Thursday, September 22, 2011

Daisy de Melker, South African Serial Killer – 1932


Mar. 1906 – Bert Fuller, died the morning of their intended wedding day, after making a will leaving her $1,000, “blackwater fever.”
1917? – Twins, died in infancy.
Oct. 1917 – Lester (5), son, died in convulsions.
1918 – Eric (15 mo.), son,  died in convulsions.
Jan. 11, 1923 – William Alfred Cowle (50), dies.
Nov. 6, 1927 – Robert Sproat (44), second husband, dies.
Mar. 5, 1932 – Rhodes Cecil Cowle (20), son, dies.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Johannesburg, Union of South Africa –  Charged with murdering her two former husbands and her twenty-year-old son to collect their insurance, Mrs. Daisy Louisa de Melker, wife of a noted South African rugby player, was found guilty to-day of killing the son and was sentenced to death.

The court found the death pf her son, Cecil Rhodes Cowle, was due to arsenic administered by her in a flask of coffee. It held the evidence of strychnine poisoning inconclusive in the case of her former husbands, William Cowle and Robert Sproat, however. The trial lasted a month.

When asked whether she had anything to say before she was sentenced, Mrs. de Melker replied “I am not guilty of poisoning my son.”

After sentence was pronounced the slight blonde woman was led away, still protesting her innocence to her cell.

The de Melker case was one of South Africa’s most sensational murder trials. No suspicion was attached to Mrs. De Melker until the death of the son after drinking coffee from a bottle he had taken to work in his lunch basket. Traces of poison were found in his body when it was exhumed. The bodies of his mother’s two previous husbands were then exhumed and then a triple murder charge was lodged.

Experts testified during the trial that the second husband died in 1927 of natural causes. Several physicians said death was to due to lead that lay dormant for a long time in his system. He was a plumber.

It was charged that the two husbands died shortly after having made wills in her favour and that her son was poisoned after he had assigned to his mother a ₤100 insurance policy (about 500 dollars at par).

[“Woman Sentenced To Die As Murderer – Mrs. Daisy DeMelker Convicted By South African Court Of Poisoning Son,” The Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica), Nov. 28, 1932, p. 21]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Mrs. Daisy De Melker, of Johannesburg, Union of South Africa, wrote a play. But unlike most playwrights she wrote her play after it had been acted. Her characters were taken from life — to death. And her play was produced — in the Johannesburg court.

The scenario started in 1906 when Daisy Louisa Hancorn-Smith was a student nurse in Johannesburg where she studied elementary medicine—apparently for the accurate construction of her plot.

She planned to marry Bert Fuller,  a young engineer, in Capetown. But Fuller, visiting the backveldt, contracted blackwater fever. Daisy hurried to his side. But he died in March, 1906, the morning of their intended wedding day, after making a will leaving her $1,000.

And a good finish for Act I of her play.

Daisy remained in mourning for three years, then married William Alfred Cowel [sic], plumber, in March, 1909. They set up housekeeping in a suburb of Johannesburg

The frequent arrivals of additions to the family interrupted Daisy’s playwriting. But in 1917 she decided to get back to work. A pair of twins died in their infancy. Their son, Lester, five, died that October in convulsions. Eric, the baby, died the following year, also in convulsions. Thus ending Act II.

Now, with one son, Rhodes Cecil, six, Daisy could continue with her play. She was an avid movie fan and told her friends she hoped to sell her play as a “Perils of Pauline” type of serial.

She thought she’d increase the dramatic suspense. And her husband began to feel unwell. Daisy insured him for $500. And only just in time; for he died in 1922.

And Daisy ended the third act. Dr. A. E. H. Pakes evidently thought her husband’s death bad theatre. For he refused a death certificate and demanded an autopsy.

Another doctor eventually diagnosed the illness as Bright’s disease. With the insurance money and a small pension.

