Lyda Southard

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Lyda Trueblood
Lyda Southard.jpg
Born(1892-10-16)October 16, 1892
DiedFebruary 5, 1958(1958-02-05) (aged 65)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Cause of deathHeart attack
Other names"Flypaper Lyda"[1]
"The Black Widow"
MotiveLife insurance
Criminal penalty10 years to life imprisonment
Span of crimes
Country United States
WeaponArsenic poisoning
Date apprehended
May 1921

Lyda Southard (also known as Lyda Anna Mae Trueblood) was born on October 16, 1892, and died on February 5, 1958, of a heart attack.[2] She is considered one of America's first known female serial killers, preceded by Jane Toppan. It was suspected that she had killed her four husbands, a brother-in-law, and her daughter by using arsenic poisoning derived from flypaper [3] to poison them in order to obtain life insurance money.[4]

Early life[edit]

Lydia Keller was born on October 16, 1892 in Keytesville, Missouri, 60 miles northeast of Kansas City and in the central flatlands of Missouri.[5]


Lyda married Robert Dooley on March 17, 1912. The couple settled with his brother Ed Dooley on a ranch in Twin Falls, Idaho, and had a daughter, Lorraine, in 1914. Lorraine died unexpectedly in 1915, Lyda claimed, as a result of drinking water from a dirty well.[6] Edward Dooley died soon afterward in August 1915; the cause of death was ruled ptomaine poisoning. Robert Dooley subsequently fell ill and died of typhoid fever on October 12, 1915, leaving Lyda as the sole survivor in the family. Lyda collected on the life insurance policies of each person shortly after their death.

Within 2 years after Robert's death Lyda met and married William G. McHaffle.[7] Shortly afterward, Lyda's three-year-old daughter fell ill and died, prompting the McHaffles to move to Montana.[8] A year later, McHaffle suddenly fell ill of what was thought to be influenza and died in Montana on October 1, 1918. The death certificate ruled the cause of death as influenza and diphtheria.

In March 1919, she married Harlen C. Lewis, an automobile salesman from Billings, Montana.[9] Within 4 months of their marriage, Lewis fell ill and died from complications of gastroenteritis.

Lyda married for a fourth time in Pocatello, Idaho, to Edward F. Meyer, a ranch foreman, in August 1920. He mysteriously fell ill of typhoid and died on September 7, 1920.[10][11]

List of marriages
  1. Robert Dooley (March 17, 1912 – October 12, 1915)
  2. William G. McHaffle (June 1917-October 1, 1918)
  3. Harlen C. Lewis (March 1919-July 1919)
  4. Edward F. Meyer (August 1920-September 7, 1920)
  5. Paul V. Southard (?, divorced)
  6. Harry Whitlock (March 1932-?, divorced)
  7. Hal Shaw (possibly divorced)


Twin Falls chemist Earl Dooley, a relative of Lyda's first husband, began to study the deaths surrounding her. Along with a physician and another chemist, he soon discovered that Ed and Bob Dooley were murdered by arsenic poisoning. Twin Falls County Prosecutor Frank Stephan began an investigation and started exhuming the bodies of three of Lyda's husbands, Lyda's 4-year-old daughter, and Lyda's brother-in-law. Stephan discovered that some of the bodies contained traces of arsenic, while others were suspected of arsenic poisoning by how well the bodies were preserved, and found her motive in the records of the Idaho State Life Insurance company of Boise.[10] All 4 of Lyda's husbands had held a life insurance policy where they listed her as the beneficiary. Lyda was able to collect over $7,000 over the years from the deaths of her first three husbands.[10]

She was found by law enforcement in Honolulu, married for the fifth time to Navy petty officer Paul Southard. Following extradition to Idaho, she was arraigned on June 11, 1921.[12]


Husband Insurance Money
Robert Dooley $4,600
William McHaffle $500
Harlan Lewis $3,000
Ed Myer $10,000
Paul Vance Southard $10,000



Following a six-week trial, she was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to ten years to life imprisonment in the Old Idaho State Penitentiary.[14] She escaped from prison on May 4, 1931[15] and took up residence in Denver, Colorado, as a housekeeper for Harry Whitlock, a man she married in March 1932 but who ultimately assisted in her arrest in Topeka, Kansas, on July 31, 1932.[16] She returned to the penitentiary in August 1932. She was released on probation in October 1941,[5] and received a final pardon in 1942. Lyda was returned to Idaho to face murder charges on Meyer.[17] She pled not guilty in court but ultimately was convicted of using arsenic to murder her husbands and then taking the insurance money. She was sentenced to ten years to life in an Idaho prison. It was determined that her motive for murder was money, since she had taken out and collected on the life insurance policies of each of her dead husbands.


Lyda later died of a heart attack on February 5, 1958 in Salt Lake City, Utah.[18] Her body was interred at Sunset Memorial Park in Twin Falls, Idaho.


  1. ^ Time CRIME: Flypaper Lyda. October 13, 1941. Accessed 10 June 2017.
  2. ^ Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Human
  3. ^ Time CRIME: Flypaper Lyda. October 13, 1941. Accessed 10 June 2017.
  4. ^ New York Times ""
  5. ^ a b "Flypaper Lyda". TIME. 1941-10-13.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Cipriani, Frank (1939-01-29). "Mrs. Bluebeard-She Always Got Her Man"
  8. ^ Ronayne, D. (2002). 'Married 'Em And Buried 'Em'. Idaho Statesman, The (Boise, ID), Tuesday, July 9, 2002, Life, 03. Retrieved November 3, 2008, from America: NewsBank database
  9. ^ "Flypaper Lyda". TIME. 1941-10-13.
  10. ^ a b c Cipriani, Frank (1939-01-29). "Mrs. Bluebeard-She Always Got Her Man". Retrieved 2008-11-12.
  11. ^ Flowers, R. Barri; Flowers, H. Loraine (1 January 2004). "Murders in the United States: Crimes, Killers and Victims of the Twentieth Century". McFarland – via Google Books.
  12. ^ "MRS. SOUTHARD ARRAIGNED.; Reaches Idaho From Hawaii to Answer for Murdering Fourth Husband". New York Times. 1921-06-12.
  13. ^ "The Unknown History of MISANDRY".
  14. ^ "MRS. SOUTHARD GETS LONG PRISON TERM; Idaho Court Sentences Her to From Ten Years to Life for Slaying Husband". New York Times. 1921-11-08.
  15. ^ "PRISON ESCAPE CLEW PURSUED". Los Angeles Times. 1931-05-06. p. 2.
  16. ^ "ESCAPED WOMAN SLAYER SEIZED". Los Angeles Times. 1932-05-31. p. 2.
  17. ^ "MRS. SOUTHARD GETS LONG PRISON TERM; Idaho Court Sentences Her to From Ten Years to Life for Slaying Husband". New York Times. 1921-11-08.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-03-03. Retrieved 2006-03-03.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, William C. (William Charles Anderson) Lady Bluebeard:The True Story of Love and Marriage, Death and Flypaper (Fred Pruett Books, 1994) [1]