Velma Barfield – Lethal Lady

Margie Velma Barfield (née Margie Velma Bullard) (October 29, 1932 – November 2, 1984) was convicted of six murders. She was the first woman in the United States to be executed by lethal injection. Velma was born in rural South Carolina but grew up near Fayetteville, North Carolina. She was the second child and first daughter of farmer Murphy Bullard and his homemaker wife, Lillie. Murphy was easily angered and a strict, unbending disciplinarian with his children. Despite his harsh discipline, Velma was often happy to be a daddy’s girl. Sadly Velma became a daddy’s girl in the most negative way when her father raped her. Prior to that, there had been episodes when he felt her up and she was not sure if it was sexual or not. Her family had many traits of incestuous families, such as a severe power imbalance between husband and wife.

Velma escaped by marrying Thomas Burke in 1949. The couple had two children. Barfield had a hysterectomy and developed back pain leading to a behavioral change and a drug addiction. Thomas drank and Barfield’s complaints turned into bitter arguments. In April 1969, Barfield and the children left the house, returning to find the home burned and Burke dead. In 1970, Barfield married a widower, Jennings Barfield and less than a year later, Jennings died from heart complications. In 1974, Barfield’s mother, Lillian Bullard, showed symptoms of intense diarrhea, and nausea, and died hours after arriving at the hospital. In 1976, Barfield cared for the elderly, working for Montgomery and Dollie Edwards. In the winter, Montgomery fell ill and died. A little over a month later, Dollie died. The following year, 1977, Barfield took a caretaking job for 76-year old Record Lee. On June 4, 1977, Lee’s husband, John Henry, experienced pains in his stomach and chest along with vomiting. He died soon afterward. Watch female serial killers

Another victim was Stuart Taylor, Barfield’s boyfriend. Fearing he discovered she was forging checks on his account, she mixed an arsenic-based rat poison into his beer. He died on February 3, 1978. Velma and her adult son Ronnie Burke sat with Stuart’s grieving family at his funeral. Ronnie observed, “You know, it seems like everybody my mother gets close to dies.”  Finally authorities took a look at the death certificates of the people who had died and didn’t like what they read. They needed a confession however so they decided to surprise Velma. They picked her up for questioning about the bad checks she wrote, then confronted her with Stuart’s death. “Do you know he was killed by arsenic?” the detective asked. The plump grandmother appeared stunned by this news. The detectives asked if Barfield had reason to be angry with Taylor. “Y’all think I poisoned Stuart, don’t you?” she gasped in outrage. She had nothing to gain by killing him. Velma agreed to take a lie detector test. Then she started sobbing. “I only meant to make him sick,” she said. Velma confessed to killing two people to whom she had been a live-in caregiver and her own mother, Lillie Bullard. Taylor was exhumed and an autopsy found arsenic in his system. After her arrest, the body of Jennings Barfield was exhumed and found to have traces of arsenic. Velma was convicted of first degree murder. Six years later at 2:15 a.m., on November 2, 1984, Velma Barfield, serial murderer and born again Christian, was hooked up to three IV’s, two of which contained a lethal concoction of poison. Within minutesm Velma was dead.

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Byrd is the grandson of Jennings Barfield and his first wife. Byrd’s song “Velma” from his Wildflowers album gives a personal account of the murders and investigation. Watch Velma

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