Murdered by a Carbolic Acid Cocktail in Kentucky

Who murdered Mary Cawein – Kentucky


Murdered by a Carbolic Acid Cocktail


Married to Dr. Madison Cawein, 39 year old Mary Cawein was found murdered, fully clothed in her upstairs bedroom July 5, 1965. She had been poisoned sometime in those early morning hours.

The homicide investigation into her death is still open, but because so much time has passed since her murder it has become more difficult to solve.


On July 4th, Mary, her husband a some friends went to the Idle hour Country Club for the evening leaving their child and the Strother’s  two children in the care of babysitter 62-year-old Phoebe Edwards.

Sam Strother who along with his wife was out with Mary and her husband Madison, told investigators that he had at least 5 drinks before dinner and at least 5 after. After looking into it, investigators determined that the entire group drank just as heavily that night.

Sometime between midnight and 1:30 a.m., the four decided to return to the Strothers’ house except for Mary, who decided to return home. She was driven there by Sam Strother, who, decided to call a taxi for the babysitter rather than drive the babysitter home himself.

Mary and Sam ended up in Mary and Madison’s bedroom to polish off the drinks they had gotten after the babysitter left.  According to the Lexington Police Department that was the only room in this house that had an air conditioner.

Sam told police “I don’t remember what we talked about, but we only talked about 10 minutes and I went home, Mary Marrs was still sitting in the chair when I left the room.”

According to police, that happened to be the last time anyone saw her alive or so the suspects say. Sam told police that after waiting for the babysitter’s taxi to arrive, he had been at the Cawein home for around an hour before driving himself home, leaving Cawein in her bedroom while three children two of them Sam’s, slept upstairs.

Sam left the front door unlocked and the porch light on which was common for the time, he returned home where where his wife Betty and Madison were still up drinking. 

The night wrapped up around 3am with everyone sufficiently drunk. Madison ended up staying at Sam and Betty’s because he was so inebriated that according to Sam, he couldn’t even get into bed on his own.

I believe just about all of that, just about all of it because the group was qute drunk so I am sure some details were left out or simply forgotten.

Here’s where the story gets a little sketch.

According to Betty, she tried to call Mary the next morning around 9am and then again around 10am. Per Betty it was odd that Mary wouldn’t have answered either call because she would have been awake by then.

Because Betty could not get Mary on the phone she went over. She says that she found Mary  sitting in the bedroom chair with her head slumped over to the left-hand side, fully clothed and the light on beside the chair.

Betty reported to police that she wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with Mary but she looked dead and when she touched her arm, Mary was very cold.

Rather than phone the police right away Betty called her husband Sam. Sam drove Madison over right away and upon arriving at the scene, Madison did was remove the glass of bourbon and the beer can from the table beside Mary Cawein.

The drinks Mary and Sam enjoyed when he dropped her off at home. The police report account reads “Dr. Cawein turned and handed Mr. Strother the glass, partially filled, and the empty beer can and said, ‘Here, dispose of this.”

The police were notified after Madison called a doctor over to examine his wife and pronounce her dead. The call came into police at 11:30am.

Dr. William Winternitz informed police that the room was fine, the bed was still made so, Mary never actually made it bed and it did not appear that a vicious attack had occurred such as break in, as the room was not tossed about.

Mary died sometime between 2am-6am.

Now oddly, Madison Cawein insisted that Mary’s death was a suicide…strange how he would come to that conclusion.

He did give permission to police to perform an autopsy, I am guessing to better support his theory of suicide.

The final autopsy revealed that Mary’s blood alcohol around .4 and that her cause and manner of death was carbolic acid poisoning. The autopsy also revealed two fresh needle holes in Mary’s thighs.

Not surprisingly once Madison was confronted with the cause of death, he in turn questioned the ability of the pathologist who performed this autopsy.

Despite 4 other doctors at the University of Kentucky Medical Center having witnessed the autopsy, Madison insisted that another professional perform another autopsy.

Madison called Mary’s parents on July 10th and informed that he reviewed Mary’s autopsy report and in it it, the pathologist stated; “had probably just taken too many Alka-Seltzers; that gas had built up in the system and had apparently caused a heart attack.”

Of course that isn’t exactly what the report said at all.  

At any rate according to the death certificate, the coroner ruled her death a homicide.

A marriage of bliss or was it hell?

As investigators looked at the life of the outwardly happy couple, they soon started to realize that the so called happily married couple was anything but that.

Mary’s father described the home life of Mary and Madison as one that was  tethered on the edge of collapse and ruin.

Of course initially, Mary’s father told investigators that couple was the happiest they had ever been. Mary’s father also informed detectives that Madison had been having an affair with another doctor for roughly 2 years.

After that, many said that the idea of such a picturesque marriage between Mary and Madison falls apart utterly and completely.

At this point Mary’s father told detectives everything. The good Dr. Madison Cawein had asked Mary for a divorce, admitted he had been having an affair with Dr. Emma Lappat thus the reason for wanting the divorce.

Alas, Madison however hadn’t had just one affair.

Barbara Leapman, a patient of the good doctor Madison Cawein, reportedly became involved with the doctor after the relationship with Dr. Emma Lappat ended.

Madison told investigators that he had been having an affair with Dr. Emma Lappat, but that it was over and had been since last fall.

Madison Cawein went on to tell investigators that he had met Barbara Leapman about two weeks ago and thought that he had fallen in love with her.

