How to Murder Your Wealthy Lovers and Get Away With It: Money & Mayhem in the Gilded Age

How to Murder Your Wealthy Lovers and Get Away With It: Money & Mayhem in the Gilded Age

by Jane Simon Ammeson


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What's a gal to do when her loaded lover is getting to be a nuisance? Why, just murder him and take all his money, of course. If you want to be fabulously single with tons of cash, just follow the lead of the beautiful and conniving Minnie Wallace Walkup Ketcham, who left a trail of broken hearts, empty wallets, and corpses.

Minnie was just 16 when she stood trial in 1885 for the wrongful death of her first husband, a successful businessman and politician almost 40 years her senior. Despite overwhelming witness testimony that the Creole beauty from New Orleans had purchased the arsenic that killed him, Minnie's own testimony brought the entire courtroom to tears. She was acquitted. Minnie returned to New Orleans with James Walkup's fortune, life insurance, Civil War pension, and all the expensive clothes she had shipped home before he even died.

Minnie still didn't have enough cash for her liking, so she successfully targeted, seduced, and murdered two more wealthy older men while evading justice in the courtroom (and escaping her lawyer's fees, too). How to Murder Your Three Lovers and Get Away with It is an extraordinary and off-the-wall true story of intrigue, scandal, and murder.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684350247
Publisher: Red Lightning Books
Publication date: 09/01/2018
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jane Simon Ammeson is the author of 13 books including Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest, Murders that Made Headlines: Crimes of Indiana, and A Jazz Age Murder in Northwest Indiana. She writes about travel, food, murders, and history for many publications, including weekly columns in the Herald Palladium and the Times of Northwest Indiana.

A James Beard Foundation judge as well as a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists Association, Jane's home base is on the shores of Lake Michigan in Southwest Michigan. Follow Jane on Facebook, Twitter (@HPAmmeson and @travelfoodIN), and on her blogs, Will Travel for Food with Jane Ammeson and

Read an Excerpt



The Death of a New Groom

He died very suddenly. I am in trouble, as you will see by morning dispatches. Mrs. J. R. Walkup.

Those were the words Elizabeth Wallace read when she opened the telegram delivered to 222 Canal Street, her home in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Mrs. J. R. Walkup was the name of her sixteen-year-old daughter, who had, exactly one month to the day previous, married James R. Walkup, a successful politician and businessman almost forty years her senior. But why would Minnie send such a formal missive from their home in Emporia, Kansas, and what type of trouble could she be in?

Big trouble as it turned out. In fact, she was in trouble even before Walkup, the one-time mayor of Emporia, had died.

The mysterious sudden illness and death of Hon. J. R. Walkup has been attended with most intense excitement in Emporia. Knots of agitated citizens during all of Friday night and Saturday morning discussed the event on the streets, as evidence of foul play on the part of his wife increased. A guard was mounted upon the residence and grounds. They patrolled the premises during the early morning hours of Saturday to prevent the escape of the young and beautiful woman who was suspected of the murder of the man to whom, less than a month ago, she had been married.

Visitors were generally prohibited access to the chamber of the rapidly sinking man. At 9 o'clock this morning strong hopes of his recovery were abandoned, his face grew ashen gray with the pallor of death, his breathing was heavy and he gasped for breath. The young wife was in the room. She caressed the dying man with the greatest apparent tenderness, kissing his lips and forehead passionately and imploring him to say if he knew her. His death at 10:45 this morning increased, if possible, the public excitement, and little else than this was thought of and talked of by the citizens. Newspaper extras were issued and sold in enormous numbers.

A post mortem examination of the remains was held this afternoon by Drs. Moore, Jacobs, Page, Harrison and Foncannon, and the stomach and intestines were found in a congested state with indications of corrosive poison. At 2 o'clock the coroner summoned a jury at the Walkup residence, and the taking of testimony was proceeded with.

A boy named William D. Willis, a second cousin of Mrs. Wallace, who about three weeks ago arrived here from New Orleans, has been also arrested and locked up. The boy was very angry, and said that he had stolen nothing, and did not see why he should be put in jail.

That this young and beautiful woman should thus, Borgia like, smite and slay her husband in the honeymoon in their life seems incredible. While it is true that suspicion rests strongly on her as to having administered the poison, yet it is not conclusive that she is responsible for his death. Our citizens will exercise toward her that charity and justice which is due to a woman so suddenly placed under such trying circumstances, away from parents and relatives, and among strangers.

The witnesses didn't paint a sympathetic portrait of Mrs. Wallace's beauteous belle of a daughter.

