Velma “Death Row Granny” Barfield has the dubious honor of being the first woman to be executed via lethal injection. She presented as a kindly grandmother, but on the inside, she was as selfish and cruel as they come. This despicable specimen was a serial killer with a mean drug addiction and no qualms about killing those in her way.
Velma hated her abusive father and her negligent mother, so she married a man named Thomas Burke in 1949, when she was about 17. Thing were just fine for a while, and the happy couple would go on to have two children. But after the death of Thomas’ father, he turned to the bottle. He drank. They argued. Velma took Valium, to which she would become addicted. One night in 1969, Thomas passed out and Velma took her kids and left. While they were gone, the home burned down with Thomas inside. I know what you’re thinking: Velma torched her own house and let her husband burn alive. But, as far as anyone can tell, she didn’t.
The following year, Velma married Jennings Barfield. Like Velma, Jennings had also lost his spouse. But oddly enough, Jennings would die less than a year later due to heart complications—or so everyone believed at the time.
Life went on for Velma until 1974 brought about another tragedy. Velma’s mother, Lillian Bullard, became very ill, not once, but twice. The second time around, days after Christmas, she succumbed to the mystery illness.
It would appear Velma, by this point, had gotten a taste for murder. And if she didn’t enjoy it, she at least enjoyed stealing from her victims in order to pay for more drugs. In 1976, she became the caretaker of Montgomery and Dollie Edwards. Montgomery soon dropped dead, and Dollie joined him only a month afterwards. In 1977, she murdered another man, John Henry Lee, who she had been hired to take care of, and in 1978 murdered her boyfriend, Rowland Stuart Taylor. It was Taylor’s murder that ended Velma’s career as a serial killer. Police got a tip that Velma had a long history of people within her reaching becoming ill and dying, and Taylor, at 56, was younger than her other victims. An autopsy turned up arsenic in his system, leading investigators to exhume Jennings Barfield’s body. As you may have guessed, his remains also revealed arsenic.
Velma confessed to murdering her mother, Dollie Edwards and John Henry Lee, but denied murdering Jennings Barfield. She claimed that she had never intended to kill anyone, only to make them ill to distract them from the fact that she was siphoning their bank accounts to pay for her addiction. But, prosecutors argued, if that was the case, she would have saved Taylor as he lay dying in the hospital by bed. She could have told hospital staff she added a little rat poison to his beer. For her crimes, Velma was sentenced to death.
Velma turned to Jesus in prison and on November 2, 1984, after a bag of Cheez Doodles and a can of Coke, apologized for her evil deeds and was executed via lethal injection.
Jennings Barfield’s grandson, Jonathan Byrd, wrote a song about the woman who murdered his grandfather. He tells the tale and sings the tune in the video below.