Pretty as Poison: The Life, Crimes & Accomplices of California’s First Black Widow Part 2

Jun 8, 2024 | 2024 Articles, Hometown History, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sarah Peterson-Camacho

by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho

You can read part 1 here.

Saturday, March 24, 1906; Stockton, CA

Albert N. McVicar was most definitely dead.

With his 6’4”, 185-lb. frame doubled up like a pretzel inside the four-foot Saratoga steamer trunk, his “corpse was found curled up with wounds on his head,” writes true crime author J’aime Rubio. “His nose had been completely fractured…Blood that poured from his head and nose settled at the bottom corner of the trunk…”

Emma on her wedding day to victim Albert McVicar, from The Sacramento Star, dated Wednesday, June 20, 1906

Once the cadaver had been extricated from its portable tomb, “the trunk was impounded as evidence. The body was surrendered to the coroner for an autopsy” (Adams 125). And when McVicar’s remains arrived at the Stockton city morgue, Drs. Samuel E. Latta and James P. Hull—assisted by Coroner Dr. Henry E. Southworth—performed the dissection.

Dr. Latta “described the scene in the Morgue,” reported The San Francisco Bulletin. “He told of finding two contusions on the back and side of the head…He said that bruises were found on the brain, corresponding to the contusions on the scalp, and no evidence of hemorrhages of the brain…About three teaspoons full of a mucous fluid was found in the stomach, and was placed in a bottle for subsequent chemical examination.”

The doctor “estimated that about a pint of blood had escaped from a hemorrhage of the nose, into the trunk. He said the blood must have escaped before death, and that the bruises on the head must have been made before death…he estimated that the body had been dead eight or 10 hours.”

The contents of Albert McVicar’s stomach—along with his intestines, bladder, bowels, and blood—were then delivered to Cooper Medical College (later Stanford Medical School), where chemistry professor Roy R. Rogers “ground up pieces of the internal organs into what he termed ‘soup,’” The San Francisco Examiner overshared. “He first found small quantities of choral hydrate, commonly called ‘knockout drops’…and readily discernible quantities of morphine…

“He proceeded to determine how much of the poison was present…From these tests, he computed that the actual amount of morphine in McVicar’s entire body—on the basis of 185 pounds weight—amounted to fully 10 grains of sulphate of morphine.”

Filling up two glass vials with the morphine he had extracted from the dissected viscera, Rogers concluded that Albert N. McVicar had ingested enough of the poison to kill a dozen men.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Emma LeDoux and her male accomplice (whose description matched that of fourth husband Eugene LeDoux) fled the city of Stockton by train—and from there, they would part ways forever: he to Jackson, where Eugene LeDoux just so happened to live, and she to San Francisco, where her Plan B was waiting.

(from l to r) Emma’s 4th husband Eugene LeDoux, Emma, and victim Albert McVicar, from The Stockton Evening Mail, dated Monday, June 18, 1906

Joseph E. Healy was about to be framed for murder, but he had no way of knowing that when he received a telegram from his former fiancée Emma LeDoux that Saturday, March 24th: “Meet me at the Royal House; I will leave on the 2:55 train.”

He remembered her telephone call from nearly two weeks prior, recalling how she’d said her ex-husband Albert McVicar was dying of consumption—even though when Healy had first met her, Emma had told him that McVicar was already deceased. And feeling nothing but trepidation, the San Francisco plumber also thrilled at the thought of seeing her again…if only to ask for the return of the engagement ring he had given her the year before.

“I went to the Royal House at about seven o’clock Saturday evening…where we sat down in the ladies’ parlor,” Healy told The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, March 27, 1906. “Again she put me off [about the ring]; all her things were packed up, and it would be too much trouble to get the ring that night: in the morning, she would give it to me positively.

“McVicar had died, she said. How long he was dead, she did not say. She herself was taking charge of the body, and would send it to his brother in Denver…She had learned from this brother in Denver, she said, that McVicar had changed his insurance policy in favor of his mother, but that she was to receive $1,000 by a private agreement. His death had not been painful. He had died in Sonoma. An easy death accomplished most peacefully, was the general tenor of her remarks.”

The next morning, Sunday, March 25th, Healy headed back to the Royal House for the promised ring. “She asked me to accept the value of the ring,” Emma’s jilted suitor continued, “but not to take from her a thing she valued so highly. I said that I would not take $100 for it. I begged her for the ring, to show it to my mother, who would not believe that our engagement was at an end until the ring was returned.

