‘Black widow’ killer had ties to Perdido

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A story about a “Black Widow” murderess carried in the Mobile Press-Register a couple of weeks ago had ties to Perdido.

Rhonda Belle Thomley Martin, as described in the publication, was one of the nation’s most notorious killers.

As outlined in the Internet’s Wikipedia, she was born in Perdido in 1907 and later moved to Montgomery where her eventful life of killing began to unfold. In 1956, while working as a waitress, she confessed to poisoning her mother, two husbands and three of her children. Two other children died during this spree but she denied killing them. Prosecutors said most of the victims died from rat poisoning. A fifth husband was also poisoned but survived as a paraplegic. To collect on insurance policies was the reason behind some of the deaths, but records show she only collected only enough to cover burial costs.

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Known also for so many husbands, they were W.R. Alderman, George W Garrett, John Tallmadge Gibson, Claude Carroll Martin and Ronald Martin.
Her life ended in the Alabama Prison electric chair on Oct. 11, 1957. She was the last woman executed in Alabama.

She was asked during an interview in a leading magazine eight days prior to her execution if she was ready to die. “Well, you’ve never seen anybody who was ready to sit down in the electric chair,” she said. But if that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it will be.”

She had distant ties to my mother‘s family. Years ago, my mother would tell how she and her sisters “played together with Ronda Belle,” and even took her to church with them when they were very small children. She related how Rhonda Belle liked to be in the presence of older people and often made conversation with them. “She was very inquisitive,” my mother would say. “She liked to primp and keep her hair neatly combed.”

One day, Rhonda Belle “ran off with a man and left Perdido,” my mother said. After that she was never again seen in Perdido.

She was arrested in Montgomery as a 49-year-old waitress when the murder charges were brought against her. Following her court trials the national media picked up on her case. It was then they tabbed her as “The Black Widow Killer.” The Associated Press and leading magazines featured her escapades in lengthy stories. She was even featured in a movie news clip.

While in prison, she learned to sew and became very good at it. In fact, she made the neat dress she wore to the electric chair, according to wire reports.
Buried in Montgomery Memorial Cemetery, her grave is quite often visited by authors and publishers from throughout the world.

In my research of her I have just now learned that her trek down murderer’s row may unfold in a movie. But, this is not factual yet. I have been contacted by a group that is digging for more information, and perhaps more information on this will be made available later.

Rhonda Belle’s father, who died in 1944, was James (Jim) Robert Thomley. You can visit his grave at Perdido Baptist Cemetery on Cemetery Road in Perdido. That cemetery, by the way, is listed on the Internet’s “Find A Grave” website.

Now for other news of the day. Didn’t Apple’s Tim Cook’s abrasive comments cause a stir in our state —and the nation, too?

Yes, the Robersdale native and Auburn graduate caused quite a backlash when he came out of the closet and told the world that he was gay and that Alabama should be ashamed of itself for its stance on sexual orientation. Even Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he objected to connections Cook drew in his Alabama Academy of Honor speech.

Others from his hometown were split on their quotes following the speech. Much pro support came from Hollywood and San Francisco’s press and media groups. Several leading publications praised his leadership efforts in successfully managing the Apple Corporation. It will be interesting to learn if this story has legs or if it merely passes away.

What about this Daylight Saving Time? Mobile State Sen. Rusty Glover does not like it and he plans on introducing a bill next legislative session to keep our state on Daylight Saving Time year round.

Glover is quoted as having reason to believe he will receive support for his bill. “If his bill passes it will put Alabama out of sync with other Southern states about four months out of the year, but Glover doesn’t expect that to last long and may inspire other states to do this,” Glover related in a recent Associated Press article.

By the way, the article on Glover’s proposed bill was written by my good friend Phillip Rawls, who was the Advance’s news editor several years ago. Having moved up the ladder with AP, he has written hundreds of well-liked articles. Remembered here in Atmore, he was also a knowledgeable sports writer, too.

More next week.

You can email Lowell McGill at exam@frontiernet.net.