Thursday, September 22, 2011

Anna Cunningham, Indiana Serial Killer - 1925

Oct. 7, 1877 Anna Mae Luebke born, Wisconsin.
1899 – Anna marries David Cunningham.
Jul. 2, 1918  – David Cunningham (b 1862), husband, died.
Dec. 31, 1919  – Isabelle Cunningham, 18, daughter, died.
Sep. 21, 1921 – Charles Cunningham, 19, son, died.
Sep. 16, 1922 – Walter Cunningham, 13, son, died.
Feb. 28 (circa), 1925 – David Ill; recovered, again ill, Mar. 28 (circa).
Apr. 1925 – David Cunningham, Jr., 24, survived, partially paralyzed.
Apr. 11, 1925 – Held for questioning; Arrested (Croiwn Point?, Gary?, In.)
Apr. 12, 1925 – attempt to strangle herself.
Apr. 16, 1925 – Confess to some (Isabelle, Charles, Walter, but not all suspected poisonings.
Jul. 6, 1925 – indicted for murder of Walyer (8).
Jul. 13, 1925 – trial begins, but recessed until 16th.
Jul.16, 1925 – trial continued from Jul. 13.
Jul. 26, 1925 – convicted of one count of murder; sentenced to life in prison.
Jun. 1933 – Paroled by prison board who decided she was innocent of the murder of Walter. (Reason not known. Perhaps the evidence she was not mentally competent at time of the poisoning was the reason.)
Oct. 6, 1945 Anna Cunningham dies; Gary, Indiana.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 5): Chicago, April 10.— Does the brain of a Borgia lurk back of the sweet, motherly face of Mrs. Anna Cunningham? Authorities, investigates the death of Mrs. Cunningham’s husband and four children at intervals of a year, intimate that such is their belief.

Mrs. Cunningham, recovering in a hospital from an attempt to strangle herself, has admitted the poisoning of three children.

Dr. Thomas Carver aroused the interest of authorities in the matter when Mrs. Cunningham’s 20-year-old son, David jr., was taken to the hospital and found suffering from arsenical poisoning. Large quantities of poison were found in the Cunningham home. Mrs. Cunningham said she bought it to spray plants. She collapsed when questioned further.

The family lived until seven years ago at Bachley’s Corners, Ind., on a little farm. When David Cunningham, the father, died they moved to Gary.

Mrs. Anna Cunningham attended church regularly at Bachley’s Corners. Neighbors respected her, but they all said she was a “little queer.” She was eccentric and had peculiar ideas about children and other things.

In 1919 the father died there. His death was much the same as those that followed – intense stomach pains, a sudden attack and a few days’ illness, all indicating poison. He had been insured for $1,000.

Then Mrs. Cunningham sold the farm of 37 acres for $4,000 to Mrs. Katherine Betts, who owned an adjoining farm.

Harry Cunningham urged that the family go to Gary. A year after they left Bachley’s Corners, Isabelle, 28, died. She had been insured for $1,000 just five weeks later, at the age of 18. He was insured for only $320.

In 1923 the younger brother, Walter, 13, died, insured for only $180.

The last to be attacked was David jr., who was rushed from a Gary hospital in Chicago, where he is fighting to save his life. Insurance carried in his name totaled $1,000.

Harry, 23, was the next victim of the sudden illness. He died in 1921, less than a year after he had been insured for $2,500.

Charles, the second brother to die, suffered the same fate a year before her death and Mrs. Cunningham had paid but one premium.

All policies named the mother as beneficiary.

Mae Cunningham, 17, who is the only surviving girl in the family, said that her mother had been ailing and hysterical at times after they moved to Gary.

“She used to chase us around with the butcher knife,” she said. “That was when she got fits. Usually she’d collapse after having worked herself up into a frenzy.”

“She had a bible, which she used to take into her room. She would lock the door and read it for hours at a time.”

[“Hold Mother In Poison Case - Mrs. Anna Cunningham Confesses to Killing Three Children,” syndicated (Central Press), The Emporia Gazette (Ka.), Apr. 16, 1925, p. 8]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 5): Crown Point, Ind., April 16. – Mrs. Anna Cunningham, charged with the murder of one of five members of her family who have died in the last six years, confessed in the county jail here tonight to Sheriff Benjamin H. Strong that she had poisoned three of her children. Mrs. Cunningham denied, however, that she had poisoned her husband or a fourth child who died within the six-year period. Her daughter Mae, 19, who with David, a son, who is ill from arsenic poisoning in a Chicago hospital, are the only members of the family left, heard Mrs. Cunningham’s confession.

~ Poisoned Son David. ~

Mrs. Cunningham also confessed that she had poisoned her son David and said she had taken some of the poison herself, but that the amount had not been large enough to do anything but to make her ill.

The confession of the 49-year-old woman came with dramatic suddenness.

During the afternoon she had talked to a newspaper reporter and had admitted that she might have placed some arsenic in the food of her son David by mistake, but he was emphatic in her denial that she had poisoned any members of her family intentionally.

