Saturday, August 20, 2011

NOT JUST ANOTHER PRETTY WIDE SPOT IN THE ROAD

Everybody has some manner of home town pride. That little something that sets your birthright apart from the next guy's.  That little something that put your town on the map long ago and far away.  This is one of mine...



Lyda Anna Mae Trueblood was born in 1893 in KeytsevilleMissouri and, when she turned 13, moved with her family to the newly founded town of Twin FallsIdaho.  There she attended Twin Falls High School but did not graduate.  She was courted by Robert C. Dooley and, at 19; she married him on March 17th, 1912.  They lived on his ranch along with his brother, Edward, and in October of 1913 Lyda gave birth to a daughter they named Lorrain.  For a brief time they gave every appearance of being a happy, typical farm family until, two years later in 1915, everyone around her began dying in rapid succession.  First baby Lorrain died suddenly; not that unusual an event in the early days of the 20th century.  Then on August 9th of that year the brother-in-law, Ed, also died without warning.  The Coroner’s Inquest and autopsy settled on ptomaine poisoning, Ed was buried and the couple collected $2000.00 from an insurance policy they had taken out on him.  In less than 2 months Lyda’s husband Bob was also dead, supposedly victim of typhoid fever.  This time she collected $4500.00 from another conveniently held insurance policy naming her as beneficiary. 

Lyda seemed to have a problem with being a widow and so, by May of 1917, she was married to a William McHaffie.  With her new husband she moved to HardinMontana where, surprise of surprises, Mr. McHaffie passed away suddenly from “flu”.  This time she had an insurance policy valued at $5000.00 but could not collect since, no doubt unknown to her, McHaffie had missed payments and let the policy lapse.  A widow again at 26, Lyda began casting her spell over one Harlan Lewis, a well-to-do engineer from BillingsMontana who had often visited the ranch in Hardin.  In March of 1919 Lyda and Harlan married and by July he, too, had collapsed and died.  The death certificate listed gastro-enteritis as the cause of death and, having made certain that he was paid up, Lyda collected most of $10,000.00 worth of insurance.

Short on overwhelming grief, Lyda forged ahead with practiced skill and planning.  She used her charms on an unsuspecting ranch foreman named Edward T. Meyer, and the three time widow became Mrs. Meyer on August 10th, 1920 in PocatelloIdaho.  Apparently feeling impervious to discovery she, with her husband, returned to her old stomping grounds in Twin   Falls where, in less than a month, on September 7th, 1920, the unfortunate Mr. Meyer left Lyda a widow for the fourth time.  Again the death certificate listed typhoid fever as the cause of death and folks finally began to wonder at the all encompassing misfortune that surrounded Mrs. Lyda Dooley Mchaffie Lewis Meyers; four husbands, a daughter and her brother-in-law all dead before she made it to the ripe old age of 28.  Sadly for Lyda, one of those folks who began to wonder was a Twin Falls County chemist named Earl R. Dooley (no relation…).  Earl Dooley not only knew Ed Meyer but had seen him, pale and ill, leaning against the outside wall of his ranch house only a couple of days before his death.  Recalling the scene in his mind, Dooley remembered that Meyer had vomited while leaning there and, wasting no time, he went to the ranch and collected a sample of the dirt where Meyer had stood.  Returning to the laboratory he ran tests and confirmed the presence of arsenic.  Seeking independent examinations, Dooley gave samples to Dr. Hal Bieler, a local physician, and Edwin Rodenbach, Idaho State Chemist.  Both men ascertained results that confirmed the original findings.  The State’s Attorney, Frank Stephan, was notified and the body of Edward Meyer was exhumed and the examination revealed large amounts of arsenic in the remains. 

