In 1939 “Nashville’s Very Odd Three-in-one Murder” involved Mrs. Bertie Wrather. She was a heavyset matronly woman; wireframe glasses on her fleshy face and a dour expression. Bertie worked as bookkeeper at the mattress manufacturing company that employed her husband, Enoch. Bertie was middle-aged, married, active in her church and involved in parent-teacher activities. And she was a poison murderess.
It was 1929 and Enoch Wrather, Jr. was in good health with no enemies; he was engaged and he lived with parents Enoch Sr. and Bertie Wrather on Murfreesboro Road. Then the 23-year-old man became mysteriously ill: at 6’2” his weight was 130. His limbs were not functioning. He was vomiting profusely with nonstop diarrhea. It was July; Bertie took him to St. Thomas Hospital where he was admitted for further testing, but Enoch checked himself out after one day. On August 1 Bertie returned again with Enoch to be admitted into the hospital and this time he stayed. Enoch showed improvement and was discharged on the 13th to his home … only to die a violent, agonizing death in September. Upon investigation it was discovered Enoch’s health was fine … but only when he was away from home.
Then a neighbor told police how Enoch, Jr. told his mother about his plans to marry his sweetheart, and “Bertie carried on … and cried about being thrown aside for some snip of a girl by her boy whom she had raised for 23 years.” During an interview, a family maid explained to investigators she had cooked Enoch’s meals, but Mrs. Wrather always served them.
Further investigation into the family revealed mysterious deaths of Bertie’s in-laws. Her father-in-law 81- year-old A.J. Wrather died on September 29, 1936. He left an estate leaving his five children $1,000 each. On February 9, 1938, Bertie’s brother-in-law Richard died at age 57; Richard left $9,000 to be divided between his siblings. Both died in the Wrather’s home. Both deaths mirrored Enoch Jr.’s: fine health, sudden illness, and violently ill deaths. Bertie had a $2,000 life insurance policy on Enoch, Jr. without her husband’s knowledge.
An autopsy on Enoch, Jr. “disclosed a poison present.” The subsequent arrest warrant also charged Bernie with the deaths of A.J. and Richard. The attorney general told reporters, “some insurance was involved in (Enoch’s) death, and there were some estates in the other two cases.” After the accused pled innocent on October 19, the attorney general announced there would be investigations into the deaths of other family members. (Source)
And as Bertie sat in jail proclaiming her innocence, her husband was recovering from a mysterious illness … the same symptoms as his son, his father, and his brother before him. Upon recovery he failed to come to Bertie’s defense as she predicted. They would later divorce in 1944.
Mrs. Bertie Wrather’s case for the death of Enoch, Jr. went to trial in June 1940; the jury deadlocked at 11 to 1. A second trial in May 1940 resulted in a deadlock of 7 to 5. At a third trial in October 1941 she was found guilty of first-degree murder. Judge C.K. Hart sentenced her to 99 years. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the conviction to “not guilty.” She was never brought to trial for any other crime.
More information can be found here: Donald F. Paine Papers, MS.2915. University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, Special Collections.