Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast

Fact or Fiction Author Series presents Murderous Matrons

February 23, 2023 MaxMin Labs, LLC Season 3 Episode 6
Fact or Fiction Author Series presents Murderous Matrons
Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast
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Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast
Fact or Fiction Author Series presents Murderous Matrons
Feb 23, 2023 Season 3 Episode 6
MaxMin Labs, LLC

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In this episode, authors Victoria Cosner and Lorelie Shannon share a mostly-true story from their book Missouri's Murderous Matrons.  Emma Heppermann, a black widow killer, and Bertha Gifford, an angel of mercy, used arsenic to murder unsuspecting family and friends for decades. The story of how they managed to evade discovery is unbelievable. As always, these authors insert one fiction into our discussion. Try to identify what they made up, but be warned: it's not easy to know if something is fact or fiction.

Support the Show.

Images and resources used in this episode can be found at factorfictionpodcast.com. If you enjoyed this show, please support the pod by giving it a five star rating, writing a complimentary review, or joining the Fact or Fiction Fan Club. Thanks for listening!

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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

In this episode, authors Victoria Cosner and Lorelie Shannon share a mostly-true story from their book Missouri's Murderous Matrons.  Emma Heppermann, a black widow killer, and Bertha Gifford, an angel of mercy, used arsenic to murder unsuspecting family and friends for decades. The story of how they managed to evade discovery is unbelievable. As always, these authors insert one fiction into our discussion. Try to identify what they made up, but be warned: it's not easy to know if something is fact or fiction.

Support the Show.

Images and resources used in this episode can be found at factorfictionpodcast.com. If you enjoyed this show, please support the pod by giving it a five star rating, writing a complimentary review, or joining the Fact or Fiction Fan Club. Thanks for listening!

Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Murderous Matrons

Laura: Hi, there Fact Fiction fans. I'm your host, Laura, and today I'm back with another installment of the Fact or fiction author series where a published author shares a little bit about themselves and their book. Then the author tells me a mostly true story and challenges me to guess the fiction inserted into our discussion.

Today's guests are co-authors, Victoria Kosner and Laura Le Shannon. Victoria is an author and historian specializing in cemetery cultural landscapes and preservation, museum operations, historic preservation, and finding and telling lost stories. She currently works for the Missouri State Parks.

Lorelei is the author of numerous short stories, horror and dark fantasy novels, non-fiction books, and a computer game that was banned from three countries and Sears stores everywhere.  Together, they've published three historical true crime books. 

In this episode, these ladies are here to tell me about Emma Heppermann one of two infamous murderesses from the show me state, featured in their book Murderous Matrons. As always, they will infuse their factual story with one fictional detail. Will, I guess the fiction? Will you? Listen carefully because it's tricky to know if what you hear is fact or fiction all ready to play.

 Hello Vikki and Lorelei. Welcome to Factor Fiction! Thank you so much for joining me today.

Vicki: Oh, thank

Lorelei: you for having us.

Laura: I, I'm so excited. You know, I told you before we started recording that I'm kind of a little bit of a fan and . . . Before we discuss, Emma, I wanna learn a little bit about both of you and how you came to co-author these books together.

Lorelei: Well, we've been best buddies for more years than I even wanna think about. We, we met when we were 14, so

Laura: Oh, wow. So, did you meet here in, in Missouri or, because I know Laura, you're in Washington state, right?

Lorelei: uh, we both grew up in Arizona, so we, we met down there in the blazing sunlight

Laura: Oh, so you're from Arizona and then you both kind of scattered across the US did you instantly bond over true crime history that kind of.

Lorelei: Well, let's see. We instantly bonded over the Rocky Horror Picture Show and other weird things of the time.

Vicki: Alice Cooper,

Lorelei: Alice Cooper. Yep. Yep.

Vicki: uh,

Lorelei: We always loved dark and mysterious things. True Crime wasn't nearly as big a thing back in the day, 

Laura: Yeah. And the history interest, both of you are interested in that. Was that something you knew from when you first met ?

Lorelei: yeah, I would say so.

Were always reading stuff about the Medicis and, you know, , English history and, and royals stabbing each other in the back and all that happy stuff. 

Vicki: And Laura Eli very early on started a, uh, gross fact of the week that we would have at lunch and

Lorelei: Oh, that's true.

Vicki: of, Has snowballed into a big deal. But, um, Laura, do you have an example of one of your gross facts? All I can think of is the Rasputin one, and I, yeah. I don't know if this is a family thing or not, but

Lorelei: That's true. I'm not sure how naughty we should go here, but

Laura: Oh, let's hear it. I can, I can edit it out if I need to.

