Lavinia Fisher The First Female US Serial Killer

Posted by blogger in Charleston Ghost Tours
Lavinia Fisher The First Female US Serial Killer - Photo

“If any of you have a message for the devil, tell me now, for I shall be seeing him shortly.” 

  • Lavinia Fisher

Fisher was, in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, a true feminist icon. In her own macabre, guts and blood, modality she paved the way for further characters of American history like Amelia Dyer, Tillie Klimek, Nannie Doss, Aileen Wournos, and the legendary Lizzie Borden.

“Lizzie Borden took an axe

Gave her mother forty whacks

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father forty-one.”

All those grand dames and off-their-rocker – “I’m a psychic” Klimerk “saw the figure of the Grim Reaper” – can do a Katy Perry ROAR in honor of Fisher ladies… The louder the better that way the cops can hunt them down in record time… were Lavinia’s proteges.  Lavinia Fisher, legend has it, was the first female serial killer in the United States of America; the girl crumbling down stereotypes left and right.

The Story of Fisher


In case you simply want to get a flyby of Lavinia’s BIO’ and swoop down to the truly juicy bits – the death-trap rooms, the bizarre marital relationship, the ballsy execution, and the wandering specter – then pan through this bullet-ridden – pardon the pun – presentation:

  • Lavinia Fisher was born in 1793 and flew off to Satan’s parlor on February 18, 1820.
  • The place of her birth, her maiden name, or any concrete data about her childhood, is unknown. 
  • She grew up and married John Fisher. The couple lived near Charleston, South Carolina. 
  • Fisher and her hubby ran a hotel called the Six Mile Wayfarer House, a roadside B&B that would not have made any of Airbnb’s top-ten-list. Mysteriously, men who were visiting Charleston began to disappear. As more and more reports were filed with the authorities regarding these missing men, it was determined that they were last seen at the Six Mile Wayfarer House, which was called such because it was six miles outside of Charleston. 

Where Have All The Cowboys Gone

Folks started evaporating into the night all over Charleston. There was, to put it bluntly, something fishy going on. Back in those days, Charleston, like most towns, were close-knit communities; everyone knew everyone and you could take a population census by counting fingers. If someone went missing, swallowed by the Earth, the constabulary’s spider-sense would start to twinge violently. Reports were made to the sheriff, the streets were no longer packed and population tally in the town’s entrance might as well have been drawn with chalk. The man right from the get-go had the Fishers in his crosshairs. Why? They weren’t exactly subtle in their attempts to cover up their crimes; all the folks that went AWOL had been guests at their infamous hotel. Nonetheless, the sheriff was stumped, he lacked evidence and all he really had was a hunch; there was no CSI department in the 19th century and in order to land a conviction the law had to find the culprit standing over a corpse… and even then the evidence would be circumstantial; Quija boards were actually an investigative tool.

Anyway, back to the program.

The lack of evidence plus the couple’s popularity basically closed the book on the Sheriff’s precarious investigation. The whole inquiry came to naught and people continued doing their own disappearing act.

Meanwhile, Back at the ranch.

Six Mile Wayfarer House was going gangbuster. Lavinia, her husband, and their cronies were making a killing – what’s with all the puns? 

Lavinia would welcome lone passengers inside the bowels of Six Mile Wayfarer House to feast and trade stories; “tell me lies and entertain me.” She, an incredibly charming and handsome dame, would sweetly pry open the cupboards of their mind and rummage through their finances. 

“Can I top you off?… That’s a rather stylish pocket watch, must have cost a pretty penny. What was it you did for a living? You must be swimming in it.”

When the night was up, and the chit-chat had come to a close, Lavinia would send her guests up to their room with a cup of relaxing tea… If they passed the “you’re up to your elbows in dough” smell test, then their cup of tea would have an extra kick; POISON.

Once the men drank from their toxic chalice and fell into a stupor, Lavinia’s husband would sneak in and slit their throats. 

Overtime, legend has it, Lavinia started to morph her malignant methodology into a more macabre mode of murder and malice… she placed a trap door underneath her victim’s bed. Lavinia would drag a lever and the mattress would collapse and drop the game into a spike infested pit; she was if nothing a very enterprising lady.

David Ross & John Peeples

In February 1819, according to the Charleston Post and Courier, a vigilante gang went to Fishers’ neighborhood with the intent of rooting out the malcontents and stop the odious vanishings. After, doing what vigilantes in those days did – which was make a fuzz and drink themselves silly at the local saloon – they flew back to Charleston satisfied that they had accomplished their task. They left one of their numbers, a young man named David Ross, to stand watch over the area. 

David was attacked by two of Lavinia’s minions and dragged off. He was laid down before Lavinia’s feet pleading for mercy. Still, rather than help him, she strangled him and then crashed his head through a window. Ross somehow managed to escape and quickly alerted authorities.

