Monday, March 11, 2013

Celebrating Women's History Month: Death By Suspicious Circumstances?

Blog Prompt 11 From Lisa Also at The Accidental Genealogist

Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how did this affect the family?

Buried in Pisgah Cemetery, Pisgah Crossroads, Sumter, SC are my Great Grandmother's Sister and Brother in Law.
  The headstones of Effie Vida Mcmanus Burkett and her husband William J. Burkett  lead me to wonder what happened to this couple and what caused their deaths just a day apart.

Effie Vivda Burkett (1882-1896)
Headstone, Pisgah Cemetery
Pisgah Crossroads, Sumter, SC
© Cheri Hudson Passey
Willie J. Burkett (1872-1896)
Headstone, Pisgah Cemetery
 Pisgah Crossroads, Sumter,SC
© Cheri Hudson Passey

A Search of Chronicling America gave me new insights on the untimely deaths of this young couple.   


        Death Announcement from the Sumter Watchman and Southron January 29, 1986 pg.5
 Mrs. W.J. Burkett died on Friday evening last, at her home near Pisgah, this county, and on the following evening her husband, Mr. W.J. Burkett died. They had both been ill several weeks ago, and were just able to sit up when they contracted measles from another member of the family. In their weakened condition they succumbed to the disease after an illness of about one week.
 Their death was particularly sad, as they were both young and had been married but a few weeks. Mr. Burkett was the only son of Mr. J.H. Burkett and was but 22 years old. Mrs. Burkett was the only daughter of Mr. W.A. McManus, of Spring Hill, and had but recently reached her fourteenth year

This also from the same edition of the paper:

The Watchman and Southron, Jan.29, 1896, page 3

Sad Deaths
 Pisgah, SC Jan. 28, 1896.
 Mr. Willie Burket and his wife, of this place, are dead. One was buried Saturday afternoon, and the other Sunday afternoon, at Pisgah Church, after services by the Pastor, Rev. J. R. Smith. This is indeed a sad case. The were married about the middle of last December and a short time afterwards both of them took sick with something like fits. They had gotten some better of this when they took measles, which resulted in congestion of the brain, and death ensued.
The sympathy of the entire neighborhood has gone out to the afflicted parents of the untimely deceased young couple.

 What a sad story! They were newly weds, she only 13 when they married. I am sure their families were happy to have them getting well from their previous illness and devastated to have them then catch the measles and die.
 Willie was his parents only son, and at the time, Effie was the McManus' only daughter. My Great Grandmother Loretta McManus never knew her sister.

 Even though it happened over 100 years ago I felt so bad for their families- imagining all that they went through after the deaths of their beloved children. It was bad enough reading about the tragic deaths, but then I found more:

Sumter Watchman and Southron 5 February 1896, page 4

                                           The Deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Burkett

  The subjoined statements concerning the untimely deaths of Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Burkett are published with pleasure. We would state, in this  correction, however that we have " insinuated" nothing, as Mr. McManus charges, but published what seemed to be a well authenticated rumor. We stated distinctly that "it is reported" that they died "under very suspicious circumstances". We do not seem it proper to go in to details in a newspaper concerning these reports, but will very readily give Mr .McManus or anyone else interested our authority, whenever demanded privately.

 We sympathize very much with Mr. McManus in his sad affliction, and a hope that his statement together with that made Mr. J.E. Dupre will put a "quietus" to these reports, but from all we've heard it would seem that an investigation is eminently in order. It will be observed that Mr. Dupre is silent, whether intentionally or not, as to what their first sickness was and what brought it on. 
 If the reports are not true, and no attempt has been made to shield a criminal then a great injustice has been done to the deceased couple and their families, and for the sake of all parties concerned we hope there is no foundation for the damaging rumors.
 The following are the statements referred to:

 I noticed in your paper on January 26 an article insinuating that my daughter and her husband, W.J. Burkett were poisoned. I would like to know what authority you have for such a statement. 

They had been sick nearly three weeks with nervous disorders, from which they were recovering when they contracted measles and finally congestion of the brain, which proved fatal. Your article is absolutely without foundation, as they had had the best medical attention through their entire illness  I would like to know who your informant accuses of administering the "overdose of a dangerous drug". Please publish this correction and oblige.
    Yours etc. W.A. McManus

The deaths of Mr.and Mrs. W.J. Burkett, of this place who died here recently were caused from measles. Their first sickness had about been controlled, when in their weakened state, they took measles, which resulted in congestion of the brain, in death ensued in a short time. I have this statement from their attending physician and this should put a quietus upon the many reports about the matter, which to say the least, are very distressing to the parents and relatives of the young couple whose untimely taking off is regretted by all.   Jas. E. DuPre

Pisgah, S.C. Feb. 5, 1896


 The original article that W.A.McManus refers to from the January 26. 1896 paper has not been found. A search after this date did not find any more information regarding the accusation of the Burkett's being poisoned  No evidence has been uncovered as to an investigation being conducted. Perhaps the joint statements put the issue to rest and the family was able to mourn in peace..

© 2013 Cheri Hudson Passey


  1. Cheri, what a sad and fascinating story. It does sound suspicious when they say a nervous illness or fits? Especially that both suffered from it. You could see what a rumor could start about a possible poisoning. I'm not convinced that it wasn't. Maybe they ate some a strange mushroom or something unintentionally? Great detective work!

  2. It is a little strange! I was very surprised to find the story in the paper. Family members had never spoken of it.
    Thanks so much for reading this post Smadar!

  3. Wow what an incredible story! Such a tragedy. I often think our ancestors were much stronger than we are today. Many suffered these losses often. I'm glad I was a part in remembering this young couple.

    1. I agree with you Cindy! So much loss for so many.
      Thank you!

  4. I do notice that Effie was the only daughter of W. A. McManus, so he could probably not believe she would die at such a young age. Measles is pretty bad for adults, I've heard, but that first illness of nervous disorders and fits does sound very, very strange. I wonder if that disease was common, or if there was a name for it. Maybe if the original article surfaces, there will be a clue as to who might have had a motive to kill them both. A spurned lover?

    This is some big mystery!