Barbara Leapman was the wife of Dr. Hershell Leapman so not only did Madison get around, he also saw no boundaries when it came to sleeping with a colleagues wife.  

Maddison told investigators that Mary did not know of his latest affair, however Mary’s grandmother Wessley V. Perry, told investigators that Mary did in fact know about the affair with Barbara Leapman. According to Mary’s grandmother Mary told her that Dr. Leapman would try to kill Madison for the affair and that Madison could lose his medical license over the affair on account of the fact that Barbara was a patient of his.

This story gets more like Grey’s Anatomy the more we dig into it.

Barbara told investigators that she was pregnant at the time of Mary’s death and sought an abortion which was sort of an odd detail to reveal to police because she did not come right out and say if she thought the father was Madison or her husband.

Why then would she tell investigators about seeking an abortion? Well because the good Dr. Madison was to have performed it of course.

Moving on to Dr. Emma Lappat, well her story isn’t any less crazy. It seems that Emma would keep tabs on Madison by calling his home, driving by his home and driving by the Leapman’s home. It was also reported that Dr. Emma Lappat would make threats to those she saw as competition for the affection and adoration of Madison.

According to Barbara, Emma told her to stay away from Madison, after the encounter Barbara told investigators that she began to receive odd phone calls.

The police report states that the odd calls would request information about Barbara, where she was or had been, location of her apartment, etc.

At about this same time, Madison told Barbara that he was not happy with Emma’s stalking ways so, he was changing his methods of leaving the office and where he would hang his coat so as to prevent Emma’s intrusions.

But that didn’t stop Emma, she told secretary’s not to put any calls through to Madison from Barbara.

Prior to Mary’s murder, Emma did set up a meeting with Barbara’s husband and told him that his wife had been having an affair with another doctor at the University of Kentucky Medical Center but refused to tell him who that doctor was.

After Mary’s murder Madison and Barbara continued to see one another. They thought it was a secret and did try to keep police and the public from knowing, but you know once the cat is out of the bag…

At one point during a secret meeting Madison told Barbara that the cause of Mary’s death was carbolic acid had been the cause. Barbara asked him point blank if Mary was suicidal, his response was that Mary was not the suicidal type.

That worried Barbara, yet not quite enough to stop seeing Madison. She had lunch with him some weeks later and upon her return home a maid informed her of a rather odd phone call. The caller told the maid that Barbara had better be careful because the company she was keeping happened to be putting her life in danger.

Dr. Hershell Leapman received an odd phone call  during the early morning of July 5, as luck would have it, the same day Mary Cawein was murdered.

The police report says that  he was on duty when he received a phone call some time between 2:30-3 a.m. Relayed to him by the telephone operator, the call was supposedly from Barbara saying  that he was needed at home.

Dr. Leapman felt the call was some attempt to get him to rush home to catch his wife in bed with her lover, but he already knew who that was, so he contacted the Fayette County Police to get some advice and then went home to get the license plate number of any strange vehicles near his home.

Luckily he found some and so  after 4 a.m. Dr. Leapman drove to the Fayette County Police headquarters to have authorities run the license plate numbers. While there, he explained his situation and why he would come running in with some license plate numbers.  

The duty officer noticed that the doctor was not in the best of shape when he came in. His nerves were frayed, his clothing was in disarray and he was a sweating mess.

The officer went on to note that he appeared to be under some sort of heavy mental stress but that his wife’s supposed affair did not seem to be what was causing the stress because during the discussion the doctor revealed that he had known about the affair for some time and had been dealing with it.

It was also reported that Dr. Leapman sideswiped a police car as he left the station that morning.

Too many suspects and no arrests.

No one was ever tried for the murder of Mary because police could never pin it on anyone one individual.

So who killed her?

I have no doubt that her husband wanted to get rid of her and he certainly seems guilty with having insisted that her death was a suicide and the cleaning up of the room before police were called.

He is also the husband so everyone thinks he did it, but he is very much the man who didn’t want the world to know about his affairs, especially the one with Barbara as it could have potentially ended his career. So naturally he wanted to keep the spotlight off of him and easiest way to do that is to insist that his wife committed suicide.

He actually did stand to lose more because of her odd death.

The fact was, he simply did not care how she died, to him that was a blessing in disguise. 

My money would be on Dr. Emma Lappat and Dr. Hershell Leapman. Yes we all look at it and think that Barbara and Madison had more to gain but that isn’t necessarily true.

Hershell didn’t like his wife’s affair with Madison and no doubt wanted it ended by any means necessary. He wouldn’t have realized his wife was implicated and if things had gone to plan she might have possibly ended up in prison.

Emma on the other hand had the most to gain, in her mind at least. She made her moves under the idea that if she could not have Madison, no one could. If Madison and his new lover were let’s say found guilty of Mary’s Murder, Emma would get what she wanted and she would be the one person who Madison would be able to count on, even if he were counting on her from prison.

I believe because Emma is a good manipulator, she was able to convince Hershell to kill Mary because Emma convinced the man that it would end the relationship between Madison and Barbara.

Emma liked to control things and people and when she could not do that with Madison she opted to control the situation using Hershell.

Hershell did not display the mental capacity one would need need to plan and then carry out a murder. Emma directed the entire affair.

Emma didn’t care about Hershell, she told him about the affair to get him to play the cards in her favor and he did just that.

For poor Mary, she was unwanted by her husband, disrespected her own sex and was nothing more than expendable to Dr. Emma Lappat.

The only thing Emma did not end up with was what she wanted. Madison.

Cristal M Clark

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