Feature story for The Commercial Appeal
Feb. 7, 2013
On a recent cold and rainy early morning, an Australian film crew worked setting up lights and testing microphone levels in Phillips Cottage at Elmwood Cemetery. They were in search not of ghosts, but of the story of Alma Theede, prostitute and notorious murderer of three men, also known as Vance Avenue Alma.
Alma Theede was married seven times to six different men in the early to mid-1900s, and was charged with the murder of three of them.
This photo of Alma Theede appeared with the 1970 obituary that ran in the Commercial Appeal. Theede died in a Millington nursing home at the age of 75.
Interviews were being recorded that day for a show called “Deadly Women” on the Investigation Discovery Channel. The show is produced by the Australian company Beyond Productions, which specializes in factual and documentary-style programs and is best known for the “Myth Busters” series. The Memphis segment is scheduled to air this fall.
“It explores the psychological motivation behind why some women commit homicide,” producer Dora Weekley said of the show. “We hope to create a greater awareness and understanding of the effects of such crimes, both on the individual and larger society.”
To tell their story, the team, which also included cameraman David Maguire and sound man Phillip Rossini, call on people involved in the cases, from police and prosecutors to journalists, historians and the victims’ families. The production crew went to Elmwood to see Theede’s final resting place and to interview staff historian Dale Schaefer, assistant cemetery director Jody Schmidt; and board president Dan Conaway.
“We do a mix of stories from way back in the late 1800s to last year,” Weekley said. “Anything where, obviously, the case is closed.”
Alma Herring came to Memphis from Mississippi with her sister, brother and mother, Nettie Green Herring, who worked for the American Snuff Co. By age 16, Alma was frequenting an area of Downtown known for its more lascivious businesses.
“South Main and Vance, it was known for the gambling, the brothels and the bars, and she appeared to be attracted to that,” Schaefer said. This proclivity garnered her the name “Vance Avenue Alma.”
At age 17, she married Charles Cox, only to divorce him and elope to Little Rock with Roy Calvert, Schaefer said. In 1919, she was charged with Calvert’s murder with a verdict of justifiable homicide returned. Back in Memphis, she remarried Cox, who later died in a car wreck … (read more)