t was the 1870s and everyone was humming a popular song:

Lydia Sherman is plagued with rats
Lydia has no faith in cats.
So Lydia buys some arsenic,
And then her husband, he does die,
And Lydia’s neighbors wonder why.

Lydia moves, but still has rats;
And still she puts no faith in cats;
So again she buys some arsenic
This time her children; they get sick,
This time her children, they do die,
And Lydia’s neighbors wonder why.

Lydia Sherman was a rare creature – a female serial killer. Dubbed “The Derby Poisoner” or “The Champion Husband Killer,” she murdered three husbands and seven children with arsenic – better known as rat poison.

It began with her first husband, Edward Struck.

Struck was a cop. One night when he was supposed to be on duty but was away without permission, there was a fight in a saloon on his beat. A detective was killed. The Hartford Courant reported that “it weighed so on his [Struck’s] mind that he became crazy and had a softening of the brain.” Struck eventually recovered but remained weak and unable to hold a job. He became a burden to his wife. The Courant reported that “one day a male friend of hers [Lydia] suggested that she could get rid of the man by poison. She took kindly to the idea.”

lydia sherman

Lydia’s murderous career had begun. She killed her husband and then their three young children – Martha, 6, Edward Jr.,4, and William, 9 months. She was still “struggling” to make ends meet, so she killed Struck’s two older children as well.

Her next victim was second husband, Dennis Hurlburt. He was an older man, they had a rocky marriage, so Lydia killed him. In his will, he left Lydia the house and $10,000.

Soon after, Lydia heard about a widower named Horatio Sherman, who had plenty of money and motherless children. Lydia applied for a job as a housekeeper, moved in, and four weeks later, married him. Horatio had two small children, Ada and baby Frankie. Lydia easily got rid of them.

Horatio was a heavy drinker and loved to add baking soda to his cider to make it “foam.” Lydia “accidentally” placed a package of arsenic next to the cider instead of baking soda. Horatio died. His liver was sent for analysis and contained enough arsenic to kill three men.

A jury found The Derby Poisoner guilty and sentenced Lydia to life in prison. She was convicted in 1872 and died in prison six years later.

Several books were written about Lydia. In Lydia Sherman: confession of the arch murderess of Connecticut: bloody deeds perpetrated with a cold heart, numerous poisonings, trial and conviction (1873), the drawing below pictured her arrest.