Velma Bullard, later Velma Barfield, was born on October 29, 1932 to a poor family in South Carolina. Her life of crime began early when she noted the financial differences between her and her classmates. She began stealing pocket money from her father to afford small luxuries while at school. This progressed to stealing $80 dollars from an old neighbor. Her father found out and beat her, and that was the last time during her childhood that she stole anything.
Velma was sexually abused by her father throughout her adolescent years, making her eager to escape from his home. At seventeen she married a high school boyfriend, Thomas Burke, and gave birth to two children.
She began working at a textile plant, but shortly after starting she left because of medical issues. She needed an emergency hysterectomy, which made her feel insecure in her womanhood. Her husband began to drink, so she felt alone. She began taking Librium and Valium, going to multiple doctors for prescriptions.
After a fight with her husband, Velma left the house with her children and left Thomas home alone. The house mysteriously caught on fire, killing her husband and destroying her home.
Velma and the kids moved back home with her parents. Soon after they moved back, she married Jennings Barfield, a fellow widower. After an argument with Velma, Jennings became mysteriously ill. He contracted an illness shortly after and died of a heart attack.
Velma and the kids moved back home, again. Her father soon died of lung cancer, a death she had no hand in, and her mother became mysteriously ill. Nobody suspected foul play, and Velma began taking jobs around town as a caretaker. Two separate couples that employed Velma to be a caretaker also became ill in her care and died. A new boyfriend, Stuart Taylor, also passed mysteriously after he found her stealing from him and forging his checks.
After Stuart’s service, an anonymous tip to the police led to an investigation. An autopsy was performed and found traces of arsenic from rat poison in his system. They went back to other deaths in Velma’s life and found the same brand of rat poison in their systems.
Velma confessed to four of the murders and was given a death sentence, and although psychiatric witnesses tried to stop Velma from being sentenced, she was convicted in the end – the first woman to be executed since 1962, it was reinstated for her execution. She was put to death by lethal injection on November 2, 1984, her last meal was a bag of Cheeze Doodles and a Coca-Cola.
Back to Crime Library