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Velma Barfield was a 52-year-old grandmother and serial poisoner who used arsenic as her weapon. She was also the first woman executed after the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976 in North Carolina and the first woman to die by lethal injection.
Velma Margie Barfield - Her Childhood
Velma Margie (Bullard) Barfield was born on October 23, 1932, in rural South Carolina. She was the second oldest child of nine and oldest daughter to Murphy and Lillie Bullard. Murphy was a small tobacco and cotton farmer. Soon after Velma's birth, the family had to give up the farm and move in with Murphy's parents in Fayetteville. Murphy's father and mother died not long afterward and the family remained in Murphy's parents' house.
Murphy and Lillie Bullard
Murphy Bullard was a strict disciplinarian. Homemaker Lillie was submissive and did not interfere with how he treated their nine children. Velma did not inherit her mother's same submissive ways which resulted in several severe strap beatings by her father. In 1939 when she began attending school, she found some reprieve from being inside her cramped, volatile home. Velma also proved to be a bright, attentive student but socially rejected by her peers because of her impoverished style.
Velma began stealing after feeling poor and inadequate around the other kids at school. She began by stealing coins from her father and was later caught stealing money from an elderly neighbor. Velma's punishment was severe and temporarily cured her from stealing. Her time was also more supervised and she was told she had to help with taking care of her sisters and brothers.
A Skilled Manipulator
By the age of 10, Velma learned how to control talking back to her stern father. She also became a decent baseball player and played on a team her father organized. Enjoying her "favorite daughter" status, Velma learned how to manipulate her father to get what she wanted. Later in life, she accused her father of molesting her as a child, although her family strongly denied her charges.
Velma and Thomas Burke
Around the time Velma entered high school her father took a job in a textile factory and the family moved to Red Springs, SC. Her grades were poor but she proved to be a good basketball player. She also had a boyfriend, Thomas Burke, who was a year ahead of her in school. Velma and Thomas dated under the strict curfews set by Velma's father. At age 17, Velma and Burke decided to quit school and marry, over the strong objections of Murphy Bullard.
In December 1951, Velma gave birth to a son, Ronald Thomas. By September 1953, she gave birth to their second child, a girl they named Kim. Velma, a stay-at-home mom, loved the time she spent with her children. Thomas Burke worked at different jobs and although they were poor, they had the basic comforts. Velma was also dedicated to teaching her children solid Christian values. The young, poor Burke family was admired by friends and family for their good parenting skills.
A Model Mother
Velma Burke's enthusiasm for being an involved mother continued when the children began school. She participated in school-sponsored events, volunteered to chaperone school trips, and enjoyed driving children to various school functions. However, even with her participation, she felt emptiness while her children were at school. To help fill the void she decided to return to work. With the extra income, the family was able to move into a better home in Parkton, South Carolina.
In 1963, Velma had a hysterectomy. The surgery was successful physically but mentally and emotionally Velma changed. She suffered severe mood swings and temper tantrums. She worried she was less desirable and womanly since she could no longer have children. When Thomas joined the Jaycees, Velma's resentment soared because of his outside activities. Their problems intensified when she discovered he was drinking with his friends after the meetings, something he knew she was against.
Booze and Drugs:
In 1965, Thomas was in a car accident and had a concussion. From that point on he suffered severe headaches and his drinking increased as a way to deal with his pain. The Burke household became explosive with endless arguments. Velma, consumed with stress, was hospitalized and treated with sedatives and vitamins. Once home, she gradually increased her prescription drug use and went to different doctors to get multiple prescriptions of Valium to feed her growing addiction.
Thomas Burke - Death Number One
Thomas, displaying alcoholic behavior, pushed the family deeper into dysfunctional madness. One day while the kids were at school, Velma went to the laundromat and returned to find her house on fire and Thomas dead from smoke inhalation. Velma's suffering appeared short-lived although her misfortune continued. A few months after Thomas died another fire broke out, this time destroying the home. Velma and her children fled to Velma's parents and waited for the insurance check.
Jenning Barfield - Death Number Two
Jenning Barfield was a widower suffering from diabetes, emphysema, and heart disease. Velma and Jennings met soon after Thomas died. In August 1970, the two married but the marriage dissolved as quickly as it began because of Velma's drug use. Barfield died of heart failure before the two could divorce. Velma seemed inconsolable. Twice a widow, her son off in the military, her father diagnosed with lung cancer and beyond belief, her home, for a third time, caught on fire.
Velma returned to her parents' home. Her father died of lung cancer shortly afterward. Velma and her mother constantly quarreled. Velma found Lillie too demanding and Lillie did not like Velma's drug use. During the summer of 1974, Lillie was hospitalized because of a severe stomach virus. The doctors were unable to diagnose her problem, but she recovered within a few days and returned home.
Death Sentence: The True Story of Velma Barfield's Life, Crimes, and Punishment by Jerry Bledsoe
The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers By Michael Newton
Women Who Kill by Ann Jones