Her daughter, Mae, who had been to Gary, the family home, came to the jail tonight and Mrs. Cunningham suddenly agreed to talk her daughter were brought before her.

~ Her Daughter Brought. ~

The girl was brought to her cell, but she declined to talk there, insisting that she first be moved to another room. This was done and she asked to have Mae stand in front of her.

“Now, Mae,” she said in a calm voice, without displaying any emotion, “I’m done with the whole bunch of you,” too, and I’m coming clean.”

“Oh, mother, don’t talk, don’t talk!” the girl screamed as her mother began to calmly recite the details of the tragedy.

The son Mrs. Cunningham said she did not poison was Harry. His was one of the two bodies of her children exhumed a few days ago, and Dr. William D. McNally, of Chicago, coroner’s chemist, said he had found poison in the viscera of this body, as well as in that of the other body, as well as in that of the other body exhumed.

~ Put Arsenic in Food. ~

Mrs. Cunningham said that she spread poison in the form of arsenic on bread and butter that she gave to members of the family and each time she did so, she ate some of it herself.

She tried to explain her motive for poisoning only one child in a time as follows:

“Something told me to draw in my head and told me I had to get rid of them. I thought that I was going to die and wanted to take them with me. I only poisoned the ones I loved best and I poisoned the ones I like best bin turn because I wanted them with me.”

Her daughter told her excitedly not to talk and that good lawyers would be obtained for her, but Mrs. Cunningham replied angrily:

“I don’t want good lawyers. I’ll feel better after I tell them about it.”

The daughter was asked if she wanted to hear what her mother had to say.

“Yes, I want to hear what you are making her say,” the girl screamed at Sheriff Strong.

“We are not making her say anything. She has volunteered to tell us her story,” the sheriff told the girl and her mother assented.

The Cunningham family suffered its first ill luck in 1918 when a son, Charles, one of those poisoned, accidentally shot and killed a neighbor’s boy.

~ Father Died in 1918. ~

A few months later the father, David, Sr., died when the family resided on a farm which they owned near Valparaiso, Ind. He was insured for $1,000, the farm was sold for $4,000, and the family moved to Gary. Mrs. Cunningham maintained tonight that she didn’t poison her husband, the cause of his death being given as illocolitis.

The next to die was Isabelle, 18, whose death occurred December 31, 1920, from meningitis. She was insured for $350. Harry, 21, died October 13th, 1922, carrying $1,000 of insurance. He was one of the two bodies exhumed and, while Mrs. Cunningham denied poisoning him, arsenic was found in the viscera.

Charles, 19, died September 28th, 1923, from general pertonis, according to the death certificate. He was insured for $1,000 and is one of those Mrs. Cunningham admits she poisoned. Walter, 13, died September 26th, 1923, the cause of his death also being given as endocarditis.

He was insured for $300 and his was one of the bodies examined.

David, the fourth son, became ill about six weeks aqgo, but later recovered and returned to work, only to become sick again. The investigation was taken to a Chicago hospital and was found to be suffering from to be suffering from arsenical poisoning.

[“Woman Confesses Poisoning Three – Spread Arsenic Over Bread. – Mrs. Anna Cunningham Declares in Presence of Daughter She Poisoned Best Loved Children.” The Gaffney Ledger (S. C.), Apr. 18, 1925, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 5): Crown Point, Ind. – Confinement in prison. for the rest of her natural life was the sentence meted out to Mrs. Anna Cunningham, 49 year old widow, by a jury in Lake-co criminal court today, which found her guilty of first degree murder in connection with the fatal poisoning of her ten-year old son, Walter. The jury deliberated more than 24 hours.

Before Judge Martin; Smith could formally pass sentence, defense counsel petitioned the judge to withhold sentence until the defense could file a motion for a new trial. The request was granted. Mrs. Cunningham sobbed bitterly when the judge read the jury's verdict, but did not collapse.


Suspicion first rested on Mrs. Cunningham in connection with the mysterious deaths, of five members of her family in six years when David Cunningham, Jr., 24, became ill suddenly in Gary and was removed to a Chicago hospital for treatment last April.

Oscar Wolff, coroner of Cook-co (Chicago) investigated on information given by George Arnold, 25, a cousin of David Cunningham, who said the Cunninghams had lived principally on insurance paid on lives of the five deceased members.

Mrs. Cunningham was arrested in Gary April 11. The charge followed examination of the vital organs of the bodies of Walter, 10, and Harry, 23, her sons. Physicians found traces of poison in Walter’s organs, but none in those of the other young man.

The accused woman signed a confession on April 15. On the same day she fell ill into a state of coma, from which she was revived only after hours of effort. In the confession, which was later repudiated as having been obtained when she was in a delicate condition, Mrs. Cunningham said she fatally poisoned Isabelle, 20; Charles, 18, and Walter, 19. She also admitted having poisoned David Jr., who is only partially recovered. She said she fed the poison to her children on bread and butter sandwiches.

Indicted on three first degree charges on June 2, by the Lake-co criminal court grand jury, Mrs. Cunningham on July 16 went on trial for the alleged killing of her youngest child.

