We Live Near "The Black Widow of Virginia"

| | Comments (0)
We bought this house for a couple reasons, one of which was because it was in such an undeveloped county with a tiny county seat and no real industry. Orange County, Virginia is pretty much an agricultural community. It is small town America, quiet, with a few towns and villages but nothing like a real city. There is no Wal-mart. There is ONE, yes, I said ONE, grocery store, various and sundry small town businesses owned by the locals, but no retail chain stores save for the CVS pharmacy and the ONE grocery store. After we bought the house, someone at Steven's job told him a story about a woman here who killed her husband for his millions of dollars. I took that pretty much as gossip and a very old story. Well, guess what?! It is true! We watched a tv program last night that documented the case. You can read about it here and here. I really wanted to see the house. The inside. I am sure it has to be decorated in such a way that my eye teeth would hurt and drool would slip from the corner of my mouth. Historical houses just make me .. umm, well, ask my husband! Grrrr! But that was before I knew this story and it was THAT house. If I had the chance now I would not go to see it. It is tainted. The woman was charged with killing her husband and although she was found not guilty due to circumstantial evidence SOMETHING happened there and a man is now dead. Only his widow knows the truth of what happened that evening. But this is what sticks in my craw. She was charged and found not guilty because there wasn't enough evidence. She can run up and down the street and proclaim to the world she did in fact do the deed and there is nothing that can be done about it. It is the double jeopardy loop hole. She was tried, found not guilty and can never be tried for the same crime again. Somehow that just isn't right. From what I have read I believe she is guilty. Some of the friends of the deceased stated he was planning to divorce her for her carryings on with other men. I guess she figured she wouldn't get much in a divorce settlement and wanted it all. Even if she didn't do it, the details just cut me to the core. They rip through everything I believe a marriage should be. The idea that a wife could kill her husband for any reason leaves me feeling disgusted and sick and sorrow filled. How can you profess love for a man and even think about killing him? How can a heart be so cruel? This man did not abuse her. She had it made. She was given the key to all that he had, was trusted with it and she betrayed him. I can't even begin to express the thoughts that swirl in my head. Let's say she is innocent. There is still that fact that she cheated on him. In fact had a string of men she caroused with. In a town this small those things do not go unnoticed. She had ability and money to go to any other city in Virginia and have her liasons and yet she did it right under his nose. I do not understand a spouse who cheats. How can you betray someone that way? Yes, I cast judgement on all who cheat. Every single one! To my way of thinking cheating is the same as killing me. I can't imagine how a man would even want to put his woohoo in the place that so many other men had put their woohoo. If you are going to cheat, divorce me! Do not pussyfoot around. Be blunt and tell me. Do not protect my feelings. Because if I find out I will divorce you and you will NOT touch me ever again. You have defiled the sanctity of the holy temple of marriage and there is no forgiveness in that. NONE!!! Not one shred! Before we met, before we married, Steven and I had this conversation. Cheating is the one thing neither of us can forgive. There is no going back. To cheat is to end it all. I look at Steven's sweet face. He is over on the couch, trying to wake up with his hair looking like Sonic The Hedgehog. I think about the total intimacy we share, the things he knows about me and I know about him. I could never betray him. I know him well enough to know he would never betray me. How can you betray someone who has given you the gift of all they are and will be? "This man loves me!", the voice in my head screams. "Me! And only ME!" And I love him. When he walks into a room I feel my heart swell and the butterflies flutter in my stomach. What have I done in my life to be loved this way? The only thing I can find that this man was guilty of was loving her and trusting her. Did she kill him? Only she knows. Did she cheat on him? Yes, the whole town knows it. The shame of it all. My condolences to the family. (Just incase those links no longer work you can read the story under this cut.) http://readthehook.com/stories/2004/02/26/coverBlackWidowANativeSons.html COVER- Black widow? A native son's death rattles Somerset Published February 26, 2004, in issue #0308 of The Hook BY DEBORAH HASTINGS AP NATIONAL WRITER In the mannered society governing flowing valleys and tree-covered hills of Orange County, phrases such as "blood tells'' and "pretty is as pretty does'' resonate. Gentility is paramount. Breeding is preferred. There are certain things just not done in this part of the South. One does not call attention to oneself with common behavior. If