Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mary Perkins, Ambitious Alabama Serial Killer - 1957

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Selma, Ala. – A “murder for profit” scheme has been laid by police to Mrs. Mary Perkins, 36, following a probe of the death of her husband’s body and her attempted suicide.

The probe of the son’s death, which police at first thought resulted under mysterious circumstances after the mother had sought to increase insurance on his life from $250 to $1,500 revealed that he died of natural causes.

Even after elimination of the son as one of her murder for profit victims, Mrs. Perkins still stands charged in the poison deaths of four persons on whom she carried life insurance policies.

The five known dead among 150 persons on whose lives Mrs. Perkins allegedly carried insurance policies ranged in age from 10 months to 70 years, according to Marengo County Sheriff Wilmer Shields.

They were:

Gloria Jean Montgomery, 10-month old daughter of a neighbor; Betty Jean Williams of Wilcox County, a grandniece of Mrs. Perkins; Mrs. Della Davis, a 70-year-old acquaintance; her husband, Charles Perkins Sr., and son, Charlie Jr., 7.

Circuit Solicitor Blanchard McCleod says Mrs. Perkins confessed feeding rat poison to the Montgomery child and Mrs. Davis to raise money to pay the premiums on policies she carried on other persons.

Mr. McCleod said that Mrs. Perkins denied having poisoned her husband, but said that “there was rat poison in the house and he got into it.”

The bodies of all of the victims except the son, revealed the presence of “appreciable quantities of arsenic,” authorities said.

When police began questioning Mrs. Perkins after an investigation was set under way, following her son’s death, police said that she shot herself in the chest with a .32 calibre revolver.

Following treatment at Burwell infirmary, Mrs. Perkins was held without bail in the Dallas County Jail in Selma.

According to Solicitor McCleod and Police Capt. Wilson Baker, the same gun was used by Mrs. Perkins in the shooting of the Rev. Menzo Brown, a 55-year-old neighbor, in 1955.

The Rev. Mr. Brown, who recovered from the gunshot wound in the abdomen, told police that he had been shot by an unidentified white man.

Police found a detailed account of the shooting in a stack of insurance policies at Mrs. Perkins’ home. She had written it, she said, to insure Brown’s arrest and conviction if he killed her in revenge.

Tom Hall, a state insurance investigator from Montgomery, said that Mrs. Perkins’ payments to the Independent Life Insurance Co., alone totaled more than $50 a week.

Other policies, he said, were held with the Life Insurance Co., of Georgia, Southern Life and Accident Co., and the Booker T. Washington Life Insurance Co.

In here confession to the poisoning of the Montgomery child, who died July 9 after a policy had been taken out on her life on July 1, Mrs. Perkins said that she had mixed rat poison with soda which she gave the child after its mother had said it was sickly.

A checkup is now being conducted, authorities said, among the other persons upon whom Mrs. Perkins carried insurance policies.

[“Officers Dig Up Bodies – Say Wife Poisoned Husband, 3 Others,” Washington Afro-American (D. C.), Nov. 5, 1957, p. 19]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Selma, Ala., Nov. 23. – Insurance agent Rufus J. Hogue, 27, today was under $6,000 bond on four charges of forgery in connection with an alleged murder-for-profit scheme of Negro scamstress Mary Perkins, 36.

The Dallas County grand jury returned the indictments Friday against Hogue, local superintendent of the Independent Life and Accident Co. of Jacksonville, Fla.

After meeting with officials of the Florida firm, State Insurance Commissioner Jas. H. Horn cleared the company of any complicity in the case.

“We have determined that the actions at Selma are not part and parcel of any company policy and that they are in violation of previously filed rules and regulations of the company,” Horn said.

Solicitor Blanchard McLeod said Hogue wrote all 84 life insurance policies for the Negro woman, who has been charged with feeding rat poison to collect death benefits to finance premiums on other policies. Hogue was charged with forging the names of the insured persons on the policies.

Hogue was jailed in lieu of $1,500 bond on each of the four counts.

[“4 Charges Of Forgery For Agent - Insurance Case Involving Alleged Murder For Profit,” The Times-News (Hendersonville, N. C.), Nov. 23, 1957, p. 4]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4):  Selma, Ala. – A 36-year-old woman, accused of seeking wealth through arsenic and insurance, was given a life term in prison, Wednesday, for the poison death of a neighbor’s 10-month-old child.

At the end of a two-day trial, a Circuit Court jury found Mrs. Mary Perkins guilty in connection with the death of an infant, Gloria Jean Montgomery.

