January 29, 1939 Page Three
Mrs. Bluebeard-She Always Got Her Man
But Her Way of Losing Him Brought On the Law
By FRANK CIPRIANI
1921 at Twin Falls, Idaho, the former Lyda Trueblood was
sentenced to the state prison at Boise for a term of ten years to life.
She is still there, although she has served more than the minimum period
of her sentence and is eligible for parole. She has not, however, applied
for a parole, and she probably will spend the rest of her life within prison
walls unless the state pardon board intercedes.
A caller at the prison met Lyda recently. She was quite
plump and cheerful. She was doing some fancy work which she sold to visitors.
This particular visitor bought a small article. He couldn't resist her
appealing voice as she gave a brief sales talk. Years ago there were other
men who couldn't resist that voice. Lyda is in her middle forties now,
but her voice is the same.
Lyda was only 19, round and pudgy faced and plain of figure,
when in March, 1912, she became the wife of Robert C Dooley, and Idaho
land owner. Later a daughter, Lorraine, was born. So far as any one could
see the Dooleys were a happy family until one day there occurred the first
of a strange series of misfortunes. Baby Loraine died. Before the grief
of this tragedy had faded Edward Dooley, Lyda's brother-in-law, who lived
with them, died. Then on Oct. 12, 1915, Lyda's husband was taken by death.
The physician's certificate gave typhoid fever as the cause.
Lyda was too young to remain a widow long, and in June,
1917, she was married to William G McHaffle, a Montanan. But happiness
was not destined to be hers for long, for on Oct. 1, 1918, McHaffle died
in Hardin, Mont. Influenza and diphtheria, said the death certificate.
Twice-widowed Lyda bore her cross not too wearily, however,
for she soon responded again to the beck of romance. In March, 1919, she
became Mrs. Harlan C. Lewis, wife of an automotive engineer of Billings,
Mont. Four months later death, mysterious and sudden, struck again. Lewis
died, and the death certificate said gastro-enteritis.
Far from being overwhelmed with grief, Lyda carried on
bravely as before in the old game of hers, and fate led Edward F. Meyer,
a ranch foreman, across her path. He fell in love with her. "Will you marry
me?" he asked impulsively. She said yes.
In Pocatello, Idaho, on Aug. 10, 1920, Lyda, the triple
widow, became a wife for the fourth time.
In Twin Falls, Idaho, on Sept. 7, 1920-less than a month
later!-Lyda became a widow for the fourth time. The physician who attended
Meyer gave typhoid as the cause of death in the death certificate. Friends
and relatives were pretty much upset by the tragedy of Lyda's latest marriage.
To them "it didn't seem right" that one woman should lose four husbands
one after another, and a daughter and a brother-in-law to boot. To Earl
R. Dooley, county chemist, of Twin Falls, Idaho, it not only didn't seem
right, but it seemed wrong.
Sitting in his laboratory, Chemist Dooley studied the
strange case of Lyda. Was it fate, he asked himself, or was it coincidence?
Was it the hand of God-or the hand of Lyda?
There was no doubt, Dooley admitted, that Ed Meyer was
a very sick man during his last week of life. He himself had seen Meyer
standing pale and ill against the ranch house only four or five days ago.
Chemist Dooley repictured this scene in his mind. Then he stood up suddenly.
Fifteen minutes later he was at the ranch house.
He scraped some dry sand from the place where Meyer had
stood and took it to his laboratory. He made a hurried but careful analysis.
The results evoked a low whistle of surprise, then a muttered:
Dooley called in Dr. Hal G. Bieler, a physician, and Edwin
F. Rodenbach, Idaho state chemist, and asked them to corroborate his findings.
They made independent examinations, their results agreeing with his. Chemist
Dooley listened quietly to their report. He walked to a window, looked
out a minute or two, then turned and faced them.
"Gentlemen," he said, "it is my opinion that Ed Meyer
The body of Meyer was exhumed, and a post-mortem examination
showed further evidence of arsenic in the body. State's Attorney Frank
I. Stephan was notified. A murder warrant against Lyda was sworn out secretly,
and a deputy went to her home to arrest her.
But Lyda had flown.
Prosecutor Stephan went ahead with his investigation.
