Mrs. Lyda Southard smoothed down her green "going-away" dress, patted her plump bust, and cast a last, almost regretful glance at the cretonne curtains and flowered wallpaper. After all, it had been home for a long time, even if it was the women's ward of the Idaho State Penitentiary. She had fixed up the room right pretty.
Except for one brief interval, she had been there since 1921for murder. Lyda's face was still plain but pleasant. Grey just tinged her bronze hair. Her memories and her 49 years sat very lightly.
She had started her unique career 27 years ago. A farmer's daughter from Keytesville, Mo., with apple cheeks and mischievous eyes, she married Robert Dooley. Shortly Mr. Dooley died, of "typhoid." Lyda married againa William Gordon McHaffie. He also died, of "typhoid." So did Lyda's third husband, Harlan C. Lewis.
When "typhoid" took Lyda's fourth husband, Edward F. Meyer, insurance companies grew suspicious. She had been named beneficiary in all her husbands' policies. An examination of Meyer's stomach revealed a quantity of arsenic which, officials said, had probably been extracted from flypaper. Police went looking for Lyda. She had left town.
She was found in Honolulu, comfortably settled down as the wife of Paul Vincent Southard, chief petty officer. Hauled back to Meyer's home State of Idaho, Lyda was put on trial, finally convicted of second-degree murder, sentenced to the State penitentiary at Boise for ten years to life. Southard quickly got a divorce.
Lyda took kindly to prison life. Most of the time she was the only occupant of the women's ward, and she fixed up the dining room, sitting room and enameled kitchen to suit herself. She also cooked, sewed and acted as a nursemaid for the warden's wife. But, as it will, prison palled. On a night in May 1931 she shinnied down a bedsheet rope, and with the help of a former trusty who was then out on parole, escaped to Colorado.
In Denver she got a job as housekeeper to prosperous Harry Whitlock, a widower who lived with his mother and son. Shortly thereafter his mother died of a gastric ailment. Unsuspecting Mr. Whitlock married his jailbird housekeeper and took out an insurance policy in her favor. But police had found the trusty who had helped her escape. Lyda read about it in the newspapers and left town. Police caught her in Topeka, Kans. Whitlock got an annulment of their marriage.
Back in Boise, Lyda began a campaign for a pardon. She became almost hysterical every time it was denied. She was almost as hysterical last week when she was told it had been granted. (Governor Chase A. Clark voted against it, remarking that he felt the interests of society would be best served by keeping Lyda locked up, but he was outvoted by his two colleagues on the parole board.)
Paroled for a six-month probationary period to her sister, Mrs. John Quigley, of Nyssa, Ore., Lyda had no immediate plans. Declaring that Lyda "embroiders divinely," Mrs. Quigley suggested that she might set her sister up in a fancywork shop. Mrs. Quigley did not suggest a restaurant.