Lorelei: Well evidently, uh, part of Rasputin's appeal with the ladies back in the day was he had penal warts. He was kind of a human vibrator. So

Laura: Oh, I don't

Lorelei: roast for True? Yep. Yep.

Laura: Oh, so the, I can imagine a couple of 14, 15, 16 year old girls really geeking out over this kind of information.

Vicki: Oh

Lorelei: Oh yes, yes.

Laura: Yeah. I wish I'd gone to school with you. I think I would've sat at your lunch table.

Lorelei: Yep. We did Good buddies.

Laura: definitely. So, so what is it that drew you specifically to, Emma's story?

Vicki: Well, I worked at a historic site in St. Charles, and one day I happened to be sitting at the front desk and someone came in and looked at me and said, do you have anything about that woman who killed all her husbands? And I looked at her and I'm like, what woman? Who killed all the husbands and kind of started drooling a little bit.

And she's like, I don't know what her name is, but she killed a whole bunch of husbands. And so we looked at it and you know, if you type in female serial killers in Missouri, you get Bertha.

Laura: Uh

Vicki: And there was nothing on Emma. And, , we, which starts me drooling even more. . It's like, oh my goodness.

And so, , I talked to Laura and told her about Bertha and Emma, and we thought that it was incredible that there were women that were pretty much parallel. Killing, um, you know, and, kind of knew each other and was functioning in Missouri using the same poison. , but they had different motives and we just thought that was fascinating.

They even had their, , trial in the same building, like 20 years apart at the Franklin County Courthouse and Union. And so we had to do it. And then as we started digging more and more, there were a lot of, unaccounted deaths that weren't attributed to her.

And one of the bad things about this type of history is there's no smoking gun. Um, but when you keep reading death certificates over and over, gastritis, gastritis, gastritis, you have to start rethinking, you know, what was going on there. So, um, I think that that was the appeal and no one had ever touched it, which is another, like Dr.

McNell, nobody had ever touched it. They just written ghost stories on him. , Emma and Bertha don't even have ghost stories connected to them and Bertha, honestly, I don't know why that house isn't haunted out there in Cattawissa , 

and so this one was our first true crime that didn't have a ghost aspect to it. 

Laura: Wow. So real quick, um, Bertha's house is still, , it's still there. 

Vicki: . Yes it is.

Laura: Ooh, I might have to make a pilgrimage.

Vicki: and people live in it and it's on a really dangerous, there's nowhere to pull over. So we have pictures of us standing in front of it, ducking trucks as you. Also, I'll have to send you one, but yeah, it's still out there in Catawissa , and I have friends who are psychics who swear there's no ghosties there, but I honestly, um, arsenic deaths are gruesome and I don't know why that wouldn't be, but you know, who am I?

I'm a historian.

Laura: well, Yeah. So, you said arsenic deaths. Tell us a little bit about what an arsenic death is like.

Vicki: Laura. I'm going to give that one to.

Lorelei: Oh, it's, it's awful. , and this is the reason I think. Poisoners are among the very worst of serial killers. I mean, yes, it's, it's horrible to stab someone to death, but in a way it's more horrible to slowly poison someone who trusts you, pretend to take care of them, bring them soup and say, oh, poor baby, while you're slowly murdering them.

And it's a horrible way to go. It's, um, well the reason that everyone was, was, , diagnosed with gastritis is it causes horrible stomach pain. Um, endless vomiting, horrible cramping. Basically, they suffer right up to the end. There's really no point where they fall asleep peacefully. It's a terrible way to die and just an awful thing to do to anybody.

Laura: Well, and Bertha killed a number of children. Correct.

Lorelei: Yes, yes,

Laura: , that she was supposedly caring for.

Lorelei: yes.

Laura: Wow. Now, , Emma's, M.O. Was a little different. She pretty much killed just men, ? Is that right?

Vicki: No, she killed some women too, but she was a black widow killer. Whereas Bertha was a, , angel of death type of killer.

Laura: Gotcha, gotcha. And now, uh, , angel of Death is somebody who likes to be, , seen as a caregiver. And then, is that right? Okay. And then the Black Widow Killer, their motive's a little different. .

Vicki: It's generally financial.

Laura: Okay.

Vicki: Yeah.

Lorelei: Emma was more for-profit. Bertha was more of a straight up psycho.

Vicki: Yeah.

