Ax murders were fairly common in the 19th century. A murderer could easily enter a home and chop the inhabitants to bits without disturbing or waking the neighbors. The ax was a silent and deadly instrument of death, and sadly enough, many ax murders were never solved.
Unlike murder by gun, an ax murder was generally gruesome. Chunks of flesh and brain would scatter the floor. The victim often did not die right away and was sometimes hacked multiple times before death overcame him. The subject also sold newspapers, and that is probably why so many ax murders were reported in the worldwide press at that time.
10 The Mudgee Tragedy
No one could believe it. Why would a retired police constable, living in Mudgee, New South Wales, murder his wife and infant child? At first, when the news broke out, some newspapers were inclined to believe there was a mistake. It had to be a lie, but it wasn’t.
In September 1898, John M’Coy snapped, grabbed an ax, and battered the brains out of his wife and child. Neighbors knew that the marriage was tense and that M’Coy was often very cruel to his wife. Mrs. M’Coy had often hinted that she was afraid John would one day murder her, but no one stepped in to help because they did not believe M’Coy would go so far.
On the morning of the murder, screams were heard coming from their home. A young man ran over and witnessed M’Coy strike his wife with an ax. The man took off and ran to the police station.
The police arrived to a grisly scene. There were “pools of blood, clots of brains, and the murdered bodies of the woman and child.” The infant had her head “chopped open from the back.” The wife had been hacked with the ax multiple times. The back of her head was split open, and her brains were on the floor. M’Coy was caught trying to clean himself off with a bucket of water, and his three sons were safely nearby.
At the inquest, M’Coy claimed that his late wife was the abuser, despite witnesses claiming that he was the aggressor in the relationship. He refused to pay for the internment of his wife and infant daughter. At trial, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged.
9 Butchered In A Shanty
Grand Rapids City, Wisconsin, got quite a shock in the spring of 1858, when the body of a butchered woman was found inside a shanty. The scene was gruesome, and the shanty was covered in the woman’s blood. According to one report, the woman’s “head is literally chopped to pieces [ . . . ] [The murderer] gloated over his victim and mangled the lifeless corpse, after he had murdered her.” The blood-coated ax was found near the body.
As is often the case, the woman’s husband was immediately suspected and taken into custody after being discovered near the shanty. Patrick Bennet admitted to butchering his wife. He had a previous criminal record for robbery and was known to be a drunk.
What happened to Patrick Bennett after his arrest is not known.
8 Deadly Wage Dispute
Samuel H. Morris had managed to make a bit of extra money working in New Zealand, and with it, he and his wife moved to Blacktown, NSW. They bought a small homestead and eventually hired a worker, Hing Loong. Everything went as it should until one day in 1888, Loong received two visitors. Morris didn’t like the appearance of the visitors and ordered them off of his property. Instead of complying with the owner’s wishes, Loong ignored Morris and had the visitors return to the hut where he lived.
Sometime later, Loong received a mysterious letter. After reading it, Loong appeared to be upset, but nothing more was said of the matter.
The wife then sent her husband to fetch some water, and while he was stooping down, Loong struck Morris over the head with a piece of wood. A struggle ensued, and Loong grabbed an ax. Morris grabbed a garden hoe. Loong gave Morris two hard blows to the head with the ax, and Morris returned a blow to Loong’s head.
Morris, amazingly still alive, ran toward the house, calling for his wife. She stepped out and was attacked by Loong, who broke three of her ribs with the ax. She escaped and ran to the neighbor’s house, over 0.8 kilometers (0.5 mi) away. By the time the neighbors got to the homestead, Morris was dead from an ax wound that cut through his head. Loong was caught crawling back to his hut.
At his inquest, Loong claimed that the fight was over wages that Morris owed him. The wife, however, stated that there were no wages due and that she believed they were attacked for other reasons. Loong was found guilty of willful murder but died from his wounds before he could go to trial for sentencing.
7 The Tall Man
Leroy Rogers had been an old bachelor living on a small farm in Michigan when his body was found in 1894. It was a horrible scene. Leroy’s skull had been crushed in above one of his eyes with the flat end of an ax, and the blade of the ax was still embedded in the man’s neck. The body was still warm when it was discovered by a neighbor, so the murder was fresh, but there was no solid clue as to who could have done it.
All that was known was that there had been a tall man spotted near the house sometime before the murder was committed. The only motive the police could come up with was robbery. Leroy’s gun and watch were missing. He was not known to have had much else in the way of money.
6 A Considerable Mystery
From 1845, we have an odd story of an old man and a young girl, probably aged 14 or 15, who rented a house in Parramatta, NSW. The neighbors were naturally suspicious about the circumstances concerning the young girl, whom the old man passed off as his daughter. They believed they were a couple and that the young girl had somehow been seduced by the man. However they came into each other’s lives is not the story, though. It was how the couple ended that filled the newspapers of the day.
A few days had passed, and the neighbors saw no movement coming from the rented house. Out of curiosity, some of them went inside. They found nothing on the first floor, so they went upstairs. There, in the corner of a room, they found a bunch of old clothes on the floor and a blanket being used as a makeshift bed. On top of this, they found the mutilated body of the young girl—but no blood.
The blood and gore was found in another rented home in Sydney. In that place, there were pools of blood on the floor, and the walls were covered in red. In an apparent ax mark in the wall, there were traces of the girl’s hair. It was obvious that the old man had murdered the girl in one place and carried her to the other.
