A "black widow" whose activities
spanned the turn of the century, Louise Vermilyea came to grief when
greed exceeded her discretion and she started reaching out to prey
upon acquaintances, instead of relatives.
At that, it took the death of a
policeman in Chicago to alert authorities and raise suspicion over the
peculiar fates experienced by several husbands, family members, and
The officer in question, Arthur
Bisonette, age 26, had been a boarder in Vermilyea's home when he fell
ill and died in late October 1911. Homicide detectives grew suspicious
after speaking with Bisonette's father, who also reported stomach
pains after dining with his son at the boarding house.
Louise Vermilyea, he recalled, had
sprinkled "white pepper" over his food before it was served. An
autopsy on Bisonette discovered arsenic, and Louise was taken into
custody pending exhumation of other suspected victims.
The string of homicides apparently
began in 1893, when Fred Brinkamp, Louise's first husband, died at his
farm near Barrington, Illinois. He left his widow richer by $5,000,
but at sixty years of age, Fred's death was not considered cause for
any undue comment.
Soon, two daughters by the marriage
-- Cora Brinkamp, eight years old, and Florence, nearly five -- were
also dead. In January 1906, Lillian Brinkamp, Fred's 26-year-old
granddaughter, died in Chicago, stricken by "acute nephritis." It
began to seem that members of the Brinkamp tribe had stumbled on a
previously undiscovered family curse. Louise remarried, meanwhile, to
one Charles Vermilyea, 59.
By 1909 he was dead, another victim
of sudden illness, leaving his widow $1,000 in cash. Harry Vermilyea,
a step-son, dropped dead in Chicago after he quarreled with Louise
over the sale of a house at Crystal Lake, ten miles north of Chicago
in McHenry County. Once again, coincidence was blamed.
In 1910, Louise inherited $1,200 on
the death of Frank Brinkamp, her 23-year-old son from her first
marriage. On his death bed, Brinkamp informed his fiancee, Elizabeth
Nolan, of belated suspicions involving his mother, declaring that he
was "going the way dad did." Temporarily short of relatives, Louise
began to practice on acquaintances. The first to die was Jason
Ruppert, a railroad fireman who became ill after dining with Louise on
January 15, 1910.
Two days later, he was dead, and
others followed swiftly. Richard Smith, a train conductor, rented
rooms in the Vermilyea household, but he should have eaten elsewhere.
Sudden illness struck him down a short time prior to Arthur
Bisonette's arrival on the scene, and other victims might have fallen
over time, had not Louise allowed the elder Bisonette to get away.
While motive in the later homicides
was never clear, financial gain was obvious in the elimination of
Vermilyea's husbands and assorted offspring. Undertaker E.N. Blocks,
of Barrington, recalled that Louise "actually seemed to enjoy working
around bodies, and while I never employed her, for a couple of years I
couldn't keep her out of the office.
At every death she would seem to
hear of it just as soon as I and she would reach the house only a
little behind me." While under house arrest, Louise Vermilyea
denigrated the official efforts to indict her for a string of ten
known homicides. "They may go as far as they like," she said of
police, "for I have nothing to fear. I simply have been unfortunate in
having people dying around me."
On the side, her tough facade was
crumbling, and on November 4 detectives rushed her to the hospital, a
victim of her own "white pepper." The authorities reported that Louise
had been ingesting poison with her meals since she was first confined
at home, October 28.
On November 9, she was reported as
being near death, with valvular heart problems adding their punch to
By December 9, she had been stricken
with paralysis, described by her physicians as a permanent condition.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial
Killers - Hunting Humans