaccompanied by any one except the officer in charge.

[“A Woman Sentenced to Twenty Years Imprisonment for Murdering Her Mother.”
The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Oh.), Jun. 23, 1870, p. 5]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): At about eight o’clock on Tuesday [Mar. 1] evening Officer Cook made the arrest, near Mochanie, who is charged by her own son with administering poison to her mother. The facts in the case, as learned from Mr. J. E. D. Ellis, a young man residing in the family of the intended victim, and himself still suffering from a dose of the poison, are as follows: The woman Doyle takes her name from a husband who died about fifteen months ago. She was first married about sixteen years ago. She was first married about sixteen years ago, having a son by the marriage. While the son was yet a babe, the husband died, and the manner of his death elicited a good deal of surprise, he going off very suddenly and suffering great pain. The woman married again about five years ago, and something like a year ago, the husband died. He was a  strong, hearty man, and was first taken with burning pains in the stomach, having several attacks previous to the one in which he died. He suspected that his wife had given them something, and just before dying, charged this Ellis to have a post mortem examination made, and if poison was found to proceed against the wife. Ellis did not carry out the request, although the matter got to the knowledge of detectives, who had the woman arrested, but the case lingered along for a while and was at last dropped. On securing her freedom the woman went immediately home and hired a young lad to crawl under her house and bring out a small package, seeming to contain a powder, which she burned in the stove.

At the time of this husband’s death there was a boarder in the house, who contained there until some three weeks since, claiming to be the husband of Mrs. Doyle. He then informed her that he must start for New York. He was a mechanic, working around the city by the day or a job. He stated that he should be gone but ten days, and requested her, during his absence, to go to her mother’s – Mrs. Catherine De Baptiste – and stay. The house being full, the mother objected to the arrangement, as also did Mrs. Doyle’s son, who lives with his grandmother, as the family did not believe her married to her last man. However, she persisted in remaining, and that evening declared that she would get supper. She got some meal and made a pudding, and, just before the family sat down to the table, she was seen to take the pudding into the kitchen and divide it up in portions, putting her mother’s share into a saucer, which she was careful to have get when they all sat down. Not feeling well, the old lady only ate a few mouthfuls, but it was only a few moments before she declared that she felt “awful strange,” and soon had acute pains and burnings in her stomach. Ellis became alarmed at her condition, not suspecting the true cause, and called in Dr. Kane, who administered medicine that caused the patient to vomit thoroughly, and the next morning she felt almost well. One day passed by, and then the old lady had another attack, soon after eating a baked apple that the daughter encouraged her to partake of. This time Ellis and the son administered medicines themselves, and again the victim threw up the dose.

The two young men then had a conversation, and both declared to Mrs. De Baptiste their belief that her daughter was trying to poison her. While partially acquiescing in this belief, the patient bid them keep secret and watch for some proofs of guilt. That night Ellis made some beef tea for the old lady, having that day put all the food to be given her under lock and key. He marked the cork of the bottle containing the beef, so that he could tell if it had been disturbed, and then purposely went out to see if Mrs. Doyle would meddle with it. Coming back, he found that she had had the cork out, and both the young men charged her with the act, also plainly telling her their suspicions in regard to her conduct. She denied everything, but not that fervor which would come from an innocent person. That night Ellis bought a pint of wine, and Mrs. Doyle fixed a glass of it for the patient to taste of at intervals during the night. Before going to bed young Doyle took a sip from the glass and tasted of a bit of cheese, and suffered such pains on getting to bed that he got up and took a large dose of castor oil, which at last had relieved him, although yesterday (this was last Friday night) he was weak and debilitated. The old lady did not touch the wine during the night, and the young man noticed in the morning that there was a large sediment of white in the bottom of the glass. He carried it down stairs and boldly charged his mother with having poisoned the wine. She seized hold of him, spilling most of the wine, and drank herself a portion of what was left, but kept it in her mouth, and soon ran out doors and spit it out. No further proof was needed, and the woman was hustled out of the house, and the tumbler taken to Professor Jennings to have the contents analyzed. He did not complete his work until yesterday afternoon, when he gave in his statement that the powder was arsenic, and the son came down to the Central

Station and procured his mother’s arrest. This is the statement obtained from Ellis, who has been in the family for fifteen years and is like a grandchild to the old lady, only that one or two suspicious actions and attempts on the part of Mrs. Doyle have been omitted. His statements show a depravity of human nature that is horrible beyond anything developed here for may years. The motive was to gain possession of property, beyond a doubt, and the woman did not seem to care if she had poisoned the whole family, as she stood by and saw her son when he sipped the deadly wine. In all, she must have used two or three ounces of arsenic, as five grains were left in the tumbler and went to the chemist. She gave too large doses to kill speedily, and three times the doctor saved the old lady’s life by his attendance. The woman Doyle was arraigned at the Police Court yesterday afternoon, plead not guilty, and was remanded to jail for examination, her bail being fixed at three thousand dollars, with two sureties. She took the matter very cooly, wearing a countenance not at all anxious, and smilingly declaring her belief that she would get some one to bail her. The Prosecuting Attorney will visit Mrs. DeBaptiste to-day to take her deposition, and the old lady is in bed and still suffering, and is anxious that her deposition shall be taken for fear that she may grow worse or die.

It is now nearly three months since the man living with Mrs, Doyle left for New York, or for some place else, and not a word has been heard of him, and it is the opinion of Ellis and the son that he has abandoned the woman, and that he has abandoned the woman, and that he was never her lawful husband at any time.

[“A Startling Case. – A Woman Arrested for Attempting to Poison Her Mother. – Sudden Death of Two Husbands, and Disappearance of a Third.” The Detroit Free Press (Mi.), Mar. 3, 1870, p. 1]


Excerpt: Virginia Doyle was a 20 year prisoner. I removed a cancer from her breast in May, 1877. She died from cancer of the uterus.

[“Charities and Corrections in Michigan, 1878-1879. Extracts From Governor’s Message Concerning State Institutions, with Official Reports and Documents Compiled by the State Board of Charities and Commissions, Lansing, W. S. George and Co, 1879, p. 30]


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



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



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