Daisy Louisa C. De Melker (1 June 1886 – 30 December 1932), (née Hancorn-Smith) was a trained nurse who poisoned two husbands with strychnine for their life insurance while living in Germiston and then poisoned her only son with arsenic for reasons which are still unclear. Daisy was born at Seven Fountains near Grahamstown, South Africa, one of eleven children. When she was twelve, she went to Bulawayo, Rhodesia to live with her father and two of her brothers and enrolled at the Berea Nursing Home in Durban. On one of her holidays, she met and fell in love with Bert Fuller. They planned to marry however, Bert contracted blackwater fever and died on the very day they planned to wed, leaving £100 to his fiancée. In March 1909, eighteen months after Bert’s death, Daisy married William Alfred Cowle. The couple had five children, four of whom died. Their last and only surviving child, Rhodes Cecil was born in June 1911. On 11 January 1923, William became ill soon after taking epsom salts prepared by his wife. Daisy called for a doctor. William foamed at the mouth, was blue in the face, and screamed in agony if anyone touched him, until he died. Faced with these symptoms, the second doctor suspected strychnine poisoning and refused to sign the death certificate. A postmortem was performed by the district surgeon, Dr. Fergus. The cause of death was certified to be chronic nephritis and cerebral hemorrhage. Daisy inherited £1795.
At the age of thirty-six, and three years to the day after the death of her first husband, Daisy married another plumber, Robert Sproat. In October 1927, Robert became violently ill. He was in great agony and suffered severe muscle spasms but he recovered. A few weeks later, he suffered a second fatal attack and died on 6 November 1927. The attending physician certified that the cause of death was arteriosclerosis and cerebral hemorrhage. Daisy inherited over £4000, plus a further £560 paid by his pension fund. On 21 January 1931, Daisy married for the third time. Her husband was a widower, Sydney Clarence de Melker, also a plumber. Late in February 1932, Daisy obtained arsenic from a chemist using her former name, Sproat. Less than a week later, on 2 March 1932, Rhodes took ill at work after drinking coffee from a thermos flask which his mother had prepared for him. Rhodes died at home at midday on 5 March. A postmortem followed and the cause of death was given as cerebral malaria. Rhodes was buried at New Brixton cemetery the following day. On 1 April, Daisy received £100 from Rhodes’ life insurance policy. Watch Deadly Women: How Women Kill
At the time of his death, Daisy’s only son Rhodes Cowle was 20. Why Daisy killed Rhodes remains unclear. He seems to have been under the impression that he would come into an inheritance at the age of 21. One theory is that he demanded more than Daisy could give him. The most obvious answer is that she simply didn’t like him. She pampered him all his life, but he rarely showed her any consideration. By this time, William Sproat, Daisy’s second dead husband’s brother, became suspicious and went to the authorities. On 15 April 1932, police the bodies of Rhodes Cowle, Robert Sproat and William Cowle. Rhodes’ corpse was found to be in an unusually good state of preservation, characteristic of the presence of arsenic in large quantities. A forensic pathologist isolated traces of arsenic in the corpse. Although the bodies of William Cowle and Robert Sproat were largely decomposed, traces of strychnine were found in each man. A week later, the police arrested Daisy and charged her with the murder of all three men. Daisy (aged 46 years) was condemned to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on the morning of 30 December 1932. Watch Deadly Women: Angels of Death