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Margie Velma Barfield (née Bullard; October 29, 1932 – November 2, 1984) was an American serial killer who was convicted of one murder, but who eventually confessed to six murders in total.
Barfield was the first woman in the United States 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.
Life and murders
Velma Barfield was born in rural South Carolina, but was raised near Fayetteville, North Carolina. Barfield's father reportedly was physically abusive and her mother, Lillian Bullard, did not intervene. She escaped by marrying Thomas Burke in 1949. The couple had two children and were reportedly happy until Barfield had a hysterectomy and developed back pain. These events led to a behavioral change in Barfield and an eventual drug addiction.
Burke began to drink and Barfield's complaints turned into bitter arguments. On April 4, 1969, after Burke had passed out, Barfield and the children left the house, and when they returned they found the structure burned and Burke dead. In 1970, Barfield married a widower, Jennings Barfield. Less than a year after their marriage, Jennings died on March 22, 1971, from heart complications.
In 1974, Lillian Bullard, Barfield's mother, showed symptoms of intense diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, only to fully recover a few days later. Later that year during the Christmas season, Bullard fell ill again with the same symptoms, but died in the hospital a few hours after being admitted on December 30, 1974.
In 1975, Barfield was convicted of seven counts of writing bad checks and sentenced to six months in prison. She was released after serving three months.
In 1976, Barfield began caring for the elderly, working for Montgomery and Dollie Edwards in Lumberton, North Carolina. Montgomery fell ill and died on January 29, 1977. Just over a month after the death of her husband, Dollie experienced symptoms identical to those of Bullard and died on March 1. Barfield later confessed to the murder of Dollie Edwards. The following year, Barfield took another caretaker 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 wracking 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 Rowland Stuart Taylor, Barfield's boyfriend and a relative of Dollie Edwards. Fearing he had discovered that she had been forging checks on his account, Barfield mixed an arsenic-based rat poison into his beer and tea. Edwards 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. Although she subsequently confessed to the murders of Lillian Bullard, Dollie Edwards, and John Henry Lee, she was tried and convicted only for the murder of Taylor.
Singer-songwriter Jonathan Byrd is the grandson of Jennings Barfield and his first wife. His song "Velma" from his Wildflowers album gives a personal account of the murders and investigation.