A Thimbleful of Arsenic
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’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.
I wrote the only biography of Lydia Sherman in 2013. It’s called Lydia Sherman: American Borgia.
I’m afriad many of your facts are in error, so I would strongly suggest reading more on the subject before you write anything more about our dear Lydia.
1. The shooting that you speak of took place at the St. Nicholas Hotel at 515 Broadway, Manhattanville, New York, on November 20, 1863. Edward Struck was not “away without permission,” and the person killed was a deranged longshoreman who was shot dead by Deputy Sheriff James E, Merriam, a passerby.
2. Her second husband was Dennis Hurlbut of Coram (Shelton), Connecticut. Hurlbut was the one who liked to add a little saleratus (baking soda) to his cider to make it foam. When Lydia killed him, his estate only came to $5,528.
3. The livers ans stomachs– that were unearthed in the midnight grave-robbing by Drs. Beardsley, Pinney, Shelton plus assorted sheriffs and gravediggers–were those of Dennis Hurlbut, Addie Sherman and Frankie Sherman. Yale College’s Dr. George Frederick Barker did all of the laboratory analysis and this set the police on lydia’s trail. Horatio Sherman’s liver and stomach were removed from his corpse right in the same room where he died on MInerva Street in Derby, Connecticut. Once again, Dr. Barker did the analysis and Lydia was charged with the first degree murder of her husband, Horatio Nelson Sherman. She was found guilty of second degree murder, sent to Wethersfield Prison where she escaped, was recaptured in Providence, R.I., and finally died on May 16, 1878 at the AGE OF 53. By bribing the warden, Lydia’s remains were buried in an unmarked grave in the Old Burying Grounds, Old Wethersfield, Connecticut, (There is a map in my book that shows exactly where the grave sits.)
Note: My book overlays a thin history of medicine in the nineteenth century so that readers can see how Lydia was able to kill for so long without being caught.
Wow jeri, did you really have to get into that story? Your work took time, thought, effort…..i’ll make my own coffee! what a story. and they call ME crazy. i think i’ll look for another one of these, thanks, bel