Laura: I know it's weird to think of that as a distinguishing thing, like if you're doing it for money Oh yeah. That kind of makes sense. But, , I mean, it doesn't, but, 

Vicki: Bertha's pathology was incredible. , it really was. Um, because, , her, her victims were eight months to 72 years, and she killed 10% of Catawissa's population.

Laura: Oh my goodness,

Vicki: Yeah. They only had a population of 170 people and she killed 17.

Laura: Wow. And no one, like they didn't suspect that,

Vicki: He did, but he didn't wanna be the person who rang that bell, that was the coroner. , he eventually testified and then retired and moved away because he let so many people die under her care. Um, the thing about Emma is that Emma kept moving. And so Bertha was literally killing in her. So but um, Lorela actually made a really cool connection , with Bertha that a lot of the people that she killed ended up being family members of people that she had some sort of, um, tiff with.

Laura: Oh.

Vicki: she often tiffed with everybody, um, from burning down the school that they wouldn't fix so her granddaughter could go to it, to, the last kill, which was a drunken guy who, , was trying to get money cuz they owed him money. He was a, a handyman. And Laura made that connection and we're like, huh.

So now is she really a psycho?

 Her diagnosis was, um, oh gee, psychotic. What? Help me out. Laura, do you remember

Lorelei: Oh gosh. Um, it was one of those old timey diagnosis, but basically, yeah, , they could not believe that women would kill if they weren't raving drooly insane. And of course, neither one of these women were, you know, they definitely evil with a lot of pathology, but, , they were just killing, you know, a Bertha to entertain herself and aggrandize herself.

And, and, uh, Emma for profit.

Laura: And obviously they didn't seem outwardly crazy because they got away with it for a long time, right?

Vicki: When, um, Emma dressed older than she was , um, when she got arrested and they took , her picture. She looks like she's in her sixties and I think she was in her late forties at that point. 

Lorelei: It's almost like she was disguising herself as, uh, oh, look, I'm, I'm a sweet little old lady. I couldn't possibly do anything bad. And, she was just downplaying her scariness, although she could be a little scary. She used to occasionally just threatened to kill people.

If someone irritated her, she would straight up threaten them. But then, I mean, that kind of thing wasn't. Super uncommon. People could be very territorial and throw words around and people didn't tend to take it very seriously.

Laura: Really, they didn't take it seriously that she said she would kill people.

Lorelei: Not really. People underestimated women to the point that they figured that, well, she can't really be dangerous. She's a girl.

Vicki: One of my favorite quotes comes from, , her last victim was Tony Heman. And , his brother Steve Heman, um, basically was the one who found her out. And called the authorities, but when he was on the stand, he said, you know, she threatened to kill me, but I thought she was just kidding. However, lucky thing, I didn't drink the soup or eat the soup. And, that was her mode of, , poisoning was her potato soup recipe.

Lorelei: It's delicious. We've made it

Laura: I was gonna ask, did you put it in your book? That would be funny. Oh, you

Vicki: we did. Yeah.

Laura: I love it.

Vicki: and Bertha's biscuit. Um,

Laura: oh, that's right. Bertha had the biscuits. So, uh, , you said Tony Heiferman was the last, obviously she married him. She had his name. How many husbands did she have in total?

Vicki: We're going with seven.

Laura: Okay.

Vicki: Um, the reason I say it that way is Frank Lee, who I think was number two, based on how long she was using the Lee last name, um, I can't find him now. Somebody sent me pictures , of, Frank Lee in the newspaper, but it was like one of those newspapers that did, , true crime reporting in the forties, fifties, sixties type of thing. And honestly, I can't find him anywhere, but she said she was divorced. She said her last name was Lee. , and he disappeared, but Frank Lee is an incredibly common name. And so we're not quite sure about him. 

Lorelei: She was also a liar. I mean, she came up with some story that she was married at 14 and had 10 children, which is just not true. , basically she would say anything to make herself seem more appealing and more vulnerable. Um, a lot of psychopathic killers are, are liars also

Laura: That's surprising. No,

Vicki: Yeah.

Lorelei: surprise, right? Such an upstanding citizen. Otherwise,

Laura: Right. So was Frank Lee the first one.

Vicki: no, her first kill was her mother, we believe.

Laura: Oh, her mom. Oh,

Vicki: Um, we believe so. And the reason we believe that is because she got sick when Emma was taking care of her and she died of gastritus

Laura: oh,

Lorelei: did.

Vicki: So, it's not a big jump because then eventually she kills her husband, Charles, his brother, his mother-in-law all within the Schwa family, which is number one.

Laura: Okay. 

Vicki: Yeah. And Charles track had fallen from a ladder and she said that the ladder fall burst his stomach and that's how

Lorelei: know that? I dunno,

Vicki: I know. If only we had pictures.

