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Lydia Sherman: The Derby Poisoner

Lydia Sherman swore she never meant to poison her third husband – just his children and the dead men of her previous marriages.


In 1872, Lydia Sherman was tried and convicted of poisoning her husband, Horatio N. Sherman. Lydia staunchly denied the deadly deed, yet was sentenced to life behind bars.

While in prison, Lydia offered up a truly peculiar explanation for her husband’s death: she never intended to kill Horatio; she just meant to kill his two children. In fact, Lydia admitted to murdering not just her two step-children, but at least two of her own children, as well as two former husbands.

At the age of seventeen, Lydia married her first husband, Edward Struck. The couple settled in New York City. Sources vary as to whether they had five or six children – Edward had at least two children from a prior marriage, and then three more with Lydia.

When their youngest was still an infant, Edward was laid off from his job as a policeman. His subsequent inability to find work became too much for Lydia, both financially and emotionally. Taking out an insurance policy on Edward’s life, she laced his food with rat poison.

lydia sherman derby poisoner

With Edward out of the way, Lydia set her sights on the two youngest of her children – Edward, age 3, and William, 9 months – though it is believed that she also murdered her daughter Martha, age 6. Placing insurance policies on each, Lydia killed off the children, all while continuing to play the part of a grieving widow and mother.

Lydia then moved on from her murdered family and relocated to Connecticut. There she met and married an older, wealthy man in 1867-68. Dennis Hurlburt was taken with the younger woman, but it seemed Lydia was not as satisfied with the relationship. By 1870, she was once again a widow – with a little less rat poison in her possession and a lot more insurance money in her purse.

The twice-widowed woman heard next of a man in nearby Derby, Connecticut who had recently lost his wife. Lydia applied to work as a housekeeper and caregiver of his children. She got the job and, within four weeks, she and Horatio N. Sherman were married. Once again, Lydia committed murder, poisoning Horatio’s two children, Ada and Frankie. Their father was devastated by their deaths, and the marriage crumbled.

Soon thereafter, Horatio met his own poisonous end from drinking a cup of arsenic-laced cider. Lydia was accused of the murder – though she vehemently denied concocting the killer brew. According to her, the rat poison had been placed upon the spice rack next to a box of saleratus, a powdery substance Horatio often used to add froth to his cider.

Poor Horatio simply grabbed the wrong box, she said.

Unconvinced, the courts sent Lydia to jail. She briefly escaped in 1877, but was apprehended and put back behind bars where she remained until her death the following year. While Lydia confessed to the earlier killings, she maintained that the death of her last husband, Horatio, was not murder.

lydia sherman derby poisoner

Accident or no, the bodies left in Lydia’s wake forever earned her a toxic reputation as “The Poison Fiend,” “The Lucrezia Borgia of Connecticut,” and “The Derby Poisoner.”

[via Hartford Courant and The CT Files]

Image: Via the National Library of Medicine