The child was one of 84 persons upon whom Mrs. Perkins is said to have carried life insurance policies.

The Selma housewife’s elaborate scheme of insurance and murder for profit was brought to light by an investigation which followed the death of her own seven-year-old son, Charley Perkins, Jr.

The previous day she had increased insurance on his life from $250 to $1,000.

Ironically, no traces of poison nor evidence of foul play were uncovered in the death of the boy.

A Dallas County grand jury, however, later indicted on three counts of murder.

Exhumation and autopsy revealed traces of arsenic in the remains of her husband, Charley Perkins, Sr.; Mrs. Della Davis, a 70-year-old friend, and little Gloria Jean.

At the start of the probe, Mrs. Perkins shot herself in the chest in a suicide attempt, but was hospitalized and recovered.

Circuit solicitor Blanch McLeod stated that 10 bodies of persons insured by Mrs. Perkins were exhumed in the course of the investigation.

He stated also that Mrs. Perkins admitted that she poisoned Mrs. Davis and Gloria Jean because she needed the money from their policies to keep up the payments on other policies which were due.

The other two indictments against Mrs. Perkins remained on the court docket for possible future trial.

[“It’s End of the line for Mary Perkins,” Washington Afro-American (Washington, D.C.), Mar 4, 1958, p. 14]


FULL TEXT: For gentle, loving Mary Perkins last week, came a time to reflect on the fact that at 36, she may be the first colored woman to try out Alabama’s electric chair. It was her loving, in fact, that was the cause of it all. For with a penchant for rat poison, and an agreement with a white insurance agent, she had sewed up an estimated 150 persons in policies (without their consent) and was killing them off with arsenic at a rate yet undetermined.

That many of the insured were still living was pure accident. For had not Mary’s son died suspiciously close to the day she increased his insurance, and had not the gentle soul shot herself in a faulty suicide try, more of the living might well have been dead, and resting in East Selma Cemetery.

Even before the investigation was ended, they were blaming Mary for at least three deaths, and suspecting her of perhaps a dozen more. Seven graves had been reopened, traces of arsenic found in six bodies, with enough to kill in four. Indeed, the evidence showed, lovable Mary Perkins had been nudging her friends and relatives gently toward the grave, mourning at most of their funerals, then drying the tears from herr eyes before the bodies were cold.

Nor was this all. While she lay bedridden from a suicide bullet that missed her heart by half an inch, police found 84 policies, and the charred remains of others which threatened to send the total to 150. For a clincher, they unearthed a six-page red-inked confession that in 1955 she had shot her neighbor, Rev. Menzo Brown.

But it was more what could have happened (had not Mary’s luck and rat poison run out) that staggered Selma’s imagination.

Mary Perkins cooked some of the best food around, was not stingy about feeding the neighbor kids, or carrying plates of goodies to the Ebenezer church suppers. She nursed the sick with the passion of a Florence nightingale, was a typical minister’s wife. Then (at least from all outward experiences) life turned sour for Mrs. Perkins.

Two of her children died in the early 1950’s. Her husband, Rev. Charlie Perkins Sr., went to his reward in 1955. At his funeral, Mary was the picture of grief, “screaming to roof off” during services, passing out prostate, and being carried in collapse from the church. In October, 1957, her son, Albert [sic], 7, got sick. The next day he worsened; then died.

Living alone in her grief (she was genuinely moved by her son’s death), Mary was visited by solicitous neighbors. But among the callers was Capt. Wilson Baker, spurred by evidence that the woman had upped her son’s insurance from $250 to $1,250 just before he died. He talked with her at home, released her after a grilling at headquarters. This was Friday, October 25. On Saturday morning, she was found near death, on the living room floor of her home after attempting suicide with a gun. 

Suspecting the worst, police rushed to the hospital; heard her confess that she had given 10-month-old Gloria Montgomery a double dose of rat poison in July, 1957. I”I didn’t actually give her the poison,” she says, “I gave it to her mother to give to her.”) She collected $489 on four $1,000 policies.In addition, said Mary, she had poured an arsenic solution into the bedside water jug of 70-year-old Della Davis, then collected $250 on a $1,000 policy. Beyond this, she would confess nothing.

For the next few days, more bodies were being dug up than buried. The results were shocking. The good Rev. was loaded with poison (“I didn’t give it to him. There was some around and he might have gotten hold of it.”). Ed Johnson’s body showed faint traces. Della Davis had arsenic in her, as did Gloria Jean Montgomery, Betty Jean Williams and Beula Moultrie.

