America's “First” Serial Killers
Murder and mayhem have been occurring for thousands of years, can we pinpoint the “first” serial killers? Most likely not, but we can speculate.
The United States, or the Americas, has been in current existence (recorded history) since the early to mid-1600's. In those four hundred years, much death and violence have occurred. Even things that we are now ashamed of (the holocaust of the Native Americans, Trail of Tears, Andersonville, the Civil War, etc.) But there are a number of people who have had a hand in destroying life, as we know it.
What do Henry Howard Holmes, The Bloody Benders, Lavinia Fisher, and Madame LaLaurie have in common? All four have the distinct “pleasure” in claiming to be Americas “first” serial killers. The reason I put quotes around first, is because all four of them occurred in the 1800's, beginning in about 1830, and continuing on to the 1890's.
The first story I am going to focus on is Madame LaLaurie. She was born in New Orleans to an Irish father and French mother. Her birth date was 19 March 1787, birth name was Marie Delphine McCarty, her parents were wealthy and well to do in New Orleans, part of the upper echelon. Marie was used to this type of lifestyle and expected it from her husbands. Marie and her family owned slaves, which was very common in that time period and city, and it was common for slaves to be mistreated, but there is something different about New Orleans. It was actually illegal to mistreat slaves in New Orleans. Now, what they meant by mistreatment, I have no idea. After all, to me, just owning another person is wrong. So I am sure it simply meant, “using excessive force” or similar.
Marie Delphine McCarty was married three times, the first time in about 1801 or 1802 when she was 14 years old. His name was Don Ramon Lopez y Angula. They had one child, Marie-Borja Delphine Lopez y Angula de la Candelaria, she was born sometime between 1800 to 1808. Don Ramon died (possibly) sometime around 1805-1808, and Marie then married Jean Paul Blanque in 1808. He died in 1818, and she was single for the next ten years. They had approximately three children, but I only know of one name, Jeanne-Pierre Blanque. In 1828 she remarried to Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, he was a doctor from France. Marie was a very independent woman who was wealthy and well to do, thanks to her parent's inheritance, and her previous two husbands. She acquired the property 1140 Royal Street, in 1831, paying $31k for it. Even in that time period, that was a ridiculous amount of money. Apparently, Nicolas Cage owned this property in the early 2000's and was trying to sell it for 3.5 million in 2009.
In 1834 Marie had chained one of her slaves to the stove. This slave decided she would rather die in a fire, instead of dying at the hands of Madame LaLaurie, in the attic area above the kitchen. Apparently, for several years, Marie had been keeping and torturing slaves in an area above the kitchen. They were chained, beaten, starved, burned, and tortured in ways that none of us can imagine.
This woman chose to go beyond the typical ownership cruelty of slaves and literally destroyed their lives.
Once the fire began, neighbors and police broke into the house to help and released the slave from the stove. They then heard screams from the upper part of the house, but Marie and her husband refused to give the authorities a key, or access to the attic. They were finally able to break down the door, and what they found, made them sick. Approximately seven people (there have been numbers ranging from seven to hundreds in a number of sources) were hanging from chains. The slaves were starving, cut, burned, it was even said that at least one of them was eviscerated. The stench was so bad, that the authorities and neighborhood allowed the house to burn as much as possible, and later remodeled the home. Marie and her husband disappeared. It is said that they immediately left for France. As she died in France in 1849, this is most likely the case. Neither she or her husband were caught or convicted of the cruelty and deaths. This woman, in my mind, is one of America's first serial killers, she destroyed lives, with no conscience.
My next story is similar to the third story. A few years before Madame LaLaurie married her third husband and began their murderous rampage, there was another couple in South Carolina that were killing people for profit.
