February 5, 1958
Salt Lake City, Utah
Convicted murderer and suspected serial killer Lyda Trueblood Shaw dies of a heart attack
On May 12, 1921, the recently-married 27-year-old Lyda Southard was arrested in Hawaii on the suspicion of killing her fourth husband, Edward Meyer. Meyer had died suddenly after he, Lyda, and a farmhand named Bill Squires suddenly and simultaneously became ill. Squires and Lyda survived; Meyer did not. His September 7, 1920 death was attributed to typhoid and his $10,000 (approximately $130,000 today) life insurance claim listed Lyda as a beneficiary. Depending on the source, either the insurance company declined to pay Lyda or she offered the money to her husband’s sister, then she left the state.
Meyer’s employees were suspicious of Lyda and did not agree with the opinion Meyer had died from typhoid. An investigation was launched and it was discovered Lyda had had three previous marriages, all of which ended when her husbands died from sudden illnesses.
Lyda married her first husband Robert Dooley in 1912. The couple had a daughter, Lorraine, in 1913, and invited Robert’s brother Ed to share their Twin Falls, Idaho home in 1914. On August 9, 1915, Lyda’s brother-in-law died of, according to his death certificate, typhoid fever. Two months later on October 1, Lyda’s husband died as well, also of typhoid fever. Lyda’s 2-year-old daughter followed her father in death shortly thereafter, on November 30, 1915. Lyda explained Lorraine had contradicted typhoid fever from drinking from a contaminated well.
The deaths of the Dooleys made Lyda $4,000 richer (approximately $103,000 today). Ed had taken out a $2,000 life insurance policy days before his illness. After Ed’s death Lyda convinced Bob to take a $2,000 claim as well. Lorraine did not have a policy taken out for her life, though her grandfather — Ed and Bob’s father — believed Lyda killed the child to continue her life of marrying and killing for money.
Lyda’s second husband, William McHaffie, died in Montana on October 22, 1918. His death was attributed to influenza. While he had taken out a $5,000 life insurance policy on himself, the policy was voided when he failed to pay the premiums. Harlan Lewis, husband number three, died in Billings, Montana on July 2, 1919, within a month of his marriage to Lyda. His death certificate cites acute nephritis, and Lyda received the $5,000 insurance payout for his death. The final death to follow Lyda was Edward Meyer’s September 7, 1920 death in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Lyda explained why death seemed to follow her by stating, “I am innocent of any wrongdoing, but I do believe I may be a typhoid carrier.”
The bodies of Lyda’s suspected victims were exhumed and tested for arsenic poisoning, the symptoms of which can mimic typhoid fever and gastrointestinal illnesses. A witness had stated he remembered Lyda purchasing a large amount of flypaper before Meyer died, and one of his ranch hands noted Lyda “was so busy hangin’ flypaper around she didn’t hardly notice [Meyer]. Acted like she never saw ranchhouse flies afore.” Due to her seeming affection for flypaper, it was suspected she soaked the papers in water to extract the arsenic which coated the traps at the time.
Meyer’s system contained 5 times the lethal dose of arsenic; the other four men had substantially less arsenic but still had lethal quantities. Lorraine’s body contained none.
Due to her alleged propensity of killing her husbands with poison, Lyda was dubbed “Mrs. Bluebead” and “Idaho’s Lucrezia Borgia” by the press. (Mrs. Bluebeard or Female Bluebeard were terms which predate Black Widow to describe a woman who kills multiple husbands, and is a reference to the character of a French folktale involving a man who routinely married, then murdered his wives. Lucrezia Borgia was a noblewoman, governor, and daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who died in the 16th Century. She was rumored to have worn a ring in which she concealed poison to discreetly taint the drinks of her targets.)
Lyda was tried only for the murder of her fourth husband, Ed Meyer, and was convicted of second-degree murder. She received a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. In 1931, however, she escaped from prison, then she became a housekeeper for Harry Whitlock in Kansas. Whitlock became Lyda’s sixth husband (Paul Southard had divorced Lyda while she was in prison). When Lyda was apprehended and returned to prison, Whitlock admitted she had suggested he take out an insurance policy on his life.
Lyda was pardoned in 1941 and eventually married Hal Shaw, though his fate is largely unknown. What is known is that Lyda was alone when she died in 1958 of a heart attack at the age of 65.
Bovsun, Mara. “JUSTICE STORY: Merry Widow used illnesses as cover for string of poisoned husbands.” Daily News. April 12, 2020. Accessed: February 5, 2021. https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-lyda-trueblood-bluebeard-justice-crime-20200412-5gg3dmakfrgn7ou2p33rc26upe-story.html
Matthews, Mychel. “Sixty years after her death, the legend of Twin Falls serial killer Lyda Southard lives on.” Magic Valley. February 4, 2018. Accessed: February 5, 2021. https://magicvalley.com/news/local/sixty-years-after-her-death-the-legend-of-twin-falls-serial-killer-lyda-southard-lives/article_99fcdfdf-2f99-528e-a881-32f427f40143.html
Peradotto, Nicole. “Boise native details life of ‘Lady Bluebeard’.” The Lewiston Tribune. June 10, 1994. Accessed: February 5, 2021. https://lmtribune.com/boise-native-details-life-of-lady-bluebeard/article_4cddd8a2-8a64-5d54-b030-be9c402b951e.html
Lyda Shaw. Utah Certificate of Death. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9174/images/42675_b159626-00401?treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=ijj1&_phstart=successSource&pId=229997
Reynolds, Ruth. “Justice and the Widow Who Hated Flies: Lyda Trueblood Ran Through an Amazing Number of Husbands.” Sunday News [New York, New York]. March 25, 1951
Cipriani, Frank. “Mrs. Bluebeard — She Always Got Her Man.” Chicago Sunday Tribune. January 29, 1939
“Idaho’s Lucrezia Borgia Escapes Prison by Aid of Ex-Convict and Others, Making Clean Get-away.” Hanford Daily Sentinel. May 7, 1931
Edward Meyer. Certificate of Death. September 7, 1920. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60566/images/44066_b207057-03357_page_0001?treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aQu14&_phstart=successSource&pId=35342
Harlan Lewis. State of Montana Bureau of Vital Statistics Certificate of Death. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/5437/images/47791_1220706333_0821-00150?treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aQu7&_phstart=successSource&pId=1048545
William McHaffie in the Montana Death Index, 1907-2007. Ancestry. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7523&h=215087&ssrc=pt&tid=83629024&pid=38481163376&usePUB=true
Lorraine Dooley in the Idaho, U.S. Death Index, 1890-1964. Ancestry. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=6856&h=3073&tid=&pid=&queryId=f177d8d96150512ed143e9fae8c66aab&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aQu5&_phstart=successSource
Robert Dooley. Certificate of Death. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60566/images/44066_b207068-02818_page_0001?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=21046b73197ad2ac48c74a9665f94c0d&usePUB=true&_phsrc=aQu1&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&_ga=2.160613245.1369288249.1612407158-1974064398.1608518424&pId=11724
Edward Dooley. Certificate of Death. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60566/images/44066_b207068-02126_page_0001?pId=11722