bourbon has been consumed, allowances are made. While seated at table with one's husband, one does not rub the thigh of another man at the table. And one most definitely does not fatally poison said husband and then order his body cremated on the same night. Donna J. Somerville, 51, widow of Hamilton A. Somerville Jr., who was born on this fertile land back-dropped by the Blue Ridge Mountains, is accused of doing all these unseemly things. Her murder trial is scheduled for June. Though Hamilton Somerville-- "Ham'' to his friends-- has been dead for more than two years, his life is well remembered. His widow is well disdained. And so the murder of Ham Somerville is doubly offensive. Not only was he killed, allegedly for his money, but his wife's behavior, beginning about a year before Somerville's death, has been deemed appalling, cheap, and just not right. Free on $300,000 bail, Donna lives at Mount Athos, a 450-acre hilltop farm once part of President James Madison's Montpelier estate, about 20 miles northeast of Charlottesville. Donna says little or nothing to her husband's family and his legion of friends. A "No Trespassing'' sign has been staked in the red Virginia soil at the entrance to Mount Athos, just behind stone pillars in front of a winding driveway. Her silence may be understandable. According to court documents, some of the evidence used by a special grand jury to indict Donna Somerville came out of her own mouth. A church divided A media beast feeds steadily on Ham Somerville's death. Donna has become, on glossy magazine pages, "the black widow," a brazen gold-digger who seduced a grieving widower into a quickie marriage and eventually grew tired of him. A much-published news photograph from last year shows her shackled and dressed in a prison suit of broad black and white stripes, standing outside the tiny circuit court in Orange. Hamilton Somerville, in the same shiny magazine, became a squire, a gentleman farmer, a millionaire, and a recovering alcoholic killed in his own bed at age 57 in his mansion on a hill. But the simple, human truth, as black-and-white as his widow's weeds, is that a gentle and vital man with grown daughters, who loved his church as much as he used to love liquor, is dead. And all because he ingested large amounts of the drugs morphine, codeine, and oxycodone, according to the coroner's report. In the community and at Christ Episcopal Church in Gordonsville, where the Somervilles worshipped, people who knew them continue to suffer. Neighbor has turned against neighbor; worshippers have stopped speaking to each other. "No one can talk about it,'' says parishioner Dorsey Comer. "It's broken our church up. Everyone is just silently grieving.'' Those chasms, some say, cannot be bridged until Donna Somerville is judged in court. Ham's new wife Part of the murder's intrigue is steeped in the land itself; Mount Athos has a certain kind of history revered by Virginians. It once belonged to Montpelier, the family plantation of the fourth president of the United States. Originally covering more than 4,000 acres, Montpelier changed hands several times before its last private owner, Marion duPont Scott, bequeathed it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1983. She was briefly married to Ham Somerville's uncle Thomas. In the divorce settlement, he got Mount Athos, which later was given to Hamilton Somerville Sr., Ham's father, as a wedding present. The duPonts and the Somervilles remain entwined by blood and land, like many families here whose descendants pride themselves on roots spanning 400 years. Conduct here is noted and judged-- especially the conduct of outsiders. It was hard not to notice the arrival of registered nurse Donna Scott in the summer of 1990. She was a Yankee, for one thing, and no one seemed to know her in the tight-knit enclave of Somerset, where two-lane roads ramble past fenced horse farms with gorgeous homes set a mile back. Ham Somerville hired her from a local hospice to care for his first wife, Sidney, who was dying of breast cancer. Donna Scott, 39, tended Sidney Somerville at Mount Athos. Her duties included administering morphine to ease Sidney's pain. When Sidney died three months later, Ham hired Donna to care for his mother, Henrietta, who was also dying of cancer. Henrietta died four months later. Seven months after that, Ham married Donna in a civil ceremony-- her fourth trip down the aisle. There were, of course, whispers and gossip. Sidney had been dead for less than a year. But Donna, Ham's friends thought, seemed to be a good influence on her new husband. She persuaded him to quit drinking. They became pillars of Christ Church. Both were members of the vestry. He was church treasurer; she was the Sunday school superintendent and sometimes served communion. They were inseparable. "When you saw one, you saw the other,'' says Tony Garnett, a local farm worker. If they weren't in church or working the farm, they were lunching at the picnic table inside the Somerset Center Store at what passes for an intersection here. From the wooden porch, you can see Mount Athos on a snow-covered rise, flanked by leafless trees of winter. Every morning started the same for Ham. He woke early and sat on the porch drinking coffee and smoking, Garnett said. He fed and tended 50 head of Black Angus cattle, then got in his Suburban and headed to the Somerset store for a coffee refill. There, he'd hook up with Garnett, whose father had worked at Montpelier for nearly 60 years and knew Ham's father. Garnett was a boy when he first met Ham, who was nearly 20 years older. Over the years, they became close. "People said I was the son he never had,'' Garnett says. About a year before Ham's death, Tony Garnett grew increasingly appalled. He considered driving up there and just telling Ham to his face. But he couldn't. "He was my friend,'' Garnett said. Garnett had watched Donna caressing the leg of another man, under the picnic table, as she, Ham and others ate lunch, he said. So had Garnett's girlfriend, Sarah Rogers, who works at the store. "We didn't know what to do,'' she said. "We couldn't believe it.'' They also watched her park her car in the tiny lot outside, then get into the cars of other men, slouching down as they drove away, both said. If Donna was having affairs, why be so blatant? There are nearby cities such as Charlottesville, where cheating wives have a better chance of going unnoticed. "It was like she just didn't care,'' Rogers said. Soon, Somerset was buzzing. But Ham never said a word to his friend. "All of a sudden, they weren't together all the time,'' Garnett says. "You could tell something was bothering him, but he wouldn't say nothing.'' How Ham died On the last night of his life, Ham Somerville said he didn't feel well and went to bed early. Donna brought him soup, she later told deputies. He hadn't felt well for more than a month. He was unnaturally exhausted, he told friends; some days he could barely get out of bed. One day, on the farm with Garnett, Ham wondered if he'd had a stroke in his sleep. "He was really tired,'' Garnett says. "He said he felt like he'd been drugged.'' But he didn't see a doctor. "Donna said she checked his blood pressure and it was fine,'' Rogers says. At Sunday church, after a vestry meeting, Ham chatted with Dorsey Comer, who'd known him for 18 years. "I asked how he was,'' Comer recounts. "He said, `Dorsey, you know, I'm not feeling very well. I'm just so tired and I don't know why.'" Two days later, Donna called 911. Her husband had stopped breathing, she said. The procession of sheriff's cars and rescue squad trucks snaking up the Mount Athos driveway lit up the hill. Down at the Somerset store, people stared. Garnett and Rogers drove to the house and pulled around to the back. Jeff Carpenter, a farm hand temporarily living in the guest cottage, sat outside. Garnett asked what was going on. "The old man done croaked," Carpenter replied. Donna was in the house with authorities. So was Lance Clore, another local man who'd been working, and sometimes staying, at Mount Athos. Garnett pointed his car back down the hill. Except for the funeral, "I never did go back up there,'' he said. "I knew deep in my heart that she had killed him, and I didn't want to be around her.'' It took about 15 months for investigators to announce they'd reached the same conclusion. On Valentine's Day 2002, Donna Somerville was indicted on one count of first-degree murder. She was sole heir to Ham's $15 million estate. Modest trusts had already been established for his grown daughters. Phone messages left for Donna Somerville by the Associated Press were not returned. Prosecutors, investigators, and Donna Somerville's attorneys declined comment on the criminal case. So did lawyers representing the estate and his daughters, who have filed a wrongful death suit against Donna Somerville. Orange County sheriff's deputies, aided by a state police investigator, interviewed more than 80 people connected to Ham and Donna. According to court documents, much of the state's evidence comes from the sworn statements of deputies who responded to Donna's 911 call and from wiretaps placed on telephones belonging to Donna and Lance Clore. Sgt. James Fenwick says that when he arrived at Mount Athos, he followed Donna's voice to the second-floor bedroom. Ham was on the bed, still alive. Donna told Fenwick she tried to administer CPR but "was unable to do anything because of her husband's physical size.'' After serving Ham's dinner, Donna said, she'd gone downstairs. When she returned, he was "blue in the face.'' Paramedics worked for 45 minutes, administering CPR and inserting an intubation tube. Deputy Shane Nelson said Donna "pleaded several times for the rescue workers to stop,'' saying her father "had gone through this and they didn't save him.'' Nelson and Fenwick said Donna insisted she wanted her husband cremated that night, saying it was what Ham wanted. But Virginia law prohibits cremation until a death certificate is issued. At the urging of one Somerville daughter, the Commonwealth's Attorney ordered an autopsy. The results: death by drug poisoning. The investigation A piece of carpet was cut from the bedroom floor where Ham had vomited in front of deputies. It tested positive for morphine, codeine, and oxycodone, according to the state forensic lab. Also seized from the property, according to court documents, were