Laura: Oh. Now. Now , , when did this happen? 

Vicki: She was married in, um, 1910. When she was 1914.

. And, um, his brother and his mother died in 1929 . 

Laura: , it's a, around the 19, you know, late

Vicki: it's the mid to late 1920s. Yeah.

Lorelei: Yeah.

Laura: Okay.

Vicki: Terry and overheating, which had nothing

Lorelei: Yep. The other thing, they blamed it on dysentery or gastritis. And while, while Bertha did kill everybody, she looked at more or less, and at least the people who irritated her, Emma tended to stick to husbands, except when she didn't, um, she would kill relatives that were in the way of her inheritance.

But she also killed, uh, relatives of her husbands that just kind of irritated her.

Laura: I mean, why not? She's making the soup, right. You

Lorelei: Yeah. Yeah. I

Laura: another bowl to another family member. So that, you said there was a financial motive. Was this in the form , of life insurance? Is that what she was after?

Vicki: Yeah. Um,

Lorelei: had she married a guy, she would start pressuring him to get life insurance. , basically, you know, she's like, oh, well I'm a poor little widow alone in the world, and if you die, what's gonna happen to me? So it seemed like a fairly reasonable request.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah.

Vicki: Well, however when, , the gentleman that she divorced twice, William or Bill Vaughn, um, on the way home from the wedding, she started pressuring him to change the life insurance and he refused.

Laura: Oh,

Lorelei: soon

Vicki: Yeah. Um, you can see as she progresses and declines, frankly, um, it goes from Charles Schwa, she was married to for years.

By the time she hits number three, Frank Bresser, um, months. And by the time Tony Heckman's dies, it's like two weeks from the marriage to the death.

Laura: So I just keep thinking of the 10,000 hour rule. Like she just kept getting better and better at what she was doing. Right.

Vicki: Evidently,

Lorelei: more impatient.

Laura: that's more impatient. Yes. , wow. Okay, so why, why did these men keep marrying her?

Vicki: well, I think Laura touched on that you have this nice matronly lady who can come in and keep house. , they didn't know anything about her, um, how she got into the houses until, um, Heman told them that she'd put it in an ad in the paper saying woman seeks position in motherless and wifeless home.

Laura: Oh,

Lorelei: most of these guys were on their second or third marriages. They were widowers, they were frequently raising kids alone, and they wanted someone to help. And in some cases they hired her as a housekeeper. And, and she would give 'em a caveat saying, well, tell you what, if you like me after two weeks, let's get married and make it a partnership.

And if you don't, I'll just leave. And they, I don't think anyone ever booted her out. They're like, oh. She cooks, she cleans, she's awesome. So I, I don't think any of these were, were true love. I, there were a lot of marriages , of convenience and just people who needed help back then.

Vicki: Utilitarian

Lorelei: Yep.

Laura: Oh, okay. Now, but she, she did have children herself, right? Not 10, but.

Vicki: Yes. Um, she had two stepdaughters and she had three daughters. Actually, she had three of each, three daughters of her own and three stepdaughters that. We think, , , you know, you can trace most of there, but like Charlotte died, I don't know when, and by the time that the Charlotte daughter would've died, she should have been required to have a death certificate.

Um, so she, she died. There was one child that died when she was 14 of tuberculosis. I don't think that was a kill. I think she actually had tuberculosis. , by the time she was jailed, there was only two or three of them left, and she, , ostracized them by sending screaming letters of hate toward them. And completely just destroyed all the relationships that she had left in the world, um, until she got released.

Laura: What

Lorelei: She, she did, well, she was only convicted of one murder. Um, and they're like, oh, you know, she's old. She's, she's harmless. We're gonna let her go. And, and there, there's, there's no evidence that she ever did anything again. But good lord,

Laura: So,

Lorelei: like a bad call.

Vicki: She had cancer also. Um, about this time, which is, I wanna say 68. Is that when Emma died? Laura?

Lorelei: Something like that. Yeah.

Vicki: Yeah. , they started downsizing the, , jails of people who probably shouldn't have been in them. You know, like people who had mental health issues, that type of thing. So they just let her go. Um, but she had nowhere to go cuz she destroyed all of her relationships.

So she ended up in a halfway house up in, , Kirksville,

Laura: oh.

Vicki: and she died very soon after she was released, like a couple months. And then they. Transported her back to Fulton and buried her in the public cemetery

Laura: in Fulton.

