Velma Barfield
Margie Velma Barfield (October 29, 1932 – November 2, 1984) was a serial killer
Serial killer
A serial killer, as typically defined, is an individual who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is usually based on psychological gratification...

, convicted of six murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

s. She was the first woman in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to be executed after the 1976 resumption of capital punishment and the first since 1962. She was also the first woman to be executed by lethal injection
Lethal injection
Lethal injection is the practice of injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs for the express purpose of causing the immediate death of the subject. The main application for this procedure is capital punishment, but the term may also be applied in a broad sense to euthanasia and suicide...



Velma Barfield was born in rural South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

, but grew up near Fayetteville, North Carolina
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Fayetteville is a city located in Cumberland County, North Carolina, United States. It is the county seat of Cumberland County, and is best known as the home of Fort Bragg, a U.S. Army post located northwest of the city....

. Her father reportedly was abusive and she resented her mother who did not stop the beatings. She escaped by marrying Thomas Burke in 1949. The couple had two children and were reportedly happy until Barfield had a hysterectomy
A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus, usually performed by a gynecologist. Hysterectomy may be total or partial...

 and developed back pain. These events led to a behavioral change in Barfield and an eventual drug addiction.

Thomas Burke began to drink and Barfield's complaints turned into bitter arguments. In April 1969, after Burke had passed out, Barfield and the children left the house, returning to find the home burned and Burke dead. Only a few months later, her home burned once again, this time with a reward of insurance
In law and economics, insurance is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for payment. An insurer is a company selling the...


In 1970, Barfield married a widower, Jennings Barfield. Less than a year after their marriage, Jennings died from heart
The heart is a myogenic muscular organ found in all animals with a circulatory system , that is responsible for pumping blood throughout the blood vessels by repeated, rhythmic contractions...

 complications, leaving Velma a widow
A widow is a woman whose spouse has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse has died. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed...

 once again.

In 1974, Barfield's mother, Lillian Bullard, showed symptoms of intense diarrhea
Diarrhea , also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day. It is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and...

, vomiting and nausea
Nausea , is a sensation of unease and discomfort in the upper stomach with an involuntary urge to vomit. It often, but not always, precedes vomiting...

, only to fully recover a few days later. During the Christmas season of the same year, Lillian experienced the same illness as earlier that year, resulting in her death only hours after arriving at the hospital.

In 1976, Barfield began caring for the elderly, working for Montgomery and Dollie Edwards. In the winter of that year, Montgomery fell ill and died. A little over a month after the death of her husband, Dollie experienced identical symptoms to that of Velma's mother and she too died, a death to which Barfield later confessed.

The following year, 1977, Barfield took another caretaking job, this time for 76-year old Record Lee, who had broken her leg. On June 4, 1977, Lee's husband, John Henry, began experiencing racking pains in his stomach and chest along with vomiting and diarrhea. He died soon afterward and Barfield later confessed to his murder.

Another victim was Stuart Taylor, Barfield's boyfriend and a relative of Dollie Edwards. Fearing he had discovered she had been forging checks on his account, she mixed an arsenic
Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As, atomic number 33 and relative atomic mass 74.92. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. It was first documented by Albertus Magnus in 1250.Arsenic is a metalloid...

-based rat poison into his beer and tea. He died on February 3, 1978, while she was trying to "nurse" him back to health; an autopsy found arsenic in Taylor's system. After her arrest, the body of Jennings Barfield was exhumed and found to have traces of arsenic, a murder that Barfield denied having committed. She subsequently confessed to the murder of Lillian Bullard. Singer-songwriter Jonathan Byrd is the grandson of Jennings Barfield and his first wife. Byrd's song "Velma" from his Wildflowers
Wildflowers (Jonathan Byrd album)
Wildflowers is the 2001 debut album by Jonathan Byrd. The songs are mostly original songs with a few traditional tunes. Here he mixes contemporary singer-songwriter storytelling with Appalachian folk roots. There is even a murder ballad; "Velma" is a song about serial killer Velma Barfield whose...

album gives a personal account of the murders and investigation.

Prison and execution

During her stay on death row, Barfield became a devout born again Christian. While she had been a devout churchgoer all of her life and had often attended revivals held by Rex Humbard
Rex Humbard
Alpha Rex Emmanuel Humbard was a well-known American television evangelist whose Cathedral of Tomorrow show was shown on over 600 stations at the peak of its popularity....

 and other evangelists, she later said she'd only been playing at being a Christian.