Daisy took young Rhodes to another part of town while she worked as porteress in the hospital and planned another scene for her play.

She married another plumber, wealthy Robert Sproat, who took her to live in the better part of Johannesburg. Daisy then took a course in scenario writing and, no doubt, plot construction.  For Sproat, in October, 1927, was taken very ill. “He drank a glass of beer and fell sick,” she told a neighbor. “Run call a doctor.”

Dr. Pakes appeared on the scene, saying nothing about his suspicions of her former husband’s death. He attended Sproat and soon pronounced him out of danger. But Dr. Pakes was not a playwright.

Then Daisy heard that her husband had willed his money to his mother in England. That suggested another episode in the serial.

In November, 1929 [sic], Sproat, after another glass of beer, suffered violent convulsions. Daisy summoned a Dr. S. S. Mallinick.

The following day, Mrs. Emily Strieker, arriving for the week end, found Sproat in bed, his feet supported by an ironing board, and straps rigged for him to cling to when the convulsions agonized him.

“I can’t stand the pain,” he gasped.

“Get Daisy.”

Daisy had gone for a neighbor to act as witness for the changing of Sproat’s will. They returned in time to witness the dying man’s signature and a few days later attended his funeral. Which made a good Act IV curtain.

Daisy, now well off, took young Rhodes to England with her. But he would not work, was always bothering her for money and drank too much. She bought him a car, a motorcycle and a player piano and carried them all back to Johannesburg. But Rhodes was still a problem. Daisy decided upon a fifth act for her scenario.

Meanwhile, she married Mynheer de Melker, yet another plumber, who got Rhodes a job with the Bremersdorf Transport Company. But Rhodes quit his job and, according to Daisy, just “would not play the game.”

One fine morning in February, 1932, Daisy packed a lunch box for Rhodes, who was starting off to try another job. That noon time, finding the coffee too sweet, he gave it to a fellow worker, who promptly went into convulsions.

By March 1, although Daisy had thoughtfully insured him for $500, Rhodes was feeling rather ill. Daisy gave him some medicine and that night sent for a doctor.

Had she been more careful the doctor might have been anyone rather than Dr. Pakes. As he watched young Rhodes die that night, the doctor remembered several previous climaxes in Daisy’s true life drama. The funeral next day was attended by the Johannesburg police. Dramatic finish to Act V.

They took Daisy to the Johannesburg Fort Prison where she astonished the rest of the prisoners by placidly settling down to finish the now voluminous scenario upon which she inscribed the title:


For months she rewrote and edited, apparently quite confident that the great work would sell to a motion picture company and make her rich for life.

But she did not know that her life was to be much shortened and that she would provide the final curtain.

She carefully penned a happy ending. But the police found that was the only part untrue to life.

They scanned lines that referred to a dead fiance, two dead husbands, five children, and a bit about a neighbor’s demented child who, after Daisy’s care, exhibited symptoms of strychnine poisoning. They also turned up evidence of a purchase of arsenic “to get rid of some cats.” Not a new device in any play.

After the production of Daisy’s play in court, the critics, consisting of 12 good men and true, decided to eliminate Daisy’s happy ending and maintained realism to the final curtain at the end of Act VI.

On Dec. 30, 1932, Daisy de Melker was hanged by the neck until dead.

[“Murder In Six Acts – The Actors Followed the Scenario, but the Law Changed the Ending for the Author,” The American Weekly (San Antonio Light) (San Antonio, Tx.), Jul. 22, 1945, p. 15]


De Melker has become somewhat of a South African icon, and has entered popular myth. If a door blew shut in the wind they would say “it was the ghost of Daisy de Melker”. If a child’s hair was unkempt and wild, they said “you look like Daisy de Melker”. Rumour (fuelled by tourism operators no doubt!) has it that De Melker's spirit haunts Ward 7 of the Transvaal Children's Hospital (now the Florence Transition Home) in Braamfontein. It is here that she worked as a nurse and learnt about poisons.[Wikipedia]


