A death row femme-fatale who poisoned six and downed Coca Cola and Cheez Doodles before receiving a lethal injection was the first woman executed in the United States in 22 years.

Put to death at 2.15am on this day in 1984 (November 2), Margie Velma Barfield was an American serial killer who was convicted of one murder, but eventually confessed to six in total.

Barfield was 52 years old at the time of her execution, which was the the first time a female had been killed since the 1976 resumption of capital punishment, and the first since 1962.

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Originally convicted in 1978 of killing her fiancé Stuart Taylor, by poisoning his beer, she later confessed the fatal poisoning of her mother and two elderly people for whom she had been hired to care, although she was not tried for those slayings.

Velma Barfield escaped a reportedly physically abusive father by marrying Thomas Burke in 1949.

The couple had two children and were reportedly happy until Barfield had a hysterectomy and developed back pain, which led to a behavioural change and eventual drug addiction.

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Burke began to drink and Barfield's complaints turned into bitter arguments.

On April 4, 1969, after Burke had passed out, Barfield and the children left the house and when they returned they found the house burned and Burke dead.

In 1974, Lillian Bullard, Barfield's mother, showed symptoms of intense diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea, only to fully recover a few days later.

Later that year during the Christmas season, Bullard fell ill again with the same symptoms, but died in the hospital a few hours after being admitted.

In 1976, Barfield began caring for the elderly, working for Montgomery and Dollie Edwards in Lumberton, North Carolina.

Montgomery fell ill and died on January 29, 1977.

Just over a month after the death of her husband, Dollie experienced symptoms identical to those of Bullard and died on March 1.

The following year, Barfield took another caretaker job, this time for 76-year-old Record Lee, who had broken her leg.

On June 4, 1977, Lee's husband John Henry began experiencing wracking pains in his stomach and chest along with vomiting and diarrhoea.

Another victim was Rowland Stuart Taylor, Barfield's boyfriend and a relative of Dollie Edwards.

Fearing he had discovered she had been forging cheques on his account, Barfield mixed an arsenic-based rat poison into his beer and tea.

Despite confessing to the murders of Lillian Bullard, Dollie Edwards and John Henry Lee, she was tried and convicted only for the murder of Taylor.

Barfield was imprisoned at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina, in an area for escape-prone prisoners and mentally ill prisoners as there was no designated area for women under death sentences at the time – and she was the state's only female death row inmate.

She refused offers from prison officials for a specially prepared last meal, choosing instead Coca-Cola and Cheez Doodles.

After her execution she was buried in a small, rural North Carolina cemetery near her first husband, Thomas Burke.

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