Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ada Wittenmyer, Loved to Watch Her Husbands Die: Murdering Men was Her Business Model - 1979

NOTE: Research for UHoM has turned up hundreds of forgotten female serial killers including a large number of Black Widows, women who murdered two or more husbands. The Ada Wittenmyer is a case of relatively recent date: she died while awaiting trial in 1984. Normally, one would expect such a recent case to have been included in current lists of female serial killers. Yet the case does not.

This case has the particular value of offering a clearly stated m.o. delineating not only a clear-cut strategy of exploiting men through offering companionship and/or sex, a common feature of black widow serial killer cases, but also in disclosing the corollary sadistic motive. When the Alimony Reform League did a study in 1935 of motivations of women who sought to have husbands for failing  to pay alimony  the stunning outcome was that sadistic pleasure in seeing the man suffer overrode, in the majority of cases, the need – or desire – for additional cash.

In looking at cases of maternal filicide during child custody disputes, there are other documented cases showing a motivation of sadistic pleasure, not in the enjoyment in watching the murdered children’s suffering, but in depriving the targeted man, the father of their children, for suffering. This scenario is matched, of course, in cases where a father is perpetrator.

As is now well-known, studies of false rape accusations and child-father access denial (including outright parental kidnapping), initiated by members of the Men’s Rights Movement and Fathers’ Rights Movement, reveal that sadistic pleasure in the counterpart’s suffering is a common motive.

Statements of motive made by female serial killers are scarce. Jane Toppan represents one of the few cases where the murderess has described her intense pleasure in watching her victims die.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Dickson, Tenn. – Police exhumed the body of Ada Laverne Crow Evans Hensley Hayes Wittenmyer’s third husband Tuesday to see if he, like her fourth husband, died of arsenic poisoning.

The plump, 33-year-old brunette, last seen near Gallatin, Tenn., two weeks ago, is already wanted for the murder of her fourth husband, John L. Wittenmyer, 62, a wealthy Oklahoma antique dealer and rancher.

The couple married three years ago, two weeks after she answered his ad in a “lonely hearts” magazine.

Wittenmyer died March 28, just one day after he signed a handwritten will leaving the bulk of the cattle ranching estate to his wife, Oklahoma officials said.

Suspicious authorities ordered the body of Mrs. Wittenmyer’s third husband – William Clifford Hayes, who died five years ago – exhumed Tuesday from a Nashville cemetery and shipped to Memphis, where an autopsy will be performed by the state medical examiner.

Mrs. Wittenmyer told police she found her husband dead at the couple’s Bartlesville, Okla., home after she returned from a shopping excursion. At the time, police assumed he died of a heart attack.

But when investigators returned to the home to question Mrs. Wittenmyer further, she was gone. An autopsy then turned up arsenic in the rancher’s body.

Officials said Mrs. Wittenmyer has been married at least four times. Police talked to one of her ex-husbands, but refused to release his identity. 

[“Widow Suspect In Deaths Of Two Husbands,” syndicated (UPI), Tyrone Daily Herald (Pa.), May 2, 1979, p. 12]

FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Nashville, Tenn. – A woman who met men through lonely hearts clubs and poisoned two of her four husbands with arsenic hanged herself with a prison bedsheet and left a note saying “at last I have found peace,” authorities said.

Ada Wittenmyer, 39, was found hanging in her cell Wednesday evening, six days after being sentenced to life in prison for the 1974 murder of her third husband, William Hayes. She had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.

Hayes’ body was exhumed after Mrs. Wittenmyer’s fourth husband died of arsenic poisoning. She was convicted of that killing in 1982 and sentenced to a 25-year prison term in the poisoning of wealthy Oklahoma rancher John Wittenmyer, whom she met through a lonely hearts club advertisement. Her other two marriages ended in divorce.

Authorities discovered last week that Mrs. Wittenmyer was continuing to correspond with at least one man she had met through a lonely hearts club advertisement.

In one of several handwritten suicide notes she left in her cell at DeBerry Correctional Institute here, Mrs. Wittenmyer said, “I want to remain as I lived – alone.”

In another note, Mrs. Wittenmyer asked prison officials to call her parents and “tell them at last I have found peace,” Warden Aileene Love said.

“I’ve brought shame and disgrace on my family. God knows they tried to love me, but it’s hard to love a mentally ill child that you don’t know what’s wrong with them,” the note said.

Mrs. Wittenmyer was alone in her cell under mandatory segregation at the time of her death, Mrs. Love said. She had been held at DeBerry since last winter to await trial in Hayes’ death.

A DeBerry cellmate testified at last week’s trial that Mrs. Wittenmyer told her about poisoning her two husbands.

“She said she was going to go through life finding men with money and poisoning them, using the lonely hearts club ads. She said that she enjoyed to see them in pain from the poison,” testified Barbara Quaranto, 46, who was convicted in Chattanooga in the shooting death of her 73-year-old husband.

