Anjette Donovan LYLES
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Poisoner - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 4
Date of murder: 1952 - 1958
Date of arrest: May 6, 1958
Date of birth: August 23, 1925
Victims profile: Ben F. Lyles Jr. (her husband) / Joe Neal Gabbert (her second husband) / Julia Lyles (her mother-in-law) / Marcia Lyles, 9 (her daughter)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 1958. The Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted her death sentence, and Lyles was sent to the State Hospital for the Insane in Milledgeville. Died on December 4, 1977
Lyles, Anjette Donovan
A self-styled practitioner of black magic and voodoo, Anjette Lyles was born in Georgia during 1917. In 1958, authorities in Macon received an anonymous letter, charging that Lyles' daughter Marcia was being poisoned at home, and they felt obliged to investigate.
The girl died before police intervened, but an autopsy revealed lethal traces of arsenic. The grieving mother spun a tale of accidental death, with Marcia eating poison during a game of "doctor and nurse," but homicide investigators weren't convinced.
Their background search had turned up other family skeletons, including Anjette's last two husbands and one of her mothers-in-law. On exhumation, all three victims tested positive for arsenic, and Lyles was shown to have received insurance benefits upon the death of each.
Convicted and sentenced to death at her trial, the defendant was later ruled insane by court psychiatrists, packed off to the state hospital at Milledgeville for life.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Lyles, Anjette Donovan (23 Aug. 1925-4 Dec. 1977), restaurateur and multiple murderer, was born in Macon, Georgia, the only daughter of Jetta Watkins and William Donovan, who owned and operated a produce company. While Lyles was an unremarkable student, she was pretty and possessed a charming personality that enabled her to bend people to her will. Even as a child, she usually got what she wanted.
In 1947 she married Ben F. Lyles Jr., son of Julia and Ben F. Lyles Sr. Her husband owned Lyles Restaurant in downtown Macon, the business begun by his late father. The couple had two daughters, Marcia, born in 1948, and Carla, born in 1951. Anjette and Ben operated the restaurant together, and she was especially successful in dealing with customers. However, in June of 1951, Ben Lyles Jr. sold the restaurant due to his failing health. He made this move without consulting his wife and she never forgave him. As his health worsened, his attending doctors at Macon Hospital were uncertain as to the exact cause of his illness; when he died on 25 January 1952, they finally decided upon encephalitis as the cause of death.
Now a widow with two small children, Lyles and her daughters moved into her parents' home. She found work in another local restaurant and saved as much money as she could while learning the business. In April of 1955 she bought back the restaurant she believed her husband had stolen from her and renamed it Anjette's. While the food was typical Southern fare, people flocked to her eatery, attracted by her friendliness and outgoing personality. Anjette's quickly became the most popular restaurant in town. Her clientele included businessmen, judges, attorneys, and civic leaders. Lyles was a headstrong woman who often stretched the boundaries of acceptable behavior in the small Southern town. She drove flashy cars and dressed in the newest styles. Perhaps because of her striking good looks and flirtatious manner, Lyles's name was often linked in rumor to various men in the community, but there was no concrete proof of these liaisons.
In the late spring of 1955 Lyles began seeing Joe Neal Gabbert, a pilot for Capitol Airways. She accompanied Gabbert on a trip to Texas and New Mexico later that year, and the two surprised their friends and families by marrying in Carlsbad, New Mexico, on 24 June 1955. When they returned to Macon, Gabbert moved into the Donovan household. Four months later, he entered Parkview Hospital for minor surgery on his wrist, but the next day, he developed a spiking fever and a painful skin rash that spread over his entire body. The doctors weren't able to locate the cause of his illness and Gabbert never recovered. He was eventually transferred to the Veterans Hospital in Dublin, Georgia, where he died on 2 December 1955.
Soon after her second husband's death, Lyles appeared in Bibb County Superior Court to have her name changed from Gabbert back to Lyles. With the money she received from Gabbert's life insurance, Lyles bought a new car and a house. She also sparked disapproving gossip when, only a few months after her husband's death, she began dating another Capitol Airways pilot.
Soon after Lyles acquired her new house, her first mother-in-law, Julia Lyles, moved in with her. The elder Mrs. Lyles was lonely and wanted to be closer to her grandchildren. Mrs. Lyles also spent much of every day at the restaurant she and her husband had owned and which now belonged to her daughter-in-law. Going through some of the older woman's possessions, Lyles found a bankbook, which revealed that her mother-in-law possessed considerable wealth. She began pestering Mrs. Lyles to make a will, but Mrs. Lyles refused to do so.
Lyles was superstitious. She frequented fortunetellers and root doctors and tried to cast her own spells. She often pressed her maid Carmen Howard and her mother-in-law to participate in these ceremonies. And it wasn't uncommon for the restaurant staff to find her burning candles in the kitchen and speaking to the flames.
When Julia Lyles became ill in August of 1957, her daughter-in-law stayed with and cared for her during her month-long hospital stay, earning admiration for her devotion. She often brought Mrs. Lyles's favorite foods to her from the restaurant and fed her. Mrs. Lyles suffered from nausea and severe edema, but the doctors never isolated the cause of her symptoms. She died on 29 September 1957 and was buried beside her husband and son. A week later, Lyles produced what she claimed was her mother-in-law's will in which much of her estate was left to Anjette Lyles and her daughters. The will was probated soon afterward.
It wasn't until Marcia grew ill in the late winter of 1958 that townsfolk became suspicious of the deaths of those people closest to Anjette Lyles. When, after a long hospital stay, Marcia died on 4 April 1958, an autopsy was performed on the child's body and arsenic was found in her system. When the bodies of Ben F. Lyles Jr., Joe Neal Gabbert, and Julia Lyles were exhumed, it was determined that all three had died from arsenic poisoning. A search of Lyles's house turned up several boxes of ant poison, containing arsenic, along with what was referred to as "voodoo paraphernalia"-candles, written spells, potions, powders, and roots.
On 6 May 1958, Lyles was arrested and charged with four counts of murder. The case became an immediate sensation. Her trial, held the first week of October of 1958, attracted worldwide attention. Huge crowds stood outside the courtroom, hoping to get a glimpse of the defendant whom the newspapers referred to as the "glamorous, platinum-haired widow." Lyles was convicted and sentenced to death for her crimes.