“She asked me to accompany her to Stockton. I refused. She asked me to go with her as far as the ferry. I said that I would if she would give me the ring. She replied that if I went as far as Richmond, she would give it to me there. Finally, I promised I would go with her if she would hand over the ring right then and there. She gave in, and the ring of engagement was returned.”

Dangling the engagement ring over Healy’s head as a bargaining chip, Emma attempted to lure him all the way to Stockton—which would put the jilted plumber squarely in the city where the crime had occurred…but the exasperated Healy was through playing LeDoux’s mind games. He just wanted to be done with her once and for all, so he could finally move on.

So “Healy went with her and carried her grip,” revealed The San Francisco Call and Post of Tuesday, March 27, 1906. “They took the three o’clock Santa Fe boat, and she bought a ticket to Stockton, refusing to have her grip checked. ’Good-by, Joe,’ she said, ‘you have the ring at last, and it is all over.’

“It was all over with a completeness of meaning that she did not intend. She left the train at Antioch…”

But the web of lies and deceit that Mrs. LeDoux had spun was now unraveling like the laces of a tightly bound corset, in the wake of so many witnesses now speaking to the Stockton authorities. And as the beautiful, young black widow disembarked in Antioch, she must have realized that her remaining hours of freedom were numbered. Her last, best hope would be to weave a new web to ensnare the encroaching investigators, bat her eyelashes, and pin the whole mess on Healy.

“The Stockton police were now confident that they knew who was responsible for the body in the trunk. They telegraphed the authorities in San Francisco, and at all intermediate train stops, to be on the lookout…

“The police in Antioch, a town a few miles east of San Francisco, had the privilege of arresting the suspect on Monday morning. They were alerted that a woman calling herself Mrs. Jones, but answering the description of Mrs. LeDoux/McVicar, had checked into the Arlington Hotel. Marshal Thomas B. Sharon took her into custody” (Adams 126).

victim Albert McVicar’s death mask, from The Stockton Evening and Sunday Record, dated Tuesday, June 5, 1906

What the marshal found in her confiscated suitcase was beyond disturbing, to say the least: men’s clothing and accessories, a man’s watch, little sacks of Durham tobacco, a bottle of morphine pills, a bottle of cyanide, a bottle of carbolic acid, a bottle of carbolic acid tablets, a knife, a small saw, a meat cleaver, and a mud-spattered buggy lamp.

What this macabre tableaux of items represented was the next gruesome step in the bungled execution of a murder plot—the all-too-probable dismemberment of Albert N. McVicar’s corpse, to be accomplished in the dead of night, by the murky light of a dingy buggy lamp. Needless to say, the unflappable Emma LeDoux turned on the waterworks, as if she were the comely heroine of an ahead-of-its-time Murder on the Orient Express.

“The search for the trunk mystery murderess is at an end,” The San Francisco Bulletin announced later that same day, Monday, March 26th. “Emma LeDoux is in jail at Antioch. She frankly confesses her crime. She killed A.N. McVicar…She was assisted in her deadly work by Joseph Miller, whom the police in San Francisco identify as Joseph Healy. A search is on for this man.

“‘Joe Miller helped me to put the body in the trunk at Stockton,’ confessed the woman. ’Miller and I then went to San Francisco, where we stayed Saturday night. Sunday we went to Point Richmond, where Miller left me and returned to San Francisco. I came to Antioch. That’s all there is about it.’”

Emma’s ex Joseph Healy, from The San Francisco Examiner, dated Tuesday, March 27, 1906

The description she gave of “Joe Miller”—about 35 years of age, tall, sandy hair going gray, a smooth-shaven face—fit Joseph Healy to a T, but was a far cry from the short, swarthy, black mustache-sporting gentleman she had been seen with by so many of the witnesses.

“She declares that carbolic acid was administered [to] McVicar Saturday morning by Joe Miller, a sandy-complexioned man with a smooth face,” continued the Bulletin. “He and McVicar, so she said, came to the room intoxicated Friday night, and McVicar went to bed…In the morning, about nine o’clock, they went into the room, and Miller administered the poison. She does not go into details, but declared she had nothing to do with it, outside of assisting in putting the body in the trunk. Neither does she give the reason for the killing.”

Mrs. LeDoux claimed that Miller/Healy had forced her to assist him in the heinous crime, or else he would kill her as well; therefore, she’d had no choice but to help him force the carbolic acid down Albert McVicar’s throat, help fold the dead man’s body into the trunk, and then skip town with her ex-husband’s killer. But none of it added up; Emma had talked her way into a corner that she had no way of backing out of.

