Velma Barfield

Velma Barfield
Background information
Birth name Margie Velma Bullard
Born October 29, 1932(1932-10-29)
South Carolina
Died November 2, 1984(1984-11-02) (aged 52)
Cause of death Lethal injection
Number of victims: 6
Span of killings 1971–June 4, 1978
Country United States
State(s) North Carolina
Date apprehended 1978

Margie Velma Barfield (née Margie Velma Bullard) (October 29, 1932 – November 2, 1984) was a serial killer, convicted of six murders. She was the first woman in the United States to be executed after the 1976 resumption of capital punishment[1] and the first since 1962.[2] She was also the first woman to be executed by lethal injection.



Velma Barfield was born in rural South Carolina, but grew up near Fayetteville, North Carolina. Her father reportedly was abusive and she resented her mother who did not stop the beatings.[3] She escaped by marrying Thomas Burke in 1949.[4] The couple had two children and were reportedly happy until Barfield had a hysterectomy and developed back pain.[3] These events led to a behavioral change in Barfield and an eventual drug addiction.[3]

Thomas Burke began to drink and Barfield's complaints turned into bitter arguments.[3] In April 1969, after Burke had passed out, Barfield and the children left the house, returning to find the home burned and Burke dead.[3][5] Only a few months later, her home burned once again, this time with a reward of insurance money.

In 1970, Barfield married a widower, Jennings Barfield. Less than a year after their marriage, Jennings died from heart complications, leaving Velma a widow once again.

In 1974, Barfield's mother, Lillian Bullard, showed symptoms of intense diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, only to fully recover a few days later. During the Christmas season of the same year, Lillian experienced the same illness as earlier that year, resulting in her death only hours after arriving at the hospital.[1]

In 1976, Barfield began caring for the elderly, working for Montgomery and Dollie Edwards. In the winter of that year, Montgomery fell ill and died. A little over a month after the death of her husband, Dollie experienced identical symptoms to that of Velma's mother and she too died, a death to which Barfield later confessed.[1]

The following year, 1977, Barfield took another caretaking job, this time for 76-year old Record Lee, who had broken her leg. On June 4, 1977, Lee's husband, John Henry, began experiencing racking pains in his stomach and chest along with vomiting and diarrhea. He died soon afterward and Barfield later confessed to his murder.[1]

Another victim was Stuart Taylor, Barfield's boyfriend and a relative of Dollie Edwards.[1] Fearing he had discovered she had been forging checks on his account, she mixed an arsenic-based rat poison into his beer and tea.[1] He died on February 3, 1978, while she was trying to "nurse" him back to health; an autopsy found arsenic in Taylor's system.[1] After her arrest, the body of Jennings Barfield was exhumed and found to have traces of arsenic, a murder that Barfield denied having committed.[1] She subsequently confessed to the murder of Lillian Bullard.[1] Singer-songwriter Jonathan Byrd is the grandson of Jennings Barfield and his first wife. Byrd's song "Velma" from his Wildflowers album gives a personal account of the murders and investigation.[6]

Prison and execution

During her stay on death row, Barfield became a devout born again Christian.[7] While she had been a devout churchgoer all of her life and had often attended revivals held by Rex Humbard and other evangelists, she later said she'd only been playing at being a Christian.

Her last few years were spent ministering to prisoners, for which she received praise from Billy Graham.[8] Barfield's involvement in Christian ministry was extensive to the point that an effort was made to obtain a commutation to life imprisonment.[3] After a Federal court appeal was denied, Barfield instructed her attorneys to abandon plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.[2] Barfield was executed on November 2, 1984[9] at the Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.[10] She released a statement before the execution, stating "I know that everybody has gone through a lot of pain, all the families connected, and I am sorry, and I want to thank everybody who have been supporting me all these six years."[2] Barfield declined a last meal, having instead a bag of Cheez Doodles and a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola.[11] Barfield wore pink pajamas and an adult diaper as she was put to death.[12]

Barfield's execution raised some political controversies when Governor Jim Hunt, who faced a bout with incumbent Jesse Helms for his Senate seat (which Hunt lost), rejected Barfield's request for clemency.[13][14]

Barfield was buried in a small rural North Carolina cemetery, near her first husband, Thomas Burke.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Velma Margie Barfield #29". Office of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  2. ^ a b c Schmidt, William E. (1984-11-03). "First Woman is Executed in U.S. Since 1962". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Death Sentence, a new book by Jerry Bledsoe". Correction News. North Carolina Department of Correction. November 1998. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  4. ^ a b "Burial Service Is Held For Executed Woman". New York Times. 1984-11-04. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  5. ^ Vronsky, Peter. Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters, p.197-98. Berkley Books, 2007, ISBN 0425213900
  6. ^ Druckenmiller, Tom, "Off the Beaten Track: Jonathan Byrd - Wildflowers", Sing Out!, 45:4 (Winter 2002) p.134
  7. ^ "Death Penalty News". Death Penalty Information. Office of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney. 1997-12-15. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  8. ^ "Graham Praises Woman Executed for Murder". New York Times. 1984-12-08. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  9. ^ 1984 Year in Review: Velma Barfield Put to Death-
  10. ^ "Barfield, Velma B.". North Carolina Department of Correction Public Access Information System. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  11. ^ William E. Schmidt (1984-11-03). "First Woman Is Executed in U.S. Since 1962". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  12. ^ Montaldo, Charles. "Velma Barfield - The Death Row Granny." 2. Retrieved on November 13, 2010.
  13. ^,9171,956964-2,00.html (TIME)
  14. ^ "Justice: Handling a Deadly Issue". Time. 1984-10-08.,9171,955309,00.html. Retrieved 2010-05-27. 

Further reading

External links

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