David Cunningham Jr., and Mae, 19, are the only survivors of the family. In her purported confession, Mrs. Cunningham said she poisoned the three children and also tried to kill herself so they all could “join in Heaven” David Sr., the father and husband. Physicians have pronounced the woman a victim of epileptic psychosis.

Deaths in the family began on July 2, 1918, when the father and husband died. Isabelle died December 31, 1919; Harry on October 18, 1921, Charles, September 21, 1921, and Walter, September 15, 1922.

David, last to become ill, is partially paralyzed, but gradually is recovering.

[“Life Term Prison Is Given Indiana Woman - Convicted Poisoner Collapses When Verdict of Jury Is Read - Appeal Is Noted - Slaying of Two Other Children Is Charged to Prisoner,” syndicated (AP), Jul. 26, 1925, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 5): Crown Point, Ind., Oct. 12. Without funds to perfect an appeal to the Indiana supreme court, Mrs. Anna Cunningham, forty-nine, convicted of poisoning her son Walter, will enter the state penitentiary at Indianapolis tomorrow to begin a life sentence for murder. Judge Martin Smith in the Lake county criminal court today denied a motion for a new trial.

In a confession obtained in Chicago after her arrest and repudiated during the trial, the gray-haired widow said she had given poison to four of her children, three of whom died. The defense contended the mother was unbalanced mentally at the time the disputed confession was made.

Mrs. Cunningham’s husband, a farmer near Valparaiso, and three children, Isabelle, 18; Charles, 19, and Walter, 13, all died during six years. An investigation revealed that Walter, the last to die, had been poisoned.

When arrested the widow said she had killed the children because she loved them and wanted them to join the father “in heaven.” She declared she too had taken poison in hopes of joining him.

[“Poison Mother Enters Prison - Mrs. Cunningham Denied New Trial Motion,” syndicated (AP), Oct. 13, 1925, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 5): Mrs. Anna Cunningham, former Porter county woman, who was convicted and given a life sentence in Lake county eight years ago for poisoning one of her sons, and who was suspected of having poisoned other members of her family, in order to collect life insurance, has been paroled, and is now making her home in Gary with a daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Brown. The son-in-law is a Gary police officer.

She was paroled from the Indiana woman’s prison at Indianapolis after an exhaustive investigation convinced members of the prison board she was innocent of the crime of murdering hew son, Walter, age 8, by feeding him arsenic poisoning on a butter and sugar sandwich.

The Cunningham case attracted countrywide attention at the time back in April, 1925, when a Chicago state’s attorney went to Gary to investigate the illness of David Cunningham and that which caused the death of the father. David Cunningham, Sr., Walter, Harry, Charles and Isabel Cunningham was taken into custody in the Columbus hospital, Chicago, where David, Jr., was being treated, after poison symptoms had been found in the sick youth.

Several days after the bodies of Harry and Walter Cunningham were exhumed from the Blachley’s Corners cemetert, west of Valparaiso. Mrs. Cunningham was charged with murder after examination had revealed poison in the vital organs and the two boys.

Mrs. Cunningham was tried and convicted after a sensational trial. The jury deliberated on her fate 26 hours before returning a verdict. Former Judge Martin J. Smith presided at the trial, and August Bremer, at Crown Point, was prosecutor.

[“Woman Who Poisoned Son Now Paroled,” The Times (Munster, In.), Jun. 16, 1933, P. 1]


Jul. 2, 1918  – David Cunningham, husband, died.

Dec. 31, 1919  – Isabelle Cunningham, 18, daughter, died.

Sep. 21, 1921 – Charles Cunningham, 19, son, died.

Sep. 16, 1922 – Walter Cunningham, 13, son, died.

Apr. 1925 – David Cunningham, Jr., 24, survived, partially paralyzed.

(Some sources give different years – but without month or day).






NOTE: “Female serial killers are rare” is a false stereotype that was invented in the late 20 the century. This faulty claim based on the fact that, due to prejudice and chivalry, criminologists have traditionally avoided looking at female styles of criminality seriously and thus fail to put devote adequate resources to research the topic. The introduction of fallacious Marxian theories in the post-1960s period has exacerbated this state of affairs by  fostering outright distortions and censorship in the study of female violence among scholars.

SEE: “Three women Who Admit Poisoning 29 Persons,” syndicated, Lock Haven Express (Pa.), May 1, 1925, p. 2











  1. Great story!!!I'm from gary Indiana & still live brother & I have a YouTube channel "The Steel City Storm". We research,explore & document local historical places. Abandoned hospitals,schools,houses ect. Anything with history. This story is fascinating! Heard of many killers from here but I just ran across this story while researching another serial killer from here. Your article is Amazing!!! Now I'm trying to find her address when she lived in Gary, Indiana. Would you happen to have it? Or maybe if there is court papers or police report with it on it. Well I'm gonna try more to find it. With any luck maybe her house is still around & we could film it!! Thank you so very much for your time & your article..Hope to hear back from you. Check us out on our channels The Steel City Storm & my personal channel Midwest Flesh on YouTube:)

  2. does anyone know her maiden name?