Mrs. Bluebeard-She Always Got Her Man
January 29, 1939    Page Three

Mrs. Bluebeard-She Always Got Her Man

But Her Way of Losing Him Brought On the Law


Lyda Trueblood Southard - 1921In 1921 at Twin Falls, Idaho, the former Lyda Trueblood was sentenced to the state prison at Boise for a term of ten years to life. She is still there, although she has served more than the minimum period of her sentence and is eligible for parole. She has not, however, applied for a parole, and she probably will spend the rest of her life within prison walls unless the state pardon board intercedes.
   A caller at the prison met Lyda recently. She was quite plump and cheerful. She was doing some fancy work which she sold to visitors. This particular visitor bought a small article. He couldn't resist her appealing voice as she gave a brief sales talk. Years ago there were other men who couldn't resist that voice. Lyda is in her middle forties now, but her voice is the same.
   Lyda was only 19, round and pudgy faced and plain of figure, when in March, 1912, she became the wife of Robert C Dooley, and Idaho land owner. Later a daughter, Lorraine, was born. So far as any one could see the Dooleys were a happy family until one day there occurred the first of a strange series of misfortunes. Baby Loraine died. Before the grief of this tragedy had faded Edward Dooley, Lyda's brother-in-law, who lived with them, died. Then on Oct. 12, 1915, Lyda's husband was taken by death. The physician's certificate gave typhoid fever as the cause.
   Lyda was too young to remain a widow long, and in June, 1917, she was married to William G McHaffle, a Montanan. But happiness was not destined to be hers for long, for on Oct. 1, 1918, McHaffle died in Hardin, Mont. Influenza and diphtheria, said the death certificate.
   Twice-widowed Lyda bore her cross not too wearily, however, for she soon responded again to the beck of romance. In March, 1919, she became Mrs. Harlan C. Lewis, wife of an automotive engineer of Billings, Mont. Four months later death, mysterious and sudden, struck again. Lewis died, and the death certificate said gastro-enteritis.
   Far from being overwhelmed with grief, Lyda carried on bravely as before in the old game of hers, and fate led Edward F. Meyer, a ranch foreman, across her path. He fell in love with her. "Will you marry me?" he asked impulsively. She said yes.
   In Pocatello, Idaho, on Aug. 10, 1920, Lyda, the triple widow, became a wife for the fourth time.
   In Twin Falls, Idaho, on Sept. 7, 1920-less than a month later!-Lyda became a widow for the fourth time. The physician who attended Meyer gave typhoid as the cause of death in the death certificate. Friends and relatives were pretty much upset by the tragedy of Lyda's latest marriage. To them "it didn't seem right" that one woman should lose four husbands one after another, and a daughter and a brother-in-law to boot. To Earl R. Dooley, county chemist, of Twin Falls, Idaho, it not only didn't seem right, but it seemed wrong.
   Sitting in his laboratory, Chemist Dooley studied the strange case of Lyda. Was it fate, he asked himself, or was it coincidence? Was it the hand of God-or the hand of Lyda?
   There was no doubt, Dooley admitted, that Ed Meyer was a very sick man during his last week of life. He himself had seen Meyer standing pale and ill against the ranch house only four or five days ago. Chemist Dooley repictured this scene in his mind. Then he stood up suddenly. Fifteen minutes later he was at the ranch house.
   He scraped some dry sand from the place where Meyer had stood and took it to his laboratory. He made a hurried but careful analysis. The results evoked a low whistle of surprise, then a muttered:
   Dooley called in Dr. Hal G. Bieler, a physician, and Edwin F. Rodenbach, Idaho state chemist, and asked them to corroborate his findings. They made independent examinations, their results agreeing with his. Chemist Dooley listened quietly to their report. He walked to a window, looked out a minute or two, then turned and faced them.
   "Gentlemen," he said, "it is my opinion that Ed Meyer was murdered."
   The body of Meyer was exhumed, and a post-mortem examination showed further evidence of arsenic in the body. State's Attorney Frank I. Stephan was notified. A murder warrant against Lyda was sworn out secretly, and a deputy went to her home to arrest her.
   But Lyda had flown.
   Prosecutor Stephan went ahead with his investigation. He had the bodies of her three other husbands, her daughter, and her brother-in-law exhumed. Traces of arsenic were found in some. The other bodies were so well preserved that arsenic, even though not definitely found, was suspected.
