February 28, 1905 – Jane Stanford

Jane Stanford, the wife of industrialist Leland Stanford and co-founder of Stanford University, was poisoned to death in her room at the Moana Hotel in Honolulu, HI, on Feb. 28, 1905. That evening, Stanford, 76, asked for bicarbonate of soda, which was prepared by her personal secretary, Bertha Berner. At 11:15 p.m., Stanford cried out, “I am so sick. Run for the doctor! I have no control of my body. I think I have been poisoned again!” Despite the best attempts of the hotel physician, Stanford died.

A forensic analysis found the poison strychnine in the soda and in Stanford’s tissue sample. One month earlier, in her Nob Hill, CA, mansion, someone served Stanford a bottle of Poland Spring water that was also laced with strychnine. After taking a sip, she realized there was something wrong with the water and made herself throw it up.

Stanford University President David Starr Jordan sailed to Hawaii to dispute the findings that Stanford was poisoned. In an attempt to cover up any scandal from being linked to the school, he said she died of heart failure, which was the accepted cause of her death until the 1980s when the poisoning was revisited. No one knows who poisoned Stanford. Berner was the only person who had access to her during both poisonings. Berner was interviewed by investigators but was never considered a serious suspect. Stanford’s murder remains unsolved.

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