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Rhonda Bell MARTIN





Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Poisoner - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: 1937 - 1951
Date of arrest: March 1956
Date of birth: 1907
Victims profile: Emogene Garrett, 3 (her daughter) / George Garrett (her second husband) / Anna Carolyn Garrett, 6 (her daughter) / Ellyn Elizabeth Garrett, 11 (her daughter) / Mrs. Mary Frances Gibbon (her mother) / Claude Carroll Martin, 51 (her fourth husband)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in Alabama on October 11, 1957
photo gallery

Rhonda Bell Martin (1937-1951) killed her mother, 2 husbands, and 3 of her children in Birmingham, Alabama. She was eventually foiled by the results of an autopsy, confessed to the crimes, and was given the electric chair in 1957.


Rhonda Bell Thomley Martin (1907 – October 11, 1957) was an American serial killer.

A 49-year-old waitress in Montgomery, Alabama, she confessed in March 1956 to poisoning her mother, two husbands, and three of her children. She denied killing two other children.

Her fifth husband, formerly her son-in-law, was poisoned like the others but survived only to be left a paraplegic. It was his illness that led authorities to look into the strange deaths surrounding Martin.

Prosecutors said collecting insurance proceeds prompted her serial killing spree, although this is unlikely, since she only collected enough to cover burial costs, and she never admitted this was the case.

She was convicted of murdering 51-year-old Claude Carroll Martin in 1951 by surreptitiously feeding him rat poison and was executed in Alabama's electric chair on October 11, 1957.


Rhonda Bell Martin

A 49-year-old waitress in Montgomery, Alabama, Martin confessed during March 1956 to the arsenic murders of her mother, two of her five husbands, and three of her own children. Husband number five had been more fortunate than his predecessors, surviving the dosage that left him paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

Under questioning, Rhonda was vague on her motive for the string of killings, but detectives learned that she collected insurance money on each of the victims in turn. (She denied the slaying of two other children, whose deaths were also the subject of investigation.) 

She received the death sentence and was executed in the electric chair on October 11, 1957. She stands as the last woman executed in Alabama.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


Rhonda Belle Martin

Rhonda Belle Martin was a waitress in Montgomery, Alabama. She poisoned her fifth husband, formerly her son-in-law, but he survived only to be left paraplegic.

His illness led authorities to look into the strange deaths surrounding Rhonda, and in March 1956 she confessed to poisoning her mother, two husbands, and three of her children. She denied killing two other children.

The prosecution claimed that collecting insurance money was her motive, but she never admitted this was the case.

She was convicted of murdering 51-year-old Claude Martin in 1951 by surreptitiously feeding him rat poison and sentenced to die in Alabama’s electric chair.

Eight days before she was asked in an interview if she was prepared to die: “Well, you’ve never seen anybody who was ready to sit down in the electric chair. But if that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it will be”.

Rhonda Belle wanted her sentence commuted to life. She had made herself a nice dress, black and white, to go to her hearing. Despite her effort, on October 11, 1957 she walked toward the death chamber wearing her new dress and a wedding ring.

Her last meal was hamburger, mashed potatoes, cinnamon rolls and coffee.

A few minutes after midnight, she was strapped into the chair and asked if she had anything to say. She shook her head silently. The swich was thrown; Rhonda Belle stiffened while the electricity entered her body. Then she was pronounced dead.


Rhonda Bell Martin, Alabama Serial Killer - 1956

Mother Tells 6 Killings by Poison

By Rex Thomas - Oakland Tribune

Mar. 14, 1956

Montgomery, Ala., Mar. 14 – State’s attorneys headed for court today with the bizarre tale of a middle-aged waitress who, they said, admitted slaying her mother, three small daughters and two of her five husbands with poison.

Plump, 49-year-old Mrs. Rhonda Bell Martin also told in a signed statement, according to Circuit Solicitor William F. Thetford, how she fed ant poison once was her stepson. He is still alive though paralyzed.

The auburn-haired waitress waived preliminary hearing in City Court today on the only formal charge thus far drawn up against her – the killing of Claude Martin, her fourth husband, in 1951.

Mrs. Martin was bound over to the Montgomery County Grand Jury without bond and ordered moved from the city to the county jail. The next regular session of the grand jury starts May 14.

She is now married to Martin’s 29-year-old son, Ronald, who has been under treatment for nine months for poisoning.

It was Ronald’s illness that led to the murder investigation. City and state authorities arrested Mrs. Martin Friday in Mobile.

After three days of questioning, Thetford announced yesterday that the bespectacled waitress had signed a statement admitting she poisoned the two Martins, and five other kins-people.

