May 082014

A serial killer can be defined as “a person who murders three or more people in a period of thirty days with a ‘cooling off’ period between each murder and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification.” (

Serial killers are generally thought of as some deranged and psychotic man, but many female serial killers have gone down in history too. One of the most well known, and America’s FIRST female serial killer, was Lavinia Fisher. Lavinia Fisher’s youth records have been lost, but historians and researchers believe she was born in 1792. She married John Fisher and the two lived in Charleston, South Carolina managing their hotel the Six Mile Wayfarer House. The legend of Lavinia Fisher, no matter where it is found, is told as follows:

Lavinia and her husband housed visitors to Charleston. Eventually, men began to disappear from Charleston, leaving the citizens and authorities baffled. They looked to the Fishers, but due to their popularity in town paired with Lavinia’s overwhelming beauty, the case was dropped. The kidnappings paused for a while before starting back up again. At this time, the town seemed to have had it. A group of men went to the Fishers hotel, but it is undocumented and unknown of what may have occurred that night. The men left one man standing guard at the motel, David Ross. However, David was dragged away one night while on watch and, when he found Lavinia where he was taken, looked to her for help. However, she choked him before smashing his head through a window. David was able to get away and immediately alerted the authorities.

Soon after, a man traveling through Charleston, John Peoples, stopped at the Six Mile Wayfarer House and asked for a room. Lavinia regretfully informed him that there were no open rooms, but offered him a seat and some tea. The two of them talked most of the night, and Peoples began to wonder why she was asking him so many questions, almost like she was interrogating him. A few hours later, she left the room and came back with tea and the news that a room had suddenly become available. He agreed to take it and, not wanting to be rude though Peoples did not like tea, took some tea as well. When Lavinia wasn’t looking, he dumped the tea out, and later went to bed.

It was instinct that night that made John Peoples decide to sit in the chair by the door that night instead of the bed. In the middle of the night, he was abruptly awoken from his dozing by a loud crash. He immediately opened his eyes and saw a hole in the floor where the bed had been just seconds earlier. It turns out there had been a trap door under the bed, and John Fisher was waiting at the bottom with an axe. The man fled and reported it to the authorities right away. Lavinia and John Fisher were almost immediately arrested for murder and robbery. It was discovered later that the tea that Lavinia had served him had been poisoned. Although there is no solid record that the Fishers actually killed anyone, all evidence points towards them. The husband and wife duo were sentenced to death, and Lavinia was hanged in 1820 wearing her wedding dress, and her famous last words still echo through the old jail: “If any of you have a message for the devil, tell me now for I will be seeing him soon.”

However, after reading through several online articles and even considering buying the book Six Miles to Charleston: The True Story of John and Lavinia Fisher, I found that this may actually be just legend. One article says that the Fishers were actually convicted on charges of highway robbery, not murder, and the legend may have stemmed from the confusion of this story with that of the Bender Family in Kansas in the 1870s. ( Another stated that the Fishers had been wrongly accused and had not actually done anything at all, and had been framed by corrupt politicians. ( Whatever the case may be, Lavinia Fisher still holds the title of America’s first female serial killer, and she will be imortalized in our history as a black stain of death, whether the legend is actually true or not.

                                                       Old Charleston Jail