ST. LOUIS — Bertha Gifford was the first female serial killer in Missouri. She has been convicted of poisoning at least three people and is suspected of killing several others.

Bertha is still being researched by some people today. Her tale has been featured on television and in podcasts. There are also YouTube recordings of ghost investigations and websites dedicated to visitors’ ghost sightings at Bertha’s former hotel and property.

Life as a married couple

Bertha was born in the Missouri town of Grubville in 1872. William Poindexter Williams and Matilda, née Lee, were her parents. Bertha was one of ten children.

She was married to Henry Graham, and they had a daughter named Lila. Graham and Bertha ran a boarding house while they were married. The boarding house, which was located in Jefferson County, is now known as the Morse Mill Hotel.

In 1928, Bertha was well known in her town for her cooking abilities, as well as her compassion for sick neighbors and relatives. She was said to be a nice, kind woman who wore a white dress and carried a satchel when she went to see sick neighbors.

However, infidelity crept into Bertha’s marriage, possibly on both sides. In this article, the director of the Washington Historical Society Museum, Marc Houseman, says that Henry found out that Bertha was having an affair with Eugene Gifford.

The Graham marital drama came to an end when Henry became ill and died of pneumonia.

Shortly after Graham died, Bertha married Eugene Gifford and moved to Catawissa, raising James and Lila together.

They began living in “the tin cottage,” which was located directly across the train tracks. They moved to a white farmhouse on “The Bend Road,” which runs alongside the Meramec River, a few years later.

The farmhouse has been dubbed “The Catawissa Mystery House.” Bertha poisoned nine of her victims there, according to Houseman.


When the bodies of several of her victims were found poisoned in Eureka, Missouri, she was arrested and charged with murder.

Evidence emerged that she purchased rat poison, known as arsenic, from local druggists. Some of the transactions were made hours before the victim died.

Bertha Gifford’s name was found in this historic Poison Register that is on display at the Washington Historical Society. “However, we have the original poison register of Dr. J.W. Powers, a druggist in Pacific, Missouri, that lists sales of arsenic and strychnine to Bertha Gifford on multiple occasions,” said Katie Dieckhaus, Executive Director of the historical society.

According to Houseman, there is no pattern to her murders. Her victims’ ages ranged from 15 months to 72 years. They were neighbors, friends, and family members.


During her trial, Gifford said she was innocent and that the poisonings weren’t done on purpose. The trial lasted barely three days, and she was only on trial for three of her victims.

Ed Brinley, and the two brothers, Elmer and Lloyd Schamel, were the ones whose graves were dug up, and their bodies were inspected for proof.

She was eventually found guilty and condemned to life in prison. In 1951, Gifford died at the Missouri State Hospital.

Gifford is interred in the Church of God Faith of Abraham Cemetery. She is buried between her two husbands’ graves, surrounded by the graves of around eight of her victims.

Recent media coverage about Gifford

There are now videos and websites dedicated to the locations where Bertha is said to have murdered her victims. The Morse Mill Hotel is a popular haunting and ghost hunting location.

Bertha’s story was again told in “Deadly Women” Season 6, Episode 1 in 2013, titled “Malicious Hearts.” Bertha’s tale has also been recounted in a number of podcasts.