Bertha Gifford

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Bertha Gifford
Bertha Alice Williams

October 1871
Died (aged 79)
Missouri State Hospital N#4, Missouri, U.S.
Criminal penaltyCommitted to mental facility
Span of crimes
Date apprehended

Bertha Alice Williams Graham Gifford (October 1871 – August 20, 1951)[1] was a farmwife in rural Catawissa, Missouri during the early 1900s who was accused of murdering three members of the local community and suspected in 15 additional deaths.[2] Some consider her to be America's third female serial killer, behind Lydia Sherman and Jane Toppan.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Bertha Alice Williams was born in Morse Mill, Missouri,[1] the daughter of William Poindexter Williams and his wife Matilda, née Lee.[4] She was one of 10 children. She was married to Henry Graham[5] and this union produced one daughter, Lila. Following Graham's death,[6] she married Eugene Gifford[5] and they had one child, James.


Gifford was renowned in her community for her cooking skills and caring for sick neighbors and relatives, and five people died in her care, prompting a grand jury investigation.[2] In 1928, Gifford was arrested at Eureka, Missouri[7] and charged with three murders. Following the exhumation and post-mortem exams of Edward Brinley and Elmer and Lloyd Schamel, the bodies were found to contain large amounts of arsenic.[citation needed] 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 psychiatric institution)[8] where she remained until her death in 1951.[2]

Gifford acted the role of nurse for her sick neighbors, and a total of 17 people died in her care. It wasn't until after the grand jury investigation of the five deaths that suspicions were raised about an additional 12 deaths.[2] Given the high mortality rates and the amateur use of arsenic for medical reasons at the time, no one can be certain that she purposefully killed everyone that had been in her care.[2]


  1. ^ a b "Missouri Deaths" (PDF). Missouri. 1910–1960. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e Wood, Larry (2016-05-25). Wicked Women of Missouri. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781625857392.
  3. ^ Murphy, Kay (2008). Tainted Legacy: The Story of Alleged Serial Killer Bertha Gifford. PublishAmerica. ISBN 1-60563-803-X.
  4. ^ "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
  5. ^ a b "Jefferson County Missouri marriage licenses". Archived from the original on April 26, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2009.
  6. ^ "Henry Graham obituary (Bertha Gifford's first husband and supposed first victim)". Archived from the original on April 26, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2009.
  7. ^ St. Louis Post Dispatch
  8. ^ "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]