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A.K.A.: "The Derby Poisoner"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: "Black widow" poisoner of husbands and children for life insurance
Number of victims: 10
Date of murders: 1864 - 1871
Date of arrest: June 1871
Date of birth: 1824
Victims profile: Edward Struck (first husband) / Martha Struck, 6 (her daughter) / Edward Struck Jr., almost 4 (her son) / William Struck, 9 months (her son) / Dennis Hurlburt (second husband) / Horatio N. Sherman (third husband) / Ada Sherman (her stepdaughter) / Frankie Sherman (her stepson)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: New York/New Jersey/Connecticut, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in 1872. Died in prison on May 16, 1878

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The New York Times - January 11, 1873


The Derby Poisoner


Lydia Sherman (Burlington, New Jersey, United States, 1824 – 16 May 1878), also known as The Derby Poisoner, was a serial killer. She poisoned several children in her care and her three husbands and was convicted of second-degree murder in 1872.


Lydia Sherman

In the 1870's Lydia Sherman was found to be one of the most cold hearted and successful poisoners to come out of nineteenth century America.

The story begins in the early 1860's. Lydia was married to, ironically enough, a Policeman named Edward Struck. Edward and Lydia Struck had six children, and according to Lydia it had all become too much.

Lydia decided to put an end to any more pregnancy's. She went to the chemist and purchased some Rat Poison. Then, feeling she could perhaps make some money out of her venture, insured her husband's life for a modest sum.

The murder worked, her husband died quickly and nobody suspected a thing. So Lydia went on to insure and murder all six of her children, leaving her rich and free. Lydia was quite a skilled actress, for no one ever thought of her as being anything else than a poor widow.

In 1868, Lydia married Dennis Hurlbrut, a fairly rich farmer from New Haven, Connecticut. It was said by some that he was senile. By the beginning of 1870 Lydia was not only a widow again, but had squandered most of the late Dennis's estate.

In April 1870 Lydia took a job as housekeeper to Nelson Sherman, who having already lost his wife, needed someone to look after his baby son and fourteen year old daughter.

Lydia and Nelson grew close, and finally, he agreed to marry her. To show her gratitude Lydia poisoned, with arsenic, his son and daughter. Neslon Sherman was grief stricken at the loss of his children. He succumbed to a poisoned hot chocolate drink on the 12 May 1871.

This time however Lydia was not so lucky. The local doctor, Dr Beardsly, became suspicious and ordered a second opinion, and then a third. Dr Beardsly's suspicions of poisoning by arsenic were proved correct when the bodies of the Sherman children were exhumed.

Dr Beardsly informed the police, but Lydia had already fled to New York. The police ordered Mrs Sherman's extradition back to Connecticut to face trial.

Lydia Sherman was convicted of second degree murder - due to most of the evidence being circumstantial. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. Lydia Sherman died in Prison on 16 May 1878.

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


The Champion Husband Killer

Startling Chapter of Crimes – Particulars of the Lydia Sherman Case

The Coshocton Democrat (Oh.)

August. 1, 1871

The story of the crimes of Lydia Sherman, now on trial in Connecticut goes far ahead of anything told in history of Borgia or Brinvilliers.

Lydia Sherman was first married when she was seventeen years old to a widower named Struck. The newly-married couple lived together for about seven years, during which time they had six children. Not many months after the birth of the youngest child, the husband was taken sick in a mysterious and sudden manner. In spite of all the physicians could do, the unfortunate man soon died. The widow explained his taking ill by stating he had taken a dose of medicine from the wrong bottle. No suspicion of foul play seems to have been aroused at that time. Within two years from the man’s death his six children all died, and died suddenly. No one seemed to have known or asked why the little ones should have been so mysteriously cut down. Even then, strange to say, it does not appear that the finger of public suspicion pointed at the wife and mother.

After spending two years of widowhood Mrs. Struck married a second husband. This time, at least, she must have married for some other reason than that of love. Her happy second was a well-to-do the farmer and fisherman who had contrived to lay up a little property. But he was well advanced in life and possessed very few attractions, besides his property, that were likely to catch the heart of a widow in the full bloom of womanhood. She was very careful, however to act the part of an old man’s darling. The neighbors often saw her caressing and fondling “gude mam,” and to the outward world the little woman appeared to be perfectly contented. Shortly after his marriage the loving husband made a will in which all his estate, both real and personal, was conveyed to his young wife. Not long after the execution of this instrument he was suddenly attacted with painful and alarming symptoms. Medical aid was immediately summoned, but it was beyond their power to relieve the sufferer. In a few hours, Lydia was a widow for the second time.