However, she would have been the first white woman executed in the state of Georgia and many politicians weren't happy that such a thing might occur on their watch. After all the appeals were exhausted and the trial results were upheld, Governor Ernest Vandiver appointed a sanity commission consisting of a psychiatrist, psychologist, and medical doctor to examine Lyles. The conclusion the team presented to the Board of Pardons and Paroles was that the prisoner was insane. The Board commuted her death sentence, and Lyles was sent to the State Hospital for the Insane in Milledgeville. Georgia's most notorious female murderer lived the rest of her life in that hospital, dying there of heart failure at the age of fifty-two.
The case file and the entire transcripts of Anjette Lyles's trial and appeals are on file in the office of the Superior Clerk of Court, Bibb County, Georgia. A full-length account of Lyles's life was published by Mercer University Press: Jaclyn Weldon White, Whisper to the Black Candle (1999). Extensive coverage of the arrests and trail appeared in many southeastern newspapers, including The Macon Telegraph (May 1958-September 1959), available at Washington Memorial Library, Macon, Georgia.
Jaclyn Weldon White. "Lyles, Anjette Donovan"
American National Biography Online - Anb.org
Georgia's most notorius murderess
By Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law.Flagpole Magazine
December 22, 1999
Whisper to the Black Candle: Voodoo, Murder, and the Case of Anjette Lyles
Jaclyn Weldon White
Mercer University Press, 1999
177 pp., $22.95, clothbound
This little book focuses on the terrible crimes and sensational trial of Georgia’s most infamous female murderer of the 20th Century.
In the 1950's Anjette Lyles owned and operated a restaurant in downtown Macon. She was an attractive and friendly young woman who worked hard to succeed in her business, and her restaurant was a popular gathering place, with numerous regular customers including many businessmen and lawyers. “Everybody loves her,” one of the restaurant’s cooks said at the time. “She is a sweet person.”
“Going to her restaurant, you didn’t think about the food as much as you thought about just being welcome,” one patron wrote later. “She hugged everybody’s neck when they walked in the door. She would come to each table and sit down and talk. She had a personality that was terrific. It was a pleasure to go to her restaurant. . . . You couldn’t help but like her.”
In May 1958 Macon was stunned to hear that 32-year old Anjette Lyles had been arrested and charged with murdering four persons--her two husbands, her mother-in-law, and her 9-year old daughter. Anjette was indicted for “having administered and causing to be administered . . . deadly poisons, to wit: arsenic and arsenic trioxide” to the victims “by artfully, deceitfully, and wickedly enticing, procuring, and causing [them] to swallow and take internally said deadly poisons” with the intent to kill them, and thereby slaying them.
Anjette’s trial in Macon in October 1958 was the most publicized and talked about criminal trial in Macon in the 20th Century. Anjette was tried for only one of the murders, that of her daughter, but the prosecution was permitted to present evidence showing that in addition to murdering her daughter Anjette had murdered the three other persons. Generally, in a prosecution for a particular crime the state is not allowed to introduce evidence that the defendant committed other crimes, but there is an exception to this rule if the evidence of other crimes shows motive, plan, or scheme for the crime for which the defendant is on trial.
At Anjette’s trial, the prosecution was permitted to prove not only that Anjette had killed her daughter by poisoning in 1958, but that she had done the same thing to her first husband in 1952, her second husband in 1955, and her mother-in-law in 1957. The deaths of all four victims were shown to be logically connected in at least ten ways: (1) each of the victims occupied a close relationship to Anjette; (2) each of the victims died of a unique cause--arsenic poisoning; (3) each victim died as a result of multiple doses built up to a lethal level; (4) Anjette was the only person in close personal attendance to all four victims; (5) Anjette showed little or no grief over each death; (6) Anjette collected a substantial amount of money as a result of each death; (7) each of the victims was lavishly buried by Anjette; (8) all the victims were carried to the same hospital, at which they were attended by Anjette; (9) Anjette expressed intense dislike for each of the victims either before or after his or her death; and (10) Anjette predicted the death of each of victims, except her first husband.
Although circumstantial, the evidence that Anjette had killed all four victims was, viewed in its totality, compelling. There was overwhelming evidence that the victims died of arsenic poisoning given in doses over a period of time, and ant poison containing arsenic was found in Anjette’s bedroom.
The damning evidence adduced by the prosecution included the following chilling vignettes:
On occasion employees of Anjette’s restaurant heard Anjette respond to her daughter’s annoying behavior by screaming at her, calling her an SOB, and threatening or swearing to kill her.
Anjette would take food and drink to the victims while they were in the hospital. But before delivering a drink Anjette would disappear into the restroom for a few minutes, taking both the drink and her purse with her.
When Anjette’s daughter was in a hospital bed crying out from hallucination-induced terror--seeing snakes and thinking bugs were crawling out of her fingers--Anjette, standing nearby, did not attempt to comfort the dying child but instead laughed at her.
Two weeks before her suffering daughter died, at a time when the doctors were telling her the girl would recover, Anjette ordered a coffin for the girl.
Also two weeks before her daughter died, Anjette, remarking “Well, she won’t be using these anymore,” packed up the girl’s personal things in the hospital room, discarded the flowers, and put the suitcases in the hall, but kept some of the flower vases, saying she was going to take them to the cemetery.
At the trial it also came out that Anjette was a superstitious creature obsessed with magic and the occult. She visited fortunetellers. She had roots, powders, potions, and other voodoo paraphernalia in her home. She would burn candles and talk to them, telling them what she wanted. White candles were for peace, red candles were for love, green candles brought luck or money, and orange candles kept people from gossiping about you. Black candles were burned when you wanted someone to die.
Anjette did not put any witnesses on the stand or introduce any evidence. She did not rely on an insanity defense. Her entire defense consisted of her lengthy unsworn statement she made personally and orally to the jury in which she vehemently denied killing anyone and protested her love for the victims. (Incredible as it may seem, until 1961 a Georgia criminal defendant was not allowed to testify under oath at his or her own trial.)
Anjette’s weak defense was not strengthened by her icy demeanor at trial. When witnesses and spectators would burst into tears at various points in the trial because of poignant testimony concerning her daughter’s tragic and painful death, Anjette would sit there stonefaced, seemingly indifferent to the spectacle of other people weeping and sobbing for her dead child.
The jury convicted Anjette after deliberating for an hour and a half, and she was sentenced to death.
On July 8, 1959 the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Anjette’s sentence. The Court had no doubt that Anjette was guilty of the crime charged, observing that the trial evidence “shows nothing short of a deliberate, premeditated, well-concocted plan and scheme . . . to murder an innocent child for no cause except to satisfy [Anjette’s] desire for money.”