He had the bodies of her three other husbands, her daughter, and her brother-in-law
exhumed. Traces of arsenic were found in some. The other bodies were so
well preserved that arsenic, even though not definitely found, was suspected.
If Lyda killed these people, what was here motive? Prosecutor
Stephan asked. He found a motive in the records of the Idaho State Life
Insurance company of Boise.
The records showed that Robert Dooley, husband No. 1,
had been insured for $4,500, Lyda Dooley, beneficiary; that William McHaffle,
husband No. 2, had been insured for $500, Lyda Dooley McHaffle, beneficiary;
that Harlan Lewis, husband No. 3, had been insured for $5,000, Lyda Dooley
McHaffle Lewis, beneficiary; and that husband No. 4 had been insured for
$10,000, Lyda Dooley McHaffle Lewis Meyer, beneficiary. The first two policies
were paid in full and third partially.
Prosecutor Stephan thought his case complete except for
the absence of Lyda. And where was she?
may 13, 1921, eight months after the death of her fourth husband, Lyda
was caught in faraway Hawaii. Oh, yes, she had married again. Husband No.
5 was Paul Vincent Southard, a clean cut young naval petty officer. He
listened incredulously to the stories hinting that his wife was a multiple
murderess. "She's been a mighty good wife to me," he protested,
"and I don't care if she married ten men before, and they all died. That
wouldn't make her a murderess."
Lyda waved the charges away. They were silly. She'd return
to Twin Falls and face them. She did. She was placed on trial on Oct. 3,
1921, in Twin Falls. Only Meyer's death was at issue. It was a draggy trial,
rather technical-arsenic versus typhoid, laboratory tests versus the official
death certificate. This certificate, giving typhoid as the cause of death,
was more or less Lyda's sole defense.
Briefly, the state contended that Lyda fed Meyer doses
of arsenic extracted from flypaper. This Lyda denied. There was some other
evidence, largely circumstantial. As a whole the state's case suggested
that Lyda could have-and probably did-poison her husband, that she didn't
particularly love him, that she insured him, and that she fled after his
On Nov. 4, 1921, the jury, after twenty-three hours' deliberation,
returned a verdict finding Lyda guilty of second-degree murder, and the
judge sentenced her to the state penitentiary at Boise for a term of ten
years to life.
This should have been the end of Lyda, but it wasn't.
On May 4, 1931, she climbed a crude ladder and escaped over the walls of
the prison. She had pried a bar from her cell window while her fellow prisoners
sang and played phonograph music to drown the grating noise.
Of course, Lyda had outside help, and, of course, it was
a moonstruck man. Her abettor was David Minton, paroled from the men's
prison only three weeks before.
With Lyda gone, Warden R. E. Thomas conducted an investigation.
He found that Minton had visited Lyda in the woman's ward two nights before
the escape and that he had tossed many love notes to her over the wall.
The nation's police searched for Lyda and Minton. They
found him in Denver, Colo., on July 2, 1932. He was bitter. Lyda had jilted
him. Sure he knew where she was, and he'd gladly tell.
On Minton's information, police found Lyda in Topeka, Kan., twenty-eight
days later. She didn't look quite the same. Her brown hair had been dyed
black. Two front teeth and been replaced by gold ones. In spite of this
attempt at disguise she said, "I expected to be caught."
She had married again. Husband No. 6 was Harry Whitlock,
a widower with a small son. Whitlock was stunned on learning about Lyda.
She was a model wife, he insisted. She did mention insurance, he recalled,
and had urged him to take out a policy. He'd neglected to do so, however.
Lyda went back to the Boise prison. This, it would surely
seem, was the end of Lyda, but it wasn't. In 1933 an exposé of prison
conditions revealed that Lyda had received extraordinary favors. She had
been allowed to visit her sick mother out of prison and had been left unguarded
five hours. She had been given automobile rides and permitted all-day outings
at a nearby resort. She had been allowed to attend picture shows in Boise.
George F. Rudd, who had succeeded Thomas as warden, admitted
he had allowed Lyda certain liberties, but he insisted she had not betrayed
the trust placed in her. The investigation was followed by Warden Rudd's
One way or another, Lyda got her man.
to return to Foglesong Page.