Mary Lily Flagler Bingham

Birth Name:
Mary Lily Kenan
Birth Date:
June 14, 1867
Birth Place:
Liberty Hall, Kenansville, North Carolina
Death Date:
July 27, 1917
Place of Death:
The Bingham Estate, 4309 Glenview Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky
Cause of Death:
Edema with myocarditis along with high levels of morphine, arsenic and mercury
Cemetery Name:
Oakdale Cemetery
Claim to Fame:
Crime and their Victims
Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham was an American philanthropist and heiress who became notorious when she married one of the richest men of the Gilded Age - Henry Flagler - a founder of Standard Oil with John Rockefeller. Growing up in an affluent household, she soon moved with her family to Wilmington in the late 1870s. Her affluence afforded her education, uncommon for a woman on the cusp of the twentieth century. She first met Henry Flagler in 1891 at a party in Newport, Rhode Island. Kenan was only twenty-three years old; Flagler was sixty-one, and still married to Ida Alice. As they became more romantically involved, Mary Lily’s family grew suspicious of Flagler’s intentions, at least until the tycoon gifted her two million dollars’ worth of jewelry and stock in Standard Oil, along with a mansion in Palm Beach that would come to be known as Whitehall. Flagler also set about divorcing Ida Alice, which resulted in him paying Florida state legislators off in order to have insanity declared a viable reason for initiating divorce proceedings. Two months after the law was passed, Flagler divorced her, and he married Mary Lily, a woman nearly half his age, on the Kenans’ family plantation ten days later in 1901. Henry Flagler and Mary Lily Kenan Flagler by most accounts had a comfortable and loving marriage. Their marriage lasted until May of 1913, as after a fall down the stairs at Whitehall, the 83-year-old Flagler passed away, leaving his massive fortune to her. Mary Lily Kenan thus became the world’s richest woman. Three years later she became reaquinted with and married Robert Worth Bingham. A seemly healthy and active socialite, she slowly succumbed to a mysterious illness and died just 8 months later after her marriage to Bingham.

It’s Really No Mystery Who Killed Mary

Upon their marriage, Bingham hired his close friend and dermatologist Dr. Michael Leo Ravitch to watch over Mary’s health. Ravitch instead merely provided her with large doses of morphine, so much so that Mary became addicted. Bingham, meanwhile, hoped to gain from the incredible wealth of his wife, using this dependency to get her to sign a codicil to her will, allowing Bingham access to her wealth to the tune of $5,000,000. It is important to note that before they married, Bob Bingham waived his rights to the Flagler fortune.

On her final day on earth, Mary Lilly Flagler Bingham fainted in her bathtub, had convulsions and then died suddenly after eight months of marriage. Ravitch was still administering morphine even when she was unconscious.

Shortly after her death and burial in Wilmington, her body was exhumed and while the results were never made public, it leaked out over time that she had lethal levels of morphine and Salvarsan with trace amounts of adrenaline, mercury, and arsenic. Salvarsan was used at the time to treat syphilis which Mary contracted from Bingham during an earlier affair in their youth.

In July 1918, Bingham used the first installment of his inheritance/blood money to buy the Louisville Courier Journal and built the newspaper into a journalistic dynasty that lasted seven decades. Having gained the favor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bingham became ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1932. He died five years later of Hodgkin’s disease and syphilis.

In the end, Bob Bingham ended up with $5 million and the Kenan family end up inheriting $95 million (the equivalent of $2.43 billion today).


Cemetery Information:

Final Resting Place:

Oakdale Cemetery

520 N 15th Street

Wilmington, North Carolina, 28401


North America


Map of Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina
Map of Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina

Grave Location:

Section N, Lot 1 & 2

Grave Location Description

As you enter the cemetery from North 15th Street, turn left just after the gates and and then a quick right. Drive past Section O and stop at the intersection of paved roads at Section N. Former socialite and murder victim Mary Lily Flagler Bingham’s final resting place is on the right on the corner (look for the large Kenan monument).

Grave Location GPS

34.24497096993736, -77.9315517431637

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