Mrs. Martin was vague about a motive for the killings, the solicitor said, but she told of having insurance on all six victims who died. The amount was not disclosed, but Thetford said she recalled receiving between of Claude Martin.

She married Martin’s son eight months after the death of his father.


Poisoner Gets Death Decree

Alabama Waitress to Die in Electric Chair For Killing Husband

The Gastonia Gazette

Jun. 5, 1956

Montgomery, Ala. – A hefty, auburn-haired waitress who killed her fourth husband with arsenic was sentenced last night to die in the electric chair Mrs. Rhonda Belle, Martin, 41 and 170 pounds, admitted killing Claude C. Martin and live other members of her family, but she was tried only for the death of her fourth husband. Her other victims were three daughters, her mother and another husband.

A jury of 12 men deliberated three hours and 10 minutes last night before convicting her of poisoning Martin after about a year or married life.

When the verdict was read, Mrs. Martin buried her head in her arms and sobbed.

The woman’s attorney based his defense on a plea of insanity. The prosecution countered that Mrs. Martin served arsenic in coffee to her husband in order to “collect some paltry amount of insurance and to get him out of the way so she could marry his son.”

Eight months after Martin’s death on April 27, 1951. Mrs. Martin married her steps Ronald C. Martin, 21 years her junior. She now lies in a veterans hospital paralyzed by arsenic poisoning. Ronald Martin’s illness, for which Mrs. Martin is under indictment for attempted murder, touched off .the investigation had brought to light the series of poisonings.

Under Alabama’s automatic appeal law, last night’s conviction will go to the supreme court. The sentence is postponed until the appeal is decided.

Solicitor William F, Thetford introduced evidence that Mrs. Martin collected $2,750 on three insurance policies upon alter her husband’s death.


Modern Borgia Wills Her Body to Science

The Hutchinson News

Oct. 11, 1957

Montgomery, Ala. – A plump, 50-year-old waitress who killed three daughters, her mother and two husbands with rat poison died in the electric chair early today.

She left behind a wish for her body to be turned over to a medical institution. She said she wanted it learned “why I committed the crimes I have committed.” Mrs. Rhonda Belle Martin died clutching a New Testament in her left hand.

Mrs. Martin was put to death for the poisoning of her fourth husband, Claude C. Martin.

Modern Borgia

After her arrest in March In 1956, she signed a statement admitting that she fed rat poison to two other husbands three of her children and her mother.

Her fifth husband, Ronald Martin, survived the poisoning, but the other victims died. Ronald Martin is the son of the victim for whose killing the waitress paid with her life.

Prison officials yesterday found in Mrs. Martin’s Bible a note she had written Oct. 14, 1956. It was turned over to authorities at Kilby Prison, where the electrocution was carried out.

Her Note

The note said:

“At my death, whether it be a natural death of otherwise, I want my body to be given to some scientific institution to be used as they see fit, but especially to see if someone can find out why I committed the crimes I have committed.

“I can’t understand it, for I had no reason whatsoever. There is definitely something wrong. Can’t someone find it and save someone else the agony I have been through.”

The condemned woman was strapped in the chair at 12:07 a.m. and received 2,200 volts of electricity three minutes later after one false start. When the switch was thrown the first time, it was discovered the electrodes hadn’t been plugged into the chair and the task had lo be repealed. Gov, James E. Folsom denied an appeal, for clemency yesterday.

Collected Insurance

Besides Claude Martin, the woman admitted poisoning her second husband George Garrett in 1939. She also told of feeding rat poison to three daughters, 3-year-old Emogene Garrett in 1937 Anna Carolyn Garrett, 6, in 1940; and Ellyn Elizabeth Garrett, 11, in 1943. She also admitted that she killed her mother Mrs. Mary Frances Gibbon in 1944.

Her written statement said she had small insurance policies on the lives of all six victims. She was tried only for the death of Claude Martin.



March 14, 1957


All the Justices concur except Stakely, J., not sitting.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goodwyn

GOODWYN, Justice. Appellant, Rhonda Belle Martin, was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by electrocution. Her appeal here is under the provisions of the automatic appeal statute. Act No. 249, approved June 24, 1943, Gen.Acts 1943, p. 217, Code 1940, Tit. 15, § 382(1) et seq., Pocket Part.

The indictment charges that appellant 'unlawfully and with malice aforethought killed Claude C. Martin by administering to him a quantity of arsenic, a poison, against the peace and dignity of the State of Alabama.' She entered pleas of 'not guilty' and 'not guilty by reason of insanity.'

The deceased, Claude C. Martin, was appellant's husband.