Vicki: in Fulton. , it it was really funny when I went to go find her grave the day after we published, the day after the release, they released her death certificate. And so we didn't have cause of death. We had the day of death. Um, . So when I went to the cemetery, there were these guys like, maintenance dudes that were working, and I'm like, I'm looking for this woman.

Her name's Emma Heppermann and they're like, hold on. They go into their little house, , then they come back out and they're like, here, we'll take you to her. And it's an unmarked grave, which we found a lot of times happens with serial. Um, that they're not there cuz no one cares to mark them because it's embarrassing.

Your mother was popping off, you know, 13 people. But, so I told them, I'm like, this woman was a serial killer. She was a poisoner. They got so excited. They had a serial killer in the cemetery. So I gave them one of our books and they were happy and we all went our separate ways.

Laura: Aw, . Um, yeah. Isn't that weird that we were also fascinated by this? So, so did people suspect her before? Um, Steve Heppermann caught on.

Vicki: in my opinion,

Lorelei: not really

Laura: Really?

Lorelei: is a part of it was she moved around so much and she was, uh, she was kind of a nasty person. I mean, she could, she could pretend she was nice, long enough to get married, but she was constantly threatening people and picking arguments. So she wasn't any place long enough, you know, unlike Bertha, who, good grief, somebody should have figured that out long before they did.

Um, I, they really.

Vicki: , the one that fascinated me was , the Bill Vaughn was friends with Burt Roberts. He knows that Burt died early and of a weird story, which was that he ate bad sardines and then got overheated, and so he died of gastritis. But Bill Vaughn knew that and still married her

Laura: now is Bill Vaughn. I'm getting confused. Is Bill Vaughn the one that died after falling off the ladder?

Vicki: No. Bill Vaughn, um, divorced her twice,

Laura: He did, but he survived. He did not get, oh,

Lorelei: And we don't know why. Maybe she actually liked that one.

Vicki: Well, I think it's cuz he wouldn't sign over his life insurance. She

Lorelei: Oh, that's

Vicki: his house down.

Laura: uh,

Lorelei: on him and he wouldn't do it.

Vicki: Yeah. He wanted his kids to have his life insurance.

Laura: Vicky, Vicky, did you say she burned his house down?

Vicki: yeah.

Laura: Okay.

Vicki: during one of her tantrums,

Laura: Okay,

Vicki: maybe not completely down

Laura: No, you, you mentioned that she moved around a lot. It, it was all within the, the St. Louis area, wasn't it? Or not.

Vicki: No, no. She started in Steelville.

Laura: Okay.

Vicki: Um, she came up to St. Louis, went down to Cuba,

Laura: Okay.

Vicki: came back to St. Louis. Went to St. Peter's, and then to Wentzville

Laura: okay. Now those, those areas seem very close to me now, but I'm assuming in the 1930s and forties that, 

Vicki: Well, they were far enough that the Heman wouldn't have heard about the Schneiders, you know, even though St. Peters and Wentzville are, are on top of each other now.

Laura: Right, right. So what was, and may I, I have already hit on this, um, but what was it that made Steve Heman Heppermann her in Tony's death? Was it just that they'd only been married such a short time and the life insurance policy, or was there something else?

Vicki: , it was a combination of everything. Emma was getting sloppy.

Laura: Ah,

Vicki: First of all, the, the best we can figure tony Heman was the first man that had an involved family. He had a teenage daughter who was like 14, Ethel. He had a couple of daughters. His brother Steve came over every day.

Emma hated them all. She would kick them out. Um, she forced him to sign the life insurance policy over, he said, and Steve's like, no, you don't need to do that. Don't do that. Well, then Ethel started taking ill, um, she had severe stomach issues and um, very, very long term. And we have a picture of her around the time of the trial where she's basically skeletal.

Laura: oh.

Vicki: um, her big sister figured it out and kept asking, , Emma to take her to the hospital. And she said no. And so she actually took her sister from the house. and took her to the hospital and they figured out that there was something going on concurrently, Tony started getting sick and Tony would tell Steve everything and Steve started putting the puzzle pieces together and , got Tony to a hospital, but it was kind of too late.

, he died at St. Peter's Hospital in St. Charles.

Laura: Oh,

Vicki: so did Alaia Schneider, by the way, who was exhumed.

Laura: oh, he was exhumed. So there was, there was a trial right?

Vicki: Yes. There was a trial. She was, um, had to be tried in union at the Franklin County Courthouse because there were too many people that knew the Heppermanns, the Heparins were incredibly popular, incredibly well off, and, , there was no way she was gonna get a fair trial. And so, , they moved her to union, which like I said, is where Bertha also was put on trial in the twenties.