Anjette did not die in the electric chair. After the state supreme court upheld her conviction, Anjette was examined by six medical professionals, including four psychiatrists. They were unanimous in their diagnosis: Anjette was a psychotic and insane. “The type of her mental illness is chronic paranoid schizophrenic,” the doctors decided. According to one of the doctors, Anjette even “experienced hallucinations, including seeing angels flying around the room.” Anjette’s death sentence was therefore reprieved and she was transferred to a state mental hospital in Milledgeville, where she died of heart failure at the age of 52 in December 1977.
Forty years after her widely publicized trial, it is astonishing how few people today have ever heard of Anjette Lyles.
Whisper to the Black Candle is the first book by Jaclyn Weldon White, a juvenile court administrator in Gwinnett county, and she has produced a quality work. The book includes numerous photographs of key personages in the Anjette Lyles case. The most intriguing are the photographs of Anjette herself--a mysterious, enigmatic figure in her Fifties clothes, shoes, hairdos, and horn-rimmed sunglasses. In those photographs she certainly does not look like the woman many have described as the most evil murderess ever produced by the state of Georgia. There she is--the inscrutable Anjette Lyles, vivid proof that the good old days, as we like to call them, were often terrible.
Weird Georgia: Anjette Lyles
The Mother Murders
Happy Weird Georgia Mother's Day!
Anjette Donavan was the typical girl next door when she married Benjamin Franklin Lyles in October 1947. They had a nice apartment on Poplar Street in Macon, where Ben helped run Lyles’s Restaurant, a thirty-year-old family business. Pregnant within weeks, Anjette delivered Marcia Elaine the following July.
Unfortunately, Ben began staying out late, drinking heavily, and gambling. Anjette helped her mother-in-law Julia run the restaurant, with Marcia becoming a favorite of the staff.
In the army Ben had developed rheumatic fever, which affected his heart. At the Veterans Administration hospital in Dublin he was declared completely disabled and received a pension. Anjette had another daughter, Carla, in May 1951, shortly before Ben suddenly sold the popular restaurant for just $2,500. Ben resumed drinking, and his disability was reduced by 90 percent. Anjette was forced to beg relatives for money and used clothes for her children.
In December 1951 Ben began bleeding profusely from the nose and mouth. He became delirious, his arms and legs swelled, and at times his body would go rigid or his limbs twitched convulsively. Ben fell into a coma and died January 25, 1952, the declared cause encephalitis.
Widowed with two children at the age of 26, Anjette had no resources and continued to rely on family charity. However, she had enjoyed working at Lyles’s and became a bookkeeper at Bell House Restaurant, determined to master the business. By working hard and pinching pennies, in April 1955 she bought the old Lyles’s for $12,000, reopening it as Anjette’s.
Traditional Southern food and Anjette’s charming personality made the restaurant a Macon institution. Airline employees frequented Anjette’s, and that was how she met Joe Neal “Buddy” Gabbert, pilot and military veteran. Inviting local scandal, Anjette flew to Texas to visit him. On the night of June 24, 1955 they roused a judge in New Mexico and married.
Soon after the couple returned to Macon, Buddy’s wrist started hurting, then a severe skin rash developed on his face, chest, arms and legs, and he suffered acute swelling. The pain was so intense that he begged, “Let me die,” related Jaclyn Weldon White in Whisper to the Black Candle. As his condition worsened, a doctor suspected arsenic poisoning. “He’s going to die,” Anjette told people. “I know he’s going to die.”
After several nights in the hospital, which allowed Anjette to rest, Buddy rallied and was released, but at home his condition grew worse and he was readmitted. He could not stomach any food, usually vomited liquids, and grew increasingly irrational. Transferred to the VA hospital in Dublin, Buddy’s kidneys failed and he died December 2, 1955.
When a nurse asked Anjette if Buddy was insured, she nodded and said vehemently, “and his mother won’t see a penny of it. I’ve seen to that.”
Doctors wanted to autopsy Buddy, but Anjette refused. “I promised him I’d never let anyone cut him up,” she declared. The doctors did not need her approval and proceeded, although nothing unusual was found.
Not only did Anjette neglect to grieve for Buddy, she started telling people he was mean to her and wondered why she had married him. She was soon dating Bob Franks, her husband’s former boss, purchased a Cadillac with Buddy’s insurance, and then bought a house in the suburbs. Anjette’s original mother-in-law, Julia Lyles, moved in with the family.
Anjette knew Julia had nearly $100,000 in savings and pressured her to make a will, but the older woman refused. In August 1957 Julia fell ill-listless, pale, and chilled. After she vomited blood, turned purple, and her limbs started to swell, she was hospitalized.
“I’m afraid she’s not going to make it,” Anjette worried aloud. Weeks later Anjette stated, “It doesn’t look like she is going to live,” and showed a note signed by Julia authorizing Anjette to make funeral arrangements. Julia died September 29.
A week later Anjette produced Julia’s will, announcing, “I finally talked her into it.” One third of the estate was left to Julia’s son Joseph, another third to Anjette, and the final portion to Marcia and Carla. Anjette was both executor of the will and trustee for her girls.
At some point in her life Anjette embraced voodoo, believing in its magic and burning candles for various purposes. If she desired a certain result, she wrote it on a note and placed it under a lit candle, to which she then whispered. “You tell it what you want it to do,” she said
In March 1958 Marcia felt listless and developed a bad cough. Her temperature was so high, 106 degrees, that the doctor sent her straight to the hospital. “I think she’s going to die,” Anjette said, her morbid resolution firmer than ever.
In Cochran, Julia’s sister Nora Bagley received an anonymous note: “Please come at once. She’s getting the same dose as the others. Please come at once.” A similar note followed.
Marcia’s health rapidly deteriorated and she became delirious, believing bugs were crawling across her skin.
“She’ll soon be going home to Little Ben (Marcia’s father) and her grandmother,” Anjette predicted. The girl died April 4, 1958.
Lester Chapman, the Bibb County coroner, alarmed by the note from Cochran and Marcia’s death, took tissue samples from the body.
Anjette placed a Bible and bride doll with Marcia, and buried her beside family members at Coleman Chapel near Wadley, in eastern Georgia. Anjette reinterred Ben beside her, and ominously stated, “She (Carla) said she wants to go to heaven to be with Marcia."
Mother on Trial
Citizens of Macon now openly spoke of Anjette as a serial killer. Told of the rumors, Anjette revealed that Marcia and Carla had been seen playing with ant poison. After being informed that she might be indicted for murder, Anjette produced a note signed by Julia which stated, “I am the cause of my son’s death and my own.” After arsenic was found in Marcia’s tissues, the bodies of Ben and Julia Lyles and Buddy Gabbert were disinterred and samples taken. All contained arsenic.
