It’s been 200 years since the tale of Lavinia Fisher first began. In Charleston, South Carolina, she’s a local celebrity and is still talked about today. Tourists don’t know her name when coming into the city, but they know it when leaving.
Lavinia’s story changes drastically, depending on who you ask. Some claim she’s guilty, while others insist she’s innocent. Everyone has their own version of what really happened.
While most of the details have been heavily exaggerated and fabricated throughout history, we do know three solid facts:
1. She was arrested and hanged in 1820.
2. She owned an inn called “The Six Mile House.”
3. Her last words were, “If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me—I’ll carry it.” (Yikes!)
How exactly she ended up with a rope around her neck is still debatable.
The legend goes as follows: Lavinia and her husband ran an inn just outside of Charleston. Whenever a solo traveler checked in, Lavinia would use her charisma and beauty to gain their trust. Once at ease, she’d offer them a cup of tea, which she had poisoned using oleander leaves. The poor, unsuspecting travelers would then pass out and be robbed of their possessions.
One night, a man named John Peoples stopped by the inn looking for a place to stay. Lavinia greeted him and immediately put on her usual charm. Yet despite her best attempts to lure him in, John wasn’t drinking the Lavinia Kool-Aid (or tea). He felt something was off and didn’t trust her. She was acting sketchy AF! So when she handed him a cup of tea, he discreetly emptied it into a plant and retreated to his room.
John never went to sleep that night. Instead, he sat in the corner, staring at the door. Pretty soon, someone quietly entered the room. In the dark, he could see someone walk over to the bed and pull a hidden lever. A boobytrapped floor flung open leading down to the basement (a la Sweeney Todd), where Lavinia’s husband waited with an axe. John quickly escaped out the window and ran into town, alerting police. When authorities came to search the inn, they found the remains of hundreds of people buried throughout the property.
Lavinia and her husband were arrested and sentenced to death. She tried pleading for her life, claiming that it was against the law to hang a married woman. She had apparently found a loophole in the system. The solution? Hang her husband first. “You are no longer a married woman,” she was informed, after her husband’s execution.
Records show that while Lavinia was indeed arrested and hanged, it wasn’t for murder. In fact, she never murdered anyone. Lavinia was part of a large gang of highway robbers, which was still pretty badass. She was eventually caught and put to death.
I spoke to someone who alleges that when Lavinia was in jail, she was repeatedly raped and beaten. What she had meant with her famous last words was that she felt as if she were already living in Hell on Earth.
So how did she go from being a highway robber to a serial killer? Who knows, but you can ask for yourself. Her ghost is said to haunt The Old City Jail.
Lavinia Fisher: The first female serial killer who never killed anybody.