Lavinia Fishers' House of Horrors

Lavinia Fisher

Lavinia Fisher was born in 1793 and that’s all that is known about her childhood. Her claim to fame comes from being the first female serial killer in the America. Many mistakenly believe Mary Surrate was the first woman to be hanged in the United States. Lavinia was hanged 40 years prior.

Lavinia was a beautiful woman who married a man named John Fisher. They lived near Charleston, South Carolina where they managed a hotel called the Six Mile Wayfarer House in the early 1800's. Their chilling tale begins at this house of horrors. Men visiting the establishment began to mysteriously disappear.

As more and more men ended up missing authorities began an investigation. The one common denominator was they were all last seen at the Six Mile Wayfarer House, so called because it was six miles outside of Charleston. However, investigators could find no evidence tying the Fishers to any of the disappearances. And since the couple was held in such high esteem by the community authorities dropped the investigation.

Lavinia’s beauty was legend in the area which added to the hotels’ business and popularity. However, it was later learned she used her charm and attractiveness for a dark, evil purpose… to help her husband rob and kill male patrons of the hotel. And as numbers of missing mounted, the community’s suspicion became aroused.

Old Charleston Jail 1937

Locals formed a vigilante group in February of 1819 to investigate further. Apparently their curiosity was once again satisfied and they returned to Charleston, leaving a man by the name of David Ross to stand watch from a distance.

The next morning, David Ross was besieged by two men and dragged before a group of men along with Lavinia Fisher. He looked to her for help, but in a surprise move, she choked him and smashed his head through a window. Somehow, Ross escaped and alerted authorities.

Later, a traveler named John Peeples stopped at The Six Mile House asking for a room. The beautiful Lavinia informed him they didn’t have a room available but warmly invited him in for tea and a meal anyway.

Peeples and Lavinia chatted amicably for a while with the hostess asking pointed questions about their guest. Meanwhile, he husband sat in the background observing. Lavinia suddenly excused herself for a moment to fetch some tea. She returned with t good news…a room had suddenly become available if he was still interested. He accepted and was poured a cup of tea.

Inside Old Charleston Jail

However, Peeples didn’t like tea, so he poured it out when she wasn't looking. Afterwards, she showed him to his room. The many questions Lavinia had asked began to gnaw at his gut. Why was her husband staring at him all evening?

Suddenly, it dawned on him he might be the target of a robbery. He didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in the bed so chose to sleep in a chair by the door. He slept fitfully until he was awakened by a loud noise. The bed had disappeared into a deep hole beneath the floor. Peeples promptly escaped out the window, and fled to authorities in Charleston. John and Lavinia Fisher, as well as two accomplices, were arrested.

Local authorities quickly descended upon the hotel and systematically searched the grounds. In a maze of hidden passages, were items traceable to dozens of missing travelers, a tea laced with a powerful sleeping potion and a mechanism that could be triggered to open the floorboards beneath the bed. In the basement were the gruesome remains of hundreds.

The Fishers plead not guilty, but they were nonetheless convicted and sentenced to hang. They appealed the ruling.

While waiting for their sentence to be carried out, they occupied themselves making an escape plan. They began making a rope from jail linens. On September 13, they used the rope to shimmy down to the ground. Her husband made it but the rope broke, leaving Lavinia still in the cell. Not willing to go without his wife, he turned himself back in and the two were afterwards, kept under heavier security.

In February, 1820, their appeal was rejected and their execution was scheduled for later that month.

A local minister named Reverend Richard Furman was sent to counsel the pair. John is said to have begged the priest to save his soul if not his life. However, Lavinia would have nothing to do with the proceedings.

On the morning of February 18, 1820 the two convicted murderers were taken from the Charleston Jail to be hanged. John went quietly praying with the minister, whom he had previously asked to read a letter. Before a crowd of some 2,000 people, the letter insisted on his innocence and asked for mercy and forgiveness.

However, the scheming Lavinia had concocted a plan to ensure she would not be executed. At the time in South Carolina it was against the law to execute a woman who was married. When Lavinia mentioned this at her trial the judge expertly foiled the ploy by directing her husband to be hung first…making her a widow.

Frustrated at the turn of events Lavinia then decided to be executed in a wedding dress. She hoped that with a priest present, she could seduce a man into marrying her. But there were no takers in the crowd that day. The beautiful murderess realized she was running out of time. Before the executioner could tighten the noose, she exclaimed "If anyone has a message for hell, give it to me. I'll deliver it!" She then sprang from the the gallows and committed suicide rather than having someone execute her.

Its’ been argued the Fishers were buried in the Unitarian Church Graveyard located between King and Archdale Streets in Charleston, but this seems highly unlikely. There was a Potter's Field Cemetery next to the jail, where criminals were buried if their bodies weren't claimed by family members. Additionally, church records have been searched and no evidence she was buried there has ever been found.

It’s been said Lavinia haunts the old Charleston jail restored in 2000. One of the first reports was from restoration workers finding footprints in the dust after it had been closed off for months due to lead paint contamination. When the historic building was opened to the public for tours, reports of ghostly sightings continued to pour in.

Several workers saw the ghost of a jailer with a rifle on the third floor. It was said to have passed through the bars heading toward them before it vanished. Others have reported seeing a black man in ragged clothing wandering about. But, the Jail’s most infamous ghost is that of the sinister, Lavinia Fisher. Several who claim to have seen her say she is wearing a bright red and white wedding dress.

Mysterious sounds have also been heard including the hum of a dumbwaiter although its’ been out of service for years. Visitors and employees have complained of a choking feeling and shortness of breath while on the main staircase. Others say they’ve been grabbed, pushed or touched by invisible entities. A tour guide reports she felt a rope wrap around her ankle and a man in the basement had his sunglasses violently knocked off. Doors are often found open after being closed. There have also been terrible odors so bad they make people feel sick.

Various tour companies in Charleston provide excursions through the old city Jail located at 21 Magazine & 17 Franklin Streets.

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Comments 1 comment

5 years ago

This one of my fave hubs yet. Fantastic tale was unaware of. Lavinia was stubborn and crafty to the end. its surprising, with her beauty she didn't try to get in the family way by a guard, wouldn't that have stopped the ex. too? Good pics on the jail. next time down there my try to tour the jail. Thanks JY

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