On May 6 Anjette was arraigned for the murders of Ben, Julia, Marcia, and Buddy. A search of her home produced an abundance of voodoo supplies, which received considerable press attention. The Bibb County sheriff announced that ant poison had also been found. Further, it was claimed, Anjette had benefited financially by the deaths-a sum of up to $50,000.
At grand jury a long time employee testified to watching Anjette place something in a glass of buttermilk she took to Julia in the hospital. She also witnessed the same procedure with lemonade destined for Marcia. She said that she had found a bottle of ant poison in Anjette’s pocketbook. Another woman had discovered two bottles of ant poison in Anjette’s dresser.
Anjette Lyles was indicted for Marcia’s murder.
When a jail trustee was found with money, he admitted that Anjette had provided it to purchase ant poison for her use. As a result, Anjette was isolated in the top floor of the county courthouse.
A jury of twelve men was empanelled. Media from across America and Europe clamored for seats, and when the trial started, it was followed around the world.
While Buddy lay dying, according to one witness, “She (Anjette) seemed disinterested most of the time.” A nurse said that Anjette “would ask me how much longer it would be before the patient died,” and expressed grief only in the presence of visitors.
A salesman testified that while negotiating the purchase of a car, Anjette said she could pay cash in a month or so. “She mentioned that Mrs. Ben Lyles, Sr., was in the hospital,” he said, “and I remarked something along the line that I hoped it wasn’t anything serious, but she said, yes, she thought that it was serious and didn’t think Mrs. Lyles would pull through.”
The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office introduced a piece of paper taken from Anjette’s house where the name of Julia Lyles had been written over and over. A handwriting analyst pronounced Julia’s signature on the funeral note and will forged. Further, a number of witnesses testified that Julia’s hands were useless during her final illness. Restaurant workers stated that Anjette had said of Julia, “The old devil! I hate her. I wish she was dead.”
An employee of Anjette’s related a comment Anjette had made about her daughter: “I’m going to kill the little Lyles-looking son of a bitch if it is the last thing I ever do.” The husband of a waitress heard the same thing, plus Anjette telling Marcia that “if she didn’t sit down and behave, she would kill her.”
When a doctor told Anjette that Marcia was improving, she responded, “Well, it can’t last much longer. She is going to get worse again.”
Of Marcia’s horrible hallucinations, said another nurse, Anjette “acted as though it was comical. She laughed.” Three others witnesses confirmed this story and one said Anjette packed up Marcia’s hospital things two weeks before her death. She also ordered a casket at that time.
Several witnesses saw Anjette doctor drinks for Julia and Marcia while they were hospitalized.
At trial’s end, Anjette took the stand for an unsworn statement, which meant that she could not be cross examined by the prosecution.
“Gentlemen of the jury,” she declared, “I have not killed anyone,” and attempted to refute all the testimony against her. As for laughing at Marcia’s hallucinations, she said, “when I get upset, I laugh. I can’t help it. I have done it all my life. Instead of crying, I laugh.”
After a weeklong trial the jury only needed an hour to return their verdict: guilty without recommendation for mercy. Minutes later the judge sentenced Anjette to death in Georgia’s electric chair.
When the appeals process started Anjette became passionately religious, then started faking insanity for psychiatrists. After the Georgia Supreme Court rejected her appeal, Anjette was transferred to Reidsville State Prison for execution. To the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, she said, “I didn’t murder. I didn’t kill.” She did admit to forging Julia’s will. Anjette spent time on death row, only to be returned to Macon after the governor granted a stay. Again before the Board of Pardons and Paroles, she not only accused Julia of killing Ben, Buddy, and herself, but stated that her mother, Jetta Donavan, who had stood by Anjette’s side throughout the ordeal, had killed Marcia.
The Board, not wanting to anger the public by commuting Anjette’s sentence, and unwilling to execute her, asked the governor to appoint a Sanity Commission. The diagnosis was chronic paranoid schizophrenia. By law, Georgia could not execute an insane person, so Anjette was sent to Milledgeville State Hospital, which treated the insane. If she recovered she would be executed. In the hospital Anjette studied the magic arts and told fortunes with playing cards. She told a friend, “They think I’m crazy as hell and I’m going to let them keep thinking it. Because if they don’t, they’re going to fry my ass!”
Anjette spent nearly twenty years at Milledgeville, dying December 4, 1977, at the age of 52. This strange story has a bizarre ending-Anjette was buried beside two of her victims, husband Ben and daughter Marcia in Coleman Chapel in Wadley.
Supreme Court of Georgia
LYLES v. THE STATE.
215 Ga. 229, 109 S.E.2.d 785 (1959)
H. T. O'Neal, Jr., Charles F. Adams, Special Assistant Attorneys-General, Eugene Cook, Attorney-General, Rubye G. Jackson, Deputy Assistant Attorney-General, contra.William K. Buffington, Jack J. Gautier, Roy B. Rhodenhiser, Jr., for plaintiff in error.