For Mary Perkins, however, there seemed to be little remorse over her tactics as a lady Bluebeard. She blamed her troubles on the fact that her parents (who had 22 kids) had given her “no foundation to build on.” As for the shooting of the minister, she said, he had no one to blame but himself. “We started going together (in 1954) before my husband died,” she confessed. Menzo Brown lived next door, would take her husband out on his calls, then double back for a little love-making before his brother cleric could return. Said Mary of her cheating, “My husband was a smart man, but he was no cheer or consolation. If I went downtown at nine, he would want me to come back at ten, or explain where I had been.”

After his death, (“I could window shop as long as I wanted”), Rev. Brown ruled the roost. “Every day at 11 o’clock,” Mary sighed, “there he would be to get what he wanted – and you know what that was. He would take me in the woods, or in the house. No matter what I was doing, or whether I had somewhere to go, every day at 11 o’clock, there he would be.”

They argued once. He slapped her, she shot him in the stomach. (He later told police he weas shot by unknown parties.)

But even this did not end Mary’s troubles. After her chastened lover recovered his nerve (and his strength) he came back for another go at it, was relieved of his pistol by Mary, who had him jailed and fined.

With her family dead, insurance premiums costing her nearly $300 a month, police asking questions, and Rev. Brown demanding that she continue their love affair, Mary finally gave up. “I thought I’d just kill myself since I didn’t have anything to live for.” So following a party on the night before her son’s burial, she packed her dishes, cleaned the house, took a bath and dressed in her blue rayon nightgown. “I couldn’t kill myself lying down,” she said, “so I sat up in a chair, took the pistol (the same one with which she shot Rev. Brown) and that’s the last thing I remember.”

Was she sorry about the dead? “I don’t know why I did it. I just got troubled and something had to happen.” Why had she taken out all the insurance policies? “This white man, (R. G. Hogue of Independent Life Insurance Company) came to me with this stack of cards and told me he didn’t want the policies to lapse. I only had $1.05 worth of insurance on myself and my son at the time. When I couldn’t pay, I’d borrow. But I didn’t kill anybody for the money,” Mrs. Perkins lamented.

Was she repentant about trying to take her own life? “Was nothing else to do,” said the woman, “I guess I’m only sorry that it (the suicide) didn’t work.”

Said Rev. Brown, still pastoring three AME churches, but probably unluckiest among the living: “You never know who you’re going out with when you start slipping around. (His wife has deserted him.) I should have told the truth about getting shot.” Then, smiling brightly, and hustling off to a church conference with an eye on the future, he added: “Don’t make it too bad about me. I may want to run for the general convention one of these days.”

[“The Woman Who Plotted to Kill 150: Career of Ala. Lady Bluebird,” Jet (Chicago, Il.), Nov. 21, 1957 (Vol. 13, No. 3), pp. 48-43]


Rev. Menzo Brown, shot; attempted murder, survived.
Early 1950s – Two children died.
1955 – Rev. Charlie Perkins Sr. died; arsenic found in corpse.
Oct. 23/24, 1957 – son Charlie Perkins Jr. (7), dies. (“Albert”)
Oct. 26, 1957 – attempted suicide, gunshot.
Nov. 2, 1957 – confesses poisoning Montgomery baby and Della Davis (70).
Dec. 1957 – Mary Lanier (70), died. $1,000 insurance.
Dec. 18, 1957 – sues for insurance benefits on son.
Feb. 26, 1958 – sentenced to life in prison for Montgomery murder.
Mar. 4, 1958 – sentenced to life in prison.
May 1, 1958 – arraigned for 2 murders, Davis & Perkins; pled guilty insanity.
Della Davis (70), $300,000 insurance.
Charlie Perkins, Jr.  (36), husband, died.
Gloria Jean Montgomery (10 mo), died.









EXCERPT (Article 4 of 4): Mary Perkins, 37, 37-year-old seamstress from Selma, Ala., is now an inmate at the Julia Tutwiler prison, Wetumpka, Ala. She was given three life sentences for three poisonings.



[6900-2/5/20; 7832-3/9/21]

1 comment:

  1. I get chill bumps reading this. I remember this incident like the back of my hand. I was about 8-9 years old and lived on Lawrence Street. Mrs. Perkins and her son use to visit my neighbor. I remember the police coming to my neighbor's house to interview her.