And so now we're up to the fifties or the late forties.

Laura: So real quick, so was, , Bertha's trial moved to Union for the same reason, a change of venue because she wouldn't get a fair trial in,

Vicki: Well, Pacific wasn't big enough to handle the.

Laura: ah, the crowd. Okay.

Vicki: Yeah, so they took , um, to the Franklin County Courthouse and it's huge. And they still have the rooms where they kept the women. , the sheriff's wife was Emma's caretaker cuz there were no female cops. , Bertha was with, , a wife of one of the deputies when she was there. Um, all that's still intact, the courtroom's still intact.

Laura: Oh wow.

Vicki: Okay. Yeah. Which made me drool

Laura: I know. I was gonna say road trip

Vicki: Yeah, it's really incredible and they're very nice about letting you go up there. But Emma never confessed anything.

Laura: Oh,

Vicki: she never confessed. She said it was an accident. He ate the sardines, he fell off the ladder. I don't know why Tony's sick. But she started to decline immensely with Tony.

Like she made a lot of mistakes. , leaving the poison out on the kitchen table. Um, you know,

Laura: or like,

Vicki: no, no. The box

Laura: oh,

Vicki: yeah. There was a picture that was in evidence of a box of rat poison right there on the table. Kind of like when Bertha would just go sign her regular name, but of course , you know, she just would tell people she had rats.

Well, Emma did the same thing, you know, it must have been, he must have used it by accident. , the family was always coming over, which annoyed the crap out of her. And so she was trying to ban them from coming over and they only ended up trying her for Tony's murder because the more people you bring into a murder trial, the harder it is to convict

Lorelei: Right. They thought about bringing in Aishia Snyder, but they didn't have enough evidence. They decided they would just try to go for one murder conviction, cuz that should be enough to put her away.

Laura: Right. Well, now Schneider's, the one you said was

Vicki: Exhume. Yes. And he did have arsenic in his stomach, but there was no way to tie her to the arsenic. , and Laura, , the amount of arsenic when they said that they had two pellets in their stomach because Alo wish has had two. What, what, how many did it take to kill? It was very little, isn't it?

Lorelei: , it's not a lot. And, you know, when she started out her poisoning career, she took a lot longer. She, she tried to make it look like a natural illness. Toward the end, she was killing people off in one to three days with just one big old dose.

Laura: Oh my

Lorelei: lost her patience, I guess.

Laura: guess, well, she was getting older. I guess she didn't have the time to wait. I don't know. Well, now was, was Tony Heman, was he the wealthiest of the people? Sh of the men? She tried to,

Vicki: Um, it's hard to tell. Bresser might have been about the same. Heman had a lot of land

Laura: okay.

Vicki: and so there's a, like a Heman farm road out in Woodsville still. Um, and um, he's buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery, which is a Catholic church off of a off 70. So they have a picture of the initial court, , appearance with her where there are people hanging in the windows and it was their bingo hall cuz they didn't have a courtroom.

And so, that's why they had to move her is it was just a circus literal. .

Lorelei: Trials were great. Entertainment people would come from miles around if they heard, especially something scandalous like a lady murderer

Vicki: Yeah.

Laura: So, so why do you think she did this? I mean, obviously financial, but what was her upbringing, do you think that had anything to do? And obviously you, you suspect she killed her mother. Was there something in her past that may have caused her to behave this way?

Lorelei: Oh, I don't think so. I think she had a severe personality disorder. I don't think she had any empathy for any other human other than herself, and people were just things to either profit from or get the heck out of her.

Laura: Okay. Like a true

Vicki: And , and a malignant narcissist that, that was one of , our guesses when we were looking at her. Um, we never got a psyche vow on her. , you know, because a hipaa, HIPAA protects people's medical records even if they were born and died prior to HIPAA being passed.

Laura: Oh,

Vicki: So because they were in a government agency, they cannot release their, which, as a historian, that drives me nuts. But, um, we did get to see Bertha's, , records, and you need to ask me , how

Laura: Okay. I, I do, I really wanna know, tell me.

Vicki: Um, a colleague of mine who was a historian on Bertha got an anonymous envelope from the Farmington, , facility where, , Bertha was, and it had, , Xerox copies of all of her, everything,

Laura: Oh, wow. 

Vicki: May or may not have been passed on to me,


Laura: did you publish that then? Or the information from that?

Vicki: Yeah, I a little more vaguely,

Laura: Okay.

