Port Elizabeth of Yore: Margaret Rheeder – The Spousal Murderer

The name Daisy de Melker is well known in South Africa mainly due to the fact that she had murdered her husband by means of poison. Port Elizabeth also possessed its own home-grown female poison murderer yet her name is unknown to anybody in Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: Margaret Rheeder

From 1939, when she was married at the age of 18, until Tuesday, May 6th, 1958, 19 years later, when she had a date with the hangman, Margaret Rheeder was beset by domestic problems. Three years after their marriage, her husband, Benjamin Fredenman, walked out on her, leaving her with two small children.

Lacking qualifications, Margaret survived by “making a living” by means of the oldest profession, prostitution. Later when she met a man of 70, who moved in with her, she continued to take in clients. One of them was in bed with her when her estranged husband came home. Incandescent with rage, he severely beat Margaret, while the client made good his escape.

On the morning of 27 April 1957 Rheeder went to a pharmacy in Kempston Road, Port Elizabeth to buy a bottle of Antexit ant-killer. Before she left the pharmacy, Rheeder signed the Poison Register and the owner who served her, a Mr A. Redhouse, warned her about the danger of the product to human beings and pets. Two days later her husband fell ill and died.

A doctor recorded Death by natural causes on the Death Certificate, but he was mistaken. Following dark rumours which reached the ears of the police in Port Elizabeth, the body was exhumed and at the subsequent post-mortem was found to be riddled with the arsenic that a vengeful Margaret had bought to kill him. Despite indisputable evidence confirming and corroborating her guilt, Rheeder vehemently denied poisoning her husband.

Benjamin Fredenman-Rheeder’s husband

Despite a mercy plea by the jury on account of the ill-treatment which she had suffered at the hands of many men, the judge was unmoved. Her final journey in her lifetime, a meeting with the hangman at the Pretoria Central Prison, was set for Tuesday, the 6th of June 1957. It was during her final walk from her condemned cell to the gallows that the guilt-ridden Rheeder confessed to the crime making her guilt indisputable. Finally her troubled conscience had compelled her to admit the truth in spite of all the previous denials



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