Known as South Africa’s first serial killer and the second woman to be hanged in the country, Daisy de Melker has become an icon of sorts. Born in 1882 to British parents who had moved to South Africa to become dairy farmers, Daisy was the sixth child of 11 children.
Although Daisy was quite intelligent, a speech impediment caused her problems and her unruly hair would become a trademark. When she was 10, her father and some of her brothers went to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in search of gold. For some reason, Daisy accompanied them.
She received a good education and wanted to become a nurse, even putting off marriage to the young man she loved while she completed her nursing course. Unfortunately, her fiance died of complications from malaria, and so the date they had finally set for the wedding became the day of his funeral.
Daisy went on to marry three times. People noted that both of her first two husbands suffered from digestive problems which grew progressively worse over time. Daisy, meanwhile, made sure that both of them made wills before their untimely deaths, leaving all their worldly goods to her.
While the motives for these two deaths appear to be the husband’s money and possessions, it is less clear why she chose to murder Rhodes Cecil Cowle, her only surviving child. What is clear is that the boy was spoiled and did not like to work. His mother, however, appeared to dote on him, visiting him regularly wherever he might be, always taking him cookies.
When Rhodes Cowle developed digestive trouble that ultimately caused his death, Daisy’s second husband’s brother became suspicious that his brother’s death might not have been completely natural. An investigation led to Daisy’s arrest and trial for the death of her son. She was sentenced to hang on December 30, 1932, becoming only the second South African woman to go to the gallows. For all her preoccupation with wealth, she lost all she had inherited from her husbands in mounting her legal defense and is buried in a pauper’s grave.
For a generation after her death, South Africans shied away from naming baby girls “Daisy” and anyone with unkempt hair is said to look like Daisy de Melker.