Vicki: because I mean, that was somebody's livelihood and they did not need to do that. But , she was psychotic. , and that's diagnosed. And the Farmington Institution where Bertha was, was more for people that were, , mentally ill, dangerous, , which cracked me up because they let her work in the kitchen. Um, so

Laura: her, did they let her make the biscuits

Vicki: yeah, actually they did Well, come

Lorelei: Seems Bill advised.

Vicki: poison anymore,

Laura: Oh wow. I

Vicki: so Emma was in a facility that was more for criminals rather than mentally ill. , she was out at a place called Renz Farm, which was connected with the Jefferson City Penitentiary. It was where the women were put, it was a working farm.

Laura: , this is Emma. Or This is Emma. Okay, 

Vicki: Eventually she was connected with the Fulton Prison, and that's where she was let go just before she died.

Laura: And that was you, you said 1968, is that right? Okay.

Lorelei: And she had been eligible for the death penalty, but they were pretty reluctant to execute women back then.

Vicki: Yeah.

Lorelei: Um, One of the few areas where women got a break, mostly it was a sexist reason because they believed, oh, you know, women can't be that dangerous. Come on

Laura: Well, , and the point you made about how, you know, they always say poison is a woman's weapon, but that sounds worse, much worse to me than, you know, a gunshot or a, , a quick knife to the throat to suffer. , and especially like you said, they were in a role of care taking for these people that they killed in such a horrendous way.

Lorelei: It's pretty, it's pretty evil. Bertha, I think, was more sadistic. You know, because her role she would take on is, oh, I'm, I'm the, the local untrained nurse and everyone loves me, and that kind of a thing. And she would quote care for people in her home and slowly watch them. Emma, I think it was more, um, practical and a power trip.

I don't think she was more, she was let's a process killer and more of a results killer, shall we say,

Vicki: I always pictured Emma standing on a hill going, I'll never be poor again.

Laura: back to Scarlet O'Hara

Vicki: Exactly.

Lorelei: Yep.

Laura: Um, so is there anything else that you wanna share before we try? I try to, I have no idea if I'm gonna be able to figure out what your fictions are. .

Vicki: did have something to share. ,, I talk around. You know, the St. Louis area. Um, and everywhere that I've spoken, somebody's come in with Heman paraphernalia, whether it's, , you know, something like a newspaper article. Like I got down in Union, um, that had Frank Lee on it, for example. But I was out in Warrington and, these three women came in and they're like, we're related to Emma.

And I'm like, how are you related? And so we had this big long conversation about her and they said, we have a cookbook, Heiferman family cookbook that has Emma's potato soup in it. I'm like, you're kidding me,

Laura: Oh wow.

Vicki: this was after we published, so they sent me a picture of it. It they do. And I'm like, well, I guess that's good.

Laura: That is fascinating. 

All right. Okay, that is some story. Um, alright, Vicky and Laura, I think it's time for us to play Factor fiction. Um, are you ready to give me my four choices?

Vicki: Of course.

Laura: All right. We're gonna pause a moment for a word from our sponsor and then we'll be right back.

All right. Add for my friends Tafi, which is amazing. 

 Welcome back listeners. I'm here with Victoria Kosner and Laura lies Shannon, the co-authors of Missouri's murderous matrons. And they've just shared an unbelievable but mostly true story about Black Widow Emma Heman and, Angela Death, Bertha Gifford.

, at this part of the program, they've agreed to give me four details from the story, one of which is a complete fabrication. Uh, all right, ladies, I . I'm not sure I'm ready for this because if I had to pick four crazy details from the story, I would, I would go crazy cause there's so many.

Um, so, alright, , I've got my pen and paper ready. Go ahead and tell me your four strange things that one of, one of which is made up.

Vicki: go ahead Laura.

Lorelei: Oh, okay. Well, okay, our four points are, uh, Bertha and Emma knew each other.

Laura: Ooh.

Lorelei: Emma was eventually released.

Laura: Oh,

Lorelei: Emma threatened to kill people, and Emma's first kill was her own mother,

Laura: Okay. Wait. Emma threatened to kill people and then her first kill was her own mother. Oh, my,

Lorelei: so one of those is not true.

Laura: okay. And, and eventually released and then died shortly after. 

Oh, well you said that Emma and Bertha were tried in the same courthouse, um, time periods. Did they align? Not sure.

So what I figured out on, in doing these is the thing that seems the most reasonable is usually the thing that my guests have made up So, so I'm going to say that they knew each other. I'm gonna say that's true. Um, it just makes sense that she would threaten to kill people. Mm. It makes sense that she was eventually released if they, you know, had budgetary constraints. Uh, okay. I'm going to say that your fiction was, that her first kill was her own mother. How'd I do?

