Did you know that monetary gain is one of the top reasons that serial killers, and murderers in general, kill their victims? We see it time and time again as a strong motive, both in fictionalized crime stories and in real life. Certainly, it seems it could be the motive for the notorious Minnie Wallace, a woman who is said to have taken two victim’s lives in the late 1800s.
Her story starts when she was only 15 years old. In 1884, she met her first husband, James Walkup, a 48-year-old businessman and mayor of Emporia, Kansas. The two met while James was on a trip to Minnie’s hometown of New Orleans to visit the World’s Fair. He was staying in Baton Rouge at a boarding house run by Minnie’s mother, Elizabeth Wallace. Supposedly, he was infatuated with Minnie from the moment he saw her— she was a musician for the boarding house and James spent most of his trip chatting with her and watching her perform. After much convincing, Elizabeth allowed James to court his daughter and he began writing Minnie letters when he returned to Kansas.
The next year, in 1885, James visited New Orleans once again and officially proposed—even offering $4000 (over $120,000 in today’s money) to Elizabeth. Minnie’s mother refused the money and instead left the decision to Minnie herself. When James approached Minnie, he upped the offer even further and said he’d buy her mother a house and support as many members of her family as he could either monetarily or by providing them good, stable jobs in his business. Even with all of this, Minnie took a month to decide before saying yes. In July, Minnie moved away to Kansas and married James. In August, James was found dead exactly one month after their wedding day.
His cause of death was ruled as arsenic poisoning, and Minnie was quicky accused of murder. She had a small history of purchasing poisons that was not limited to arsenic. In the weeks following her wedding, she had bought 16 times the lethal dosage of strychnine from a local druggist. At the time, it was required to sign and provide a reason for the purchase of certain lethal substances, but the druggist failed to notice that Minnie had suspiciously not filled in the purpose section while signing. James would later report symptoms of strychnine poisoning to his doctor, though he survived his illness. It was only a week later that he once again showed up to his doctor’s office, this time showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Once again, Minnie was known to have purchased arsenic, which was much easier to come by since it was often used by women to lighten their complexion.
Minnie’s trial was sensationalized by the media—what had seemed like a clear case to some had others debating. While there was certainly a solid circumstantial case built against Minnie, they were lacking in hard evidence. What’s more, several doctors testified that James had been chronically abusing arsenic for years and that it was likely the buildup in his system that had killed him. There was no hard evidence for this, either, and the defense was unable to produce any records or proof that James had ever purchased or been prescribed arsenic pills. The jury was just as divided as the public seemed to be over Minnie’s case, taking 52 hours to deliberate before finding her not guilty.
Following her acquittal, she collected her inheritance and moved to Chicago, where she met her next husband, Jack Ketcham. Their marriage had been a secret and Minnie only provided the certificate after he was found dead—again, a month after their wedding and again with poison in his system. Jack, however, also suffered from alcoholism and in the end, this was ruled as his cause of death. Minnie was never indicted, though rumors about her being a murderer or faking their marriage certificate spiraled.
The final “victim” of Minnie’s was De Lancey Louderback, a wealthy railroad owner. The two of them were never married, but Louderback was reportedly enamored with her and showered her with money and gifts, including her own personal mansion. Though his efforts were lavish, his feelings were never requited and Minnie never even set foot in the mansion he built for her. On her move-in day, she instead sent him a note to tell him that she was engaged to another man and was planning to leave for Europe. Despite the rejection, Louderback still wrote Minnie into his will. In what was quickly becoming a pattern, he was later found dead from cyanide poisoning inside the mansion he’d built for Minnie. It’s unclear if the overdose was accidental or not, but either way Minnie was still in Europe at his time of death and was therefore cleared of any suspicion.
No one’s quite certain of Minnie’s level of involvement, if any, in the deaths of her three suitors. During the time of her first trial, the media was divided and to this day people remain so. What do you think—a set of unfortunate coincidences, or a series of materialistic murders?
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