Daisy's life
  • June 1, 1886:   Daisy Louisa Hancorn-Smith born in Seven Fountains near Grahamstown, one of 11 children.
  • 1903 - 1906: Daisy studying at Berea nursing college in Durban, not completed the course.
  • March 1909: Marries William Alfred Cowle, a Johannesburg plumber.
  • June 1911:   Rhodes Cecil Cowle is born, the only one of the couple's five children who survived.
  • January 11, 1923: William Cowle died shortly after he had been drinking Epsom salts Daisy prepared for him. She inherits £ 1795.
  • 1923 - 1926: Daisy worked as “vroueportier” at the Transvaal Children's Hospital in Braamfontein.
  • January 11, 1926: Exactly three years after Cowle's death she married Robert Sproat, also a plumber.
  • 6 November 1927: Sproat died after a long and painful suffering similar to that of Cowle; Daisy inherits more than £ 4,000, with a further £ 560 payment from the pension fund.
  • January 21, 1931:   Daisy marries the widower Sydney Clarence de Melker - also a plumber, and a former Springbok rugby player.
  • February 25, 1932: Daisy buys rat poison at Spilkins Extension pharmacy in Kensington under the pretext that she wanted to get rid of a troublesome cat.
  • March 5, 1932: Rhodes died after he fell ill from coffee his mother had made ​​for him.
  • 1 April 1932:   Rhodes' life insurance policy to pay £ 100 to Daisy out.
  • 15 April 1932: The police are authorized to exhume remains of William Cowle Robert Sproat and let Rhodes Cowle's after Cowle’s brother became suspicious.
  • 22 April 1932: Daisy arrested; accused of three murders.
  • October 17, 1932:   Trial begins; Johannesburg High Court; 60 witnesses for the state.
  • 25 November 1932: Daisy convicted by Judge Greenberg of the murder of Rhodes and sentenced to death.
  • December 24, 1932: She became aware there is no mitigation of her sentence.
  • December 31, 1932:   Daisy de Melker executed in the Pretoria Central Prison - the second woman in South Africa to be hanged. She was buried in a pauper grave.
[Deur Linette, “Daar waar Daisy dwaal,” Netwerk24 (Johannesburg, South Africa), 05 Jul. 2013]


FULL TEXT: Three men died in agony, and the merciless killer of at least one of them, smiled at the stupidity of the law, until a brilliant detective, piecing together meagre clues, revealed the black horror of a woman’s soul, thus solving what is considered to be one of the most sensational cases in South Africa’s history of crime.

Alfred Sproat, sitting on the verandah of his home in Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal province of  South Africa, finished reading the latest news of the Lindbergh kidnaping, which had happened a few days before in far-off America, and then turned to reports of local events. Idly he glanced down the advertising columns.

Suddenly he went rigid and stared in shocked surprise at a notice which announced that on the previous day, Saturday, March 5, 1932, Rhodes Cecil Cowle, 20, son of Mrs. Daisy Cowle De Melker, had died at Genniston, a suburb of nearby Johannesburg.

Alfred Sproat was particularly interested in this news because Mrs. De Melker had once been his sister-in-law. His brother, Robert, her second husband, had died five years before. Her first husband, William Alfred Cowle, had died, too. And so had, in the course of years, four of Daisy’s children.

Alfred Sproat sat motionless in his chair, his thoughts concentrated upon this latest of the long series of tragedies. “I must see the police,” he said aloud to himself.

Sproat hastened at once to the Department of Criminal Investigation in Pretoria and told his story to an inspector there. He said that Mrs. De Melker had been born Daisy Hancorn-Smith in Graliamtown, Cape Province, and had received training as hospital nurse.

