Walter Samples was a retired engineer who lived a quiet life in Memphis. That was until someone left a poisoned bottle of milk on his front porch in February 1941. His murder investigation revealed the 69 year old had been living a double life and dozens of people had motive to kill him.
Walter Lewis Samples was born in Missouri where he attended university and studied engineering. He served with the US Army Corps of Engineers during the war of 1898, known as the Spanish American War
Walter relocated to Memphis around 1901 where he continued his work with the US Engineers until he retired.
At 69, Walter lived alone and led a rather quiet life. His neighbors liked him but never really felt like they knew a lot about him apart from him being a bachelor with no children. They also assumed he had a lot of money because he owned several rental properties and had retired with a pension from the war department.
Walter was away from home most nights through the week because of his passion for playing bridge and his volunteer work for the Memphis chapter of the Spanish American War Veterans Association.
He was a creature of habit. Kept to the same schedule every day and whenever he sat down to a meal it had to include a glass of cold milk. It was good for him and he was a health conscious kind of man who considered raw carrots and spinach to be a snack. Walter didn’t order milk delivery very often because he ate a majority of his meals away from home with his friend at the Veterans association or from the bridge club.
On February 25th, 1941, Walter reached for his purple dressing gown and wrapped it tightly around him as he opened his front door. He reached down to quickly pick up his newspaper and go back inside, but paused when he noticed a bottle of milk next to the paper.
He hadn’t placed an order and the bottle didn’t look like the one that was normally delivered. Assuming it was a promotional bottle left from a new dairy, he placed the bottle in the refrigerator and went to get dressed for the day.
Walter then made eggs and toast for breakfast and washed it down with a glass of milk before driving to one of his local rental properties to check in on some workers who were helping with renovations.
Just after he arrived he felt this strange sensation in his throat and within minutes he reached for his stomach and was doubled over in pain. Walter thought it best to go home but as he was driving he felt sick and had pull over. He opened his car door just in time as he was overcome with an intense bout of nausea and vomiting.
He waited a few minutes, closed the door and was able to make it home and call his friend, Mrs. Shirley Mills. Shirley was an official in the veteran’s auxiliary and her late husband had been a good friend to Walter.
When Walter called Shirley, he was only able to say a few words before he fainted. She rushed to the house to check on her friend who was conscious when she arrived but was once again violently sick. She called for a doctor who asked what Walter had been eating.
Walter mentioned what he had for breakfast including the glass of milk. When the doctor went to the refrigerator and sniffed the bottle of milk, he said it smelled strange and advised Shirley to have it analyzed.
The doctor said it appeared Walter had food poisoning so he prescribed a saline laxative and left Shirley to nurse her friend who was in a horrible state.
By morning, Walter felt better. He encouraged Shirley to go to work saying he’d be alright on his own because it seemed the worst of it was over. Walter did as the doctor told him, he stayed home, took his laxative and as the day went on he continued to feel better.
So much better that late in the afternoon he called Shirley to invite her to dinner. They ordered in a light meal of soup and salad and when Shirley headed home, Walter retired to his room for the night, with a glass of milk.
The next morning, Walter was awakened by a horrible pain in his side and was overcome with waves of nausea. When Shirley stopped by around Noon and saw Walter again doubled over in pain, she told him it was time to go to the Veterans’ Hospital. She called or an ambulance and by the time Walter arrived at the hospital and doctors were running tests, he seemed better. He was able to sit up in his hospital bed and talk to Shirley about a flower sale they were helping arrange to raise money for the local veterans fund.
Around 9pm, Shirley left Walter at the hospital where he seemed to be fairly comfortable and on the mend. Just two hours later, around 11pm, Walter’s condition deteriorated.
The hospital staff rushed in to help, but it was too late. Walter Samples died at 11:40pm on February 27th, 1941.
Walter’s medical chart noted he died from “stoppage of the heart”. No one thought anything seemed out of the ordinary with his death, except Shirley Mills.
When she heard early the next morning that Walter had died, she remembered the doctor saying something about the milk smelling strange and that it should be analyzed. She had been so busy trying to help Walter that she had forgotten about it.
She immediately went to Walter’s house to get the milk and delivered it to the police for analysis. Two days later, police analysis found the milk contained high levels of rat poison and an autopsy showed the same substance in Walter’s body.
Police ruled Walter Samples had been murdered and set about solving the mystery of who wanted to kill this retired, likeable bachelor.
Their investigation would reveal Walter Samples had been living a double life. The detective leading the investigation into Walter’s murder put it this way, “Mr. Samples was a lamb by day and a wolf by night.”
Walter’s friend Shirley Mills would be the woman who helped break the case wide open. She led police to the prime suspects in Walter’s murder, Bertha and Louis House.
Hear about Walter’s wild double life and the people who had motive to murder him in the new episode.
Got Milk? The Malefactor’s Register.
“The Case of the Poisoned Milk Bottle.” The Knoxville News-Sentinel. April 27, 1941
Elderly Lothario Killed By Poison; Couple Indicted. New York Sunday News. April 20, 1941. Newspapers.com
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