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Lavinia Fisher
Born: 1793
Charlestown, South Carolina
Died: February 18, 1820 (age 26-27)
Cause of death: Execution
Killings
Number of victims: Dave Ross (escaped), John Peeples (escaped), unknown names for murder victims
Country: United States

Lavinia Fisher (1793 – February 18, 1820) is widely recognized as the first female serial killer in the United States of America.[1] Her origins are unknown; however, Fisher resided in the United States for a large amount of her life. She was married to John Fisher, and both were convicted of murder and robbery. Lavinia was said to be an incredibly beautiful woman, and Charleston folks could never understand how she came to be with her rough-looking husband, John Fisher.

Residence

Fisher and her husband John resided in South Carolina for most of their life. Together, they owned a hotel, the Six Mile Wayfarer House, which they managed between 1810 and 1820. The hotel was located six miles north of Charleston, South Carolina, hence the name. After a short period, many reports were made to the local sheriff's department about guests disappearing. Due to lack of evidence, and the popularity of the couple with many locals, these complaints came to nothing.

Trial and Execution

Much of what actually occurred in the alleged murders at the hands of John and Lavinia Fisher has become wildly exaggerated through time, so true and factual detail is hard to find. However, it is known based on news accounts in the Charleston Post and Courier, that a vigilante assembly went to the neighborhood of the Fishers in February of 1819, to squash the purported 'gang activities' that were occurring there. Satisfied that they had accomplished their task, the group returned to Charleston, but left a young man by the name of David Ross to stand watch in the area.

Early the next day, Ross found himself attacked by two men and being dragged before the gang that had terrorized the region. Among them was the beautiful Lavinia Fisher, to whom he looked for help. But rather than help him, as he expected a woman of such appearance to do, she instead choked him and then smashed his head through a window. Fortunately for Ross he was able to escape and immediately alerted authorities as to what was going on. [2]

Immediately following this incident, another traveler stopping in at the Fisher’s Six Mile House for Wayfarers was also assaulted, but he likewise was able to escape and went to the authorities. Based on these two accounts, names and identities of the assailants were given, something that law enforcement had previously lacked. Police were immediately dispatched to the location, and during the ensuing investigation, Lavinia and John were discovered, along with two other gang members. John Fisher surrendered the group in an effort to protect his wife and shield her from the possibility of gunfire. Later, during interrogation, he would again attempt to protect Lavinia by giving the identities of all involved in the gang. Nearly a full year lapsed between the time of their arrest and their execution. At their arraignment the Fishers pleaded not guilty, but were ordered to be held in jail until their trial, which would take place in May, while their co-conspirators were released on bail. The jury at their May trial rejected their pleas of innocent and found them guilty of highway robbery. However, the judge allowed an appeal and they were given a reprieve until the January session of the court.

During this time the Fishers occupied themselves with plans to escape, as they were housed together in jail and not heavily guarded. On September 13 they put their plans into action and began their escape. Things did not go as planned, as the rope they had made from prison linens broke, leaving Lavinia trapped in the cell and John set free. He was unwilling to continue the escape plan and was recaptured. The two were then kept under much tighter security.

The Constitutional Court rejected their appeal and both were sentenced to be hanged on February 4, 1820.

Awaiting execution, John accepted the counsel of the Reverend Richard Furman, a local minister, but Lavinia, who despite her beauty was known for her crude and vulgar speech, became even more vitriolic. Preceding their execution, the clergyman read a letter composed by John Fisher, stating that since he had become a Christian he could not be executed with lying held to his account. Therefore, he insisted on his innocence and asked mercy on those who had done him wrong in the judicial process. After the minister read the letter, Fisher then began to plead his case before the gathered crowd of some 2,000. He then seemingly contradicted himself by asking for their forgiveness.

Lavinia, still trusting in her charm and beauty, appeared in her wedding gown, ever watching and ever hopeful of a reprieve. In contrast to her husband’s genteel manner, Lavinia ranted and raved at the crowd, including the Charleston socialites that had pleaded her cause before the governor and others. The crowd stood silent as she raged and then stood simply shrieking unintelligibly. Her final words were, “If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me – I’ll carry it.” The eerie silence was broken by the sound of the trapdoor of the scaffolding giving way, and the even eerier sound of Lavinia’s neck snapping, as she immediately went limp. John was not so fortunate, as he kicked and flailed for several minutes.

Some accounts claim that Lavinia cheated the executioner by leaping from the gallows before he could spring the trapdoor. Either way, Lavinia Fisher was hanged on February 18, 1820, sealing her place in the Lowcountry history of Charleston, as well as earning her the dubious distinction of one of, if not ‘the’ nation’s first female serial killer.

References

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