Vicki: You are incorrect.

Laura: Oh, I need, I need a buzzer sound. Okay. ? Yeah, that's good.

Vicki: Um, although we can't confirm it historically. I believe that the first, the mother was the first kill. , there's just too many coincidences and, , there aren't a lot of coincidences in murder. The, the lie was that Emma and Bertha knew each other.

Laura: They didn't know each other.

Vicki: did not. So they were killing concurrently, like with a overlap of like 10 years with the same poison in the same state and never heard of each other.

But Bertha hit the newspapers hard, and my guess is, is that Emma knew of Bertha,

Laura: Mm-hmm.

Vicki: and I think that Emma went on the road shortly after, but I don't know that she wasn't influenced by her, but it was in every paper in the United States. So it, she would've been exposed to something, , related to, but yeah.

Laura: I just keep imagining, what if they'd had like a church supper and they both, you know, birth up broader biscuits,

Lorelei: It's funny to think of them hanging out and having tea and discussing recipes as, oh dear.

Vicki: you know, it's a church social. Bertha used to go to church picnics all the time, you know, and they really didn't live that far away. I mean, KAA to Steelville is less than an hour, or maybe about an hour. I don't, maybe I, maybe I drive too fast. But anyway, um, it's not that far and it's all on what becomes Route 44,

Laura: right.

Vicki: you know, which was Route 66.

So there was a highway there, , you know, to move up and down. 

That's why we chose them. They're so cool.

Laura: they're

Vicki: Well, in a bad way.

Laura: cool in a bad way. They're, they're interesting to read about. I don't think I'd wanna meet them, um, unless I was maybe just interviewing them. That might be kind of fun, as a, like a reporter or something. Uh, well, gosh, ladies, thank you. This was so much fun.

Vicki: Well, thank

Lorelei: this was awesome. Thanks for having us.

Laura: Oh gosh.

I, and I'd love to have you again to talk about, uh, Madam Lare and, uh, Dr. McDowell. Do you have any new projects that you're working on?

Vicki: Prostitutes.

We've always wanted to write a book on prostitution and we might do it for a little while.

It's not the true crime would actually be prostitution. And honestly, I don't know if our publisher will pick it up, but, , we wanna look at the high profile madams because nobody's ever given any historical context. , it's almost all myth. And there was two in Seattle, three in San Francisco that I wanna look at.

Three here in St. Louis that people have looked at, but not really written historically too much on, um, one or two in New Orleans. where's the one in South Dakota? Badlands.

Lorelei: Right.

Vicki: And then there are two in Nevada. And then the best little whorehouse in Texas.

Laura: Oh, wow. You're, you're well on your way to that one then 

Vicki: in it We're about ready and Laura's going to do some of the chapters on like, um, VD for

Laura: Oh,

Vicki: Um, Laura's really good with big picture, uh, pathology

Laura: oh my.

Vicki: and, um, yeah, so we're looking at, at VD and um, penile injecting, um, devices and,

Lorelei: baby farming.

Vicki: baby farming, which is another fascination I had. And we were gonna write a book on baby farming and we decided there's just nothing pithy about it.

It's not funny, you know,

Laura: Yeah, it is sad there was, isn't the, well, we can talk forever about this stuff, but, , I will let you ladies go. Um, I feel like I, I had a little taste of what it was like to eat lunch with you back in, uh, in junior high

Lorelei: Absolutely.

Laura: So penile injections and, and, uh, vd. Lovely. Um, , so

Vicki: Welcome to our Laura.

Laura: I had, I had such a great time.

Thanks for participating and.

Vicki: for having us. We really enjoy.

Lorelei: We did.

Laura: oh, I'm so glad and everybody , I've posted a link to Missouri's murderous ma on the factor fiction podcast.com site, as well as on the Factor fiction Facebook page. And I encourage everyone to check it out. , I know I'm gonna read it right away to find out what else I missed, in this story.

I'll be back soon with another episode of Fact Fiction. Until then, listen carefully, because it's tricky to know if something is fact or fiction. Goodbye.

Lorelei: Bye

Laura: Bye bye. 

So, alright, I'm gonna let you go, but thank you so much ladies, and um, I, you know, hopefully we'll talk again.

Vicki: Hopefully. Thank you.

Laura: All right. Thank you. Bye

Vicki: Bye Laura. Talk to you.

Laura: bye.

Lorelei: bye. Talk to you soon.

Laura: Okay, bye-bye.

Lorelei: Bye.