While in the training she had become engaged to Herbert George Fuller, a commissioner for native affairs, at Wankie, in Northern Rhodesia, but Fuller had fallen ill of Blackwater fever while on his way down to Johannesburg for the wedding. He had been rushed to a hospital at Bulawayo, and Daisy, informed by wire, had hurried to his bedside. He appeared much better when she arrived, but soon had a fatal relapse.

The following year, 1910, the nurse had married Cowle, a Johannesburg plumber, Sproat continued. Five children had been born of this union, but only one had survived childhood. Her firstborn were twins, who died the day after they came into the world, and two sons had succumbed to convulsions within seven months of each other in 1917.

Cowle himself had died, very suddenly, on January 11, 1923. The doctor who conducted the post mortem examination had pronounced the cause of death to be chronic nephritis
and cerebral hemorrhage.

After Cowle died, Daisy and her surviving son, Rhodes, lived for four years in Bertrams, a suburb of Johannesburg, and then she married Robert Sproat, another plumber. He became ill the following year, recovered, and then suffered a relapse and died. His malady had strangely resembled the illness which had killed Cowle, said the brother.

“As you probably know,” said Sproat, “her new husband is one of the leading football players in the Union of South Africa. They were married early last year, and took a cottage soon afterwards in Germiston. I believe the authorities should look into young Cowle’s death before there are any more tragedies.

Now that the last of her children has died, I’m afraid something may happen to De Melker, or his 17-year-old daughter.”

Sproat’s statement was dispatched immediately to Johannesburg, and Detective Head Constable J. C. II. Jansen, of the Witwartersraiul Division of the C.I.D., was assigned to investigate.

Detective Jansen recalled that young Cowle, a few days before his death, had informed the local police that a motor-cycle of his had been stolen. Jansen sought out the officer who had dealt with the complaint, and the latter said:

“Yes. I went to Cowle’s home this morning (meaning the Monday following the youth’s death) and his mother came to the door. She asked what I wanted, and I said, “I’d like  to see Mr. Rhodes Cowle,” She said, “He’s dead. He died Saturday and was buried yesterday.”

“Did she seem grieved?” Jansen asked.

“Not the slightest. I thought to myself at the time that she behaved anything but like a mother who had just buried her only son.”

Jansen visited the registrar of births and deaths and learned that the cause of death had been obscure as to require a post mortem examination and also that Mrs. De Melker had just visited the registrar to ascertain what the post mortem findings were. She had been told that apparently her son died of cerebral malaria.

Detective Jansen next called upon the examining surgeon, Dr. Donald McKenzie.

“Doctor, I have been assigned to investigate young Cowle’s death,” he said, “Nothing must get out, so I will have to ask you to keep this to yourself. Were you completely satisfied that the boy’s death was due to cerebral malaria?”

Dr. McKenzie scratched his jaw and replied. “Well, I must admit I was puzzled by the case.”

“Did the mother wish to avoid a post mortem ?”

“Yes, she did. She kept saying, ‘But is it necessary?’ and ‘Why must there be a post mortem?’”

“You would not be surprised if your diagnosis turned out to be erroneous?” “Frankly, no. I have been puzzled, and I am still puzzled.”

Detective Jansen now devoted himself to a very cautious investigation of Mrs. De Melker’s past life, particularly with reference to the series of tragedies.

One of the first discoveries he made was that young Cowle and his diminutive square-jawed mother, still attractive at 41, had quarrelled bitterly on recent occasions. The boy had thought that when he readied the age of 21 he should inherit part of the rather substantial estate his father had left when he died. Mrs. De Melker had rejected the suggestion, with the result that Rhodes had upbraided her heatedly, and had been rebuked by his stepfather for being so disrespectful.

Jansen visited the doctor who had signed the death certificate in the death of Robert Sproat.

“If it were to develop that Sproat died of poisoning,” asked the officer, “would  you be surprised?”

The doctor replied that he would not be in the least surprised. He said that, although death had been attributed to natural causes, the symptoms resembled that of strychnine poisoning. However, there had not been the faintest breath of suspicion at that time.