Lavinia Fisher and her husband John Fisher owned a place called Six Mile Wayfarer House. It was approximately 6 miles north of Charleston, SC. Today, although the exact location is unknown, it's about where Rivers Avenue and Dorchester Road meet (where the current Cooper River Memorial Library is). It was a good place for people coming from or leaving Charleston to stop for the evening. Apparently, Lavinia and her husband decided that people getting robbed and disappearing was profitable for them. Although Lavinia and her husband were never convicted of murder, they were convicted of highway robbery. They even had some buddies they worked with. There are a couple of stories where one man, by the name of John Peeples decided to try and stop for the evening. Lavinia offered him hot tea, but he was not a fan of it, but to be polite, pretended to drink it. Peeples was uncomfortable with all of the questions Lavinia was asking, so when he went to his room, he chose to not go to bed and stayed sitting in a chair. About halfway through the night, he had dozed off and was awoken by a big crash. His bed had crashed through a trapdoor in the floor, and in the bottom, John Fisher was waiting with an ax. Peeples escaped through a window, and escaped to Charleston, bringing authorities. There was another story that a man named David Ross who was supposed to be watching the home, because of the stories of highway robberies and men disappearing. He was beaten and left for dead. He too escaped and brought the authorities out. Whichever story is true, the Fishers were part of a gang that was robbing travelers. Another thing and this one coincides with my fourth story, is that there were hidden passageways and trapdoors within the inn. They were arrested in February 1819, in September 1819, they attempted to escape, John was able to get free, but the rope of sheets broke, and Lavinia was not, so John returned. In May of 1819, they were convicted of highway robbery, but given time to appeal it. Finally, on February 18, 1920, they were to be hanged. Lavinia counted on a South Carolina law that stated that no married woman could be given the death penalty. Her judge said he had a way to solve that problem, her husband would be hung first, as there was no rule that a widow could not be hung. There is also another story that she chose to wear a wedding gown, thinking that the men watching her hanging would feel sorry for her and save her by asking her to marry them, but that was not to be. Another story is that her last words were “If you have anything you want me to send to hell, tell me now, I will send the message”, then immediately she jumped instead of waiting for the hangman to pull the chair. It is said that she swung out over the audience and came down quickly, killing her instantly.
Were Lavinia and her husband serial killers? Possibly, but there is no proof, but I do believe they did. Why simply rob people, when you can make them disappear? They were living in the boondocks (at that time) and people disappearing at that time was not uncommon. After all, there were no phones, no Facebook, just a few newspapers, even the telegraph did not exist yet. It could take months if not years for news to get somewhere. After all, there were still battles in Texas after the Civil War had ended, because they did not know the War had ended!
This actually leads us into our third story, it's actually very similar to the Fisher case. And in this one, Charles Ingalls, Laura Ingalls Wilder's father, may have slightly been involved! It is 1870-1873, in Kansas. This is around the same time that the Ingalls family was living there. Laura had started a rumor that her father was part of the vigilante group that took care of the Bloody Benders, but the family had already moved back to Wisconsin about a year or so prior to the Bloody Benders being found out.
The Bloody Benders, what a gruesome name, for a gruesome group. A family of four, Pa, John Bender, Ma, Elvira Bender, daughter, Kate Bender and finally the son, John Bender Jr. Let's start out with, these are not their real names. John Bender was actually John Flickinger from either Germany or the Netherlands. Elvira Bender was originally Almira Meik who married a man named Griffith (first name unknown). She had 12 children with him, one of them being Kate. Kate's real name was Eliza Griffith, and John Jr was actually possibly her husband, named John Gebhart. To me, it would have totally made sense if Kate (Eliza) and John had gone ahead and been a married couple, instead of pretending to be brother and sister, but whatever.
There is a rumor that Ma may have killed, or caused the death of her first husband, what happened to her other 11 children, who knows. This story is one that could be a genealogy project for me all on its own.
There is also another rumor that Kate and John had a child, but killed it. With Kate and Elvira having such a horrendous past, it is no wonder they got into the business of murder.
Here are the facts, they were living in Kansas on the Osage Trail (what is now the Santa Fe Trail). With living on this trail, they thought it would be a good idea to have an inn type place, makes sense. But of course, they chose the wrong side of the law. Apparently many men (in both the Fisher tale and this one, it was always men) that disappeared on their travels. And again, trapdoors were put into use. The way the Benders did it, Kate was supposedly a psychic medium, she would get the gentleman staying with them talking. She would give them their fortune, or attempt to read their future or something, while they were eating their meal. Now the building they were in, was really just a two room house. The front was a small store, restaurant, and sleeping room for customers, while the back half was the living quarters for the family. A curtain separated the two rooms, the customer would sit at the table with his back to the curtain, and once he was involved in his dinner or psychic reading, one of the Bender men would then attack him. They would then drag his body into the back half of the house, and drop his body down a small cellar until they were able to bury it. Another thing that was said of the family, is that they always kept their gardening area fully tilled, but never planted. It is said that there many bodies there, but the family is only “known” for killing between 10-21 people.