"Messrs. Ryder, M. H. Bates, and R. R. Kelly, druggists, testified that Mrs. Walkup had purchased arsenic at their respective stores," reported the Times-Picayune. "It was testified also that she had entire charge of the patient during his last sickness, administering all the medicine, etc. The Coroner at 4:30 this evening adjourned the jury and instructed the Sheriff to hold Mrs. Walkup in custody until Monday morning at 8 o'clock when the jury will meet again."

Also in custody was Minnie's cousin William (called Willie) Willis who had moved to Emporia about three weeks earlier and been warmly welcomed by not only Minnie but also her husband, who gave Willie a job and promised to send him to school. Willie had been orphaned years ago and raised by his great-aunt Elizabeth Wallace, making him more like Minnie's brother than a distant relative.

Minnie Wallace

A Beautiful New Orleans Bride of a Month, Among Strangers in a Strange Land. An Arrest for Causing the Death of Her Husband by Poison. Times-Picayune, Sunday, August 23, 1885

Described by one news account as a fine specimen of a man and a Virginian gentleman, James Walkup was a Civil War veteran from West Virginia who made money in lumber and coal mines before moving to a farm northwest of Emporia in 1867. Thirteen years later, he and his family moved to Emporia, where he was active in politics and also worked the road taxes for the Santa Fe and other railroads in Kansas. The lucrative job entailed figuring out the taxes along the railroad routes that touched public highways. Always enterprising, Walkup opened a grocery store the year before his marriage to Minnie and was also involved in the coal trade. At the time of his death, he was serving his second term on the city council. He'd also recently been appointed by Governor Martin (whose son, in an interesting twist of fate, would marry Walkup's daughter Libbie) as a delegate to the River Improvement Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In other words, James Walkup was a powerful, well connected, and successful businessman who fell in love (or lust) with the wrong woman — or rather, girl.

About fifty-two when he met Minnie (there are conflicting documents giving his birth year), he was a big man at six feet two inches and over two hundred pounds. His eyes were blue, his hair light brown, and he sported a small mustache. He and his daughters lived in a grand home at the corner of Merchant Street and Eleventh Avenue.

But despite his success and friendly personality, there were rumors of a dark side as well.

Twice widowed, Walkup was the father of three children, all older than the fifteen-year-old Minnie. Annie, his first wife, died giving birth to Walkup's oldest child and only son after just one year of marriage. A year later, Walkup married Hannah Maddock, and the couple had two daughters — Martha, born in 1861 and nicknamed Mattie and, five years later, Elizabeth Ann, or Libbie. Hannah was only forty-three when she died in 1884. Gossips passed around stories that Walkup had been neither a devoted nor an exceedingly kind husband to his second wife, and speculation abounded he'd worked her to death doing the cooking and cleaning for his various businesses.

Walkup drank, often to excess, and consorted with fast women and not just when he was single. In those pre-penicillin days, he very well could have been a cesspool of venereal disease, as would later be alleged at trial. Minnie later claimed he'd had a long-term relationship with Mary Moss, the African American woman live-in maid. What was his allure? Most likely his money — at least for Minnie and her mother, that was qualification enough.

When James Met Minnie

In December 1884, Walkup and his friend Eben Baldwin traveled by train to New Orleans to attend the New Orleans World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. At the time the expo took place, almost one-third of the cotton grown in the United States was handled in New Orleans, the home of the Cotton Exchange. The event encompassed 249 acres from St. Charles Avenue to the Mississippi River and was accessible not only by railway and horse and carriage but also via steamboats and oceangoing vessels. At 33 acres, the expo's main building was the largest roofed structure ever constructed up until then. Five thousand electric lights illuminated the expo, more than ten times the number existing in the city beyond the fairgrounds. The observation tower featured electric elevators and working models of experimental electric streetcars.

Other spectacles were the Horticultural Hall, the largest greenhouse in the world, and an octagonal-shaped building that housed the very popular Mexican exhibit, constructed at a cost of $200,000, where a large brass band played.

The expo was so popular that from its opening on December 16 to its closing in May 1885, more than one million people attended, including approximately thirty-six thousand the week of Mardi Gras. In typical New Orleans fashion, corruption ran rampant, and despite the huge attendance, the expo ended up losing a ton of money, most finding its way into politicians' overlarge pockets.

It appears that for Baldwin, attending the expo was the number-one reason for going to New Orleans. Walkup's agenda instead focused more on fun and included visiting the city's bordellos. The famed red-light district known as Storyville wasn't in existence at the time, but the city certainly offered lots of options for men desiring to indulge their vices. Accordingly, by the laws of supply and demand, the number of working girls increased exponentially as well. Mrs. Wallace's boardinghouse in the lively French Quarter had been recommended to the two men as a place to stay.

