February 27, 1941
Memphis, Tennessee
Walter Lewis Samples (69) dies after drinking poisoned milk

Samples found a delivery of milk on his porch on February 24, 1941. He was confused by its presence as he had not ordered milk for that day, and it was from a different dairy farm than the one he was typically delivered. Samples asked his neighbors if their milk had been delivered to him by mistake, and placed the bottle in his refrigerator when they replied that no mistakes had been made to their deliveries.

The following morning, Samples drank some of the milk. Samples’ brother later commented that the victim had had a cold and was taking quinine as treatment, which dulled Samples’ sense of taste. Because of this, he would likely not have noticed a strange taste in the milk.

Samples immediately began to feel ill and made his way to a neighbor to report, “My throat is closing up. If I can’t talk when I reach the hospital, tell the authorities I was poisoned!” Samples was rushed to the hospital but died from poisoning two days later. His autopsy determined he had been poisoned with phosphorus, and an investigation into the dairy farm which had supplied the milk ruled out accidental contamination. Suicide was equally unlikely, leaving Samples’ death to be investigated as a homicide.

Detectives found dozens of photographs of women, as well as an address book filled with the names of scores of women. As The San Francisco Examiner reported, “some [were] young, some mature, some grass widows [women whose husbands are often away for prolonged periods of time], some married and some otherwise.” Reportedly, some of the photographs were also signed and dedicated to “Daddy Samples.”

As detectives researched Samples’ “nocturnal social activities,” they questioned around 150 people directly or indirectly related to the names and photographs found. This led to Bertha Hamilton House (40) and Louis Roy House (40) being investigated. Several empty milk bottles from the dairy farm of Samples’ contaminated milk were found in the House home, and investigators presumed Louis had poisoned Samples upon learning his wife had had an affair with the victim. Louis was arrested and confessed to putting rat poison in the milk, reportedly calling Samples “the biggest rat of all.”

Despite Louis’ confession, several people — including Samples’ brother — suspected Louis had not been the perpetrator of the murder, citing his “husky, straightforward” build and demeanor as being unlike that of a person who would resort to using poison to kill. This theory was further supported by new evidence found by investigators, in the form of a will which named Bertha to be the sole beneficiary of Samples’ estate. The estate — valued at “not more than $10,000” [roughly $180,000 today] — included $300 in a bank account, a $1,000 life insurance policy, Samples’ house, two duplex houses, and an unspecified amount of farm land. This will was quickly deemed to have been a forgery.

While Louis allegedly confessed to police that he had been the sole killer, both he and Bertha were tried. Both pleaded not guilty and both were convicted, with each receiving a sentence of 20 years in prison. The following April, a higher court ruled the Shelby County criminal court had erred when a statement allegedly made by Louis was admitted into evidence. In the statement, Louis had confessed to the murder under the condition he be charged with manslaughter and his wife be released outright. Due to this technicality, both Bertha and Louis were freed from prison.

Walter Samples

Odell, Robin. The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2010
Haines, Max. “The sexy sexagenarian.” The Whitehorse Star. April 6, 1979
Menagh, Fred. “Enigma of the 150 “Sweethearts”.” The Gaffney Ledger. December 15, 1942
“Freed Of Murder Charge.” Gasconade County Republican [Owensville, Missouri]. April 16, 1942
“House Conviction Reversed By Court.” The Delta Democrat-Times [Greenville, Mississippi]. April 5, 1942
“Why Gay Mr. Samples Had Death Delivered to His Doorstep?” The San Francisco Examiner. May 4, 1941
“The Case of the Poisoned Milk Bottle.” The Knoxville News-Sentinel. April 27, 1941
“Elderly Lothario Killed By Poison; Couple Indicted.” Sunday News [New York, New York]. April 20, 1941
“Poisoned Milk Blamed In Death.” Kingsport Times. March 11, 1941
Certificate of Death. State of Tennessee. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2376/images/33113_258070-02690?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=e89b3d2bb67cbf3924b49efca1a4f055&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Pxs1&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&_ga=2.169584353.1147448711.1614394706-1974064398.1608518424&pId=1134846
Department of Commerce – Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940. Population Schedule. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-03970-00322?usePUB=true&_phsrc=CeM8&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&pId=38234933

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