The reason they were caught, is that a colonel and senator got involved, that is pretty high ranking people! Apparently, a man and his young daughter (I have read that she was young, about 3-5, but another source said infant) by the name of Loncher disappeared. Now, this Loncher happened to be a neighbor of the Ingalls in the next county (that is the connection), but the Ingalls had already moved back to Wisconsin at this point. Anyway, Loncher was friends with a guy named Dr. William H. York. Loncher and his daughter had disappeared, and York decided to go in search of them. He stopped twice at the Benders, first time when he was going out to search them, then on his way back home, he stopped again, that is when he became a victim of the Benders. York had informed his brother, A.M. York, a colonel from Fort Scott of his plans. When Dr. York did not get back in touch with his brother, Colonel York began searching for his brother, this leads him to the Benders. Now there are two different stories here. One of them is that Colonel York stopped at the Benders, asking them if they knew of his brother, and where he might be. He was staying the night with them when he became suspicious, and he snuck out and saw the Bender men burying a body, he left to get the authorities, and when he got back the next morning, the farm/inn was abandoned. Another version is that there was a town meeting about the many men that had gone missing, and the town wanted to begin searching for them. Colonel York was at this meeting, as he was searching for his brother. Sometime later (unknown amount of time) a neighbor of the Benders noticed the inn was abandoned and that the farm animals were starving. The men gathered up a posse of sorts and converged on the property, finding the house empty, and abandoned. This is when they found the trapdoor in the back part of the home, and then they found the burials.
No matter who did what, or how it occurred, this “family” took others lives into their own hands and played with others lives.
There was a newspaper article at the time that said “Altogether, the murders are without parallel”, this was in the Chicago Tribune of 1873. Yet 20 years later, the same thing, on an even grander scale, happened in Chicago.
The Chicago Worlds Fair, May 1893-Oct 1893, exactly 20 years after the Bloody Benders. H.H. Holmes opened a hotel for fairgoers, the problem was, many who entered his hotel never left.
Herman Webster Mudgett, born May 16, 1861 (apparently same birthday as my grandfather!) in Gilmanton, NH to Levi Mudgett and Theodate Price or Page (have seen maiden name both ways). He had two brothers and two sisters. He married for the first time to Clara Lovering in 1878, they had a son in 1880, Robert. He abandoned them soon afterward. Herman moved around quite a bit, he was born in NH, went to medical school in Michigan (where he stole cadavers, honing his practice of insurance fraud). He then moved to Chicago after graduating from Michigan as a doctor. He changed his name once he was in Chicago, and married Myrta Belknap. They had one daughter Lucy Theodate Holmes. During the Worlds Fair, Holmes opened his hotel and began murdering single women, and a few single men, staying there. His home was similar to the Winchester House in San Jose, Ca. He even fired construction workers during construction, as he felt they were becoming suspicious. He had doors that opened to brick walls, trap doors, rooms that had doors that only locked from the outside, pipes that piped in gas into rooms (ala Nazi gassings), and so many hidden rooms, hidden passageways, etc. There are, or were, suspicions that he was Jack the Ripper from England, but I highly doubt it, as he was still busy going to medical school in Michigan at the time. (But he could have been!)
Quite a bit of the timeline of Holmes life is confusing, as he was apparently married to at least three women at the same time. He had left Myrta sometime around 1890 or so and ended up in Denver marrying Georgiana Yoke in 1894. I have been working on genealogy sites and so forth searching for Mudgett/Holmes, and I also found a fourth wife for him, Minnie R. Williams, but I have no idea when he married her. I know that he had two children, Robert and Lucy. Lucy had one child, Ronald, who died in 1919, while Robert had two sons. I know of three great-grandchildren, as back in 2015 the family had his body exhumed to prove that it was actually him, as there were rumors that he had escaped. DNA did prove that it was Mudgett/Holmes. I have been trying to follow this family, but they moved around a lot, divorced and remarried. Robert's death certificate says that he was never married, and the informant was his stepbrother, George Peverly. But Robert was married twice, once to Alexandra Gilbert, and I believe they divorced, and then to Mary J Griest, who died sometime between 1930 to 1940. Now there is one piece of bizarre/interesting info that made me laugh, or scratch my head. Robert, his sister Lucy, and his mother Clara all died in 1956. I will be continuing to work on this family tree (and the Benders above) as these are mysteries that I can't just let sit!
I know I have rambled, and I apologize for that, I am still learning how to write correctly. It is just so interesting to me, that all four of these stories are considered the “first” serial killers of America. And yet the Fishers may have never even killed anyone. I will say that all of the places, or at least close to the areas, are said to be haunted. The jail that the Fishers was held in, is said to be haunted by Lavinia. 1140 Royal Street in New Orleans is said to be haunted, that voices and noises can be heard, and even a few ghosts have been seen. The Benders property is called Hell's Acre, and people do not like to be in the area for very long. Holmes murder castle was finally torn down in 1938, but the basement had stayed. It too is said to be haunted, and a post office was built over the basement.
I am going to leave this here, as each story could be a story/article on their own. I will be doing more research as time goes on, and will perhaps update these stories. I will also take ideas on research projects, so if you want to see something, give me a holler. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and thank you.