After laying a proper predicate, the state introduced in evidence the defendant's signed confession admitting that she had placed poison in her husband's coffee over a period of several months preceding and during his fatal illness. It is undisputed, and clearly appears from the record, that the confession was voluntary.

The confession, made in the form of questions and answers, contains the following references to defendant's marriage to her husband's son:

'Q. Did he [the deceased] have an automobile? A. Yes sir.

'Q. Was there any kind of insurance policy on that automobile that it paid up at his death? A. Yes sir.

'Q. What kind? What kind of automobile was it? A. A '49 Hudson.

'Q. Did you inherit anything else from him? A. No sir. I don't think there was anything else.

'Q. When did you start going with his son? A. Well, it was three or four months after he died.

'Q. Did his son live with him? A. He was in the Navy.

'Q. In the Navy the whole time you were married? A. Yes sir.

'Q. When did he get out? When was he discharged? A. This February two years ago.

'Q. He was in the Navy when you married him? A. Yes sir.

'Q. Where did you move after Mr. Martin died? Claude Martin died? A. 519 Montgomery Street.

'Q. Did he own any real estate? A. No sir.

'Q. You gave him three or four more doses? And the last dose was two or three weeks before he died? A. No sir, longer than that, a month or more before he died.

'Q. After Mr. Martin's death, you married his son? A. Yes sir.

'Q. How long after? A. December 7, 1951, that would have been how long after his death.

'Q. How long after Mr. Martin's death? A. He died in April, about eight months, I guess.

'Q. You did all the cooking there at the house [of the deceased]? A. Practically all of it, most of it.'

Code 1940, Tit. 34, § 1, as amended by Act No. 296, approved. Aug. 18, 1947, Gen.Acts 1947, p. 148, to the extent here pertinent, provides that 'the son must not marry his * * * step-mother', and declares such marriage to be incestuous.

Code 1940, Tit. 14, § 325, makes such incestuous marriage a felony punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than seven years.

Counsel for appellant insists that defendant's marriage to her deceased husband's son was incestuous and for this reason it was error to receive in evidence that part of the confession admitting such marriage. The argument is that such admission relates to a criminal offense entirely separate and apart from the offense for which the defendant was being tried and hence it was reversible error to receive it in evidence. Sims v. State, 253 Ala. 666, 669, 46 So.2d 564; 20 Am.Jur., Evidence, § 489, p. 426; Wharton's Criminal Evidence, Vol. 2, § 361, p. 74. We cannot agree that the marriage was incestuous and violative of § 1, Tit. 34, as amended, supra. What was said in Tagert v. State, 143 Ala. 88, 90-91, 39 So. 293, 111 Am.St.Rep. 17, is conclusive on the point, viz.:

'Incest,' says Mr. Bishop, 'where the statutes have not modified its meaning, is sexual commerce, either habitual or in a single instance, and either under a form of marriage or without it, between persons too nearly related in consanguinity or affinity to be entitled to intermarry.' Bishop on Statutory Crimes, § 727. Section 4889 of the Criminal Code of 1896 [Code 1940, Tit. 14, § 325, supra] reads as follows: 'If any man or woman, being within the degrees of consanguinity or relationship within which marriages are declared by law to be incestuous and void, and knowing of such consanguinity or relationship, intermarry, or have sexual intercourse together, or live together in adultery, each of them must, on conviction, be imprisoned in the penitentiary for not less than one, nor more than seven years.' The degrees of consanguinity or relationship within which marriages are declared incestuous are fixed by section 2837 of the Civil Code of 1896 [Code 1940, Tit. 34, § 1, as amended, supra]. One of these degrees is, as known in common parlance, that of step-father and step-daughter. The language is that 'No man shall marry the daughter of his wife.' [As applicable to this case the provision is that 'The son must not marry his * * * stepmother.']

'It cannot be seriously doubted that the relation of consanguinity or affinity between the parties must exist at the time the act of intermarrying or sexual intercourse occurs. If the relationship, previous to the time when the act of marrying or sexual commerce takes place, has ceased to exist, then the act of intermarrying or sexual intercourse is not incestuous, however offensive it may appear to good morals, or punishable as a crime under other criminal statutes.'

See, also, Henderson v. State, 26 Ala.App. 263, 157 So. 884.

Although it was held in the Tagert case that 'after the death of the wife living issue of the marriage continues the affinity between the husband and her blood relations', that principle has no application to the case before us. There is no evidence indicating any issue, living or dead, of the marriage of defendant and her deceased husband, Claude C. Martin.

