"If any of you have a message to give the devil, give it to me quick -- I'm about to meet him!"
- Lavinia Fishert (1793-1820)
The above words were spoken by Lavinia Fisher as she was about to be executed by hanging on 18 February, 1820. She is today recognised as the first female mass murderer in the United States.
Born in 1793 but origins unknown, she and husband John Fisher, who was executed with her, owned a hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. Although she and her husband killed and robbed numerous male guests who came to the hotel, the lack of evidence and the couple’s popularity meant that suspicions about missing guests did not go anywhere. The usual pattern was that guests were given drugged tea and, once asleep in their beds, were dumped into a pit by Lavinia's pulling on a lever, causing the bed to collapse.
Their enterprise came undone when a guest, John Peeples, secretly dumped his tea because of his dislike of tea. The questioning by Lavinia as to his means had made him suspicious. That night he slept in a chair and was woken by the sound of the bed collapsing. He jumped out the window and notified the law.
Both Lavinia and her husband were convicted of highway robbery, a capital offence and both were sentenced to hang.
John Fisher got religion whilst waiting to be hanged and protested his innocence to the crowd gathered to watch the hanging. He then begged their forgiveness, apparently not realising that the innocent needed forgiveness.
According to one observer at the time, Lavinia was not as calm as John:
“She stamped in rage and swore with all the vehemence of her amazing vocabulary, calling down damnation on a governor who would let a woman swing. The crowd stood shocked into silence, while she cut short one curse with another and ended with a volley of shrieks.”
John Fisher was then despatched.
Lavinia was hanged a day later, having argued that they could not hang a married woman. With John Fisher executed, they simply hanged Lavinia, now no longer a married woman, the next day.
Moments before the trap was to be sprung she called out the above quoted words to the crowd, then cheated the State and the hangman of their final moments of triumph – before the hangman could hang her, she jumped off the scaffold and hanged herself.