Next the detective called on Dr. A. E. Pakes, who had attended Alfred Cowle.

This proved a most productive visit, for the physician stated that the fit which, had killed Cowle had been strongly suggestive of strychnine poisoning.

He had ordered a post mortem and given instructions that a bottle of salts, from which the patient had taken a dose, should be turned over to the police for analysis.

“I did not suspect foul play,” said Dr. Pakes, “but I thought that the salts might accidentally have contained poison.”

“What happened?”

Dr. Pakes’ smiled ruefully. “Another doctor, ignorant of my observations, conducted the post mortem and ascribed death to chronic nephritis and cerebral haemorrhage.’

Next, Jansen dug into the records for information about the dead men’s estates. He discovered that the an estate worth 20,000 dollars on the death of her first husband and an estate, worth 20,000 dollars on the death of the second. Eye-witnesses told the detective that she practically forced Sproat to sign a will while he was in his death throes.

Even in the case of Herbert Fuller, back in 1909, she had benefited, for she had persuaded her fiance to make a will, naming her as his sole beneficiary.

As for the son, Rhodes, he had been insured for only 500 dollars, although in this she benefited in the long run, too, because the boy might have won a share of his father’s estate upon reaching his majority.

Having gathered this much, the investigator began an extensive search for Mrs. De Melker’s poison source. If she had administered either strychnine or arsenic to her son, then it was of the utmost importance that the police locate the chemist who had supplied her.

But the hunt proved fruitless. Jansen visited every chemist in that region with out discovering this vital clue.

One month had passed when the officer, till working completely behind the scenes, decided that that nothing more could be done until the body of Rhodes Cowle, and possibly the bodies of the two husbands, had been exhumed and examined. In order to obtain permission from the authorities, Jansen knew he had to present a very strong case. Accordingly, he drew up a complete report, and this was dispatched to the attorney general on April 11.

Three days later the exhumation orders arrived, and on the evening of April 25 a group of officers stole into a cemetery and opened the graves of young Cowle, his father, and of Alfred Sproat.

The son’s body was examined first. On April 28, Detective Jansen was in formed that Rhodes Cowle had been killed with arsenic.

The investigating officer and his superiors agreed that the time had come to confront Daisy De Melker. Jansen drove to the cottage in Germiston accompanied by Dr. McKenzie, three other detectives and a wardress. Jansen and a junior detective left the car, some distance from the house, and went together to the open front door. As they approached they saw Mrs. De Melker peering through the fly-screen.

“Can I see yon a moment. Mrs. De Melker?” Jansen asked in his most courteous manner.

She pushed open the door and he stepped inside.

“I am Detective Head Constable Jansen of the C. I. D.,” he announced, “and I have a warrant here for your arrest on a charge of murder.”

Mrs. De Melker stood still, staring at Jansen. then walked into the dining room and sat down heavily.

“Murder?” she said in a dazed voice.

“Who did I murder?”

“The allegation is that you murdered your son. Rhodes Cecil Cowle, by administering arsenic.”

“How can you accuse me of that?” she cried, leaping to her feet.

“We exhumed the body and found arsenic in it.”

She glanced quickly toward the bedroom in which her son had died, then suddenly called out in a frightened voice. “Mia, they’ve come to arrest me! They say I murdered Rhodes!”

A woman friend rushed into the dining room. “You!” she exclaimed. “Why, I never heard of such a thing! The police must he crazy.”

“I think not,” said Jansen with conviction.

“The first thing is search the house,” he replied. “Or do you care to make the search unnecessary?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about!” she laughed suddenly. ‘Good heavens, what a charge! to say that I killed my own son!”

The house was searched, but yielded nothing, and prosently the prisoner was taken away and locked up. Every effort to extract a confession proved a dismal failure. She laughed in their faces when officers tried to break through her attitude of outraged innocence.