The only defense offered was that the defendant was insane at the time of the commission of the alleged murder. The principal witness for the defense was a psychiatrist who testified that he had examined the defendant and in his opinion she was a sehizophrenic. He further testified that schizophrenia is a permanent mental disorder that exists throughout the life of one afflicted, and that the defendant was probably a schizophrenic at the time she poisoned her husband. Expert opinion evidence to the effect that the defendant was sane was offered in rebuttal by the state.

It is insisted here that, in view of the position taken by the defendant that she was a schizophrenic, several remarks made by the trial Judge while qualifying the jury had the effect of creating a strong prejudice in the minds of the prospective jurors against the accused's defense of insanity. The trial Judge, apparently at the request of the defense, questioned each successive group of prospective jurors as to whether any of them was familiar with the term 'schizophrenic' or the symptoms of 'schizophrenia'. The following exchanges contain the remarks to which appellant objects:

'The Court. Are each of you familiar with the term 'schizophrenia'? It was explained a while ago.

'Mr. Cameron. Judge, the word, 'a dual personality,' is misleading. It is insanity, definitely applied to insanity.

'The Court. I am sure they are not familiar with that, because the court is not. I am sure they are not familiar.

'(No response.)

'The Court. Each of you familiar with the term 'schizophrenic' or the symptoms of schizophrenia? I know you are not. Do any of you all know anything about that?

'A Juror: I don't know what it is.

'The Court. I don't know much myself.

'Mr. Cameron. If you will, have them identify themselves.

'The Court. All right.

'(The jurors at the rail identified themselves.)

'The Court. You are qualified.

'The Clerk. Next group.

'The Court. That is no disqualification? Any of you familiar with the term 'schizophrenic' or know the symptoms of schizophrenia?

'A Juror. I am not familiar with them.

'The Court. I am sure you are not.

'A Juror. Just what do you mean by that?

'Mr. Cameron. It is a type of insanity where a person loses contact with realization. In other words, they have no control over their actions. Skis-o-frenia is the correct pronounciation of it, I believe.

'The Court. You want their names called?

'Mr. Cameron. Yes, sir; please.

'The Court. All right. Start.'

The sole defense, as already noted, was the defendant's insanity. Counsel for defendant sought to prove that at the time she poisoned her husband she was suffering from schizophrenia and was not legally responsible for her actions. It is contended that the remarks of the trial Judge struck at the very heart of this defense by making light of it before the prospective jurors. We have carefully examined the comments of the trial Judge in the light of the entire record and cannot see how it can be said that such comments prejudiced the jury against defendant. The expert witness for the defense was allowed to explain to the jury the meaning of schizophrenia and to state in detail its symptoms and effects, and the trial court, in its oral charge, clearly and correctly stated the test which the jury should apply in determining whether insanity had been proved as a defense. We see no merit to the insistence that the defendant was prejudiced by any of the comments made by the trial Judge.

We have carefully considered all of the testimony, even though no lawful objection or exception was made thereto, as is required of us, and we do not find any testimony that was seriously prejudicial to the rights of the appellant; nor can we say, upon consideration of all the testimony, that the verdict is so decidedly contrary to the great weight of the evidence as to be wrong and unjust, which would call for an order reversing the judgment and granting a new trial. Code 1940, Tit. 15, § 382(10), Pocket Part; Act No. 249, approved June 24, 1943, Gen.Acts 1943, p. 219, § 10, supra. The verdict is amply supported by the evidence.

No error to reverse appearing, the judgment is due to be, and is, affirmed.


All the Justices concur.

On Motion for Rehearing.

It is insisted by counsel for appellant that we erred on original deliverance in holding it was not reversible error to receive in evidence that part of defendant's confession relating to her marriage to her deceased husband's son. It is argued that such admission, in the absence of an affirmative showing by the state that there was no living issue of the marriage of defendant and her deceased husband, 'tends' to establish a separate crime, and for this reason should have been excluded from the confession. In answer to this we quote again the following from Tagert v. State, 143 Ala. 88, 91, 39 So. 293, 294, 111 Am.St.Rep. 17, supra: 'If the relationship, previous to the time when the act of marrying * * * takes place, has ceased to exist, then the act of intermarrying * * * is not incestuous.' The confession itself shows the death of the husband, thus bringing about a cessation of the relationship unless there be living issue of the marriage. We do not think it was incumbent on the state to negative a continuance of the affinity by an affirmative showing that there was no living issue of the marriage of defendant and her deceased husband. Furthermore, it seems to us, as argued by the state, that evidence of defendant's marriage to her deceased husband's son was relevant and admissible to show a motive for the poisoning of the husband, that is, to get rid of him so that she could marry his son.

We have again reviewed the entire case and find nothing in the record calling for a reversal.

Rehearing denied.



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