Famous Axe Murders

Posted by US Ghost Adventures Contributor in US Ghost Adventures

Apparently, the list of famous axe murders goes well beyond the renowned Lizzie Borden case.  Some murderers were acquitted, like Lizzie, and some murderers were executed.  Like the Lizzie Borden case, some murders remain an unsolved mystery as well. 

Suppose you know the story behind Lizzie Borden and the gruesome axe murders of her father, Andrew Borden, and her stepmother Abby Borden. In that case, you know the most famed story of the list of axe murders in history.  The mystery of the history behind the event remains pure speculation today. 

Book, after book, has been written.  Movie after movie has been made.  In all cases, all evidence of the crimes remains as it did for the trial.  Circumstantial speculation down to the motive and weapon. Inadmissible in court.  Oh, they tried.  They tried hard to prove the meek and reserved demeanor of Lizzie Borden committed the heinous axe murders of her parents.  It just wasn’t enough.  If Lizzie committed the crimes, she covered her tracks really well.  When all was said and done, she most probably didn’t act alone.

We’ll start with Lizzie and give her the #1 spot on the list.  It is, after all, the most well-known case.

Lizzie Borden – 1892, Fall River, Massachusetts

On August 4, 1892, the Borden household awoke like any other day and prepared for the day ahead.  After finishing breakfast, Mr. Borden and a visiting uncle left to run errands.  Mrs. Borden (supposedly) left to help an ailing friend.  The maid Bridget prepared to wash the windows.  Emma, the oldest daughter, was away visiting friends, and Lizzie set up her flat irons to begin her morning chores.

By eleven a.m., both Andrew Borden and his wife Abby lay dead in pools of their own blood. Hacked to death with a hatchet, it was a gruesome scene.

Famouse Axe Murders: Lizzie Borden
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Although the (morbid) rhyme says Abby received 40 whacks and Andrew 41, the only concrete evidence is that she received 19 blows and her husband 11.  A bit of an over-kill, but the deed, indeed, was done.  Itching in their boots to catch the culprit, police found (what they felt) good reason to arrest and try Lizzie for the murders.

No one knows to this day who killed the Borden’s.  It does make for a great horror story, however.

The murder house today is a Bed and Breakfast and museum.  All five family members are said to haunt the property.  Book a room (if you dare!) Maybe you’ll run into Lizzie or one of her mutilated parent’s ghosts!

Frankie Stewart Silver- 1832, Morganton, North Carolina

Unlike lucky Lizzie, Frances “Frankie” Stewart Silver was found guilty of the murder of her husband, Charles Silver. 

Around Christmas time, Charles Silver allegedly went hunting and never came home. Unable to locate Silver via a search party, one of the members, Jack Colliss, decided to investigate on his own while Frankie was in town. 

Inside the Silver’s wooded cabin, he discovered bloodstains on the floor and bones in the fireplace.  Calling authorities for further investigation, they soon found his head.  Apparently, Silver was hacked to death, dismembered, and burned in the fireplace to get rid of his body.

Frankie, her mother, and her brother were all arrested, but only Frankie was tried.

The motive ranged from a jealous wife to an abused woman.  One theory claimed Frankie wanted to move west with her family, but her husband didn’t. For that reason, many believe Frankie didn’t act alone.

After Frankie was found guilty, her father and brother helped her escape from jail.  They headed to Tennessee with Frankie dressed as a man and hair cropped off.  Her uncle gave away her identity by saying to the posse that stopped them, “HER” name was Tommy.  Back to jail, she went. 

Trial by jury, Frankie was found guilty of her husband’s murder. Sentenced to hang, Frankie is believed to be the first white woman put to death in Burke County.

Famous Axe Murders: Frankie Silver's headstone where she is thought to be buried
Photo: Wikimedia

Some stories say Frankie was hanged from a tree in front of an eager crowd in July 1833. Others say she was hung from gallows constructed for the hanging with no eyewitnesses. Sadly, she left behind a two-year-old daughter named Nancy.

Richard P. Robinson- 1836, New York City

On April 10, 1836, Helen Jewett, an upscale prostitute from Madame Rosina Townsends brothel, was hacked to death in her sleep.  Her bed was then set on fire to destroy the body.  Madame Townsend found the crime scene before Jewett was completely charred when smoke started coming from her room. 

