Friday, February 12, 2021

A true crime connection to a Virginia cemetery


I have a writing project underway and today's story is more of an aside to that work.

This tree is sort of spooky but not really.

It has piqued my interest enough so that I am reading Three Sisters in Black: The Bizarre True Case of the Bathtub Tragedy (1968) by Norman Zierold, which was an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Fact Crime (1969).

The story concludes with one of the most notorious criminals in 1910 being interred in an unmarked grave at Sunset Cemetery in Christiansburg, Virginia. 

While I'm not supposed to side with a killer, I have to admit that the wardrobe of the sisters is what originally interested me.

Known as the "Black Sisters," the women were seen as a peculiar family of sisters who wore all black clothing and black veils to hide their faces. As someone who wears black, I don't find this peculiar. There were other strange aspects to the sisters. They had odd eating habits where they wouldn’t touch any food until it was a day old. As someone who likes food, I find this very odd.

Newspaper: The Standard Union, August 12, 1910.
In 1909, a bathtub drowning in New Jersey became one of the most bizarre criminal cases in American history when police discovered the emaciated and abused body of Ocey Snead. The young woman was face down in the bathtub. Her death was said to be an apparent suicide by drowning. There was even a suicide note left behind. 

Ocey’s alleged suicide note, 1909, Public Domain Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Newspaper: The Knoxville Journal, April 21, 1946.
As the truth slowly came out, and hundreds of suicide notes written in the same handwriting were discovered, it became clear that Ocey’s mother and aunts, "The Black Sisters" were involved in the crime.

One of these sisters, Virginia Wardlaw ran the Montgomery Female Academy in Christiansburg. She was said to possess "hypnotic control" over young girls. Investigators believed that the murder was planned and intentional since Wardlaw, at the time she inquired about renting the house, asked specific details about the size of the bath tub.

Wardlaw also insisted that once she took possession of the house, she did not want the owners visiting the space. She also wished to move all of her belongings at night.

Wardlaw and her sisters, Caroline and Mary, were accused of murdering family members for insurance money.

In order not to be convicted, Virginia Wardlaw starved herself to death before the judge in the case could rule against her. 

Wardlaw's body was sent back to Christiansburg, Virginia to be buried in a private family funeral. 

Today the grave is not marked, or perhaps over the years it was damaged. I've seen various stories about that and about the place being haunted. Virginia Wardlaw's Find A Grave profile includes some spooky stories in the biography, which aren't included in this write up as I could not find a source. Trust me, I really wanted to find an old newspaper article about the sisters going to the cemetery "making gestures skyward and murmuring incantations" but I did not find a thing in the papers.

No comments:

Post a Comment