RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For more than 30 years Blanche Taylor Moore has claimed she is innocent and should not be on North Carolina’s death row. Her appeals, though, have failed.
Neither her bout with cancer nor the death penalty have claimed her life, making her the oldest woman in the United States on death row.
Turning 90 years old on Friday, it’s more likely that nature takes her life rather than lethal injection.
North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006. Moore is housed at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.
Moore’s case was one that gripped the state and the nation. It’s a case that started after her second husband, Reverend Dwight Moore, became severely ill and was hospitalized. Doctors at UNC eventually found he had 20 times the lethal dose of arsenic in his system.
Somehow Rev. Moore managed to survive. He was the lucky one. Investigators soon realized they’d better look back in time. They started with the death of Moore’s previous boyfriend Raymond Reid.
Dr. John Butts was the state’s Chief Medical Examiner at the time. He sat down in his home with CBS 17’s Russ Bowen.
“When you look at the medical history…in the case of Mr. Reid, it was very suspicious for arsenic poisoning. He had gotten violently ill, developed gastroenteritis, later developed a neuropathy and nerve damage and never got better and died,” said Dr. Butts.
Doctors previously thought Raymond Reid had suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome, which has similar symptoms to arsenic poisoning. Dr. Butts asked the District Attorney for permission to exhume Reid’s body.
“When we examined Mr. Reid, we found that his tissues contained lethal concentrations of arsenic and of course as earlier mentioned the medical record was pretty classic for repeated episodes of arsenic poisoning,” recalled Butts.
It was a painful death. Butts explained that “people will become very ill, vomit, develop diarrhea, they may develop a rash, and then maybe a week or two later they’ll develop neurological signs, these involve tingling, odd sensations, burning sensations, beginning in the hands and feet and then begging to go centrally.”
Testing proved that Reid was slowly poisoned.
“The fact that it had persisted for something like four months, of course, indicated that if his death was due to poisoning, it had occurred on multiple occasions. Not just one episode because if it had just been one episode, he would have died from it,” said Butts.
How did Dr. Butts know the level of arsenic poisoning? Reid’s hair.
When strands of hair were tested you could see the timeline of arsenic exposure. And just like Rev. Moore, investigators believed the woman who would become known as the “Black Widow” gave Raymond Reid arsenic laced food and drink while in the hospital.
Now the exhumation of one body wasn’t enough.
“Then began a process of sort of examining all the folks who, as they used to joke about it, were deceased and had something to do with Blanche,” said Butts.
Former husband, James Taylor, was soon exhumed. So was Moore’s father P.D. Kiser Sr. and her mother-and-law Isla Taylor. The hair from all of them showed high levels of arsenic. Only the last exhumed body, that of Blanche Moore’s former co-worker Joseph Mitchell, showed no levels of arsenic.
The Alamance County District Attorney chose to focus the case on the murder of Moore’s boyfriend Raymond Reid. Three years after his excruciating death from arsenic poisoning a jury found Blanche Taylor Moore guilty of murder and the judge sent her to death row.
Now retired, Dr. Butts has provided the medical facts and evidence for countless murder cases. He remembers a lot of them. The case of Blanche Taylor Moore is no exception.
“Because it did involve a complicated case, multiple exhumations, arsenic, poisonings, again one that one would not forget,” he said.