A case of “voudooism” and murder is reported from the very heart of New England. On Sunday last, Freddy, the two-and-a-half-years-old son of J. W. Smith of Springfield, Mass., died of arsenical poisoning. The person who committed the murder and who has been arrested or the crime is a mulatto woman of 25 years of age, named Julia or Lizzie Shepard. She claims to have come to Springfield from Madison, Connecticut and she has for some weeks been employed as a domestic in Springfield. The facts in the case regarding the alleged poisoning are as follows: The Shepard woman, coming to this city three weeks ago in search of a friend named Smith, went to J. W. Smith’s and, though finding it the wrong family, was permitted to remain, being of respectable address. The child Freddy was much thrown in with her, as Mrs. Smith was sick and he seemed to be constantly “ailing,” vomiting much accompanied with violent contraction of the leg and arm muscles. These attacks were especially noticeable after the child had taken milk, which the woman often gave him. Miss Shepard would express great solicitation for the child, but after a time the boy conceived such a dislike for her as to scream whenever she approached him. She also said that he was too handsome to live, and would die at a certain time. The family were naturally alarmed, and secured prescriptions from two physicians, and the boy appeared to mend. But on Sunday afternoon the child suddenly died after violent spasms, and the Shepard woman left. A chemical analysis showed evident traces of arsenic, and there seems to be no doubt that the child died of the effects of that poison. After the woman’s arrest, a bottle containing arsenic was found in her trunk. What lends additional force to the charge against her is, that a robust six-year-old boy in another family, where she went on Tuesday, was the same night attacked with symptoms similar to the Smith boy’s though he recovered the next morning. A pudding she carefully prepared for the family on that day is preserved for the chemist. Miss Shepard had also washed and ironed all of her clothes, intending, she said, to leave town soon for Troy. She is an unusually smart, attractive and neat-appearing woman, and is withal rather stylish, and she protests her innocence of the cause of her imprisonment. The father of this second child says he caught her face suddenly off its guard Tuesday, and found her regarding him in a manner that he describes as devilish in the extreme; and he suspects that the pudding was for his benefit. No motive can be imagined for the crime, except that the murderess wanted to be considered a Voudoo prophetess, a character both dreaded and revered among the more ignorant colored people of the South, and that to achieve the religious honor she predicted the death of the Smith child and, to clinch the fact of her gift of prophecy, used the arsenic to secure its death. That such a horrible a crime for so shameful a motive could be committed at all seems almost incredible, but there are many well authenticated cases of similar affairs among the barbarous blacks of Africa, as well as among the southern negroes. It is to be hoped that the case will be thoroughly sifted to the bottom and, if guilt is shown, that a speedy hanging affair may occur at Springfield. The ordinary hates, malice, rivalries and lusts of men and women are plentiful enough causes of murder without counting so fanciful a reason for murder as the desire to gain the character of a prophetess. The Freeman murder at Pocasset was a religious affair. This Springfield murder seems to be a heathenish affair although the motives are not altogether dissimilar. Trifling with human life in all such cases should be punished with the highest penalty of the law.
"A Heathenish Murder" New Haven Register, 9 Sep 1879.