cocaine; marijuana; prescription painkillers; Klonopin, a sedating drug usually prescribed for anxiety disorders; herpes suppression medication; and a snippet of plastic straw containing cocaine residue. The warrants do not specify whether all of the items came from the big house, or whether some came from the guest cottage. Months later, authorities charged Carpenter with felony possession of cocaine. He is now listed as a material witness in the murder case. As the days tick by leading to Donna Somerville's murder trial, a semblance of normality has returned here. Life in the Somerset store goes on, though Donna does not come in anymore. "For awhile, nobody trusted anybody,'' Rogers says. "It's disrupted everything. It's just a little country town.'' Donna no longer attends Christ Church, where some worshippers balked at taking communion wine from the hands of a woman suspected of killing her husband, Comer said. She still shops at Faulconer's hardware over in Orange, where people know her and what she is accused of doing, and don't say a word to her about it. "She's innocent until proven guilty,'' says Conway Faulconer, who helps run the family store. "These are people with lives we're talking about.'' There are certain things just not done here. Abandoning civility is one of them. http://news.findlaw.com/court_tv/s/20040618/18jun2004102125.html Trial opens for Virginia wife accused of poisoning millionaire husband By Emanuella Grinberg, Court TV (Court TV) — Black widow. Adulterous gold digger. Since Donna Somerville's 2003 indictment and arrest for her millionaire husband's death, these are just some of the ways the former hospice worker has been characterized in the extensive press leading up to her first-degree murder trial. Somerville will stand trial Thursday for Hamilton "Ham" Somerville's 2001 death in the tiny Virginia hamlet of Orange, where the Somerville family resided for three generations in an opulent home perched atop a hill. It was there on Mt. Athos, the 445-acre estate the Somervilles inherited from the duPont family, on land that once belonged to James Madison Sr., that police found Ham Somerville dead in his bed on Nov. 13, 2001, from a drug overdose. Prosecutors say Donna Somerville, 51, poisoned her 57-year-old husband with codeine and morphine and then sought an immediate cremation to destroy the evidence. Ham Somerville's daughters intervened and canceled the cremation just 30 minutes before Donna Somerville had scheduled it, the morning after his death. Because of the media frenzy surrounding the investigation, defense attorney Charles Bowman's initial request for an out-of-town jury was granted. Then Bowman sought, and was granted, a bench trial. "Even the cause of death, a central issue in this case, has been widely published as 'murder' as if there was no question of suicide or accidental overdose," Bowman wrote in a May 14 court filing. Prosecutors supported the defense requests. "We all felt that we wanted an impartial trier of fact to hear this case. Both sides are satisfied with the decision," said Mark Robinette, a Hanover County prosecutor. Robinette and co-prosecutor Randy Krantz came from neighboring Virginia counties to try the case in the place of an Orange County prosecutor who faced a conflict of interest for having taken part in a business deal with Ham Somerville. Robinette said nearly 100 witnesses have been subpoenad to testify against Donna Somerville, in a case he admits its "largely circumstantial." "People are conditioned to expect some smoking gun evidence that will conclusively prove someone's innocence or guilt," said Robinette. "But really what we're doing is putting together one case like pieces of a puzzle." Robinette plans to introduce recorded phone conversations to bolster the prosecution's contention that Donna Somerville was having numerous liaisons with local men before her husband's death. The prosecution believes a divorce was imminent for the couple, who married in 1991 after Ham Somerville's first wife, Sidney, died of breast cancer under Donna's care as a hospice worker. They contend Ham's younger wife stood to gain significantly less than the estimated $15 million he was worth had the relationship ended in divorce, amid rumors of infidelity. Donna Somerville says her husband, whose health was flagging in weeks before his death, administered the deadly dose himself. According to press reports, defense attorneys are expected to argue that Ham Somerville had used both drugs for months before he died. Tests performed on one of his hairs showed concentrations of three opiates, including the two on which he overdosed, according to a toxicology report ordered by the defense team. If convicted, Somerville faces life in prison. Ham Somerville's three daughters filed a separate civil suit against Donna Somerville for $15 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages for their father's death. Posted by Angie at 06:42 AM | Comments (1)

Categories

BlogPayHer


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Angie published on April 14, 2005 7:30 AM.

Grey Skies was the previous entry in this blog.

Friday Show and Tell - Gardens is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.0