By Michael Maynor
It was a cold February day in 1820 Lavinia Fisher, 28 stood on the gallows outside the city jail in Charleston, South Carolina, clad in her wedding dress. Lavinia and her husband John 29, had been convicted of murder. A crowd gathered to watch America’s first female serial killer be hanged, but before the beautiful Lavinia dropped to her death, she had one last message for the people below. “If any of you have a message to send to hell, give it to me, and I’ll carry it!” with those haunting last words, Lavinia jumped off the platform and hung herself so the legend goes.
I can’t remember when I first heard of Lavinia and John Fisher’s story, the murderous duo that owned the Six Mile House. I am sure it was on one of the ghost shows on Discovery Channel , but I do remember being struck by the captivating and horrific a story.
In 1819, the Fishers owned an inn located six miles from Charleston’s center. The route was a well-traveled one, and the Fisher’s inn was popular until the horrible truth was revealed. One evening a hunter on his way to Charleston to sell his deer skins stopped in at the inn for the night. The lovely Lavinia was charming and welcomed the weary traveler in and fed him and gave him drink. The hunter sensed something was off and just pretended to drink and later was shown to his room. Instead of sleeping in the bed, he sat in a chair in the corner facing the door. It was not long before he saw a trap door in the floor rise up, and a man came out and attacked him. The hunter broke free of the man and rushed to Charleston to report the incident to the authorities. A posse was formed and the Fisher’s Inn was raided.
It was discovered that Lavinia had been poisoning the travelers, and John would then rob and murder them and discard the bodies in the inn’s basement. The Fishers were quickly arrested, tried, and sentenced to death! This was the version of the Fisher’s tale that I believed and the version I accepted as truth. That was until I read the book Six Miles to Charleston: The True Story of John and Lavinia Fisher by Bruce Orr.
Orr is a former homicide investigator and spent countless hours working on his book to tell the Fishers’ REAL story. The book changes the popular and haunting narrative. When I started the book, I will admit I was disheartened to realize the legend I had held onto for so long was false. Still, the deeper I got into Orr’s book, the more I realized the Fishers were not notorious killer innkeepers but victims of greed and corruption. The truth is the Fishers never killed any travelers, they were sentenced to death for highway robbery not murder.
Orr details evidence that authorities wanted the land the inn was on and set them up on trumped-up charges. The Fisher’s story is more of a love story than that of a bloodthirsty couple. John escaped the city jail and could have gotten away, but he would not leave without his wife. The part about the wedding dress is also detailed in Orr’s book. As I stated before, I was a bit upset when I started the book that the myth would be dispelled, but at the end of it, I rooted for the Fishers, and I am glad Bruce Orr laid the real facts bare. Another aspect of Lavinia Fisher’s legend is that she haunts the jail, but this part I hope is true because once you read the book, you will understand why she would!