A murder warrant was sworn out against Lyda, but when the deputy went to her home to serve it, she had flown the coop, saddened no doubt by the fact that she had to forego collecting yet another $12,000.00 insurance payout.  In her absence the state’s investigation went forward and, while looking for a motive for the multiple murders, it was discovered that Lyda had insured all her victims through the same insurer. Records at The Idaho State Life Insurance Co. of Boise, Idaho showed that husband #1, Bob Dooley was insured for $4500.00 - Lyda Dooley the beneficiary; husband #2, Bill McHaffie, was insured for $5000.00 – Lyda Dooley McHaffie the beneficiary; husband #3, Harlan Lewis was insured for $5000.00 – Lyda Dooley McHaffie Lewis the beneficiary and husband #4, Ed Meyers was insured for $10,000.00 – guess who… yep, Lyda Dooley McHaffie Lewis Meyers the beneficiary.

With a suspect and a motive well in hand if not in custody, all that remained was to figure out how the crimes were committed.  Sheriff’s Deputy Virgil Ormsby of Twin Falls began poking around in the case and interviewed Bud Taylor and Ben Squires who both worked on the Meyers Ranch.  They both thought it odd the way that Meyers gotten married, and Squires, who had eaten with the family, had also gotten sick at the same time as Meyers but had recovered.  Ormsby talked to Dr. J. F. Coughlin who had attended Meyers during his illness and hospitalization and who said Lyda had been running about the house wildly insisting Meyers was dying. When the he had arrived, Meyers was having difficulty breathing. When he stopped breathing altogether, stiffened and died, Lyda fainted. When she revived, she asked the doctor what could have killed him. Dr. Coughlin told her it might be ptomaine poisoning whereupon she left and the doctor never saw her again.  Taylor and Squires also noted that after the funeral Lyda had only shown up at the ranch for a couple of hours to collect some papers before disappearing. 

Going deeper into the background of the case, Ormsby traveled to HardinMontana to look into the death of William McHaffie. Looking for a source of the poison, Ormsby interviewed a drugstore clerk who remembered Lyda buying up their entire stock of arsenic laced flypaper in the fall of 1918, just before William McHaffie died.  McHaffie’s attending physician was questioned and said that Lyda seemed indifferent while McHaffie lay dying.  While visiting with the Hannifins, who had purchased the McHaffie place in Hardin, they took Ormsby down to the basement and showed him a barrel that contained a battered, dirty kitchen pan and a stack of used flypaper.  Flypaper, at that time, came as flat sheets of paper impregnated with sugar and arsenic.  The paper was placed in a shallow pan of water to re-hydrate and the flies, coming in for the sugar, would also ingest the arsenic and be killed.  It would later come out that Lyda was in the habit of boiling down the sheets of poison flypaper until she extracted the arsenic crystals which she would then add to soups or sprinkle on top of apple pies to feed to the unsuspecting husbands.


Exhumations were now ordered for all of her husbands, lethal levels of arsenic were found in each and she was formally charged with their murders on April 22nd, 1921.

Lyda was finally traced through California and Mexico to Hawaii where her newest husband, Paul Southard was stationed.  He listened incredulously to the stories hinting that his wife was a multiple murderess. "She's been a mighty good wife to me," Southard protested, "and I don't care if she married ten men before, and they all died. That wouldn't make her a murderess."  Lyda waved the charges away. They were silly. She'd return to Twin Falls and face them.  Authorities placed her under arrest and she was held until Deputy Ormsby arrived on May 24th.  He returned with his prisoner on June 7th to San Francisco, traveled by train to Wells, Nevada and then on by car to Twin Falls for trial.


