In the early 19th century, Lavinia Fisher ran an inn on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina. She lured the male visitors, who stopped by on the way to the city harbor at night, talked to them about their journeys – and then poisoned them with oleander tea. Or so the story sounds.
Lavinia Fisher actually had an inn on the side of the road to Charleston and, according to The Post and Courier, was killed in 1820 for a highway robbery. But the rest of her story has been filled in over the decades by, horror enthusiasts and ghost leaders who want to entertain their customers. Some claim that Lavinia was the first female serial killer in America, and police found hundreds of skulls buried under a shed after her arrest. Some did not believe she had killed anyone.
So what’s the truth behind Lavinia Fisher’s story? Was she a serial killer? Or was she just a victim of a fabricated myth?
Lavinia Fisher And Her Supposed House Of Horrors
The Six Mile Wayfarer House, located on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina, welcomed visitors and traders in 1819.
Lavinia Fisher and her husband, John, ran the inn.
Despite Lavinia’s reputation for flirting with male guests, the lovely young couple was well-liked throughout town.
The stunning 27-year-old woman would push herself into the men’s chats by inquiring about their jobs or what they planned to buy or exchange in Charleston.
Lavinia would serve them tea poisoned with oleander leaves if they appeared wealthy before sending them to their chamber for the night.
After the tea had worked its wonders, John Fisher would sneak into the men’s rooms and rob them. In some versions of the story, the unwary visitors are poisoned and buried beneath the inn by the Fishers. In other cases, the tea just knocks the guys out, and John kills them after stealing their money.
The men’s bodies fall through the floor of their room in the most intricate version of the story, after a trap door the Fishers installed beneath the bed unexpectedly opens.
Townspeople began speculating about what had happened at the Five Mile House and the Six Mile Wayfarer House, and formed a vigilante group. The crowd first drove the residents out of the Five Mile House and set fire to it. They then proceeded to the Fishers’ inn, where they forced all of the occupants out again, leaving a local man called David Ross on guard to ensure that the Fishers and their associates would not return.
According to Legends of America, two men arrived at the Six Mile Wayfarer House the next morning, assaulted Ross, and led him to the highwaymen. He was relieved when he saw Lavinia Fisher since he assumed the lovely woman would assist him. Rather, she suffocated and shattered him through a window.
Ross was able to flee the scene, leaving the highwaymen to recover the Six Mile Wayfarer House, which they used as a base of operations.
Lavinia Fisher’s Arrest In Connection With Highway Robbery
Perhaps Lavinia Fisher’s narrative might have ended differently if the inn’s occupants had allowed things to calm down at this juncture. Fisher, on the other hand, was straight back to her old ways once Ross escaped. She quickly gave some of her famed tea to a new visitor named John Peoples.
Peoples was fortunate in that he disliked tea. He tossed the tea out while Lavinia was not looking, not wanting to appear unfriendly. She meal prepared for him and then chatted with him for a while. She eventually took him to his room.
People became uneasy all of a sudden. He knew he’d given Fisher a lot of information that could make him a robbery target.
Peoples dozed out in a chair rather than the bed in an attempt to stay awake and keep watch — until he was woken up by a loud bang. He noticed that the empty bed had vanished into a massive hole in the floor. Peoples rode his horse into Charleston to alert authorities after escaping his chamber through a window. Now that the police had both Ross’ and Peoples’ testimonies against the Fishers, they acted quickly.
The sheriff gathered another posse of citizens in February 1819 and encircled the Six Mile Wayfarer House. They violently removed the Fishers, along with four other gang members, and set fire to the inn. They discovered the missing cow’s hide in an outbuilding. The Fishers, John and Lavinia, were arrested and sent to jail.
Police allegedly dug up the grounds surrounding the inn and unearthed a maze of hidden passageways, according to the popular story. They discovered artifacts belonging to dozens of people, a mechanism for opening the floorboards beneath the bed, and a slew of human bones, according to reports.
The Jail And Execution Of John And Lavinia Fisher
Although John and Lavinia Fisher pleaded not guilty, a jury sentenced them to death by hanging in May 1819 for the crime of assault with intent to murder. The Fishers, on the other hand, were given opportunity to appeal their conviction by the courts.
The pair devised an escape plot while waiting for the appeal to be heard. They were able to make a rope from of blankets and lower it through a hole John made beneath their barred window because they were housed together in a cell that was not heavily guarded. John made it to the ground safely on the day of their planned escape. When Lavinia attempted to descend, the rope snapped, trapping her.
John refused to leave without his wife, and although he formulated a plan to free her, he was once again apprehended and imprisoned.
The Fishers’ appeal was formally rejected by the courts in January 1820, and their execution was set for February 4th. This day was later rescheduled to give the Fishers more time to reconcile with God.
Lavinia believed she was safe because there was a legislation prohibiting the execution of married women at the time. According to SYFY, the judge stated that there was no law prohibiting a widow from being executed, thus he would have John hanged first.
John and Lavinia Fisher were taken to the gallows from their detention cell on the morning of February 18, 1820. John prayed silently with Rev. Furman and declared his innocence to the gathering gathered to witness his execution.
Lavinia did not proceed in a dignified manner. She wailed and asked for mercy while dressed in her bridal gown. The guards had to drag her to the gallows because she refused to walk.
“If you have a message you want to convey to hell, give it to me – I’ll carry it!” she cried into the crowd, finally accepting her fate. She then jumped off the scaffold on her own before the executioner could hang her.
The Truth Behind The Famous Legend
Through the lens of time, much of what happened in the case of John and Lavinia Fisher has become exaggerated. Although various newspaper articles from 1819 and 1820 recount the circumstances preceding the Fishers’ arrest and death, accurate information is difficult to come by.
Former homicide detective Bruce Orr debunks much of the myth surrounding Lavinia Fisher’s narrative in his book Six Miles to Charleston: The True Story of John and Lavinia Fisher.
Orr claims that there is no trapdoor in the genuine story. After all, there are no basements in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. There’s also no bridal gown. The Six Mile Wayfarer House was burned to the ground, according to a newspaper report from the time, and none of the Fishers’ valuables would have survived.
The jail where Lavinia Fisher spent her final year of life is reported to be haunted by her ghost today.