On June 10, 1959, a grand jury in Bibb County by a special presentment charged and accused Mrs. Anjette Donovan Lyles with the offense of murder. The presentment alleges that the accused "with malice aforethought, did, in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifty-Eight in the county aforesaid, make assaults upon Marcia Elaine Lyles by administering and causing to be administered to the said Marcia Elaine Lyles deadly poisons, to wit: Arsenic and arsenic trioxide, and other poisons of like deadly character the names of which are to the grand jury unknown, but all of the same being substances likely to produce death in the manner so used; the said Anjette Donovan Lyles having administered said deadly poison and poisons by artfully, deceitfully, and wickedly enticing, procuring, and causing the said Marcia Elaine Lyles to swallow and take internally said deadly poisons at a time and times, and in a form and forms, and in a dose and doses to the grand jury unknown, all with the intention and design to kill and murder the said Marcia Elaine Lyles, who was then and there ignorant of the deadly character of said poisons; and the said deadly poison and poisons did produce in said Marcia Elaine Lyles a state of mortal sickness whereof she died on the 5th day of April in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifty-Eight, and so the jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, do say that the said Anjette Donovan Lyles, in the manner and form aforesaid, did unlawfully, feloniously, and with malice aforethought, kill, murder, and slay the said Marcia Elaine Lyles contrary to the laws of said State, the good order, peace and dignity thereof." Before arraignment, the defendant demurred to the presentment generally on the ground that its allegations are insufficient to charge her with the commission of any offense under the laws of this State. And she demurred to it specially on the ground that it alleges no specific date or dates on which she allegedly made assaults upon Marcia Elaine Lyles by administering and causing to be administered to her deadly poisons, and that there is no allegation in the presentment of any date on which the accused allegedly murdered Marcia Elaine Lyles. The demurrers were overruled, and that judgment is properly excepted to in the bill of exceptions. On the trial a jury convicted the accused of the offense charged without any recommendation, and she was sentenced to be electrocuted. In due time, she filed a motion for a new trial on the usual general grounds, later amended it by adding several special grounds, and excepted to a judgment denying her motion as amended. Held:
1. Section 27-701 of the Code of 1933 declares: "Every indictment or accusation of the grand jury shall be deemed sufficiently technical and correct which states the offense in the terms and language of this code, or so plainly that the nature of the offense charged may easily be understood by the jury . . ." This section gives a form for every indictment or accusation, and it is there pointed out that each indictment or accusation must set out the offense and allege the time and place of its commission with sufficient certainty. The same form as there given has been included in all of our former Codes. The special demurrer, which the defendant timely interposed, attacks the presentment on the ground that it fails to allege a specific date on which the offense charged was allegedly committed by the accused. Respecting this contention, we think it is well settled by the decisions of this court that an indictment or accusation which fails to allege some specific date on which the offense was committed is defective as to form and therefore subject to a timely interposed special demurrer pointing out such defect. For some of the cases so holding, see Cook v. State, 206 Ga. 618, 620 (58 S. E. 2d 149); and Mosley v. State, 211 Ga. 611 (87 S. E. 2d 314). On its facts, the Gossett case is remarkably similar to the instant case. Like the defendant in this case, Mrs. Gossett was indicted for killing one person with arsenic, money being her motive for the homicide as the State contended, and over her objections the court admitted evidence which showed or tended to show that she had previously killed her father and mother with arsenic for a monetary motive. It was there held by the majority that the evidence objected to was relevant for the purpose of showing plan, scheme, and motive with respect to the crime for which she was then being tried; and some of the full-bench decisions mentioned above were cited in the opinion which Mr. Justice Bell prepared for the court as authority for the ruling there made. The full-bench decision in Bacon v. State, 209 Ga. 261 (71 S. E. 2d 615), is not in conflict with the decision rendered in any one of the several cases cited above. It simply holds, as they do, that, on the trial of one charged with the commission of a crime, proof of a distinct, independent, and separate offense is not admissible, even though it be a crime of the same sort, unless there is some logical connection between the two from which it can be said that proof of the one tends to establish the other. In the instant case, the presentment accused the defendant of intentionally killing her nine-year-old daughter by causing her to swallow and take internally certain deadly poisons. The State contended that her motive for such act was the collection of insurance which had been taken out on the life of the deceased in which she was the designated beneficiary, and certain other financial benefits which would accrue to her on the child's death. The State offered, and the court admitted over the defendant's objections, the testimony of a number of witnesses which shows or tends to show that the accused, for a money motive and in a like manner, had previously poisoned with arsenic and killed three other persons, namely Ben F. Lyles, Jr., Joe Neal Gabbert, and Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., the first two being her husbands and the latter her mother-in-law. The testimony objected to and allowed tends to show a logical connection between the deaths of the three persons mentioned by the witnesses and the death of Marcia Elaine Lyles, the last victim. Touching this and respecting similarity of the facts and circumstances as to the death of each, the evidence shows: (1) Each of the victims occupied a very close relationship to the defendant. (2) Each of them died from a unique cause: arsenic trioxide poisoning. (3) Each died from a remarkable administration of these unique media, that is, by multiple doses built up to a lethal level. (4) The defendant was the only close personal attendant to all four victims. (5) The defendant showed little or no grief for any one of her four victims, though each was very close to her. (6) The defendant collected a substantial amount of money from the death of each victim. (7) The burials of all were similar, in that each was lavishly done by the defendant. (8) All victims were carried to the same hospital, at which place they were attended by the defendant. (9) The defendant expressed intense dislike for each of the victims either before or after his or her death. (10) The defendant predicted the death of all of the victims except Ben F. Lyles, Jr., before he or she died. In addition to these general similarities, there are innumerable other similarities between various combinations of the deaths within the overall grouping. These similarities are obvious from a reading of the evidence and will not be enumerated here. We think that all of these facts and circumstances are sufficient to show that common design and modus operandi which brings this case within the scope of the rule so clearly stated in the above-cited decisions. Hence, we hold that the evidence objected to was relevant for the purpose of showing plan, scheme, and motive with respect to the crime charged by the presentment in this case, and that the court did not err in admitting the evidence for such purpose.
3. The brief for the plaintiff in error argues special grounds 56 to 59 inclusive together. These special grounds complain of the introduction and allowance of several canceled checks, some of which are dated after the death of Marcia Elaine Lyles; a letter to the Veterans Administration, dated June 21, 1955, purporting to be written and signed by Joe Neal Gabbert, and inquiring about the status of his insurance; an instrument purporting to be signed by Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., dated September 2, 1957, addressed "To Whom It May Concern", and directing that her body be delivered for burial to Anjette Donovan Lyles (the defendant); and a photostatic copy of the last will and testament of Mrs. Ben Lyles, Sr. That they were irrelevant, immaterial, did not illustrate the issue on trial, and were being offered by the State solely for the purpose of putting her character in evidence when she had not elected to do so, was the objection timely made by the accused to their admission. None of these grounds of the motion requires a reversal of the judgment refusing a new trial. They were facts which it was proper for the jury to consider in connection with the State's contention that the accused murdered Ben F. Lyles, Jr., Joe Neal Gabbert, and Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., as well as the person named in the presentment; and that her motive for each homicide was the same, namely, money. Respecting all of the documents so tendered, except the canceled checks, the State introduced evidence which would have authorized the jury to find that they were not only forgeries but forged by the accused.
