It’s an honor normally reserved for the likes of the Bell Witch of Adams, Tennessee, or the entity that plagued Carla Moran in Culver City, California, during the 1970s. In regard to the majority of hauntings, most ghosts seem harmless. Can the same be said for the uneasy spirit of Lavinia Fisher?
The Six Mile Wayfarer House was a quaint South Carolina inn during the 19th century. Owned and operated by Lavinia Fisher, and husband John, the tavern was situated near Charleston, along the route to a then-expanding United States. Those heading west in search of fortune inevitably passed the Fisher’s place of lodging during their travels.
Although business was good, both Lavinia and John thirsted for more. As such, from time to time, the Fishers would simply kill the occasional lodger, and purloin the poor soul’s personal effects. Travelers new to the area made the best prey, since local law enforcement would have no record of them even existing.
A poison-laced meal would send the ailing customer seeking solace in his room. During the night, whilst the languishing lodger slept, John Fisher would steal into the guest’s quarters and smother the visitor. Gathering any valuables the boarder had, Fisher would then burn traceable clothing, and dispose of the corpse in a pre-dug lime pit beneath the tavern.
Although the horrific scam worked well upon those unfamiliar with the area, it was only a matter of time before the Fishers accidentally attempted their scheme on a lodger more acquainted with the region. February 12, 1819 would prove to be such a date.
His name was John Peeples, and he wandered into the Six Mile Wayfarer House in desperate need of an evening’s shelter. While the experienced tracker secured his team of pack mules outside, Lavinia prepared dinner for her weary guest. Ducking back into the warmth of the tavern, Peeples thanked the woman for her hospitality, but informed her he was laden with provisions, and simply wished to retire for the night. When Lavinia insisted, attempting to coerce the traveler with a free meal, John became suspicious, knowing full well anything offered as “a gift” always came with a price. Once again, Peeples declined, but Lavinia’s persistence ultimately won out, as there seemed no way for John to circumvent the situation.
Following dinner, feeling ill, John retired to his room. Woozy, but retaining his wits, the lodger placed blankets beneath his comforter, giving the illusion he was sleeping in bed, while he, himself, curled up in a darkened corner.
Sometime during the wee hours of the evening, the door to the traveler’s room opened. John Fisher entered, looming over Peeples’ bed. From the darkness of the hallway, Lavinia Fisher’s voice hissed the command, “Do it!”
Complying, John Fisher leapt onto the bed in attempts to smother his latest victim, but was shocked to find the bunk empty. Without hesitation, Peeples made for the door, traversing the venue’s hallway and scrambling from the inn.
Before the Fishers could react, a nauseous John Peeples had hopped upon his horse, and ridden in search of local law enforcement.
The following day, Lavinia, her husband John and a handful of others who had taken part in the murders, were found hiding in a refuge adjacent a nearby river. Initially, only John Peeples indictment was leveled against the perpetrators, but after the Six Mile Wayfarer House was burnt to the ground, the discovery of the lime pits beneath the property was made. In the end, upwards of twenty-six partially liquefied corpses were recovered. Almost immediately, Lavinia and her husband were sentenced to hang.
On February 18, 1820, the Fishers respective executions were set to be carried out in public, as was customary of the day. The event took on a circus-like atmosphere, when the streets filled with curious onlookers.
Climbing the gallows, John pleaded for his life, claiming not only had he discovered religion during incarceration, but that his evil deeds were solely the brainchild of his wicked wife. The crowd responded with collective laughter at the condemned man’s cries. Moments later, John’s lifeless corpse was twitching at the end of a rope.
Lavinia, on the other hand, had no intentions of departing this mortal world a coward. Instead, she promptly mounted the scaffold, and headed directly toward the noose. Addressing the throng of onlookers, the woman shouted, “If any of you’s got a message for the Devil, better give it to me quick, ’cause I’m about to meet him!” As the executioners finished their preparations, Lavinia jumped off the platform and hanged herself, before her captors could experience the pleasure. Fisher’s leap landed her squarely amidst the crowd, many of whom would later claim the woman died with a sinister smile on her face.
There are those who insist Lavinia’s evil presence lingers, to this day, within the jail cell where she was incarcerated. In 1886, a massive earthquake rocked the southeast coast, and the walls of this foreboding chamber at the Charleston Jail were cracked open. Since that time, Lavinia’s malevolent specter has also been spotted wandering the nearby Unitarian church cemetery mere blocks away. It was in this forgotten boneyard the evil woman’s body had been laid to rest, when all other burial houses refused to inter her. The cemetery, itself, is now overgrown with weeds. Locals claim folks are just too scared of the place to maintain its upkeep.
Mrs. Fisher’s specter is often referred to as Charleston’s most active spirit. That’s quite a claim, considering South Carolina is a state fraught with residents of the netherworld, from the premonitory sightings of the Grey Man, to the snarling fangs of the Ghost Hound of Goshen.
Resultant of her insidious escapades, Lavinia is often categorized as this country’s first female serial killer. If you wish to dispute that claim, you can always pay her a visit at the former site of the Old Charleston Jail in Charleston, South Carolina. 21 Magazine Street is now home to The American College of the Building Arts, but tours are offered, should you make an appointment. Give ’em a call at 843.577.5245.
Numerous paranormal excursions throughout Charleston are also provided, and detailed descriptions of each, some meandering right past Lavinia Fisher’s old jail cell, can be found online. A great place to start your search for perhaps the meanest ghost ever, is with the Charleston haunted jail tour at: www.zerve.com/bulldog/chjt.
Happy ghost hunting!
© 2010. Hugh Mungus
Manley, Roger. (2007). Weird Carolinas: Your Travel Guide to North and South Carolina’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. pp. 191-195. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN: 13: 978-1-4027-3939-2
Southern Haunts: Ghosts of the Low Country. Dir. Zac Adams. Perfs. Charlie Chase. Prod. Zac Adams, BJ Brown. DVD, 2007