America’s first female serial killer. How does a woman get credited with that? Lavinia Fisher did it by using her beauty and charm to captivate men and lure them to their deaths. If you have ever seen the movie “White Oleander” with Michelle Pfeiffer, you know how dangerous these beautiful flowered-shrubs are. Very similar to the female killer using them. Even till this day, people are fascinated by Lavinia Fisher. There are stories that say that she would kill these men by crushing their heads between her legs or the fact that she killed hundreds of people. Those myths have not been found to be true, but the fascination continues to surround her.
Lavinia Fisher was born in 1793. The bizarre part is that no ones where she was born, her maiden name, her family, or any other information before the murders began. What we do know is that she married John Fisher and the couple settled in Charleston, SC and started an inn where the killings would take place.
The couple’s inn was called the Six Mile Wayfarer House. They named it that because it was six miles outside of Charleston. For those familiar with Charleston, it was located at or near the old Charleston Naval Hospital. Lavinia would pay attention to male guests who seemed to have a good amount of money. She would invite these men to have tea with her. It was easy because she was a beautiful woman who captivated men. These men didn’t know that the tea was spiked with oleander.
Oleander is a flowering shrub that is poisonous to humans. A single leaf can kill a child. If you use enough of them, then you can kill a man, which is what Lavinia did. In Sri Lanka, it is a favorite for suicide attempts. Oleander poisonings exceed 150 per 100,000 each year. 10% of those are fatal.
After the men were incapacitated but didn’t die from the poison, they were sent to bed. The bed had been modified by the Fishers so that it would fall through the floor and the victim would land in a spiked room. If they didn’t die, John would come in and finish them off with an ax.
Men kept disappearing, and this alarmed the community. A group of locals went to the Fishers to stop whatever they might be doing. They left the Fishers in their inn, and the rest went back to Charleston while one man David Ross remained to watch them.
David Ross was attacked by two men while Lavinia Fisher was present. We would later find out that these two men were co-conspirators. He was able to get away and alert the police. While Ross was doing that, a man named John Peeples stopped at The Six Mile House. Lavinia greeted him and invited him to tea. When John tasted the tea, he didn’t like it so when Lavinia wasn’t looking, he poured it out.
When he got to this room, he felt uncomfortable, so he slept in a chair instead of the bed. He was awakened by the bed disappearing beneath the floor. It frightened him so he jumped out of the window, got on this horse, and left to tell the police in Charleston.
Lavinia Fisher and John Fisher were arrested. After searching The Six Mile Wayfarer House, the police found hidden passages. That’s not all. They also found items from dozens of travelers who were reported missing.
The Fishers plead not guilty, but they were found guilty. They were sentenced to hang while in jail. Together they plotted their escape. When they felt ready, they put it into action and they made a rope from jail linens to escape out the window. However, when John went down, the rope snapped, leaving Livinia behind. He didn’t want to leave his wife so he went back to jail.
On the day of the execution, Lavinia wore her wedding dress and refused to walk to the gallows so she had to be carried while she screamed. Her last words were yelling at the crowd,” If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me – I’ll carry it.” Then Lavinia jumped and hung herself before the executioner could.
No one knows where the Fishers were buried. It is likely that it was at a cemetery next to the jail where criminals were usually buried. Lavinia’s story began as a mystery and that is how it ended. In 1922, her skeleton went on display at a Charleston museum. Her ghost has also been sighted. Many say that she still haunts the old jail and she is popular in ghost tours around Charleston.
Lavinia Fisher was a real piece of work. I can’t believe that she hung herself to not give the executioner and the other people there the satisfaction of thinking that they got her. I wish we could know more about her past before she met John. I wonder if she was already killing men or were her first victims. Really the ones that they killed when they own the end. I have a suspicion though that they weren’t.