“We’ll never get anywhere,” Jansen told his superiors, “until we find out where she bought the poison.”

Accordingly, detectives began to comb the whole Witwartersrand area for a chemist who sold Mrs. De Melker arsenic. Each officer carried a specimen of the suspect’s handwriting so that he might compare it with signatures on the poison registers which all purchasers are required to sign.

But still the hunt was fruitless. Meanwhile, Detective Jansen had hit upon another major discovery in his exhaustive search for evidence.

About a week after Mrs. De Melker was arrested, he visited a garage in Johannesburg where Rhodes Cowle had been employed just before bis fatal illness.

Jansen asked the manager whether Cowle had been in good spirits during the last days he worked at the garage, and the manager replied that the youth had seemed in the best of health. (Jansen’s purpose in this connection was to gather evidence to offset the possible defence that Cowle had taken the poison himself).

While the officer and the garageman were chatting together young mechanic named James Webster joined them and listened to the talk.

“Did you know Cowle?” Jansen asked the mechanic.

“Oh, yes!”

“Do you remember the day he became ill?”

“Very clearly.”

“Do you recall anything peculiar about  the illness?”

Webster shrugged. “The only thing that strikes me as peculiar was that I became ill that same day.”

The detective snapped to attention Tell  me about that,” he said. ‘“Tell me just  what happened. It may he something of  great importance. Did you eat some of  Cowle’s lunch?”

Webster shook his head. “No, I didn’t. On several occasions he shared his coffee [but I didn’t] eat anything, but I have some of his coffee which he carried in a thermos bottle.”

“And you say you became sick the day Cowle went home ill?”

“Yes; I had pains in my stomach.”

The officer rubbed his hands with satisfaction, “You’re going to be a great help to us in this case. Rhodes Cowle died of arsenic poisoning. It was arsenic that made you sick that day. Now it happens that arsenic makes its way out of the human body through the hair and the nails.

“If your hair and fingernails show traces of arsenic then that will be strong evidence against the suspect.”

Webster looked somewhat surprised and glanced a bit guiltily at his hands. “Finger nails?” he said. “Gee, chief, I’d like to help but I haven’t any fingernails! I bite ‘em!”

He exhibited his gnawed fingers, which Jansen glared at with disapproval.

“You’ll have to stop biting them,” the officer stated. “You’ll have to let them grow, you understand?”

The mechanic gulped and said he’d do his darndest. As Jansen hastened away, young Webster muttered, “This is going to be terrible for me,” and automatically his right hand went to his mouth.

Meanwhile the vital organs of Mrs. De Melker’s two previous husbands were being examined. The tests showed that both men had been killed with strychnine.

But still the source of the poison had not been located. As the preliminary hearing neared. Dective Jansen and Public Prosecutor Goetsche decided to take a reporter from the Johannesburg Star into their confidence. The result of their talk with the reporter was that on June 1, when the hearing began, The Star published a full report of what had been uncovered thus far in the investigation, along with a photograph of the accused woman.

Immediately there was a response. Abraham Spilkin, a chemist of Kenilworth, a suburb about eight miles from Johannesburg saw the picture and recognised the face as that of Mrs. Sproat, an old customer of his. A search of his old records revealed that on February 25, 1932, she has purchased sixpence worth of arsenic for the purpose of destroying a sick cat. She had visited the Spilkin shop just six days before her son first fell ill.

Planning to checkmate the defence forces before the authorities had much evidence against the accused women, police told Spilkin not to mention this fact to a soul.

Then Prosecutor Goetsche and his aides worked out a strategy to trap the suspected Borgia.

First they announced that further evidence would be taken on June 4, instead of June 14, as previously stated, and it was also given out that an important prosecution witness would “give her testimony.” Mr. De Melker and his daughter Eileen, who had already given testimony, were notified that they would be called again on that day.