4. Special ground 60 alleges that a new trial should be granted movant because the jury which tried her was not sworn as required by law. The recital of fact in this ground of the motion for new trial was not approved as being true by the trial judge; but, to the contrary, was disapproved by him and his certificate expressly recites that the jury was sworn before the trial started. Hence, this ground of the motion cannot be considered. Clifton v. State, 214 Ga. 569 (1) (105 S. E. 2d 725), Driver v. State, 194 Ga. 561 (22 S. E. 2d 83), and McNaughton v. State, 136 Ga. 600 (71 S. E. 1038), where each defendant was convicted on circumstantial evidence and where the indictments charged them with having committed a homicide by the intentional use of a deadly poison. Among the many facts and circumstances shown by the State's evidence in the case at bar, which when considered together and as a whole show the defendant's guilt of the offense charged, is a statement made by her on more than one occasion shortly prior to the decedent's death that she would kill her if it were the last thing she ever did. The evidence as we view it after a careful and anxious examination of it, shows nothing short of a deliberate, premeditated, well-concocted plan and scheme, as the defendant thought, to murder an innocent child for no cause except to satisfy her selfish desire for money.
6. Since the judgments complained of are not erroneous for any reason assigned, they are therefore affirmed.
In substance, the State's evidence and the defendant's statement were as follows: The defendant married Ben F. Lyles, Jr., in 1947. Two children were born to them. His mother, Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., was very devoted to him. She lived with them or they with her much of the time. They operated a restaurant together. He was rated by the Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society as a permanently disabled person on December 1, 1951. In January, 1952, he became seriously ill and was admitted to a hospital on January 23, 1952. When admitted, he was comatose, bleeding from the nose and mouth, had a generalized edema, hemorrhage in the conjunctiva of both eyes, was delirious, vomiting, and had a twitching of his extremities, accompanied by rapid respiration. He died on January 25, 1952. He had a G. I. insurance policy which named the defendant as beneficiary, and from which she received $9,300; two policies with the Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society, from which she, as beneficiary, received $3,000. As his widow and from the time of his death, she received $150 per month from the Veterans Administration until her remarriage in June, 1955, and from the same source their two children received $47 each thereafter.
The family restaurant was sold after the death of Ben F. Lyles, Jr., but his mother continued to maintain a close association with his family. In April, 1955, the defendant acquired the original Lyles restaurant, and thereafter operated it as "Anjette's Restaurant." She met Joe Neal Gabbert the day she opened the restaurant. He was an airline pilot, 26 years old, weighed 200 pounds, and was six feet tall. Approximately three days before their marriage, he purportedly wrote a letter to the Veterans Administration about his insurance policy and inquired if it was still of force and if the premiums had been paid. An expert examiner of documents for the State Crime Laboratory testified that the letter was not written or signed by him. After their marriage during June, 1955, the defendant was made the beneficiary of this insurance, and on his death received $10,091.85 as payment of the policy. On August 2, 1955, he applied to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for insurance in the amount of $20,000, designating the defendant as beneficiary, but $10,000 of it was not accepted since the defendant thought they could not afford it. In November, 1955, Joe Neal Gabbert entered the hospital for a minor wrist operation. The defendant was at the hospital continuously administering to him various fluids and juices. Shortly after the operation, he developed a weeping rash over his body from which body fluids flowed out of the erupted skin. He suffered terribly from this disorder and his face and eyes were bound up much of the time with bandages and wet dressings. Dr. Reifler, a dermatologist, as a witness for the State, testified that a rash such as he had could, in his opinion, be due to dermatitis caused from arsenic. An attorney, who was a patient at the hospital at the time, testified that the defendant told him she thought her husband should make a will and she would like for him to talk to her husband. He went to Gabbert's room to discuss it with him, but when he saw Gabbert's condition, he did not discuss the matter. A nurse at the hospital testified that the defendant asked her to look at Gabbert's feet and legs and see if they were not turning dark and she at that time stated to the witness that her husband was going to die. He was transferred back to the home where he and the defendant lived with her mother. His condition became so much worse that he could hardly do anything for himself, but he was not under a doctor's care. Miss Jennie Ingle, a registered nurse, cared for him one shift each day, and the defendant looked after him until she came on duty the next day. The nurse testified that she fed him intravenously until November 30, 1955, when his veins collapsed; that a doctor had not been called to see him during this time; and she informed the defendant that he would die unless a doctor was obtained to treat him. The next night, the defendant sent him by ambulance to the Veterans Hospital in Dublin, and the defendant followed the ambulance in her car, accompanied by a man not known to the witness. He was placed in a psychiatric ward where he died on the following day. During Mrs. Ingle's care of the deceased, the defendant made a number of statements to her concerning her relationship with him and his family, saying that his insurance was made to her, and his mother was not going to get any part of it; that she did not want his family coming to Georgia but, if they did, she should tell them that he received the best treatment available. Miss Ingle also testified that the doctor requested permission to do an autopsy, but the defendant refused until the doctor told her he could go over her head and obtain authority to do it. The defendant then became hysterical and stated that she had promised her husband during a conversation they had before he got sick that she would never after his death consent to an autopsy. Gabbert was buried in Macon but, at the insistence of his parents, his body was subsequently exhumed and moved to Texas. Miss Ingle also testified that she met the defendant some time after Gabbert's death in Macon, driving a new car, and at that time she told the witness that she was in love with another man who had a good job and a big insurance policy. Two other witnesses testified that the defendant stated to them that she could not have continued to live with Gabbert if he had not died; that she did not love him; and that she would have divorced him had he continued in life. After Gabbert's death, the defendant changed her name back to Anjette Donovan Lyles by a proceeding filed for that purpose in the Superior Court of Bibb County.
Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., remained very close to the defendant and her children. She lived with them some of the time and helped to operate the restaurant and they lived with her some of the time. In the summer of 1957, the defendant attempted to purchase a white Oldsmobile convertible automobile from a dealer in Warner Robins, who told her that he would require a down payment of at least $1,000. She then stated to him that Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., was in the hospital seriously ill and she did not think she would live and in about a month she could pay the $1,000 or probably the full purchase price, since she and her children were beneficiaries under Mrs. Lyles' will. About thirty minutes before the onset of Mrs. Lyles' illness, she, the defendant, and some other people were at the defendant's restaurant together. The defendant left and about thirty minutes later Mrs. Lyles' face became discolored and she commenced vomiting blood. When informed of her illness, the defendant sent her maid to bring her to the defendant's home, where she remained until August 28, 1957, when she was removed to a hospital with symptoms of pigmentation of the skin and peripheral neuropathy, which prevents one from having the use of his or her extremities. Between the onset of Mrs. Lyles' illness and the time of her hospitalization, the defendant was seen in her restaurant with a bottle of Terro ant poison which she explained to Mrs. Cleo Hutcheson, an employee, was to be used for the purpose of killing ants in her home. The defendant constantly looked after Mrs. Lyles and carried her food and liquids. One witness saw her get a glass half full of buttermilk, take it into the restroom at her restaurant, together with her black pocketbook, then come out and leave for the hospital with the milk and the pocketbook. Two or three days later she was seen taking some more milk into the restroom together with something in a small paper sack, which she had removed from an overnight bag. The nurse on duty with Mrs. Lyles testified that the defendant brought food and drinks to Mrs. Lyles: that Mrs. Lyles would not drink the coffee from the defendant's restaurant because she did not like the taste of it; that, just before Mrs. Lyles died, the defendant asked her several times how long it would be before Mrs. Lyles died; and that she showed grief respecting Mrs. Lyles only when others were present. Carrie Jackson, a former employee, testified that, shortly after Mrs. Lyles was taken to the hospital, the defendant carried food and liquids to her and stated to the witness that Mrs. Lyles was going to die. Mrs. Ingles testified that the defendant told her she hated Mrs. Lyles and wished she were dead, and that she had moved into the house with the defendant without an invitation. The defendant stayed at night with Mrs. Lyles at the hospital and kept her cosmetics, toothpaste, etc., in an overnight bag. An attorney testified that the defendant told him that Mrs. Lyles did not want to execute a will but she thought she ought to make one. One week after Mrs. Lyles entered the hospital, the defendant told a witness that Mrs. Lyles was going to die without leaving her anything, but that she knew an attorney who would make a will for her just as she wanted it made. Two weeks after the death of Mrs. Lyles, the defendant showed this witness an instrument dated August 20, 1957, which purported to be the will of Mrs. Lyles. Seven witnesses for the State testified that, on the day the will was purportedly signed and for many days before and after then, Mrs. Lyles was completely paralyzed--she could not pick up a glass, press a hospital buzzer, hold a straw or a pen. On September 2, 1957, a writing which authorized the defendant to take charge of the body of Mrs. Lyles at the time of her death was taken to a notary public in the hospital by the defendant, who told her that Mrs. Lyles had signed it. The writing was witnessed by the notary and another person at the notary's request and placed in the hospital files. It authorized the defendant to claim Mrs. Lyles' body for burial, and was returned to her when the body of Mrs. Lyles was delivered to her. An expert examiner of documents for the State Crime Laboratory testified that the purported will of Mrs. Lyles and the burial instrument were both forgeries and made by aid of tracing paper. Tracing paper was found by the investigating officers in the home of the defendant. Mrs. Lyles died on September 29, 1957, and her purported will was probated. The will named the defendant as sole executrix and bequeathed two-thirds of the decedent's estate to the defendant and her two daughters. After the death of Mrs. Lyles, the defendant, as executrix of her estate, deposited in different Macon banks $11, 197.32 as funds of the estate. A sister of Mrs. Lyles testified that she visited Mrs. Lyles while she was in the hospital, and Mrs. Lyles gave her bonds amounting to $2,500, which she then had in her purse. The defendant became very angry with the nurse on duty when she discovered the bonds were missing. An attorney of the Macon Bar testified that, some time prior to the death of Mrs. Lyles, the defendant showed him deposit books on two different Federal Savings Banks in Atlanta or Decatur in Mrs. Lyles' name showing balances of between $80,000 and $90,000; and other witnesses for the State testified likewise, but the State was unable to produce further evidence respecting such deposits.
Soon after Mrs. Lyles' death, the defendant began to abuse her nine-year-old daughter Marcia Elaine Lyles. Witnesses for the State testified that she, in speaking to the child, said: "You little Lyles-looking son of a bitch, I'll kill you if it's the last thing I ever do." She repeated this threat on another occasion and at the same time said that she would have killed her previously except for Carla--the younger daughter--crying and praying for her. On another occasion when she threatened to kill Marcia and cursed her for a "Lyles-looking son of a bitch," Mrs. Cleo Hutcheson remonstrated with her and told her that she did not mean it. "Yes," said the defendant, "I mean every word of it. I will kill her if it's the last thing I ever do." On Sunday, March 2, 1958, between 6 and 6:30 pm., the defendant and Marcia came into the restaurant and the child was coughing, complaining of feeling bad and suffering from headache. She went to the back booth of the restaurant and "draped" her head over it. The defendant and some of her friends were in the kitchen of the restaurant. The child begged her mother to take her home, continued to complain about being sick and, according to the testimony of several witnesses, appeared to be very sick--she was coughing constantly and had a high temperature. The defendant took a spoonful of sugar, poured whisky over it, and gave it to the child. About 8 p.m., the child commenced vomiting violently and the defendant carried her home. She was hospitalized on March 5 and placed in the same room which Ben F. Lyles, Jr., Joe Neal Gabbert, and Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., had previously occupied. The defendant stated to witnesses on Wednesday or Thursday of that week that Marcia was going to die. A few days after the child became ill, the defendant sent for some grape juice, poured some of it into another cup, went in the restroom of her restaurant with the cup and her pocketbook, and came out shortly with the juice and carried it to the hospital. About March 5, as three witnesses testified, they saw the defendant squeeze two lemons into a glass, take the glass and her black pocketbook into the restroom, come out shortly, stir the liquid, smell it, and touch it to her own lips, and one of those witnesses testified that she went with her to the hospital where she gave the liquid to the child. These witnesses testified that, where the liquid touched the defendant's lips, sores and a rash appeared a day or two later, and one of them testified that they were "parched up." The personal maid of the defendant, who was one of these witnesses, was instructed by the defendant about two weeks later to change the contents of the same black pocketbook into her brown pocketbook, and the defendant at that time had Terro ant poison as a part of its contents. The defendant, on seeing that the witness noticed this, gave her as an explanation for its presence that there were ants at her restaurant. The maid testified that she then took the defendant, who was in possession of the brown pocketbook containing the poison, to see her child in the hospital. The State introduced uncontroverted evidence which showed that the defendant had since September, 1957, had a contract with a pest-control company to exterminate any vermin at her home or at her restaurant, and that the company made monthly checks of her premises, and had never found ants at either place, and a call to the company complaining of ants would have been answered promptly without additional cost to the defendant. A nurse on duty with the child testified that, about two weeks after the child was hospitalized, the defendant brought some lemon juice to the child and said she "meant for her to drink it." The child became violently ill immediately after drinking the lemon juice and vomited frequently. An employee at the restaurant testified that she went with the defendant to the hospital to take the child some food and tea; that the defendant while they were en route to the hospital requested her to go in a drug store and get the child a toothbrush; that the child did not want to drink the tea because she said it did not taste good; that, after the death of the child, the defendant told the witness that her maid had found the children playing "doctor and nurse" with Terro ant poison. One nurse testified that the defendant asked her to look at Marcia's knees, and told her the child was going to die. Another nurse attending the child testified that the defendant tried to call a named man in California from the hospital several times. After the child's death, she called the defendant about paying her account for services, and the defendant told her that the maid had informed her that her child had taken ant poison and liked it because it was sweet and that her other child, Carla, was going to drink some of it so she could die and go to heaven with Marcia. After the child's death, the defendant's maid found four bottles of Terro ant poison in her bedroom. Dr. Charles Ireland testified that he was called in on the child's case on March 12. He noticed a decided improvement in her condition about March 26, but the defendant told him that her improvement could not last and that she would get worse. Two weeks before the child died, the defendant predicted her death and told two witnesses that the child wanted to see them; the witnesses testified that the child did not appear to them to be very sick at that time. The defendant on one day predicted that the child would die by 2 a.m. the next morning, and completely emptied her hospital room, including the flowers. She also gave her bathrobe to a cousin. During the night the child begged to be taken home, and the defendant turned to the nurse and remarked, "It won't be many minutes now, will it?" On March 22, 1958, the defendant ordered a special casket for her and planned for the children's choir at her church to sing at her funeral. The child was plagued with abnormally forceful vomiting, suffered nasal and oral bleeding, and contracted a generalized edema, her kidneys began to function badly and sometimes not at all. These conditions were accompanied by delusions. She would complain of beasts coming after her, insects attacking her, and of worms crawling out of her fingers; she would clutch at anyone standing near, cling to them, and beg to be protected. When the defendant was there on these occasions, she would act as if the child's delusions were comical and would laugh at what she said. After the death of the child on April 5, 1958, the defendant showed no signs of grief.
