Voodoo grandmother accused of triple killing in insurance fraud trial

Daily Telegraph (England), Aug. 4, 2002

By Charles Laurence in New York
(Filed: 04/08/2002)

It is not the normal dry stuff of an insurance fraud court case. Allegations of voodoo charms, siren sex appeal and a string of killings staged to collect life insurance benefits were spelled out to a jury last week as a 55-year-old grandmother in a neat tan suit was led handcuffed into a court in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Josephine Gray had lived a double life for years before she was arrested early this year, said the prosecutor, the US Assistant Attorney Sandra Wilkinson.

The people of the respectable suburb of Baltimore, not far from Washington DC, knew her as a churchgoing grandmother who worked as a school cleaner, although her taste for smart clothes and expensive cars raised eyebrows.

Others, however, knew her as the “voodoo queen” who had enslaved two husbands and a lover before allegedly engineering their deaths and who had acquired the nickname of the Black Widow (after the spider that kills its mates after sex).

In New York last week, relatives described how Gray had become a “terrifying” woman who would visit specialist stores in the backstreets of Brooklyn to buy her voodoo supplies.

After years of rumours and two unsuccessful murder charges brought by the local authorities of Montgomery County, Gray is in the dock on charges of insurance fraud – a federal case brought by US government prosecutors. She denies the allegations.

Gray was charged with murder after killings in 1974 and 1990, but on both occasions prosecutors were forced to drop charges after witnesses recanted statements amid rumours of terrible voodoo curses, according to court records.

Now, however, she has also been charged with three counts of murder, and a separate trial is due later this year. The prosecutors have secured fresh testimony from witnesses, persuaded to take the stand once bail was refused and Gray put behind bars and away from her voodoo charms last January.

A conviction would not require the jury to find Gray guilty of actual murder. The evidence includes a “sting” in which police posed as insurance company executives, and a telephone-tap in which she is heard threatening voodoo curses against agents.

Dolls stuck with needles were found when her home was searched.

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