In 1932 Daisy de Melker gained a bizarre kind of status when she became the second woman to be hanged in South Africa and, still to this day, young children are threatened into good behavior by the mere mention of her name.
She does not, however, rank extremely high on the scale of international serial killers, as she can boast of only three victims: her two husbands, William Cowle and Robert Sproat, and her son, Rhodes Cecil Cowle. She also bears a remarkable resemblance to the Rugeley Poisoner, William Palmer, in that they both appear to have fallen into the rather disturbing habit of poisoning their relatives and then collecting on their life insurance policies. Parallels can also be drawn between De Melker and Gesche Gottfried, who lived in early 19th century Germany and who systematically, and patiently, destroyed her close relatives and friends with “mouse butter” made of arsenic and fat. Like Palmer, however, strychnine was De Melker’s weapon of choice and she used it in two out of three murders.
Things fell apart for Daisy when William Sproat, Robert Sproat’s younger brother, disputed the validity of his brother’s will, in terms of which all his worldly possessions were to go to his beloved wife. William instantly alerted the police to possible skullduggery and, in April 1932, this resulted in the bodies of both De Melker’s previous husbands and her son being exhumed and checked for traces of poison. Evidence of strychnine poisoning was found in the remains of both Cowle Sr. and Sproat while evidence of arsenic poisoning was found in the remains of Rhodes Cecil.
De Melker was immediately charged with all three murders and the matter proceeded to trial. It seemed, furthermore, a foregone conclusion that she would be found guilty when media exposure of the case prompted a chemist to come forward and declare that she had purchased a large amount of arsenic from him shortly before her son’s death. Evidence presented at the trial was insufficient to convince the judge to convict her of her husbands’ murders, however, but he quickly enough her guilty of the premeditated murder by poisoning of her young son Rhodes.
She joined a very exclusive club when she was sentenced to death by hanging and that sentence was carried out at Pretoria Central Prison on December 30th 1932.
An interesting point to ponder is this: Robert Sproat had been prescribed a tonic by his doctor several months before he died. One of the major ingredients of the tonics manufactured at the time was strychnine. Strychnine had the unfortunate habit of settling to the bottom of a tonic bottle when the bottle was not in use. Sproat had not taken the tonic for some time prior to his final illness and, when he downed the last dose in the bottle, he ingested almost pure strychnine. This could have at least contributed to his death and could also have been the source of the strychnine traces found in his corpse. .. So: did De Melker poison him? Or did he unwittingly poison himself and thus engineer the fall from grace of a good and god-fearing woman?
Rob Marsh Crimes & Mysteries of South Africa Famous South African Crimes
Daisy de Melker Daisy de Melker Wikipedia
Marilyn Z Tomlins Daisy de Melker: South Africa’s First Serial Killer Crime Magazine