“At this juncture of her story, a mysterious man enters the case. Detective Ed Gibson…located Joseph E. Healy, a plumber, who declared that he had received a telegram Saturday from Mrs. LeDoux, asking him to meet her at the Royal House…She told him of the death of McVicar at Stockton, and that she was going to ship the body to his brother in Colorado.”

After Healy had given the police his statement, and his alibi was definitively established, the plumber felt nothing but relief. “I am happy that I escaped as I did,” he told The San Francisco Examiner. “McVicar, I understand, was a big man. If she could murder him so easily, what would she do to me?

“I am surprised that she should claim that I was her accomplice. However, I can prove an absolute alibi. Either she is seeking for a loophole of escape, or she thinks that she sees in our meetings after the crime, a chance to hang the whole blame of the murder on me.”

Mrs. Emma LeDoux’s fate was sealed.

The California press ate the sensational story up with pure relish: sex, drugs, and cold-blooded murder—what more could their readership ask for?

And the lovely young murderess became the sole villain of the whole sordid saga, once Joseph Healy had shared his story and proven his alibi. But what of her actual accomplice, the short, mustached gent seen by so many that Saturday afternoon at the Stockton train depot? The one who bore an uncanny resemblance to one Eugene LeDoux?

And why did she not give him up, so that he could share the weight of the blame placed squarely on her slender shoulders?

Her true male accomplice—who was most definitely not the tall, blond, clean-shaven Joseph E. Healy—was reported on widely in the early days of the murder’s coverage. Even the authorities thought it probable that she had not acted alone.

“The police feel certain that she had an accomplice,” The Stockton Evening Mail made it known on Monday, March 26th, “if not directly in the commission of the crime, at least afterwards…all describe her as a small woman, weighing not more than 115 or 120 pounds, and rather slender. McVicar weighed nearly 200 pounds. The trunk with his body in it weighed 225 pounds…It is not thought probable that she was able to put the body of so large a man in the trunk.”

the trunk McVicar was found in, from The Stockton Evening Mail, dated Monday, June 18, 1906

The San Francisco Bulletin concurred. “To handle a body weighing 190 pounds is no easy task for a powerful man,” the paper opined that Monday. “She is a small woman. The published photographs are misleading because they give her the appearance of being much larger than she is. Those that know her well say that she cannot weigh more than 130 pounds, and that she is by no means strong.”

Another San Francisco rag presented both sides. “District Attorney Norton discredits the ‘man in the case’ and inclines to the opinion that the woman executed the crime alone,” posited The San Francisco Call and Post. “There are, however, those who insist that there is a man in the case; that he was at the depot with the woman, assisted her, shared her agitation over the delay in the arrival of the trunk, and departed with her on the train. He is described as a swarthy, middle-aged man.”

And yet still Mrs. Emma LeDoux remained silent as to his identity…

Watch for the final part of this story next month.

Works Cited
“Woman is Accused of Killing Man Whose Body was Found in Trunk at Depot.” The San Francisco Call and Post, Monday, March 26, 1906, p. 1.
“Trunk Murderess Captured—Confesses—Names Accomplice.” The San Francisco Bulletin, Monday, March 26, 1906, p. 1.
“Murderess Declares Carbolic Acid was Given.” The San Francisco Bulletin, Monday, March 26, 1906, p. 5.
“Meets Friend at Local Hotel.” The San Francisco Bulletin, Monday, March 26, 1906, p. 5.
“Mrs. LeDoux Said: Reveled While Victim was Dead in Trunk.” The San Francisco Examiner, Tuesday, March 27, 1906, p. 3.
“Surgeon Describes M’Vicar’s Wounds.” The San Francisco Bulletin, Monday, June 11, 1906, p. 1.
“Hints McVicar was Merely in a Stupor.” The San Francisco Examiner, Tuesday, June 12, 1906, p. 2.
“Mrs. LeDoux Roused by Testimony of Physician.” The San Francisco Examiner, Wednesday, June 13, 1906, p. 3.
Adams, Charles F. Murder by the Bay: Historic Homicide In and About the City of San Francisco. Sanger, California: Word Dancer Press, 2005. pp. 120-139.
Rubio, J’aime. Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered. Createspace, 2016. Ch. 18.
Ruhstaller, Tod. “Little Trunk of Horrors.” Soundings Journal, August 26, 2020.

All photos provided by the author unless otherwise stated.

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Sarah A. Peterson-Camachois a library assistant with Fresno County Library, with a Bachelor’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Fresno. In her free time, she makes soap and jewelry that she sells at Fresno-area craft fairs. She has written for The Clovis Roundup and the Central California Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) Newsletter.


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