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 associates.
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 Vermilyea 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 Vermilyea 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 Vermilyea 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 Vermilyea 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 Vermilyea 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 Vermilyea 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 Vermilyea “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 4th detectives rushed her to the hospital, a victim of her own “white pepper.” The authorities reported that Louise Vermilyea had been ingesting poison with her meals since she was first confined at home, October 28th.
On November 9th, Louise Vermilyea was reported as being near death, with valvular heart problems adding their punch to the poison. By December 9th, she had been stricken with paralysis, described by her physicians as a permanent condition. She died in December of 1911.
credit murderpedia / Michael Newton – An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers