Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Proverbial “Axe Murderer”

My wife’s Mom had an uncle, where apparently there had been stories about him spending time “on death row,” but they didn’t know much more than that.  After a few times of hearing about this, I decided I was going to find out the details they had been wondering about.  A trip to the Library of Congress’ newspaper archive (website.  I live 3000 miles away from DC, so no, I didn’t go in person!), and an additional search at the New York Times; I had my answers.

Boy Slays Subway Guard.

Severs Thayer’s Head Because of Attentions to His Mother
(New York Times.  25 March 1916)

When Mrs. Hattie Greene came home yesterday evening to her house at 1733 Victor Street, in the Van Nest section of the Bronx, she was led by a barking terrier to the room of Henry Thayer, a subway guard, who had been boarding with her for about two years.  She found Thayer lying dead in his bed, partially dressed, with his head severed with an axe.  Dr. M.H. Bracker of 1811 Amethyst Street and Dr. Dourmanshkin of Fordham Hospital, who were summoned by Patrolmen Theil and Delaney of the Westchester Station after Mrs. Greene’s screams had given alarm, said that he had been dead for about two hours.

The axe with which he had been killed was one belonging to the family, which was later found covered with blood in the kitchen.  Mrs. Greene had many photographs of Thayer in the house, and every one of these had been torn to pieces.  Matthew Buhler, the other boarder, had been away all day at his duties as assistant janitor of the Public School 54, on Amethyst Street, and the last persons known to have been with Thayer were Mrs. Greene and her 18-year-old son Emil, an electrician out of work.

He was originally given the death penalty, which was eventually commuted to life in prison (Charles Seymour Whitman, Governor, Public Papers of Charles Seymour Whitman – Governor – 1918 (Albany, New York, USA:  J.B. Lyon Company, Printers, 1919), Page 268-270. Governor explains his reasons for commuting the death sentence.) and eventually had his sentence further reduced and was subsequently released (NY Times.  August 13, 1933.  Page 16).  I married into a family who literally had an axe murder in it.  Little did I know how much better it got.  Just to give you a teaser, think “Salem witch trials.” 

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