Forensic Studies 004: The Black Widow

on May 24, 2011 in Forensic Studies, Forensics, Serial Killers by

Lydia Trueblood got the name The Black Widow for poisoning five of her husbands, her brother-in-law and her baby girl, all for life insurance money (Montaldo, C. 2011). Lydia Trueblood was less than attractive yet something about her seemed to capture the attention of men. At the age of 19, she married long time family friend Robert C. Dooley. Lydia, her husband, and his brother moved from Missouri to Idaho. The three of them took out an insurance policy paying money to the surviving brother and to Lydia.

Soon after moving to Idaho, Lydia and Robert had a baby girl who they named Lorraine. All seemed well until Lorraine’s sudden death. Soon after the death of their daughter in April of 1915, Edward Dooley fell suddenly ill and died a few days later. His death was ascribed to typhoid, and his brother sadly split two thousand dollars with the grieving Lydia. (Montaldo, C. 2011). A second life insurance policy was written in August in the names of Robert Dooley and his wife where the survivor would receive $2,000. In September of 1915 Robert fell ill with typhoid fever. In October 1915, tragically Robert also died.

It took about two years for Lydia to overcome her morning, but when she did, she began to become lonely. She met William McHaffie, a waiter at a restaurant she frequently visited. She married him in 1917 and they moved to his home town in Montana on October 1, 1918. A life insurance policy was taken out for $5000 with Lydia as the beneficiary (Montaldo, C. 2011). One year later, influenza and diphtheria claimed McHaffie’s life but his policy had lapsed because he failed to pay the second premium, so Lydia collected nothing.

She moved to Denver, and met yet another man. His name was Harlan C. Lewis and within four months, now May of 1919, they were married. She moved to Lewis’ hometown of Billings, Montana, where she had Lewis purchase a $5,000 life insurance policy in June.

Suddenly disaster struck in mid-July, when a sudden case of ptomaine poisoning came upon Lewis. The poison caused complications of gastro-enteritis, killing him. This time she got the money from the life insurance policy.

Lydia was on the hunt once again. In August, shortly before she turned 27 years old, she met Edward F. Meyer. Lydia has now gotten the hang of how to kill these men in a hurry. She had no feelings for them when she took those sacred vows. This husband was only in Lydia’s life for one month. The money that she got from the life insurance policies was not enough. Seeing how easy it was, she felt the need to up the price of the policy.

So, she took out a $10,000 policy on Meyer. Once again, this husband contracted typhoid like one of her other husbands. The life insurance policy was not approved. It seemed as insurance companies were catching on to Lydia’s game plan. Meyer went to the hospital for treatment of this illness and had a good chance of recovery. He was getting better after being there for a couple of weeks. Suddenly, Meyer died. When the autopsy was performed, the test showed traces of arsenic. Lydia was questioned by authorities regarding Meyer’s sickness, but they had nothing to charge her with so Lydia was set free.

It took six years for someone to suspect something was strange about this woman’s relationships, that all ended in death (Montaldo, C. 2011). A local chemist, Earl Dooley, decided to dig a little deeper into the death of her fourth husband. He started with collecting soil on the spot where Meyers died. It contained arsenic (Montaldo, C. 2011). The body of Meyers was exhumed body and more traces of arsenic were uncovered.

At this time, authorities had a theory that if she poisoned one of her husbands, maybe she had poisoned another. It took all of these people to be killed for detectives in a two-state killing zone to realize this fact (Montaldo, C. 2011). Lydia was now wanted for arrest. Authorities were unable to locate Lydia at any known residence or frequently visited place.

Idaho authorities had to apply for petitions to exhume the bodies of all her dead husbands, her baby and her brother-in-law. They all were tested and traces of arsenic were detected in all cases. The Montana officers became suspicious regarding the Lewis and McHaffie cases. They were curious as to why Lydia is nowhere to be found to be questioned.

While all of the investigating was taking place, Lydia traveled to California seeking other prey. She was like a hungry animal ready to feed. She had no luck. She then decided to move to Hawaii. This is where she met Paul Vincent. Paul and Lydia got married in November 1920. She tried to get him to purchase a life insurance policy, but he didn’t want to because he already had insurance through the Navy.

By mere coincidence, Paul was transferred to another area leaving Lydia in Hawaii. Lydia was unaware of what transpired with the investigations involving her and didn’t know that authorities were on her trail. Authorities were able to track her to Hawaii were she was arrested and returned to Boise for her trial.

Once in custody, Lydia faced murder charges. Lydia was found guilty and sentenced to ten years to life (Montaldo, C. 2011). It was confirmed that her motive for the murders was money, due to the fact that she had taken out and collected on the life insurance policies of each of her dead husbands.
Even from behind bars Lydia was able to find another man. She escaped from prison and went to be with David Minton who was an ex-convict himself, who had fallen in love with her before his release from prison (Montaldo, C. 2011). When Lydia got out of prison, she left Minton. Lydia had just used Minton to pass the time while she was in prison. Minton was able to tell the police where she was living in Topeka, Kansas.

Somehow Lydia had managed to marry yet another man, Harry Whitlock, after leaving Minton and before the police caught up to her (Montaldo, C. 2011). She was once again apprehended and returned to prison. Her latest husband was shocked when he found out who he had actually married. He described her as a model wife.

Lydia was not quite finished. She convinced George Rudd, the prison warden, to grant her special privileges such as day trips to a local resort and special visitation to her sick mother (Montaldo, C. 2011).

When an investigation into prison conditions was performed, and the truth came out about her special treatment, Rudd was forced to resign. She drew a term of life imprisonment and subsequently died in jail (Montaldo, C. 2011).

Montaldo, C. 2011. Lydia Trueblood. Retrieved on May 20, 2011

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