Julia Higbee, the serial killer of Meade County part 1

The unnatural mother is accused of poisoning four of her children

This story comes from “The Higbees Still Here.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.), Jan. 7, 1891

Julia Higbee was a mother of 5 at only the age of 23 years. In 1890 her oldest child was 8-years-old. She was a native of Louisville, but moved to a plantation in Meade county. Her husband, Jessie Higbee, was well known and was one of the most prominent farmers in the Muldraugh area.

Before getting into the story of Meade County’s serial killer, let’s define what a serial killer is and if Mrs. Higbee fits the description. A serial killer is a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and typically following a characteristic, predictable behavior pattern. The Courier-Journal states, “The unnatural mother is accused of poisoning four of her children was arsenic. One at a tune they died from the same fearful drug, but not until the last little life had been taken was suspicion aroused.”

Let’s hear the entire story from The Courier-Journal. “The first murder was committed on the evening of October 14, and the others followed at intervals of two weeks. During the illness of each child the mother showed a stolid indifference which her friends and physician construed as grief. Each murder was carefully planned and summarily executed. Though every child was attacked with the same symptoms and died with the same cramps which accompany arsenic poisoning, the suspicion of no one was aroused until after the death of the fourth child, when the mother attempted her own life. It was only for the sake of the fifth child, and in order to save its life from the inhuman mother, that the husband told his suspicions and suggested a post mortem examination of the children. It was then for the first time learned that they were the victims of their mother’s work, and that while pretending to nurse them delicacies before sending them to bed, she was in reality arranging for their death.
On the night of October 14, Mr. Higbee was awakened by the shrieks of the youngest child, not quite a year old. A physician was procured, and every effort made to relieve its suffering. The attempt was useless, however, and after thirty hours’ illness the first victim died. Its death was attributed by the physician who saw it when dying, to cerebral trouble. On October 2, another child, two years old, died after thirty hours’ illness. In this case, as in the former, the symptoms were confined to the nervous system, without much nausea and with no intestinal irritation. The cause of this death was pronounced as cerebro-spinal meningitis. On November 13 the third child died. This victim was two years older than the second, and was arrested in very much the same way. Owing to the extreme thirst, the vomiting and purging which attended this death, the physicians were thrown off their guard, and it was also attributed to cerebro-spinal meningitis. During the illness, sufferings and deaths of each of these victims, Mrs. Higbee moved about the sick rooms, fulfilling the physicians’ instructions and administering the medicines at the right time without showing any signs of grief, or betraying herself as the author of their deaths. Her manner more than anything else threw the husband and physicians off their guard, and quieted any suspicion which may have been aroused.
After the death of the third child her actions were strange, but this was attributed to her suppressed grief. She seldom spoke, and moved about the house with a rat-like stillness.
On December 8, the day before the oldest child and the last victim was taken ill, Mrs. Higbee expressed herself as very anxious about the child’s health, and asked her husband if he thought the patient looked well. He replied that he thought she was looking unusually well, and prayed she would not suffer the fate of the other children. At this the mother replied that no one could tell when they were going to die, and that she had a presentiment that they all would be dead inside of two weeks. The next morning before Hallie, the oldest child, started to school, Mrs. Higbee told her not to bother about her lunch for school, as she would arrange it herself. While the rest of the family were out of the room she buttered several biscuits, and when the child came in, had them wrapped up in a napkin. The mother kissed the child good-bye, and told her to come home a soon as school was over. During the morning, while the child was absent Mrs. Higbee called her husband, and again began asking about the absent child’s health. He attempted to reassure her, but she was not to be comforted, and several times was heard to say to him that she was certain the child would die as the others had.
The first intimation which Mr. Higbee had that his wife was murdering his children was the fact that is was scarcely an hour after she had ceased talking about the child at school when the little one returned, suffering from cramps, as the other victims had been attacked. In two hours she relapsed into unconsciousness, and remained so until death. The husband then told his fears to the attending physician, and requested him to make a post-mortem examination. This, however, was so bitterly opposed by the mother that the matter was dropped. She became indignant when she learned what was intended, and threatened to kill any one who would attempt it.
‘I will be dead very soon myself,’ she said to her husband, ‘and they cut me up if they choose, but no one shall cut my children.’
Her grief was, apparently, so real that husband’s suspicions were, for a time, allayed.
Two days after Mrs. Higbee was found in a spasmodic condition and suffering from pains similar to those which her children had had. Dr. Pusey, who was present at the time, diagnosed her case and discovered that she was suffering from the same poisonous effects which the children had done. He then felt assured that after attempting the life of her husband and killing four of her children, she was making an effort to take her own life.
Mr. Higbee, after a time remembered that three months previous he had bought a box of “rough on rats,” but had not seen it since he had brought it home. He remembered having asked his wife if she had seen it, and she said that she had taken it from the dining-room, where he had left it, and put it in his tool chest, it could not be found there, and the point was not pressed.”

How does this story conclude? Find out in part 2.

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