Bertha Gifford

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Bertha Gifford
Born Bertha Williams
October 1872
Died (aged 78)
Cause of death Natural
Criminal penalty Committed to Mental Facility
Victims 3-17
Span of killings
Country USA
State(s) Missouri
Date apprehended

Bertha Gifford (October 1872 – August 20, 1951)[1] was a farmwife in rural Catawissa, Missouri during the early 1900s who was accused of murdering 17 members of the local community. Some consider her to be America's third female serial killer, behind Lydia Sherman and Jane Toppan.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Bertha Alice Williams Graham Gifford was born in Grubville, Missouri,[1] the daughter of William Poindexter Williams and his wife Matilda, née Lee.[3] She was one of 10 children. She was married to Henry Graham[4] and this union produced one daughter, Lila. Following Graham's death,[5] she married Eugene Gifford[4] and they had one child, James.


In 1928, Gifford — known in her community for her cooking skills and caring for sick neighbors and relatives — was arrested at Eureka, Missouri[6] and charged with the murders of three people. Following the exhumation and post-mortem exams of Edward Brinley and Elmer and Lloyd Schamel, the men's bodies were found to contain large amounts of arsenic. Gifford was put on trial for their murders in Union, Missouri. Following the three-day trial, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the Missouri State Hospital #4 (a mental institution)[7] where she remained until her death in 1951.

Although counts vary, most historians and family members agree that Gifford actually killed at least 17 people over a period of 21 years.


  1. ^ a b "Missouri Deaths" (PDF). Missouri. 1910–1960. Retrieved March 6, 2011. 
  2. ^ Murphy, Kay (2008). Tainted Legacy: The Story of Alleged Serial Killer Bertha Gifford. PublishAmerica. ISBN 1-60563-803-X. 
  3. ^ "Mrs. W.P. Williams". The Western Star ([probably] Coldwater, KS). August 24, 1923. Retrieved April 24, 2013.  Obituary of Bertha Gifford's mother, as quoted on Rootsweb
  4. ^ a b "Jefferson County Missouri marriage licenses". Archived from the original on April 26, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Henry Graham obituary (Bertha Gifford's first husband and supposed first victim)". Archived from the original on April 26, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2009. 
  6. ^ St. Louis Post Dispatch
  7. ^ "Reflections on Farmington State Hospital". The Daily Journal (Flat River, Missouri). April 24, 1987. Retrieved April 24, 2013.  as quoted on Rootsweb

External links[edit]