A frequent customer of Jewett’s, Richard P. Robinson was the main suspect for the crime.  Testimonies by other prostitutes in the brothel and a cloak found at the crime scene belonging to Robinson were enough to have Robinson arrested.  Robinson showed no emotions and denied the allegations.  Even when the still-warm corpse of Jewett was presented to him.

Famous Axe Murders: Murder scene drawing of Helen Jewett laying dead in her bed before it was set fire
Photo: Wikimedia

During the trial, most of the witnesses were other prostitutes from the brothel.  The Judge ordered the jury to disregard their testimonies making all evidence circumstantial. The verdict came back not guilty in less than half an hour.

Much like the Borden case, this murder gained fame through media coverage.  The trial was noteworthy for the changes in the sex and scandal coverage approach by American journalists.  Apparently, this was important for media advancement in covering a nearly non-existent subject.

The New York Herald offered the most detailed coverage of the murder.  Robinson was played as a victim of a conspiracy by the police and the head madame of the brothel. On the flip side, reporters sympathized with Jewett and villainized Robinson.  Either way, Helen Jewett was dead, and Richard Robinson was free.

The ghost of Helen Jewett is seen flitting down the New York City streets in her silk dress as she did when she was alive. 

Eva Dugan – 1930, Pima County, Arizona

Eva Dugan was initially from Missouri, although her life took her as far as Alaska and Canada searching for a more prosperous life.

She married and had two children, soon after being abandoned by her husband.  To support her children and herself, she became a cabaret singer and prostitute. 

Over the years, she was married four more times, and her husbands all mysteriously died or disappeared.

After her children had grown and her looks had faded, she moved to Pima County, Arizona.  There, she became a live-in housekeeper for an elderly chicken rancher, Andrew J. Mathis.

Mathis didn’t like Dugan’s cooking or the housework she did.  He was a demanding and cantankerous old man Dugan found hard to get along with.

Firing Dugan, he ordered her from his property by morning.  Like Dugan’s five husbands, Mathis disappeared, along with his cash box, car, and other belongings.  Dugan disappeared as well.

Dugan sold Mathis’s car in Kansas and headed to New York. She was arrested in White Plains, New York, and extradited to Arizona to face auto-theft charges. Convicted, she was sent to prison.

Famous Axe Murders: Axe murderer Eva Dugan hanged for killing Andrew Mathis
Photo: Wikimedia

Mathis’s mutilated decomposing remains were discovered on his property nine months later.  Dugan went to trial for the murder.  The prosecution was able to convince the jury Dugan killed Mathis with an axe.  She was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

In February 1930, Eva Dugan was taken to the gallows to be hanged.  The rope snapped at the end of the drop, decapitating her, sending her head rolling, where it stopped at the feet of the spectators.  Blood continued to spurt from her severed neck until her heart stopped pumping.  The gruesome scene caused five witnesses to faint. Eva Dugan is the first and last woman in Arizona executed by hanging.  Her botched execution is the reason Arizona switched to the gas chamber.

It’s not known if Eva Dugan is one of the many ghosts said to haunt the Arizona State Prison where she was hanged.  With an ending as gruesome as the man she murdered, it wouldn’t be surprising if she is.

Conclusion

As morbid as these stories are, they are a part of the macabre history of our worldly lives.  Often those who die return in the afterlife for unknown reasons.  Whether it’s for some unfinished business, returning to a happy place, or just the inability to cross over, they are there.  Unexplained phenomena beyond our comprehension, but still there.

Our history and our lives today are full of the paranormal, and it’s better to embrace it than to discount it.

Regardless of whether you believe any of these people mentioned are spirits in our earthly realm or not, take a walk through the cemetery where they are buried.  Stand by their grave.  And when the hair starts to stand on the back of your neck or chill travels down your arm, you will know they are there.

Read more haunted history and stories of the unexplained in our blog.

Experience firsthand what it felt like to roam around within the walls where a famed (alleged) axe murderer Lizzie Borden committed two horrific killings.  You can stand in the rooms of the murders, and you can stand in the room that their autopsies were conducted!

Book a tour of the Lizzie Borden House and decide for yourself whether or not you believe she did it! Put it on your bucket list.  I dare you!

Sources:

The Beautiful Corpse of Helen Jewett — Historical Blindness

Florence Arizona State Prison | The Witching Hour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe_murder

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankie_Stewart_Silver

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Jewett

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Dugan