What We Talk About When We Talk About Lavinia Fisher

Lavinia Fisher is known as the first female mass murderer in the United States (congrats, girl!). During the 19th century, she and her husband John ran a hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, where they had lived for most of their lives. Despite several complaints of disappearing travelers to the local sheriff’s office, Lavinia and husband were too popular around town (and apparently Lavinia was a knockout, which probably didn’t hurt), and so nothing was ever done until one proposed victim got away.

Even stranger, there are a few theories circulating as to the exact nature of Lavinia and John’s early checkout system. Some claim that Lavinia poured a cup of poisoned tea for the gentleman, then John stabbed him in his bed, just to be sure. Others swear that the tea had a sleeping potion in it, and as the victims was falling asleep in his bed Lavinia would pull a lever that dropped the bed onto spikes in a pit below. (I mean, what?)

It gets weirder. However they went about their business, Lavinia and John were arrested and sentenced to death—though ironically for highway robbery. But Lavinia was determined to wriggle out of the noose. First, she tried to remind everyone that a married lady couldn’t be executed. The judge cannily replied, “Then we’ll kill your husband first so you’ll be a widow.” RIGHT? So THEN, Lavinia wears her wedding gown to her execution, hoping that with a priest on hand, her celebrated beauty will be enough to lure a man into matrimony. No dice. So Lavinia toted up the odds, screamed, “If anyone has a message for the devil, give it to me—I’ll deliver it” and jumped off the gallows and hanged herself.

That just does not happen anymore, ladies and gentlemen.

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