Dr. Leonard Campbell, pathologist and Bibb County Medical examiner, made a gross material autopsy two hours after the child's death, which consisted of a visual inspection of tissue and revealed nothing. After the child's death, one of the employees in the defendant's restaurant became suspicious of the defendant's actions, and wrote an anonymous letter to one of Marcia's aunts. The letter was subsequently passed on to the Coroner of Bibb County before the funeral. The coroner contacted Dr. Campbell, who performed a second autopsy. He removed tissue from the liver and the kidneys and parts of her hair which he transmitted to the State Crime Laboratory in Atlanta for the purpose of ascertaining the existence of poison. With these specimens he also forwarded two bottles of Terro ant poison. A few days later, the defendant visited Dr. Campbell's office for the purpose of discussing the child's death and subsequently made several visits. She was informed of the anonymous letter accusing her of poisoning her child and of the second autopsy. She showed no reaction whatsoever when advised that she was suspected of poisoning her child, and no specific poison was mentioned. The next day the defendant called Dr. Campbell and told him of an occurrence which she wanted her younger child Carla to relate to him. The defendant brought two bottles of Terro ant poison in a paper sack and had Carla relate a story about playing doctor with the Jones' twins with the poison bottles. Dr. Campbell insisted that the defendant should call the mother of the twins and tell her about the incident. She picked up his telephone book, looked up a number and dialed it, telling the party on the other end of the line that she was in the doctor's office and feared the twins had come in contact with some arsenic poison. The mother of the Jones' twins testified that her name was not listed in the telephone directory, and that the defendant had not called her. The evidence showed that the call was actually made to the defendant's home and received by her maid. She called Dr. Campbell at another time and told him about a letter which would clear her--a letter written to her by Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., addressed to her as "Anjette," and that the letter admitted that she (Mrs. Lyles) was responsible for the death of her son, Ben F. Lyles, Jr., and for her own approaching death and begged forgiveness for the wrong she had done to her (the defendant). She told two other witnesses about the purported letter from Mrs. Lyles. An expert examiner of documents from the State Crime Laboratory testified that a tracing of the letter found in the defendant's home and introduced in evidence was a forgery and explained the way it was prepared by the accused.
Hoke Smith, an embalmer and funeral director, testified that he embalmed the bodies of Joe Neal Gabbert, Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., and Marcia Elaine Lyles; and that the embalming fluid did not contain arsenic, and arsenic had not been used in embalming fluid since the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, and it could not have been legally used in 1950, or since then.
The defendant was arrested and charged with murder while she was being hospitalized for phlebitis. Miss Della West was one of the guards while she was at the hospital. The defendant told her that she had all the "brass hats" in Macon behind her and would easily get the whole matter straightened out; that she had not received one cent out of any of the deaths; and that she was in possession of a letter from Mrs. Ben F. Lyles, Sr., which would clear her--a letter which her maid had found in a slit in the lining of one of Mrs. Lyles' pocketbooks; that the policies in question should pay her double indemnity on the lives of the persons she was accused of killing if she were cleared of the crimes. Her maid testified that the defendant told her she was to say she had found this purported letter from Mrs. Lyles in a slit in one of Mrs. Lyles' pocketbooks, when in fact she had not found it at all. There was testimony as to the financial transactions of the defendant and the overdue notes, which the State contended formed the background for the money motive running through the child's poisoning. The assistant chief criminal investigator of the sheriff's office testified that the defendant told him she had received $48,750 out of the four deaths being investigated; that he found an advertisement of Terro ant poison in her bedroom; three almost-empty bottles of Terro ant poison in her kitchen cabinet; and that he found a brown pocketbook which, among other things, contained another used bottle of Terro ant poison.
The defendant in her statement denied administering poison to anyone and denied taking any liquid at any time into the restroom of her restaurant. She denied that there were any poison bottles in her home when she left it. She told of her married life with Ben F. Lyles, Jr., that he was ill, a heavy drinker, and kept drinking more whisky until he died. She told of meeting and marrying Joe Neal Gabbert, and stated he had a rash when they were married; that he wanted to take out $20,000 insurance in addition to his National Service Life Insurance policy, but she told him they could not afford it; that they had agreed that, if either of them died, an autopsy would not be permitted; that, while he was ill in her home, Dr. Johnson saw him almost daily, but he could not get him back into the local hospital since he had trouble there with a nurse. She stayed at night with Mrs. Lyles while she was in the hospital and took buttermilk to her at her request. She stated that she took lemonade and grape juice to Marcia Elaine Lyles while Marcia was in the hospital; that one of the doctors had told her about ten days before the child's death that she could hardly live through the afternoon or early part of the night; that there was only $1,750 insurance on the child's life; and that her illness and funeral expenses cost her $4,700; that, after Marcia's death, her younger child stated that Marcia drank some poison. She stated she loved her children, although she did become irritated with them at times. She denied giving poison to anyone.