Elizabeth Wallace, a divorcée, and her beautiful daughters, of whom Minnie was the acknowledged loveliest, were part of the package for those staying at 222 Canal Street. Minnie, with her convent school education, played piano, and Dora, who by then was married to a penniless artist named Edward Findlay, sang in accompaniment. It was a pretty picture, but Walkup's interest was neither cultural nor paternal. On the morning after first meeting her youngest daughter, Walkup told Elizabeth he wanted to marry Minnie.

How pretty was Minnie? Based on the hundreds of newspaper articles, the decision appears unanimous. She was amazingly lovely. Here is a typical description: "Miss Minnie is a tall, graceful, slender but well-developed girl with perfect complexion, white, with the roses blooming on her cheeks blood red. Her hair is long and black, and large black eyes and heavy eyelashes, with a mastery of expression, complete the picture, which is a rare one. She was noted for her beauty, which early on had many admirers."

No one, and I mean no one, ever wrote a negative word about her looks even as she entered her forties.

Elizabeth wasn't impressed with Walkup, who was drunk day and night. Baldwin wasn't happy about his friend's infatuation either, afraid that he might succeed in making Minnie his wife. Not shutting the door entirely on the romance, when it came time for the men to leave and Walkup asked for permission to write to Minnie, Elizabeth agreed.

Returning to rock-solid Kansas didn't cool Walkup's ardor, and he wrote to her renewing his offer of marriage. Minnie had just turned sixteen.

In early spring, Walkup, accompanied by his youngest daughter and a family friend, returned to New Orleans. The expo was still going on, and Walkup and his daughter Libbie, along with Minnie and her family, attended together. Still hopelessly infatuated, Walkup offered Elizabeth $4,000 if she would give permission for Minnie to marry him. That amount equals about $100,000 in today's money. Elizabeth would later claim that she turned him down, saying it was up to Minnie whether she wanted to marry him.

But before lauding Elizabeth's mothering skills, keep this in mind: she was a serial prevaricator and told this story only after Walkup's death as a way to counter criticism about how she had encouraged Minnie to marry Walkup to get his fortune. The press, though, always awed by Minnie's beauty, usually took the side of the men who fell into her clutches, seeing them as powerless to withstand her wiles.

The beauty and the charms of Minnie increased in about the same proportion that rumors of her frailty spread and men were attracted around her like moths round a candle. Staid lawyers, learned judges, sagacious businessmen, flippant fops, and conceited dudes alike did homage at her shrine; she reigned a veritable queen among them, the admired of all.

Then the exposition brought strangers to add to the worshippers, and among them came J.R. Walkup, of Emporia, Kansas, a well-to-do elderly gentleman with grown daughters. He joined the other moths, fluttered around round the candle and was scorched. He fell a victim, a helpless captive at her feet, and then came the sad sequel. He carried her off, announced to the world he had married her (although the same suspicion and mystery surrounded that ceremony as surrounded all other events with which this affair is connected), and brought her into the bosom of his family against their will, and against the advice and protestations of his friends.

Today he is in his grave, the victim, as is charged of poison, administered for whom he braved all, sacrificed everything, and who, having enamored him into her power, ruthlessly removed him out of the way, it is supposed.

Topeka Daily Capital, Tuesday, September 8, 1885

The word fragility in the above paragraph most likely implies Minnie surrendered her "charms," if given the right inducement. The takeaway is that poor James, having no choice, was not the pursuer but the victim here.

Oh, give us a break.

If Walkup made the offer and was turned down, as Elizabeth claimed, it didn't discourage him. Instead, he upped the ante. He promised a job to Willie and to send him to school. As for Edward, who certainly wasn't making a success of his portrait painting business, if he and Dora moved to Emporia, he'd give him a job as well. When all was finally settled, Walkup kept his bargain — he sent for Willie. Unfortunately, before Willie could make much of the offers, Walkup would be dead.

By the time Walkup returned in May, Minnie was seriously considering his offer and a tentative date had been set. But first, the Wallace women traveled to Emporia to see if he was as wealthy as he claimed. The trip was a success as far as all were concerned. Minnie would become his wife.

If it all seems coldhearted (and believe me, as you continue with Minnie's story you'll find she made glaciers seem like soft-serve ice cream), marrying for money was a fair exchange — her extreme youth and stunning beauty in exchange for his fortune.