On June 17 Mrs. Southard was formally charged with murdering her fourth husband, Edward P. Meyer. She sat apparently emotionless throughout the day at the preliminary examination before Probate Judge Duvall. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Trueblood, were constantly at her side and Lyda seemed oblivious of the gaze of the spectators, mostly women, who had crowded into the court.  Counsel for the defense offered no testimony in behalf of Mrs. Southard, and the prosecution called witnesses which included Dr. J. F. Coughlin, who attended Meyer in his fatal illness and testified that Meyer had suffered a relapse almost immediately after a special nurse had been discharged as a matter of economy and Mrs. Southard was left alone in care of the patient; Dr. Hal Bleler, who made the post mortem examinations of the body of Meyer; Ben E. Busmann, attorney, who identified a copy of Meyer's will, drawn soon after his marriage to Mrs. Southard, naming her as sole legatee, and a Mr. C. D. Thomas and his son, Rex Thomas, who testified as to Meyer obtaining life insurance for $10,000 and of his widow's repeated efforts lo collect on the policy.  Lyda was indicted and bound over for trial for the murder of Ed Meyer.



The trial began on September 26th with Judge William Babcock presiding.  Working at the prosecution table were State Attorney General Roy L. Black, Twin Falls County Prosecutor Frank L. Stephan and lawyer E. A. Walters.  Lyda’s defense team consisted of W. P Guthrie, A. J. Meyers (again, no relation…) Homer Mills and A. R. Hicks.  Only Edward Meyer’s death was at issue and Lyda pleaded “Not Guilty”.  Although the trial was long and occasionally bogged down by a great deal of technical and chemical evidence, it was sensational enough to draw reporters from all over the world, descending on little Twin FallsIdaho to cover the store of “Lady Bluebeard”.  It was, in fact, one of the “sob sisters” covering the trial for a London newspaper who, in her dispatch home, coined the phrase “serial killer” in describing Lyda Dooley Mchaffie Lewis Meyer Southard.  The trial ended at the beginning of November and on November 4th, 1921 the jury, having deliberated for twenty-three hours, returned a verdict of guilty to the charge of murder in the second degree.  The judge sentenced her to the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise for a term of ten years to life.  Lyda had just turned 29. 

Paul Southard, the clean cut navel Petty Officer and current husband, who had stood by his wife up to this point, quickly filed for a divorce (although there appears to be no record of an actual divorce…) and Lyda was transferred to Boise to begin her sentence.


Female prisoners at the Idaho State Penitentiary were housed in a single building inside the grounds and separated from the rest of the population by a high stone wall which enclosed both the women’s ward and a small grassy yard.  By all records Lyda was a model prisoner, often the only inmate in the women’s section.  She did what was know as fancy work to sell and worked in the warden’s house as a housekeeper, nanny and cook… an irony not wasted on many an uncomfortable lunchtime guest.


After nearly a decade however, prison life began to lose its charm and whatever talents Lyda had used to win herself an unending string of heavily insured husbands were not diminished by a prolonged stretch in the slammer.  In spite of the limited contact between prisoners of the opposite sex Lyda soon beguiled a male inmate, David C. Minton, to aid and abet her bid for freedom.  After securing his help, Lyda used her skills on warden R. E. Thomas, asking for and getting his permission for Minton, who worked in the prison metal shop, to avail of his time and talents in the making of several iron trellises for Lyda’s rose garden in the women’s yard… how could you not see this one coming?  All sat fallow until Minton was paroled and then, on the pre-arranged night of May 13th, 1931 and in classic jailbreak style, Lyda loosened a bar in her cell window, knotted together her bed sheets and slipped into the night.  Quickly snapping together the well designed trellises she created a ladder tall enough to clear the wall, over she went into the arms and waiting car of her loving confederate.  By morning’s light they were well on their way east to Denver

A year later the police caught up with David Minton and arrested him for his part in the prison break.  Lyda had dumped him and moved on to greener pastures and he was bitter and willing to talk about her whereabouts.

In December of 1931 Lyda had answered an ad for a housekeeper and a nurse for one Harry Whitlock and his ailing mother, Theodosia.  Whitlock’s mother soon died of gastro-intestinal problems and, although there was no investigation, it is easy to imagine Lyda sweeping clean the path to another insurance windfall.  By March she was Mrs. Whitlock and she was pushing him to get adequate coverage.  With the information from Minton the police approached an understandably stunned Whitlock who, upon learning the truth about his new wife, agreed to help with her apprehension.  Lyda, who had allegedly gone to visit her mother, sent her husband a general delivery letter from TopekaKansas.  Whitlock replied and when she came to collect his letter the long arm of the law was waiting.  Whitlock had the marriage annulled and, in August of 1932, Lyda was returned to the prison in Boise.