   If Lyda killed these people, what was here motive? Prosecutor Stephan asked. He found a motive in the records of the Idaho State Life Insurance company of Boise.
   The records showed that Robert Dooley, husband No. 1, had been insured for $4,500, Lyda Dooley, beneficiary; that William McHaffle, husband No. 2, had been insured for $500, Lyda Dooley McHaffle, beneficiary; that Harlan Lewis, husband No. 3, had been insured for $5,000, Lyda Dooley McHaffle Lewis, beneficiary; and that husband No. 4 had been insured for $10,000, Lyda Dooley McHaffle Lewis Meyer, beneficiary. The first two policies were paid in full and third partially.
   Prosecutor Stephan thought his case complete except for the absence of Lyda. And where was she?Mrs Bluebeard with the men, who brought her back from Honolulu to stand trial.At right, Sherif John Sherman; at left Deputy Sherif F. H. Ormesby of Twin Falls, Idaho.On may 13, 1921, eight months after the death of her fourth husband, Lyda was caught in faraway Hawaii. Oh, yes, she had married again. Husband No. 5 was Paul Vincent Southard, a clean cut young naval petty officer. He listened incredulously to the stories hinting that his wife was a multiple murderess.   "She's been a mighty good wife to me," he protested, "and I don't care if she married ten men before, and they all died. That wouldn't make her a murderess."
   Lyda waved the charges away. They were silly. She'd return to Twin Falls and face them. She did. She was placed on trial on Oct. 3, 1921, in Twin Falls. Only Meyer's death was at issue. It was a draggy trial, rather technical-arsenic versus typhoid, laboratory tests versus the official death certificate. This certificate, giving typhoid as the cause of death, was more or less Lyda's sole defense.
   Briefly, the state contended that Lyda fed Meyer doses of arsenic extracted from flypaper. This Lyda denied. There was some other evidence, largely circumstantial. As a whole the state's case suggested that Lyda could have-and probably did-poison her husband, that she didn't particularly love him, that she insured him, and that she fled after his death.
   On Nov. 4, 1921, the jury, after twenty-three hours' deliberation, returned a verdict finding Lyda guilty of second-degree murder, and the judge sentenced her to the state penitentiary at Boise for a term of ten years to life.
   This should have been the end of Lyda, but it wasn't. On May 4, 1931, she climbed a crude ladder and escaped over the walls of the prison. She had pried a bar from her cell window while her fellow prisoners sang and played phonograph music to drown the grating noise.
   Of course, Lyda had outside help, and, of course, it was a moonstruck man. Her abettor was David Minton, paroled from the men's prison only three weeks before.
   With Lyda gone, Warden R. E. Thomas conducted an investigation. He found that Minton had visited Lyda in the woman's ward two nights before the escape and that he had tossed many love notes to her over the wall.
   The nation's police searched for Lyda and Minton. They found him in Denver, Colo., on July 2, 1932. He was bitter. Lyda had jilted him. Sure he knew where she was, and he'd gladly tell.
1932 - Lyda upon her return to Idaho prison after having escaped fifteen months earlier   On Minton's information, police found Lyda in Topeka, Kan., twenty-eight days later. She didn't look quite the same. Her brown hair had been dyed black. Two front teeth and been replaced by gold ones. In spite of this attempt at disguise she said, "I expected to be caught."
   She had married again. Husband No. 6 was Harry Whitlock, a widower with a small son. Whitlock was stunned on learning about Lyda. She was a model wife, he insisted. She did mention insurance, he recalled, and had urged him to take out a policy. He'd neglected to do so, however.
   Lyda went back to the Boise prison. This, it would surely seem, was the end of Lyda, but it wasn't. In 1933 an exposé of prison conditions revealed that Lyda had received extraordinary favors. She had been allowed to visit her sick mother out of prison and had been left unguarded five hours. She had been given automobile rides and permitted all-day outings at a nearby resort. She had been allowed to attend picture shows in Boise.
   George F. Rudd, who had succeeded Thomas as warden, admitted he had allowed Lyda certain liberties, but he insisted she had not betrayed the trust placed in her. The investigation was followed by Warden Rudd's resignation.
   One way or another, Lyda got her man.

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