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Virginia Oceana Wardlaw

  • Birth 1852 Georgia, USA
  • Death 11 Aug 1910 Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
  • Burial Christiansburg, Montgomery County, Virginia, USA
  • Memorial ID 9529736

Virginia Oceana Wardlaw (1853-1910) was charged with the murder of Ocey Snead in 1909. (b. 1853, Randolph County, Georgia, USA - d. Thursday, August 11, 1910; Newark House of Detention, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, USA)

Daughter of John Baptist Wardlaw I (1816-1896) and Martha Eliza Goodall (1836-?) of Randolph County, Georgia. John Baptist Wardlaw was the son of William Wardlaw and Margaret McCully and John was a Methodist preacher. Martha Eliza Goodall had a sister: Oceana Seaborn Goodall who married a Pollock.

John Wardlaw and Martha Goodall had the following children: Caroline B. Wardlaw (1847-1913) who married a Martin and had a daughter, Oceana Martin aka Ocey who married Fletcher Wardlaw Snead (1876-?) who was her first cousin; Mary L. Wardlaw (1848-c1915) who married Fletcher Tillman Snead (1829-1891) and had a son, Fletcher Wardlaw Snead (1876-?) who married Oceana Wardlaw Martin (c1885-1909) aka Ocey Snead, who was his first cousin; Virginia Oceana Wardlaw (1852-1910); John Banks Wardlaw (1854-1881) who married Lizzie Davidson; Albert Goodall Wardlaw (1856-?); and there may be a Bessie Wardlaw (c1860-?) who married a Spindle and lived in Christianburg, Virginia. Caroline Wardlaw died on June 14, 1913 at the State Hospital for the Insane in New Jersey. The story of the murder of Ocey Snead is told in "Three Sisters in Black" by Norman Zierold; Little, Brown and Company, 1968.

Virginia is buried in Sunset Cemetery in Christiansburg, Montgomery County, Virginia.

Lula Porterfield Givens writes: "The Montgomery Fe­male College, an insti­tution of learning and good repute was bequeathed by Mrs. OS. Polluck to her sister Mrs. Martha Wardlaw and to Mrs. Wardlaw's daughters, Mrs. Mary W. Snead, Mrs. Caroline Martin and Miss Virginia Wardlaw, the last named 'unmarried, cultured, and beautiful.' Abraham Lincoln called 'the Great Emancipator' was a symbol of freedom in our American History. Conversely, the Three Sisters were perfect examples of planned manipulation. They moved people around like figures on a chess board to fit their nefarious schemes to enslave and use persons in ways to benefit themselves. Caroline visited Mary Snead's son, John age 28, who was married and living in Lynville, Tennessee. While there she persuaded John to leave his wife and return with her to Christiansburg to teach in the college. At first, his wife objected so strongly to his leaving that he called the police to evict his aunt from his house. Undaunted, she came a second time and this time he returned with her to teach at the Montgomery Female Academy. Fletcher, the brother of John Snead also was married and living in Tennessee. After a period of time, Fletcher divorced his wife and came to the college and married Ocey Snead, his first cousin. As time went on, the sisters owed many debts which they could not or would not pay. Lawyers had claims against them. Misfortune befell John, traveling with Mrs. Martin he had fallen off a train, accidentally he said, but the brakeman said it looked like a suicide attempt. Later, John half-­drowned, had been pulled from a cistern by Sonny Correll, caretaker at the college. Weeks later he was found on fire in his nightclothes, the bed saturated with kerosene. Several hours later he died. Incidentally, his life had been sizably insured by his aunts; the beneficiary changed from his wife's name to Virginia Wardlaw. Virginia Wardlaw went among the residents of Christiansburg soliciting affidavits to the accidental death of John Snead, but met with little success for the townspeople suspected foul play. Eventually the insurance company made a satisfactory settlement with Virginia Wardlaw. Sinister events created fear among the townspeople. They were afraid to answer the knock on the door for often the Sisters were there, veiled, somber and austere. People were afraid to go on the streets at night. The sisters were known to visit the cemetery often. One hack driver said they frequently hired him to drive them to the cemetery. They always had him stop at the edge while they walked farther into the grounds. One night he followed them unseen to see them gather about a grave making gestures skyward and murmuring incantations which he could not understand. His whole body shook with fear so strong was his feeling that evil was near. Prior to 1908, the Black Sisters had left Christiansburg one by one, so had Ocey and Fletcher Snead. A year later the death of Ocey Snead was carried in the papers. In East Orange, New Jersey, the police had been called to a shabby house. A woman thickly veiled in black, who identified herself as Virginia Wardlaw, led them upstairs to a bathroom where he found the nude body of a beautiful girl, Ocey Snead, squatted in a halftub of water with her head tilted under the faucet. A suicide note in which the girl expressed despondency for the loss of loved ones was pinned to a garmet beside the tub. Miss Wardlaw's answers to the police were not satisfactory and she was held for further questioning. A janitor said that year earlier Ocey and Fletcher had moved into a house in which they seemed happy. Several months later they said two older women dressed in black came. After that Fletcher left. Five months later Ocey had given birth to a baby boy which was put in a hospital. Ocey told the doctor that she was being starved to death and begged for help. At the same time the aunts were dining at prestigious restaurants. The doctor said the aunts would not allow the niece to talk with him, would not give her the medicines had had prescribed for her nor would they allow him to remove the stitches from an operation he had performed on her. A will was brought forward in which Ocey had left everything to her 84 year old grandmother. The trial of the sisters began January 9, 1911 and dragged through the courts for several years in which time no satisfactory explanation could be given for incriminating events brought to light. Eventually, Mary Snead, implicated with Virginia Wardlaw, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was released in the custody of her son, Albert, who took her to Colorado to live out her days on a ranch he owned. During the trial Fletcher Snead, husband of Ocey Snead, was investigated as a suspect. He was found under an assumed name cooking in a lumber camp in Canada. No incriminating evidence was found against him. Caroline W. Martin was sentenced to jail and sent to the New Jersey State Prison. Her behavior was so unstable that she was transferred to the State Hospital for the Insane where she died shortly after. Virginia G. Wardlaw starved herself to death while awaiting trial and her body was sent to Christiansburg. After a simple funeral service she was buried in Sunset Cemetery not far from the Montgomery Female College. Christiansburg High School was built on the site of the college in 1930. At the present, it contains the Christiansburg Middle School, with a new high school built on Independence Boulevard to take care of the growing population."

Family Members






  • Created by: Richard Arthur Norton (1958- )
  • Added: 28 Sep 2004
  • Find A Grave Memorial 9529736
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Virginia Oceana Wardlaw (1852–11 Aug 1910), Find A Grave Memorial no. 9529736, citing Sunset Cemetery, Christiansburg, Montgomery County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Richard Arthur Norton (1958- ) (contributor 46580804) .