Her last few years were spent ministering to prisoners, for which she received praise from Billy Graham
Billy Graham
William Franklin "Billy" Graham, Jr. is an American evangelical Christian evangelist. As of April 25, 2010, when he met with Barack Obama, Graham has spent personal time with twelve United States Presidents dating back to Harry S. Truman, and is number seven on Gallup's list of admired people for...

. Barfield's involvement in Christian ministry was extensive to the point that an effort was made to obtain a commutation to life imprisonment. After a Federal court appeal was denied, Barfield instructed her attorneys to abandon plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. Barfield was executed on November 2, 1984 at the Central Prison in Raleigh
Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh is the capital and the second largest city in the state of North Carolina as well as the seat of Wake County. Raleigh is known as the "City of Oaks" for its many oak trees. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city's 2010 population was 403,892, over an area of , making Raleigh...

, North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

. She released a statement before the execution, stating "I know that everybody has gone through a lot of pain, all the families connected, and I am sorry, and I want to thank everybody who have been supporting me all these six years." Barfield declined a last meal
Last meal
The last meal is a customary part of a condemned prisoner's last day. Often, the day of, or before, the appointed time of execution, the prisoner receives a last meal, as well as religious rites, if they desire. In the United States, inmates generally may not ask for an alcoholic drink...

, having instead a bag of Cheez Doodles
Cheez Doodles
Cheez Doodles are a cheese-flavored cheese puff produced by Wise Foods, Inc. which are similar to Frito-Lay's Cheetos. They debuted several years after Frito-Lay's snack in the 1950s. Originally developed and manufactured by King Kone Corp. of the Bronx , it became the prevalent cheese puff snack...

 and a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola. Barfield wore pink pajamas and an adult diaper as she was put to death.

Barfield's execution raised some political controversies when Governor
Governor of North Carolina
The Governor of North Carolina is the chief executive of the State of North Carolina, one of the U.S. states. The current governor is Bev Perdue, North Carolina's first female governor.-Powers:...

 Jim Hunt
Jim Hunt
James Baxter Hunt Jr. is an American politician who was the 69th and 71st Governor of the state of North Carolina . He is the longest-serving governor in the state's history.-Early life:...

, who faced a bout with incumbent Jesse Helms
Jesse Helms
Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr. was a five-term Republican United States Senator from North Carolina who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001...

 for his Senate seat (which Hunt lost), rejected Barfield's request for clemency.

Barfield was buried in a small rural North Carolina cemetery, near her first husband, Thomas Burke.

See also

  • Blanche Taylor Moore
    Blanche Taylor Moore
    Blanche Kiser Taylor Moore is a convicted murderer and probable serial killer from Alamance County, North Carolina. She was convicted of killing her boyfriend by slipping arsenic into his food, and is suspected of killing three other people and nearly killing another in the same manner.-Early...

     – a similar serial killer also from North Carolina
  • Capital punishment in the United States
    Capital punishment in the United States
    Capital punishment in the United States, in practice, applies only for aggravated murder and more rarely for felony murder. Capital punishment was a penalty at common law, for many felonies, and was enforced in all of the American colonies prior to the Declaration of Independence...

  • List of females executed in the United States
  • List of individuals executed in North Carolina

Further reading

  • Barfield, Velma. Woman on Death Row. Thomas Nelson Inc. (May 1985). ISBN 0-840-79531-9.
  • Bledsoe, Jerry
    Jerry Bledsoe
    Jerry Bledsoe is an American author and journalist known for several true crime titles based on murders in his native state of North Carolina....

    . Death Sentence: The True Story of Velma Barfield's Life, Crimes, and Execution. Dutton Adult (October 1, 1998). ISBN 0-525-94255-6.

External links

  • Offender Data Screen. North Carolina Department of Correction. Retrieved on 2007-11-17.
  • Noe, Denise. All about Velma Barfield. Crime Library
    Crime Library
    The Crime Library is a website documenting major crimes, criminals, and trials, forensics, and criminal profiling from books, police reports, crime television shows, and writers...

    . Retrieved on 2007-11-17.
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