The Truth About The So-Called First Female Serial Killer In The US

History is full of individuals who get credit (or blame) they don't really deserve. George Washington and the cherry tree? Bogus. Truth and fact have never stood in the way of a good story, however. And so it is in the case of a woman often referred to as America's first female serial killer: Lavinia Fisher of South Carolina.

As the story goes, in 1819 Lavinia Fisher was a beautiful young woman who was married to John Fisher (via Legends of America). Together, the couple ran an inn near Charleston, South Carolina called the Six Mile Wayfarer House. According to SYFY, the Fishers were not your ordinary innkeepers. While Lavinia openly flirted with her male guests, she would ask them various questions to determine if they were worth robbing and murdering. If their answers were to her liking, she would offer them a cup of tea that, unbeknownst to them, was laced with oleander, sending them into an early sleep (per CHStoday). It's then that the bed would fall through a trapdoor in the floor to a room below, where John would stab the man to death before dumping the body in the basement. The Fishers continued their ruse and several men disappeared.

Per Historical Crime Detective, John Peeples stopped at the inn for a room. Like the unlucky guests before him, Peeples was heavily questioned by the charming Lavinia, who then offered him tea. Though he wasn't a tea drinker, he accepted it to be polite and poured it out while she wasn't looking.

Lavinia Fisher never killed anyone

Peeples began to feel uneasy about the situation. He headed to his room and decided to sleep in a chair instead of the bed. In the middle of the night, he awoke to discover the bed had disappeared into the floor. Peeples fled and went to the authorities (via Murderpedia).

According to Legends of America, police searched the inn and found hidden passages, items belonging to missing people, the trapdoor under the bed, and hundreds of remains. This earned Lavinia the title of being the first female serial killer in the U.S. The Fishers were arrested and sentenced to hang. SYFY reports that in 1820, John was hanged first and Lavinia wore her wedding dress to the gallows. Her last words? "If anyone has a message for hell, give it to me, and I'll carry it!"

Per Historical Crime Detective, it's more legend than reality. Although Lavinia and John did hang on gallows outside the Old City Jail in Charleston (above), it was not for murder. The Fishers were convicted of highway robbery, a capital crime then. Neither tea nor trap doors were involved. Only two bodies were found near the Fishers' inn, but the couple was never conclusively tied to them. Lavinia did not wear her wedding dress to the gallows.

Considering the facts, Lavinia Fisher is not the first female serial killer in the U.S. That label goes to Jane Toppan, who confessed to 31 murders in 1901. As for Lavinia's famous last words? CHStoday believes them to be the only true part of the story.