Episode 517: The Black Sisters and the Murder of Ocey Snead
When East Orange, New Jersey police were called to the home of Virginia Wardlaw in late November 1909, they knew only that there had been an accident involving Virginia’s niece, Ocey Snead. Once they’d arrived, however, officers discovered Ocey’s body in an upstairs bathtub, dead from what appeared to be suicide by drowning.
After just a few weeks of investigation, it became clear that Ocey’s death was no accident. Suspicion quickly fell on Virginia and her two sisters, who were soon charged with Ocey’s murder, which investigators believed was committed in order to collect on a large insurance
The murder of Ocey Snead was an undeniable tragedy, but her death was only the beginning of what would become one of the early twentieth century’s most captivating crime stories. As detectives and the press dug deeper into the background of the three women accused of starving and drowning their niece, a bizarre story emerged that sounded as though it had been pulled directly from the pages of a classic southern gothic horror novel. And like any good gothic horror story, the trial of Virginia Wardlaw and her sisters was full of unbelievable twists and culminated in a shocking conclusion.
Thank you to the Wondrous Dave White of Bring Me the Axe Podcast for Research!
New York Times. 1910. "Alienists declare Mrs. Martin insane." New York Times, September 21: 6.
—. 1909. "Bathtub mystery no murder, she says." New York Times, December 2: 2.
—. 1909. "Bathtub principals are twice indicted ." New York Times, December 23: 4.
—. 1910. "Miss Wardlaw dies; starved herself." New York Times, August 12: 1.
—. 1911. "Mrs. Martin pleads to manslaughter ." New York Times, January 10: 2.
—. 1910. "Mrs. Martin's cries halt lunacy trial." New York Times, November 8: 7.
—. 1909. "Mrs. Snead's family full of fatalities." New York Times, December 9: 20.
—. 1910. "Ocey Snead was drugged ." New York Times, January 21: 1.
—. 1910. "Say Miss Wardlaw is dying." New York Times, August 11: 4.
—. 1909. "The Snead msytery." New York Times, December 18: 12.
Rife, Luanne. 2016. "The Black Sisters." Roanoke Times, December 1: 116.
Roanoke Times. 1909. "Christiansburg woman is held." Roanoke Times, December 3: 1.
West, Mike. 2009. "Fearless Confederate died mysteriously in NYC." Murfreesboro Post, February 15: 8.
—. 2009. "'Sisters in Black' sour Ocey's domestic bliss." Murfreesboro Post, February 22: 8.
Zierold, Norman. 1968. Three Sisters in Black. New York, NY: Little, Brown.