After two marriages ended, with the deaths of her husbands, by 1977 Velma Barfield was in a relationship with Stuart Taylor, who was a widower and tobacco farmer. As she had been doing for years, she forged checks on Taylor’s account to pay for her addiction to prescription drugs.
Fearing that she had been found out, Velma Barfield mixed an arsenic based rat poison into his beer and tea. Taylor became very ill and Velma volunteered to nurse him. As his condition worsened she took him to hospital where he died a few days later.
Unfortunately for her there was an autopsy which found that the cause of Taylor’s death was arsenic poisoning and Velma Barfield was arrested and charged with his murder.
At the trial her defense pleaded insanity but this was not accepted and Velma Barfield was convicted. The jury recommended the death sentence. Velma appeared cold and uncaring on the stand and actually gave the District Attorney a round of applause when he made his closing speech.
Velma Barfield later confessed to the 1974 murder of her own mother (in whose name she had taken out a loan) and of two elderly people, John Henry Lee (by whom she was being paid as a housekeeper/caregiver) and Dollie Edwards (a relative of Stuart Taylor). Velma always attended the funerals of her victims and appeared to grieve genuinely for them.
The body of her late husband, Thomas Barfield, was later exhumed and also found to contain traces of arsenic. But Velma Barfield denied that she had killed him.
Her motives for these four murders were the same. She had misappropriated money from her victims and then according to her, tried to make them ill so she could nurse them whilst finding another job to enable her to repay the money. Needless to say, the jury was less than impressed by this defense.
Velma gained notoriety as the “Death Row Granny,” becoming the first woman to be executed in the U.S. since 1962, and the first since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.