Graveyard Shift

History Remembers Lavinia Fisher As America's First Female Serial Killer - Whether It's True Or Not

Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes might be some of history's most notable serial killers, but the crimes of America's first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher, make her equally as infamous. In the early 1800s she ran a mysterious boarding house where people strangely disappeared. Located in South Carolina, the Lavinia Fisher murder house was rumored to be the location of numerous bodies - allegedly male travelers who were chopped up after enjoying a cup of poisoned tea.    

Fisher, who also has the distinction of the first female prisoner to be executed in the United States, ran the boarding house with her husband, John. And while she and John were executed, it's difficult to separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to their crimes. While it's true she existed, the extent of what she did in life has morphed into something of urban legend. 

Was Fisher a murderer who killed numerous house guests with poisoned tea? Or just a common thief who had the world's worst rumors spread about her?

  • She was sentenced to execution in 1820 by hanging. And when her day of reckoning arrived, she allegedly wore a wedding dress to the gallows. While legend has it the dress was so she could marry the devil, the reality is she believed it would win her some pity from the men in attendance and perhaps spare her life. 

    It didn't work, and Fisher was dragged onto the gallows cursing and screaming. Allegedly, she screamed, "If you have a message you want sent to Hell, give it to me, I will carry it!" So it's not that hard to see how people believed she planned to marry Satan.

  • Fisher Teamed With Her Husband To Operate Their Murder House

    Fisher Teamed With Her Husband To Operate Their Murder House
    Photo: Smallbones / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After their marriage in the early 1800s, Fisher and her husband opened the Six Mile Wayfarer House, named for its location six miles outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Rumors surrounded the Fishers's hotel, as locals heard men traveling through the area were disappearing. The negative attention the Six Mile Wayfarer House received would not prove to be the ultimate catalyst to Fisher's demise. However, it would cause a stir.

  • She Used Poison Tea And Trap Doors

    She Used Poison Tea And Trap Doors
    Photo: Pyotr Subbotin-Permyak / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Fisher seduced men who traveled near her hotel. Despite being married, she lured rich men in with her feminine wiles or even just a cup of tea. Unfortunately, the tea was poisoned, and when the men became drowsy, she would escort them to a room. A hidden trap door dumped the men down into a basement, where the Fishers would rob and murder the unlucky travelers.

  • The Fishers May Have Been Members of A Violent Highway Gang

    The Fishers May Have Been Members of A Violent Highway Gang
    Photo: H, Irving Hancock / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    At the same time the Fishers were operating their murder hotel, a gang of highwaymen were terrorizing travelers around the same area. It was widely believed the Fishers were members of that gang. While nothing proves the Fishers were active members of the group, it's believed the gang did spend time at the Six Mile Wayfarer House. In fact, it was the attention the gang received for being at the Fishers's establishment that started to unravel the dark happenings there.