MONTGOMERY, AL — Just prior to midnight on October 11, 1957, 49-year-old former waitress Rhonda Bell Martin consumed a hamburger, mashed potatoes, cinnamon rolls, and coffee. Such was her last meal.
Guards then walked Martin to meet “Yellow Mama,” the electric chair housed in Kilby Prison. Martin took her seat and got strapped in. When asked if she had any final words, shook her head to indicate “no.”
With one fatal blast of jolts, Martin paid the ultimate price for crimes that included poisoning her mother, two husbands, and at least three of her children.
Authorities suspected insurance payments served as Martin’s motive for the murders, but a Life magazine story proposed that she may well have just enjoyed getting attention and sympathy cards every time somebody new died — like, really enjoyed it.
Despite the untimely demises all around her, Rhonda Bell Martin essentially flew under the radar for most of her life. She did, however, raise a few eyebrows following the 1951 death of Claude Martin, her fourth husband, when she took up with romantically and married Ronald Martin just eight months later.
Ronald was Claude’s son and he was 20 years younger than his stepmom-turned-bride.
In 1955, Ronald Martin came down with a sudden, near-fatal ailment that left him paralyzed. Doctors investigated and found rat poison in his system. At long last, then, police brought Rhonda in to ask her some uncomfortably overdue questions.
Three days of interrogations ensued. By the end, Rhonda signed off on a written statement wherein she confessed to using arsenic to kill the following victims:
• Emogene Garrett, 3 — her daughter
• Anna Carolyn Garrett, 6 — her daughter
• Ellyn Elizabeth Garrett, 11 — her daughter)
• Mary Frances Gibbon — her mother
• George Garrett — her second husband
• Claude Carroll Martin, 51 — her fourth husband
Two of Rhonda’s other children had also passed away under iffy circumstances, but she denied doing in that particular pair.
Rhonda further admitted that she’d taken out life insurance policies on all six victims, but she only ever collected enough to cover their funeral expenses.
The state only charged Rhonda with the first-degree murder of Claude Martin. A guilty verdict there would be enough to get her the chair.
Despite her defense attorneys arguing that Rhonda was insane, a jury found her guilty, and the chair is what she got.
While on Death Row, Rhonda made herself a new black-and-white dress to wear for her execution. She also willed her body to science by way of a note that read:
“At my death, whether it be a natural death of otherwise, I want my body to be given to some scientific institution to be used as they see fit, but especially to see if someone can find out why I committed the crimes I have committed. I can’t understand it, for I had no reason whatsoever. There is definitely something wrong. Can’t someone find it and save someone else the agony I have been through?”
As for her date with Yellow Mama, eight weeks prior to her execution, Rhonda Bell Martin told a reporter: “Well, you’ve never seen anybody who was ready to sit down in the electric chair. But if that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it will be.”
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