An air of mystery pervaded the court room as the proceedings open on June 4. Who was the woman whose evidence seemed to be regarded as so vitally important? No one could say.

“Miss Eileen De Melker,” called out the prosecuting barrister, Sylvester C. Quinland.

“Will you take the stand, please stand at once.

The girl jumped up and went to the witness stand at once.

“Has the house been fumigated at all this year?” Quinland asked.

“No, Sir.”

“Have you been troubled with vermin in the house, Mrs. De Melker?”

“No, sir, we haven’t.”

“Have you been troubled with dogs scratching in the garden?”

“No, sir.”

“Or with cats creating a nuisance?”

“No. sir.”

Quinland then called her father to the stand.

‘Mr. De Melker. have you any hypodermic needles in the house?” he suddenly demanded.

“No sir,” was the quick reply.

“Have you any cats of your own?”

“We did have one, but I could not tell you what happened to it.”

“Did it die a natural death?”

“It just disappeared, according to my wife.”

“Can you recall just when the cat disappeared?”

“Oh, that was long before Rhode’s death.”

“Did your wife express a desire to lose that cat?”

“No, not to me.”

Prosecutor Quinland excused De Melker, and then called out the name of Abraham Spilkin, the chemist.

Spilkin identified the accused woman as the purchaser, swore that she has signed the poison register, which was produced in court and went on to relate that Mrs. De Melker (known to him as Mrs. Sproat) had bought the poison to kill a rat.

Neighbors of the De Melkers swore that there had been no cat in the house when Rhodes Cowle took sick and died.

So Daisy De Melker was held for trial on a charge of murder.

The proceedings, one of the longest in British court history, began the following October 17. The defendant chose to be tried without a jury. Her judge was Mr. Justice Leo Gieeuberg, one of the ablest jurists in the Union of South Africa, assisted by two senior magistrates, J. M. Graham and A. A. Stanford. Her chief attorney was Harry M. Morris, rated at the most brilliant criminal advocate in the land, and the Crown Prosecutor was C. C. Jarvis, assisted bv Quinland.

Detective Jansen had done a thorough job, and so the prosecution had just about everything it needed for a guilty verdict. Even young Webster, by a super-human effort in the name of British Justice, had refrained from biting his nails. Samples of his hair and fingernails had been tested and experts testified on the witness stand that he had been made ill by arsenic, undoubtedly the result of drinking coffee from Rhodes Cowle’s thermos bottle.

The trial finally ended on November 25. Justice Greenberg, reading his verdict, stated that he could not be convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendent had poisoned her first two husbands, but that he had been completely convinced that she murdered her son. Accordingly he found her guilty and sentenced her to death.

Five day later – they work fast in South Africa once there is such a verdict – Daisy De Melker was hanged. She went to her doom, still insisting that it was an outrage, and that she was completely innocent.

[“Killer Smiles At Stupidity Of Law; How A Brilliant Detective Outwitted Borgia of the Transvaal,” The New Call (Perth, WA, Australia), Feb. 17, 1938, p. 1]


BOOK: Lenor Tancred, Daisy De Melker - Guilty Or Innocent?, Published by the Author, Pretoria, South Africa, 2006

Author notes:  The 1932 trial of Daisy de Melker was a first in many respects. It drew unprecedented media coverage, locally and abroad. Spectators queued from sun-up just to get a glimpse of her. Never had public sentiment been consolidated so completely against an accused – she was condemned before she even appeared in the Johannesburg High Court. Daisy de Melker is considered to be South Africa’s first serial killer – but did she really murder the three men she had been accused of poisoning? What if … she had not? This is not a plea for acquittal, nor an application for a belated reprieve, but a query as to whether there was not more room for reasonable doubt than was considered in 1932. It is a plea for justice. Instead of imparting a sinister slant to every circumstantial incident, it takes an impartial look at the facts and asks the questions that should have been asked all those years ago - but were not.













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


More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed


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