Canadian rancher Henry Joneson said he sent 12 letters and a $1,150 check to Mrs. Wittenmyer before learning last week that the address she had given him was the prison and not the retreat she had told him it was.

The Tomahawk, Alberta, man said he answered Mrs. Wittenmyer’s ad in [an] agricultural publication in April that read: “Widow wishes to start new life – will relocate.”

When Mrs. Wittenmyer telephoned him after her second poisoning conviction, Johnson said he told her,” … I found out everything and goodbye.”

Oklahoma Chief Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. R. D. Garcia, who treated Mrs. Wittenmyer for more than three years during her imprisonment in Oklahoma, testified she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

But Roger Hensley, Mrs. Wittenmyer’s first husband, said he did not believe she was mentally ill. “I lived with her off, and on for nine years and she has always known what she was doing,” said Hensley. “She is just mean … She was kind to people, but then she would turn around and be worse than heck.”

[“Husband-Poisoner Hangs Herself in Cell,” syndicated (AP), Youngstown Vindicator (Oh.), Aug. 9, 1984, p. 29]



FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): Dear Ann Landers: I always thought it was narrow-minded and mean of you to take such a strong stand against lonely-hearts advertisements. I changed my mind today when I read the Nashville Banner.

It seems a man named Henry Joneson of Tomahawk, Alberta (Canada), answered an ad in an agricultural publication. The woman who was looking for a companion was Ada Wittenmyer, age 37. Henry, the 50-year-old over a 900-acre ranch, was lonesome and thought Ada sounded “interesting.” He didn’t realize his letters and checks were going to prison until District Attorney General Kenneth Atkins called and told him that Ada had just been convicted of poisoning her first husband. she already was serving a 25-year term for poisoning her third husband – a wealthy Oklahoma rancher she had met through another lonely-hearts ad. Atkins said that when he told him the news Mr. Joneson said, “Oh, Lord.”

I hope you will print this letter in your column, Ann, as a warning to others who are lonely. And please accept my apologies for my previous attitude. – Nashville Reader

Dear Reader: Nothing I might have said could have had the import of your report. I checked it out with Nashville and every detail was right on. Thanks for the backup.

[Ann Landers, “Beware, Lonely hearts,” syndicated, Ukiah Daily Journal (Ca.), Oct. 18, 1984, p. 13]









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




  1. I sat with Ada for several hours one morning not suspecting that she had killed the man she called her husband in the other room from us. I also would not have guessed she was as young as she was. Her showing me a "Will" that her husband had supposedly written got me recalled to the Osage CO. DA be deposed more than once.

    1. Hi PR. I'm doing a story on Ada Wittenmyer for Investigation Discovery Channel. I'm very interested in your story. Can you send me an email to and I'll follow up with you.


    2. Ooops Sorry for not seeing your post. I don't have this linked to any mail and only saw it when showing a friend the page.
      Patrick Ramsey. iculungman@yahoo.ocm

    3. When in the world are people going to realize this is happened so much maybe we better get this checked out! I guess it would seem to me that it would come to me immediately dad just got married what the f*** now all of a sudden he's sick he's been sick for a while we better have him checked out testing for poisoning new wife or husband vice versa come on people!

  2. anniversary of Mr. Whittenmyer's death. Ada murdered him on Daddy's birthday. Not a coincidence, but on purpose. Twisted, calculating and evil.
    Nathan, thanks to you and Discovery Channel for giving me the opportunity to tell the story that no one in authority wanted to hear in 1974. I'm so sorry Mr. Whittenmyer was a victim. Daddy knew, but no one that could stop it believed me. No one would listen in 1974. Jeanette (Jeannie) Hayes Harris

  3. My condolences for your Daddy to you and your brother. Jeanette did dad go to the hospital and have test ranned when he believed he was being poisoned by this evil person?

  4. Just saw a piece on her included in the tv show series called "Deadly Women" very sad story, The show has very many stories of outrageous women who have killed. I feel very much for the daughter, I hope she is not beating herself up (the show said she holds the burdens of 2 deaths, but they are not her fault, girl please forgive) for not being able to "find out what killed daddy and stop it from killing anyone else" you tried your best, I'm sure if your dad could talk to you he would say "it's okay sweetheart, I'm in a better place now, I've forgiven ada and I'm proud of you and your brother." I would be thanking the stars that she didnt turn to poisioning anyone else in the family such as the children, because there is other women who poision that went on killing entire families, even the unthinkable; babies, its so unbelievable how cold and heartless and greedy a human could be. Thank you for sharing your story with multiple sources Jeanette Harris. I pray for you an your family, Amen you are alive with your brother, amen for all your hardships and struggles, may the future bring nothing but forgiveness, and peace.

  5. Sorry to hear about your story about your father so sad for you and your brother to have to live with this I would have been your age in the 70's it would have been hard to get adults to listen to a 15year old. Please recieve my condolences to you and your family
    Love frances