Any visitor from another world checking the TV Guide might wonder at Americans apparent fascination with crime and the criminal mind. In one week’s listing TV watchers have an offering of good guys and girls vs. the bad on endless different one-hour shows. Among them are 48 Hours, NCIS, Law & Order, CSI: NY, Criminal Minds, The Evidence, The First 48, Without a Trace, Conviction, and Cold Case Files: Special Victims Unit—which runs four entirely different shows on Saturday nights.
But this is no new fascination. The Salem Witch Trials drew crowds of observers in 1692, as did Lizzie Borden’s trial in 1893 and O.J. Simpson’s in 1995. In addition, many newspapers still follow the old rule of “If it bleeds, it leads” for front-page print—even papers that have a broader base of column inches from which to select. The adage holds as true now as 100 years ago.
But papers a century or more ago were otherwise totally different from current offerings. Take the local Rockingham Register, once Rockingham County’s major purveyor of news. The front page usually held two columns of ads on the left, then a top-centered long poem followed by a short story, the latter often by a popular writer like Brett Harte as well as lesser ones. Not until the second page was any news available—from the local area or New York or even Great Britain. Month by month the pattern held true with the exception of three arenas of interest: political commentary or details of a violent crime or occasional tragic romance.
The following example seems to carry both hidden crimes and clandestine love. Who could put down the Register on April 26, 1872, when the headline informed readers:
A MOTHER AND SIX ALLEGED VICTIMS—A HUSBAND, AN
AUNT AND FOUR CHILDREN—EXCITEMENT IN LEESBURG
Leesburg, Va., April 14, 1872—On the 27th of March last this community was thrown into a state of great excitement by the announcement that
MRS. EMILY LLOYD,
a lady of respectability and means, and a strict member of the Episcopal Church, was suspected of having poisoned her whole family, consisting of a husband and four children, as well as an elderly lady, relative of the family, from Washington, who was visiting her.
THE FACTS IN THE CASE,
as developed at that time, were to the effect that four years ago the Lloyd family, consisted of six persons—Charles E. Lloyd, Emily (his wife, the accused), and four bright, beautiful children (two boys and two girls). In the winter of 1869-70 Mr. Lloyd was taken ill with the pneumonia, and after a severe illness became convalescent, but he afterwards became worse and
As he was an intemperate man, [ran a saloon] no one thought strange of his death, and he was buried without a post-mortem examination. After his death the mother seemed to become intensely attached to the children. She procured for them a nurse, began to dress them nicely and accorded to them many privileges that the stern and cruel father had denied them…..it was a matter of remark among all the villagers how devoted Mrs. Lloyd was to her family. In the summer of 1870
THE TWO BOYS
aged eight and ten…accompanied the nurse to the field to gather blackberries—When they returned in the evening the children, who appeared to have been poisoned with poison oak were taken sick and died suddenly. The mother seemed overwhelmed with grief at her loss, and ordered from the village undertaker
HIS BEST CASKET
The account continues at length reciting the mother’s grief, her dotage on the two remaining girls until,
when one evening it was announced that
THE ELDEST GIRL,
a beautiful, healthy girl of some five years, had been taken suddenly ill, with much the same symptoms as attended the sickness of the father and the other children. The child lingered a day or two and died. Yet no suspicion attached to the mother or to any member of the household, for she was a devoted member of the church and seemingly attached to her children…..
Unlike TV series, where suspicion might emerge more promptly, no autopsy preceded the lavish funeral. But when THE FOURTH AND LAST CHILD became so similarly sick, someone remembered that Virginia law demands druggists record sales of poison by date and person making the purchase. Eureka! Quick perusal of the two local pharmacists’ ledgers revealed:
[I]t appeared that but a short time previous to each of these deaths, Mrs. Lloyd had purchased
AN OUNCE OF ARSENIC.
So the mayor summoned a coroner’s jury, which held an inquest and determined to hold a post-mortem examination. Readers can guess the rest: an examination in Baltimore of the child’s stomach confirmed the mother’s guilt.
It would be impossible to imagine the excitement that prevails here to-night [SIC.]. Orders have been given for the
DISINTERMENT OF THE FIVE BODIES
of the other members of the family….The various aspects…are freely discussed, and the only solution yet given for the commission of this terrible crime is that she
DESIRED TO REMARRY
and put the children out of the way, in deference to the wishes of her new love.
Remarkably, the demanding suitor is not named and readers are left hanging as to the outcome of the trial sure to follow. But the story ranged afar. The above quotes from the Register were first in the New York Herald. My aversion to loose ends—nothing turned up in the remaining local papers for the year—prompted a phone call to the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, a repository for local history and genealogy. There the wonderfully patient librarian LaVonne Markham searched their microfiche of local newspaper files for the year. Other than Mrs. Lloyd was refused bail and conveyed to jail, it seemed no wrap-up was written—until October 1872.
Here’s the kicker. Emily Lloyd was acquitted and released and ordered to pay expenses of the trial. Crowds outside booed the verdict, but jurors claimed the prosecution had failed to make its point. She was charged only in the last death, and the defense contended the arsenic found in the child could have come from carbolated lime found when they exhumed the body or have been from arsenic residue on the coroner’s knife or a rag.
Yet there still remain doubters who claim Emily Lloyd deserves equal notoriety with Lizzie Borden or others who have so fascinated through the centuries. Ah, the joy of modern-day solutions within the hour!