You have to wonder what Lieut. Paul Southard thought when the woman he had married just a few months earlier was arrested for killing her fourth husband. And that she was suspected of killing her first three husbands as well. Oh, yes, and her first husband's brother and maybe her baby. My guess is his first reaction was: "She never said anything about being married before!"

And indeed, she hadn't.

Serial killer Lyda Anna Mae Trueblood was born October 16, 1892 in Keytesville, Missouri. Her family moved in 1906 to Twin Falls, Idaho. Seven years later, she entered her first marriage. Apparently, her idea of foreplay was to whisper, "Honey, you need to take out a life insurance policy." Which he did in a joint venture with his unfortunate brother.

Thus began a series of well-planned murders that went undetected until 1921. (You will notice that in some reports, her first name is listed as Lydia. It took awhile for newspapers to get it straight.)

Syracuse Journal 1921

Woman Accused of Slaying
Five Men to Get Ins
LOS ANGELES, Calif., May 13 – Mrs. Lydia Southard, a vivacious brunette of 28, is under arrest in Honolulu on a charge of having killed her former husband and a brother-in-law by poisoning them with arsenic, the sheriff’s office announced here Thursday.

The arrest of the alleged “woman Bluebeard” followed a chase of several months in the United States. She was traced to Honolulu, where she was with her fifth husband, Lieut. Paul Southard of the USS Chicago.

She will be returned to this country for trial in Idaho as soon as possible, the authorities declared.

Mrs. Southard poisoned her four husbands, it is alleged, for the purpose of getting their life insurance. The brother of her first husband, who held an insurance police jointly with the husband, also died under mysterious circumstances.

In each case it has been discovered arsenic was the cause of death, though the woman has gone unchallenged until her arrest in Honolulu.

The chronological story of the alleged murders starts in 1913, when the woman married Robert C. Dooley, a prosperous rancher of Twin Falls, Idaho. Within a few days after the marriage, Dooley, with his brother, Edward, took out a $10,000 life insurance policy, two years later Edward died after a short illness. The husband died under the same circumstances a few weeks later. The insurance was paid to Mrs. Dooley, the present Mrs. Southard.

A year later William McHaffle, also of Twin Falls, married the widow. In 1917 he obtained a $5,000 insurance policy. He died in 1918 in Billings, Mont.

After another interval of a year, she married Harlan C. Lewis in Billings. He died four months later.

Edward F. Meyer was the next man. He married her in 1920 in Pocatello, Idaho. Coming to Twin Falls, the newly married couple spent one night together at a ranch near there. Meyer died within three days in a local hospital.

Though he was insured for $10,000, she did not attempt to collect the money. Operatives working for the life insurance companies had started to compared notes, and after careful investigation a complaint was issued by the district attorney in Twin Falls, charging Mrs. Meyer with the murder of her husband.

Detective Ormsby of the Twin Falls sheriff’s office traced her to this city where it was discovered that she had married Lieutenant Southard on Nov. 28, 1920.

The next month Southard was transferred to the Hawaiian Islands and his wife left for Honolulu from San Francisco Dec. 29.

Investigation has revealed, according to authorities, that in each case, Mrs. Southard waited until her husband was sick. Then, it is alleged, she administered the poison and the doctor, knowing the man to be sick, would assume that he died of natural causes. A death certificate, showing that some disease was the cause of death, was signed in each case. Exhumation of the bodies of two of the dead men has revealed the presence of arsenic in their stomachs.


Another story in the same edition of the Syracuse Journal identified her using the last names of all her husbands — Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffle*, Lewis, Meyer Southard. When she met Southard, Lyda worked at a Los Angeles cafeteria, presiding over the salad counter.

Upon their marriage, she strongly suggested Southard take out a $10,000 life insurance policy. Before he could, his wife was arrested, and it was revealed she was responsible for the deaths of her previous four husbands.

Long before the Twinkie defense, there was this unusual explanation offered by Lyda from her cell in the Oahu jail: “I believe I am a natural typhoid fever carrier. All of my husbands died of it. My friends have died of it. I have medical certificates to prove it. I have done nothing wrong.”

She was returned to Twin Falls, Idaho, where she went on trial for the murder of her fourth husband, Edward P. Meyer.

The prosecution said Lyda Southard extracted arsenic from flypaper by boiling it. She then put the arsenic into food she prepared for victims, usually soup, though she reportedly also made it the special ingredient in her apple pies.

Interestingly, her fifth husband (aka Mr. Lucky) attended her murder trial and sat with her when the verdict was read. She was found guilty of second degree murder.

* His name shows us spelled several different ways, including McGaffney.

What happened to Paul Southard after his wife was carted off to prison remains unknown. Apparently there's no record of a divorce. Not that it would matter to the convicted murderer who'd marry two more men – one of them while she was on the run for escaping from prison.

She was in the news again in 1932:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1932

Woman’s Death May Be Laid
To Escaped Female Bluebeard
Topeka, Kan., August 1 (AP) – Lyda Southard, four of whose six husbands have met death under mysterious circumstances, today faced return to Idaho, where she escaped from the State Penitentiary while serving a 10-year sentence for the fly-paper poisoning of Ed F. Meyer.

The “Feminine Bluebeard,” booked as a 39-year-old housewife following her arrest here Saturday, declined to see callers, but was quoted by Perry Brush, chief of police, as having admitted her identity. She also was identified by fingerprints.

Meanwhile from Denver, where the woman’s sixth husband, Harry Whitlock lives, came word that District Attorney Earl Wettengel planned to investigate the death of Theodosia Whitlock, Whitlock’s mother.

Mrs. Southard married the Denver man last March, almost a year after her escape from the Idaho institution by scaling a 16-foot wall.

She was arrested here when she called for mail from Whitlock, whom she left hurriedly after explaining her “mother was ill in Akron, Ohio.” She was identified in Denver following her flight after the arrest of David Minjton, 45, who confessed he aided in her prison escape.


As prisons go, the one in Idaho was comfortable, at least for Southard (shown in her mugshot right) because there were few inmates in the women’s ward and she pretty much treated the place like her own home. She worked for the warden’s wife and, incredibly, her duties included cooking.

The warden, in turn, allowed her to leave the prison on day trips that included going to movies in Boise. This continued even after she was returned to prison following her escape. She was granted parole in October 1941 and reportedly went to Nyssa, Oregon, to live with her sister. Eventually she returned to Twin Falls and – you guessed it – got married again, to Hal Shaw, husband number seven. A couple of years later she was alone again. No one seems to know what happened to Shaw.

Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffle Lewis Meyer Southard Whitlock Shaw then moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where she died of a heart attack on February 5, 1958. Her body was buried in Twin Falls where the headstone identifies her as Anna E. Shaw.