Alma Theede, also known as “Vance Avenue Alma,” was a tiny (5’2, 100lbs) elderly woman who lived at Ford and Dixie Roads in Grant’s Corners, near Memphis, Tennessee. She was a beautiful woman until time got the best of her. She was also a ruthless serial killer.
Alma was born in Mississippi to Ruby (also known as Nettie) and W.M. Herrin in 1895. Alma, her mother, and a sibling moved to the lower socioeconomic area of Memphis. Alma was considered a pretty and gregarious girl. But she turned tricks for $1 (or, if lucky, $2) apiece on South Main and Vance to help her mother’s finances. Her mother worked for American Snuff Company. In 1917, 17-year-old Alma eloped with Halpin Cox; he worked in a gambling den. She adopted two of Halprin’s children by his previous marriage.
By 18, she was divorced and back living with Ruby. In 1919, when she was 20, she married 24-year-old railroad worker Roy Calvert. They fought on a regular basis until she shot him dead that same year. She was freed by a Pulaski jury- “justifiable homicide.”
Alma Herrin Cox Calvert returned to Memphis and the profession she knew best as “Vance Avenue Alma,” turning over her earnings to Ruby. She rekindled the romance with Halpin Cox about 1920 and they remarried. Halpin was killed in an automobile wreck; Alma did not grieve. She moved into a bordello to ply her trade. She was a gambler and a drinker, which ruined both her looks and her chances at making much money. The madame kicked her out. She moved to a cheaper bordello. This is where successful contractor Mike McClaver (also listed as McClavy) found her and married her, in 1926, determined to help her and turn her life around.
To make some extra cash, the McClavers took in a border, a handsome ex-jockey named C.E. Miller. Miller and Mrs. McClaver became secret lovers. Mike was not stupid; he knew what was happening and he warned his wife to be careful. He was found dead by police on his bedroom floor, a shot through his heart. This was December of 1927; suspicion wavered between Alma and C.E. Both were indicted, and then found guilty. She was 29.
After serving almost half of her ten-year sentence, Alma was paroled. She married a murderer she had met in prison, Bill Theade, in 1931. Alma purchased a three-room shotgun shack on seven acres in Grant’s Corners. Ruby moved in with the newlyweds, and the house was in constant disarray with farm animals and pets running through the home. After she talked her way out of a theft charge, Governor Horton gave Alma full pardon. Bill filed for divorce. A Mrs. George Calhoun saw the Threade’s photos in the paper and identified both as stealing silverware and linens from her home.
Alma and Bill were convicted and given short stints in the Shelby County Penal Farm. After serving their sentences, Bill disappeared; Alma struggled financially to keep her farm. Alma did not stay out of trouble; she stole a cow for, she claimed, her “babies”. An investigation determined the “babies” was a baby given to Alma by a woman who could not raise an illegitimate child. The baby was taken away. Alma often cared for children in her home for extra money, and was said to love children.
In 1946, Alma married Ed Gill. Two year’s later; Ed was found, shot dead. She was given 10 years after she pled guilty. She was paroled in 1955 and married again in 1960 to Bill Massey. Not long afterwards, the couple divorced. She ran a boarding house for some time on Carr Street in Midtown. Alma Herrin Cox Calvert Cox McClaver Theade Gill Massey died at age 75. It was 1970. She died of natural causes in a nursing home. She is buried in Shelby County. No one knows Ruby Herrin’s fate, a mother who constantly defended her daughter.
Alma’s story is featured on Investigation Discovery Channel’s “Deadly Women” Season 7, Episode 7, “Wed to Murder.”