A little plumper and pushing 40, Lyda apparently still had her skill sets.  A 1933 exposé which cost then Warden George Rudd his job revealed that she had received extraordinary favors in prison.  She had been allowed, unguarded for five hours, to visit her sick mother outside the prison, she had been taken for afternoon automobile rides, permitted all-day outings to a nearby resort and allowed to attend the moving pictures in Boise on a number of occasions.  Warden Rudd’s defense was that, although he had allowed these liberties, Lyda had never betrayed the trust he placed in her…

Back in Boise, Lyda began a campaign for a pardon.  She applied for parole in April and again in November of 1935, but was denied on both occasions. She became almost hysterical every time it was denied and was nearly as hysterical in October of 1941 when her request for parole was finally granted. Parole board member Idaho Governor Chase A. Clark voted against it, remarking that he felt the interests of society would be best served by keeping Lyda locked up, but he was outvoted by his two colleagues.

 In setting the terms of her parole, the judge spoke from the bench and said, “…that, since she was now old and no longer attractive, she would not be a threat to any man.”  Lyda insisted that the only men she was interested in were God and Uncle Sam.  She was released on October 3rd, 1941; paroled for a six month period of probation to her sister, Mrs. John Quigley of NyssaOregon.  After her probation ended in 1942, Lyda returned to Twin FallsIdaho where she married one more time to a man named Hal Shaw.  Two years later Hal Shaw would disappear without a trace…

Lyda moved to Salt Lake CityUtah where she lived until she dropped dead of a heart attack while walking home from the grocery store on February 5th, 1958.  She was buried in the Twin Falls cemetery under the name Anna E. Shaw.

Lyda Anna Mae Trueblood Dooley McHaffie
Lewis Meyer Whitlock Shaw
1893-1958

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Love soup!

What a treat from the deadly nightshade family, Solanaceae. These "love potatoes" arrived in the potato supply of a local cafe and the proprietor told me she was going to cook up some Love Soup. Great idea.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

9/11 FRC Project

Call for Entries
9/11 -- Ten Years Later: A Commemoration in Art and Words

Feather River College, in collaboration with Plumas Arts and Plumas Community Radio, announces a juried exhibition of art and words in remembrance of 9/11. After ten years, the events of that day continue to shape our world, our lives, and our memories. “9/11 – Ten Years Later” will be a community commemoration of those events and their effects as shared through the visual arts, prose, and poetry. Accepted written works may be published in the Feather River Bulletin or presented on Plumas Community Radio, sand artwork will be displayed at Feather River College and locations in Plumas County.

Eligibility: Open to residents of Plumas County.

Media: Visual arts (e.g. paintings, photographs, illustrations), prose, and poetry. (Please, no visual works over 60" in length or height or written works over 1000 words.)

Entry: Please submit any written pieces in electronic form as a Word document. Digital photographs of visual arts pieces must be submitted (in JPEG format with a minimum of 1200 pixels on the longest side).

Selected artwork must be display-ready, suitably framed and wired for hanging. Any work differing markedly from the digital image will be disqualified. Artwork chosen for inclusion must be dropped off at Feather River College during the week of September 11th. (After showing, arrangements will be made for artists to pick up their work in October.)

Work must be emailed to submissions2011@frc.edu by August 31.
Note: Every reasonable precaution will be taken to protect and preserve submitted artworks; however, Feather River College does not assume responsibility for loss, theft, or damage of contributed artworks. Contributors assume responsibility for loss, theft, or damage.
If you have any further questions, please email Tom Heaney at theaney@frc.edu.