Let us stop here and give James Walkup his due. Though Minnie was fifteen when they met, when she was on trial less than a year later, one of the jurors said they found it hard to believe she wasn't twenty-three or so. So maybe he wasn't a cradle robber — or not as much of one.

Interestingly, although in today's world we are more accepting — and rightly so — of so many things that would have been illegal back then such as biracial and same sex marriages, society has become less accepting of extreme age differences; a fifteen-year-old girl being courted by a fifty-plus-year-old man would be considered seriously creepy and most likely lead to charges of child abuse. Not back then. Marriage was often conducted like a business and understood as such.

The Ultimate Bridezilla Saint Paul Globe, Tuesday, August 25, 1885

On July 7 last Mrs. Wallace determined upon a visit to a sick sister at Covington, Kentucky, and took Miss Minnie along. They found Mr. Walkup there, he being also on a visit to relatives. When the engaged couple met they decided that there was no reason for delaying the ceremony until October. So instead of being married at New Orleans in October they were married at Covington in July.

The wedding took place July 22 and was a brilliant affair. There were some sixty persons present. Dr. Laer, a Methodist minister, performed the ceremony. The bride never looked more charming, and, in an elegant costume of blue silk and white lace, was the admiration of all beholders. The entire party crossed over the river to Cincinnati and a fine supper was served at a residence of a relative, Mrs. Moore, on Plum Street. Mrs. Wallace bid them goodbye at Cincinnati and returned to New Orleans a few days later.

The bridal couple seemed very happy and left for Niagara Falls, making a short trip and then going direct to the home of the groom in Emporia, Kans.

They reached there about two weeks ago, and their arrival created a sensation. The fame of Miss Minnie's beauty had preceded her, and this, added to Mr. Walkup's popularity, insured her a glorious welcome. They were met at the depot by a large gathering, escorted to their home by the Knights of Pythias band, and held a reception in the evening. The Council called in a body and the members tendered their congratulations. They mayor gave them a reception and formally introduced Mrs. Walkup into Emporia society.

She wrote home that there had never been such excitement in Emporia since the Mayor's wedding four years ago. About the time of their arrival Miss Libbie Walkup left home on a short visit to Denver, but has since returned. Mr. Walkup acted as mayor a short while during the latter's absence.

From her letters it seemed as if Minnie was living as happy as a bird with her mate in a cozy situation with no wants unprovided. Her last letter, received five days ago, said that Mr. Walkup was going on a short trip on business and that she was to go along. Mr. Walkup wrote in the same strain. Mrs. Wallace heard no more from them until yesterday, when she received the news of her son-in-law's death, and she did not believe in the truth of the intelligence.


Excerpted from "How to Murder Your Wealthy Lovers and Get Away With It"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jane Simon Ammeson.
Excerpted by permission of Red Lightning Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. True Love Never Runs Smooth: The Death of a New Groom

2. There is a House in New Orleans

3. Don't Cry for Me, Emporia

4. Pardon My Dust: Nonstop to Nowhere

5. The Company She Keeps

6. Moving On Up: In Which Josephine Captures and Loses a Prince

7. Blood Money Squandered: The Necessity of Catching Mr. Ketcham

8. The Importance of Keeping Mr. Ketcham – and His Money

9. Of Plum Jam, Champagne, Wills, Unpaid Bills, and the Final Death That We Know Of

Epilogue: The Final Love?


What People are Saying About This


Jane Simon Ammeson has unearthed the fascinating true story of 19th century femme fatale and psychopath, Minnie Wallace. Part brilliantly researched history, part pure entertainment, this chilling tale of Minnie's reign of terror from the brothels of New Orleans, to the echelons of Chicago's high society, is proof that truth is stranger than fiction.


Mike Flannery


A compelling and entertaining reminder that history is always with us. And sometimes all around us. A great guide to one of America's most thrilling true stories.


Keven McQueen


How to Murder Your Wealthy Lovers and Get Away With It is in the historical true crime genre, but it is full of improbable turns and twists (to say nothing of trysts) that no author would dare include in a work of fiction. Minnie Wallace Walkup Ketcham's criminal career as an unsung triple murderess and black widow—some of it in her own words—is told in rich detail and with pleasingly dark wit.


Susan O'Bryan


Jane Simon Ammeson has unearthed the fascinating true story of 19th century femme fatale and psychopath, Minnie Wallace. Part brilliantly researched history, part pure entertainment, this chilling tale of Minnie's reign of terror from the brothels of New Orleans, to the echelons of Chicago's high society, is proof that truth is stranger than fiction.


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