The Poisoner Mollie Greer
In 1884-1885, a Tennessee woman named Mollie Greer went on a poisoning spree that killed one person and almost killed six more. Or so it is alleged! Despite damning circumstantial evidence, there wasn't any firm proof she was the culprit. The complications surrounding Mollie Greer's (alleged) crimes are perfect to insert in a murder mystery at your table!
Our story begins with Mollie’s common-law husband, Prince Greer. Prince was born enslaved in 1840. When his master rode to war in the Confederate army, Greer accompanied him. After his master was killed, embalmed in Nashville, and shipped back home, Greer opted to stay in Nashville. Small wonder that an enslaved man would refrain from returning to his owners, given the chance! He chose instead to stay in the office of the undertaker, where worked as the first known African American embalmer. By all accounts, he was quite good at it! After the war and freedom, Prince Greer stayed in Nashville and became a coachman.
This is where Mollie Greer enters the historical record. Mollie was Prince’s common-law wife. She had a violent temper, and the Greers fought often. Neighbors later told the police that on Thursday, November 20th, 1884, Mollie screamed that she’d “land him in Hell by Saturday night”. That Saturday, Prince died.
Initially, the doctors thought Prince died of a stroke, but the autopsy didn’t bear that out. Signs pointed to poisoning. The neighbors had heard enough threats in the Greers’ shouting matches to testify that was plausible. When the lab tests came back positive for poison, the police arrested Mollie Greer. But beyond the threats, there was no evidence Mollie killed her husband. A grand jury let her go.
Mollie’s stay in prison did serious damage to her health. She was taken in by the Nashville Medical College. An intern, Dr. Woods, got her a job at the hospital as a cook. Not long after, Dr. Woods reported Mollie for a minor rules infraction. Mollie responded just how her former neighbors might have predicted: she shouted, she cursed, and she promised to get even.
The next day, Mollie prepared Dr. Woods’ favorite dish for him. Woods didn’t try it, but six others did, and swiftly suffered the agonizing symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Fortunately, they were already at a hospital, and all six were saved. Mollie claimed the peas were bad. Once again, there was insufficient evidence to indict her, and Mollie Greer disappears from the historical record.
Nashville Medical College ca. 1850
This is also the perfect place for her to step into your campaign. The PCs are called in to investigate a murder. They discover that a new employee with access to the victim’s food had only the day before thrown a fit over some minor issue and threatened horrible vengeance upon the deceased. The lab tests come back positive for poison, and the new employee is arrested. The authorities know they don’t have enough evidence to convict, and they ask the PCs to look into the issue.
Investigating the woman’s background reveals she was working under an assumed name. Following up on Mollie Greer’s true name brings the PCs to Nashville, or wherever your Mollie Greer-analogue committed her alleged murders. Conversations with the Nashville police, Dr. Woods, and Prince Greer’s neighbors reveal that this murder fits a pattern of behavior. It also fits a pattern of insufficient evidence to convict the accused. The PCs are likely to conclude that Mollie Greer probably did kill the latest murder victim – and that if given a chance, she may kill again.
But there’s simply not enough evidence to convict her. So what do the PCs do? Do they grind their teeth and hope that next time she kills, she gets sloppy and leaves behind more evidence? Do they commit the crime of falsifying evidence, salving their consciences with the belief that this is for the greater good? There really aren’t any good options here, which is the entire point of a dilemma like this one.
Separately, I’d like to direct your attention to a cool Kickstarter that’s in its final days. I had the pleasure recently of playing Nahual: A Tabletop RPG of Mexican Urban Fantasy with its author, Miguel Espinoza. Nahual is a Powered By The Apocalypse game where the PCs are Mexican shamans who channel the power of their totem animals to hunt angels.
In the Nahual universe, when the conquistadors landed in Mexico, they unknowingly brought their angels with them: supernatural beings as dangerous as the iron-plated men who worshipped them. The knowledge of the Aztec shamans who opposed the conquistadors and their angels has mostly been lost. Their 21st-century descendants are nahuales like the PCs, who hunt angels not to protect their people, but to put food on the table. The PCs maintain a store – perhaps a taqueria or a carniceria – that sells the flesh of angels as a restorative food.
The conflict that drives the game comes from that store. Yes, the PCs need to use their shamanic powers to hunt angels and keep the larder full. But they may also have to deal with a cacique who comes around once a month demanding protection money. Or the rival nahuales running a cantina across town that sells fermented angel’s blood tequila. It’s a high-stakes drama in a small Mexican town – and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played. The unique, profoundly Mexican zeitgeist drips from every detail of the setting. The Kickstarter ends in less than a week, so check it out!
Source: Murder & Mayhem in Nashville by Brian Allison