According to a doctor who examined the body of the young girl, she had multiple head wounds, and her forehead and cheeks were covered with bruises. She had bite marks on her chin, her ears were injured, and one of her fingers was cut off. Bruises on her torso revealed that she may have been brutally kicked multiple times.
5 Never Pick Up A Stranger
Clay Young met Bush and Cooey at a wagon yard in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1899. They told him that they were on their way to Arkansas, and Clay asked if he could join them on their trip. The men were fine with having another traveler join them, and they left, crossed the Arkansas River, and traveled by wagon for several more miles before stopping for the night.
As the three men bedded down in the wagon, Clay began to think over his situation. He realized that it would be easy for him to kill the other two men and take everything they had, including the horses and wagon.
Clay decided that murder would be an excellent plan, and while the other two men slept, he grabbed a gun and an ax. He whacked Cooey on the head with the ax. As Bush woke up, Clay gave him a blow to the head. To finish off the job, Clay put the gun to Bush’s neck and pulled the trigger.
At this point, Cooey began to regain consciousness. Clay raised the ax again, and this time he crushed the man’s skull “as if it were an eggshell.” Bush, who had already endured a blow to the head and a gunshot wound through the neck, was still alive, so Clay finished him off with the ax.
Unfortunately for Clay, the men had very little money on them. Clay was quickly captured after the bodies were found, and he confessed, without remorse, to what had happened that night. He was given a life sentence.
4 Brained With An Ax
Andrew Manning lived in a factory village in Connecticut with his wife and adult children in 1879. He was a brute toward his wife and would often beat her. Their children grew tired of seeing Andrew hit their mother, so they gave him money to leave the house for good.
Andrew accepted the deal and left, but after spending all the money on rum, he showed back up at the house. His wife came to the door, and he asked if he could simply spend the night and rest. She allowed him inside the home. Two of their daughters were concerned and feared that he would hit their mother, but the night went by, uneventful.
In the morning, Andrew gave his wife a warm kiss on the cheek, saying, “Goodbye, goodbye,” and went out the door. Everyone assumed it would be the last time they would see him, but they were wrong. He went next door and borrowed an ax from the neighbor.
Then, as quick as lightning, Andrew bolted back into the house and buried the ax in his wife’s head. She collapsed, dead. Andrew ran off to the mill pond, stuffed his pockets full of stones, and jumped in.
Town authorities retrieved his body and buried it without ceremony. The wife received a full funeral.
3 Kept An Ax By The Bed
Harriet Williams, a woman in her fifties, was known to be hard-working. She was respected in her North Carolina neighborhood and knew how to save a penny. She worked six days a week in the city and returned to her cabin on Saturday nights to enjoy her Sunday off in quiet.
On a spring morning in 1890, a neighbor was walking past her cabin, looking for his horse, when he heard groans coming from inside. He opened the door and saw Harriet on the floor, covered in blood, with two axes by her side. The neighbor ran off in a fright and fetched others to return to the scene. They lifted poor Harriet onto a bed, and she passed away shortly thereafter.
The coroner examined her body and found that she had “three bloody and deep gashes made in the head, a gash at the shoulder that cut to the bone and one on either arm.” It was also learned that Harriet had kept one of the axes at the head of her bed and the second against a wall. When her attacker entered her room, she grabbed the ax by her bed, and the intruder grabbed the other one. A struggle ensued, and Harriet was the weaker in battle.
A search of her cabin showed that some of the money she had hidden in her home had been taken, but much was left behind. The murderer was not known, and no suspicious people had been seen in the area.
2 Dreadful Murder
Benjamin Ellison lived with Elizabeth Rous Seman in a little cottage in Penzance, England, in 1846. One night, Benjamin showed up at a nearby hotel and asked if he could spend the night there. When asked why he would not go home, he stated that it was simply too late to do so. He then called a friend to visit him, and when the friend asked if Elizabeth was well, Benjamin stated that she was, in fact, quite unwell.
The next morning, Benjamin left the hotel and went to a neighbor near the cottage. He told the woman that someone had broken into his home and that Elizabeth had been murdered.
The police came and found Elizabeth’s butchered body inside the home. An ax lay on the floor, and there were pools of blood. Elizabeth’s head was almost completely severed, and the back of her skull was beaten in. Her body bore numerous cuts, showing that there was a struggle with the murderer. In her hand was a tuft of hair that, by appearances, seemed to match Benjamin’s hair.
When Benjamin was examined, his hands showed bruising, and one of his fingers had bite marks. He was taken into custody, and a jury gave him a verdict of willful murder.
1 Off The Top Of His Head
James P. Davis of Maine had spent some time in the state insane asylum for being of unsound mind, but he was discharged as cured and returned home to his parents.
On a spring morning in 1874, his mother went out into the yard and saw her son standing over the body of his father, holding a bloody ax in his hands. The top of the father’s head had been chopped off.
The mother spoke to her son and convinced him to put away the ax. She then led him into the house and told him to wait there while she got the neighbors. The neighbors came and took the troubled young man into custody. When questioned why he killed his father, Davis said, “Washington ordered me to do it.”
Elizabeth, a former Pennsylvania native, recently moved to the beautiful state of Massachusetts where she is currently involved in researching early American history. She writes and travels in her spare time.