While all of this was happening, a traveler named John Peeples happened to need a room for the night. Lavinia, thinking nothing of David – already full of arrogance and hubris – decided to invite John in for some tea. John, as it turned out happened to hate tea, and not wanting to seem rude, dumped the cup when Fisher wasn’t looking. Lavinia cross-examined him for hours and ultimately escorted John to his bed. John, meanwhile – with all his senses in place – was suspicious, worried that he was about to be bamboozled. He resolved to sleep in the wooden chair by the door, pistol cocked and ready to cowboy up. In the middle of the night, he aroused to the sound of a loud bang. John, six-shooter ready, looked around and noticed his bed had collapsed… he peered down the hole… and well let’s just say that part of the accommodations wasn’t advertised in the brochures. John jumped out the window and rode to Charleston to alert the authorities.

The Police, now with two eye-witness accounts, were promptly dispatched to the location. Lavinia, John the husband, and two other assailants were arrested. 

Trial and execution


Almost a year passed between the time of their incarceration and their execution. 

At their hearing, the jury refused their pleas of innocence and found them guilty of highway robbery, a capital offense. While they were waiting for the court-order to summon the hangman, the Fishers made elaborate plans to escape the Charleston, South Carolina jail. 

On September 13 they put one of their plans into action; it was the equivalent of a Three Stooges routine with less finesse. The rope they had fashioned broke and Lavinia almost hanged herself on it. The guards – aware of the coming skit – watched in amazement at the muppets trying to make a getaway. Lavinia fell on her rump back into her cell, on the other side off the wall John skitted like a stone onto a yard brimming with cops sharing a good laugh. The two were recaptured and kept under much tighter security.

Rev. Furman was sent to hear the couple’s last confession and to give them their last rites. John accepted the man’s company, Lavinia meanwhile told him to take a hike. 

On the day of the execution, John made a passionate plea to a gathered crowd of spectators, almost 2000, on his innocence… The supplication felt like an anvil on folks who had come for their pound of flesh. John’s neck snapped; he peacefully asked for forgiveness in the final moments of his life. 

Lavinia, meanwhile, did not go so quietly. She had demanded to wear her wedding dress to the gallows and refused to walk the distance to the hangman’s noose. She raved and ranted while the knot was tied to her neck, screaming obscenities and giving the crowd a show.

Before her executioners could squeeze the rope even tighter around her neck, she yelled:

“If any of you have a message for the devil, tell me now, for I shall be seeing him shortly.” 

Then she jumped willingly off the scaffold… Lavinia dangled and slowly choked to death, the knot didn’t snap her neck.

The onlookers would later recall:

“Never have I seen such a wicked stare or chilling sneer. Lucifer himself was stoking the fire’s of the woman’s sinister soul.”

The Hauntings of Lavinia Fisher

You ghouls, you want more? Well here are a few spots you might spot this devilish woman’s wraith.

Lavinia is a favorite haunt in Charleston; she’s quite a ghost tour celeb. Experts in the macabre and the paranormal say that she was so filled with unbridled malice and defiance that when she kicked the bucket her spirit decided to stay for a while and raise all manner of chicanery.

This evil incarnated attitude has lead to her wraith roaming and haunting the last areas she felt the most unsettled and harried…. such as the Old City Jail and the gallows where her neck snapped. Check out our article for that ectoplasmic drenched tabernacle of weirdness.

The Skeleton on Display

The Yorkville Enquirer wrote an article on August 8, 1922, called “Skeleton on Display.” The piece explains how Lavinia Fisher’s bones were exhibited at the Charleston museum illegally without the proper permit by the authorities. During this impromptu exhibit, people would go up the skeleton of Fisher and spit on it, curse it, poke it, and basically desecrate it.

The Yorkville Enquirer later writes:

“Removed because it was out of order, the museum has decided again to install them, and it is now being put in order.” So the big cheeses, having counted up the ticket sales, had decided to give the ghastly attraction the thumbs up.

People say the area around the museum is said to be haunted by the pale and ravenous frame of the bitterly mad specter of Fisher.

There are plenty of tales that Lavinia also haunts the Unitarian Cemetery, where some experts say she was buried. This is doubtful as there was a Potter’s Field Cemetery next to the jail at the time of her execution where most criminals were interred.

In September 2012: The television show Ghost Hunters season premiere highlighted a visit to the old Charleston Jail, where a skeptical camera operator felt the presence of something in the area; visible claw marks where later found on his camera. 

Lavinia’s ghost is said to haunt the potter’s field where she’s buried near the Old City Jail and the jail itself. Tourists claim to see her smirking and lurid face pop out of the walls and stare right into their eyes.

For more on that tale, check out the Old City Jail entry… It’s a scream.