An Innocent Man

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October 25th of 1967,
Arcadia, Florida-
This is James Richardson, doting father of 7. James was wrongly accused and convicted of poisoning each of his children.

A young James & Annie Mae

On this fateful day, 32 year old James and his beloved wife, 29 year old Annie Mae, headed off to work in an orange grove; their usual sitter was busy, so they left their children with a 46 year old neighbor named Betsy Reese. All of the kids were young: Betty was 8, Alice was 5, Susie was 6, Dorreen was 5. Vanessa was 4, Dianne was 3, and little James Junior was only 3.

While their parents were gone, each of the children ate the lunch which their mama had left for them: beans, rice, and grits. Soon after, the children became ill; they were rushed to a local hospital where all 7 perished from poisoning.

Immediately the parents were suspected. A search of the Richardson home came up empty at first, but the next day Betsy the babysitter claimed she’d found a large sack of the poison, parathion, in a nearby shed.

Funeral for 7 babies

Investigators knew that the substance had absolutely not been present in that shed during the first FIVE searches, plus it had been damp from dew! Nothing else inside that shed had been wet, only the poison! But investigators had tunnel vision, and this was the smoking gun which they had been hoping for – circumstances be damned. When police found that the parents held life insurance policies which promised to pay $3,500 were anything to happen to the children, James was charged with first degree murder.

Grave site

In exchange for a lighter sentence, a cellie of James’s testified that the father had admitted to poisoning his children’s packed lunches. With that testimony, a jury sentenced an innocent, grieving father to death.
Though Annie Marie was arrested at one point for helping her husband murder their children, thankfully she was released. In 1972 the Supreme Court decided that the death penalty was unconstitutional, so at least James didn’t have to worry about the state murdering him. Still, for more than two decades Mr. James unjustly remained in prison.

Finally an attorney by the name of Mark Lane noticed James; Mark believed this father to be innocent and made it his mission to prove it. While digging into the case, Mark discovered that Betsy the babysitter had been on parole at the time of the children’s deaths; you’ll never guess what she had been in prison for. Why, poisoning her husband, of course! How easy this should’ve been for the defense to discover, especially considering that the prosecution knew it all along!


They’d covered it up! Mark found babysitter Betsy, who was now suffering from Alzheimer’s, in an Arcadia nursing home. She had confessed to the cold blooded murder of these children to anyone who would listen – more than 100 times this woman has confessed, yet no one had believed her; everyone thought it to be the Alzheimer’s talking. Mark busted his butt to get James out of prison. In 1989 Janet Reno said that James was “probably wrongfully accused” and it was decided that this father would not be retried. Mr. James was finally a free man!

He filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida for wrongful conviction, receiving a measly sum of $150,000. Considering the going rate for something like this is 50K per year? Mr. James would have to prove his innocence in order to be eligible for more, but how could he do that? There was no hard evidence which proved anything. Finally, in 2014 a law was passed which allows people wrongfully convicted before 1979 to be compensated. As of 2015 Mr. James was due 1.2 million, but it appears that the state has yet to pay up.

I can’t find much info on Annie Mae, but it does appear that she did go on to have more children. There’s a picture of her looking through a family photo album with her daughter. Though the two did divorce, Annie never turned on James, she knew he had been an innocent man all along. There is a Florida obituary in the name of Annie Mae Richardson from April 15th of 2002. There’s not much info, but I suspect it may be her.

As far as I can tell, Mr. James has moved to Wichita, Kansas, to become a ranch caretaker; he’s since remarried to a woman named Teresa Rivers. He has had some health issues, a heart surgery, but he’s hanging in there. It’s said that he still tears up any time his children are mentioned.

Bessie the killer died of Alzheimer’s back in ’92. She was never brought to Justice for murdering seven babies and ruining an innocent father’s life, and it doesn’t appear that she cared much, either. There’s a picture of her sobbing on the stand as she gave condemning testimony against James.

About the real killer:

*Depending on which site you believe, the murderous babysitter’s first name is either Bessie or Betsy, and her last is Reese or Reece. I have no idea which since credible sites and articles are using both names.

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2 Replies to “An Innocent Man”

  1. Omg so sad. I can’t even imagine having to loose your babies and be wrongfully accused of it at the same time. I’m not a vengeful person but I hope Bessie or Betsy got what she deserves in the afterlife

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