In September, 1870, this remarkable woman was led for the third time to the altar. The successor of her two lamented husbands was a young Mechanic of much promise and good reputation. He was a widower, and the father of five children, three sons and two daughters. The youngest child was hardly two years old. Within a very short time after his wife had assumed her place at the head of the little household, the infant was suddenly taken violently sick and died in a few days. The next to follow was the woman’s step-daughter, a beautiful girl of fifteen years old, and one of the most beloved in her neighborhood. After the death of his two children their father became dissipated and soon went to the bad. He did not live happily with his new wife. For many months they dwelt apart from each other and talked of procuring a divorce. But, as we have said, Lydia Sherman never waited for the law when it became necessary to put a husband away from her. She persuaded the man to return to her in the early part of last month. One of her first acts was to mix up a “glass of something nice” for her repentant husband to drink. In less than two hours after drinking it he was in excruciating pain. For two days he suffered extremely and was only released by the hand of death after hours of constant agony, and Lydia Sherman was left to mourn for a third husband.

After this last death the neighbors thought it to be about time to find out why so many had died with whom this modern Borgia had been brought in contact. The grave of her last victim was opened. Chemistry was summoned to find out a clue to the dreadful mystery. In the stomach of the corpse enough arsenic was found to have killed three men. After this horrible discovery, the graves of the children and of some of the woman’s other victims were opened. The dead told the secret of their death. In every instance where time had not obliterated all traces of guilt, poison was found. Then it flashed across the minds of those who stood by the open graves why it was that Lydia Sherman had been so often a widow and why she had never been able to bring up her children. The mystery of the mortality in the woman’s family was all revealed. The avenging hand of justice soon followed her. She was tracked to New Jersey and carried back to the little town in Connecticut where she had poisoned her last three victims. To-day she appears before the Court for a preliminary examination. She is now in her 45th year; is a woman of very ordinary appearance, but of stoical reserve and wonderful shrewdness. To the interviewers and visitors she has nothing to say. No unguarded word will ever escape her lips. But the evidence that the grave has offered is too strong against her. Her trial will doubtless be one of the most remarkable ever witnessed in this country. That she will finally be made to give her life in atonement for the many lives she has taken, there can not be much reason to doubt.


A Remarkable Woman

New York Tribune

June 7, 1877

Of course, Mrs. Lydia Sherman, who lately escaped from the Connecticut State Prison, is called a Lucretia Borgia or a Brinvilliers in the newspapers. If she poisoned three husbands and seven children, as she is said to have done, she is certainly entitled to a place in the catalogue of eminent criminals of her sort. Mrs. Sherman, convicted of one of these many offences, was in the prison for life; and she exhibited there a profound cunning. Her first resource was to assume the character of a confirmed invalid, and this part she has played with astonishing skill. Naturally a fair woman, she became as dark as an Indian. It is now discovered that she had secreted in her cell yellow crayons, with which she stained her countenance. In some way she contrived to have frequent fainting fits, when she appeared as if about to die. She contrived to make a little money by the manufacture and sale of fancy articles, and this sale was very improperly allowed to retain by the Matron, from whom, it is said, she also stole $50. She obtained and secreted a white muslin dress, which, before escaping, she substituted for the prison costume of linsey-woolsey.

The case of Mrs. Sherman is only another illustration of the proclivity of certain minds to crime, fraud, and deception, which are practiced until they become second nature. At first we are inclined to regard them as very far from wanting in intellectual efficiently. In mere cunning and shrewdness, in the faculty of ingenious simulation, and to those faculties which accompany an utter lack of conscientiousness, the depraved character often is by no means wanting. But the experience of mankind shows that this apparent strength is weakness itself. How can it be otherwise, since the cleverest criminals are oftenest found in penal durance?

The Italian proverb declares that “there are more foxes ‘ than asses’ skins coming to the market.” If honesty be the best policy, it is the best philosophically as well as morally. There seems to be a point beyond which the sharpest wrong-doer cannot go without detection and punishment, as if there was some mysterious law of right and wrong, working according to a method as yet unclassified, and in the long run, often in the short run, avenging it own violation. From the point of view the acutest wrong-doer is no wiser than a fool. His adroitness is stupidity, and his very dexterity proves a fatal clumsiness.

Mrs. Sherman, after long and painstaking preparation, contrived to get away from the prison, being somewhat favored by the negligence of the Matron who had charge of her, with some friends to help her and with some money in her pocket, she leaves Hartford only to be arrested in Providence, and returned to her old quarters. So, too, though she was sharp enough to poison three husbands and seven children, she was not sharp enough to escape detection. She was confronted, she is confronted still, by the immutable law of right. She is wily for nothing, and partly succeeds only to fail ignominiously at last. There is no such cheat in the world as a criminal’s own cunning.


MO: "Black widow" poisoner of husbands and children for life insurance.

DISPOSITION: Life sentence; died in prison May 16, 1879.



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