August 13, 1938

Aug13On this day in 1938, Robert Johnson was poisoned during a gig in Greenwood, Mississippi.

It all started when Robert Johnson began seeing the wife of Ralph Davis. Johnson had begun visiting the young woman in Baptist Town, located in Greenwood, at her sister’s house late in July of 1938. Every Monday, Johnson and the young lady would meet, and spend the entire day together in bed.

Upon Johnson’s arrival at the country dance, around 9 p.m., he happily settled in and played for the crowd. After a two-hour set, Johnson took a break. While standing next to the bar, Johnson was handed a jar of corn whiskey (contrary to popular belief, this was not an “opened” bottle of whiskey). In 1938, Mississippi only had bootlegged whiskey when it was available, but it was never sold sealed.

He was handed the jar of poisoned whiskey by the barmaid, a woman known as “Craphouse Bea”, who was married to the local rough man in town known as Ralph “Snake” Davis. Be a, it turned out was the woman Johnson had been seeing, and her husband owned a business beside the bar Johnson was playing that night. Fully aware of the affair between the two, Davis had secretly poisoned the bottle by dissolving moth balls in the liquid – a remedy often used to put someone in hospital or to cause death.

After ingesting the whiskey around 11:30 p.m., Johnson would soon return to the stage. He played, but began to feel ill. He stopped and apologizing to the crowd for his illness; this was at around 1 a.m. By 2 a.m., he could no longer play. He left the bar and ventured outside where he was violently ill.

Though the moth ball cocktail was not enough to kill Johnson, though it weakened his immune system and allowed him to promptly catch pneumonia. Since there was no cure for this disease in 1938, Johnson would succumb to the illness.

He died three days later at age 27.

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