Eva Dugan was born in 1878 and died on February 21, 1930 at the Arizona State Prison in Florence, Arizona.
Mrs. Dugan wound up in Juneau, Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush where she became a cabaret singer. She subsequently moved to Pima County, Arizona, where she worked for an elderly chicken rancher, Andrew J. Mathis, as a housekeeper.
Shortly after her employment was terminated for unknown reasons, Mathis disappeared, as did some of his possessions, his Dodge automobile and his cash box. Neighbors reported that Mrs. Dugan had tried to sell some of his possessions before she disappeared as well.
The 60-year-old Mathis kept to himself on his remote ranch, but was friendly with neighboring ranchers, so when they noticed that he hadn’t been seen in a while, they checked with Mrs. Dugan, who told them she was also Mathis’ common law wife, and that he had just up and moved to California. The neighbors were unconvinced and notified the local sheriff.
An investigation discovered her father lived in California and she had a daughter living in White Plains, New York. Mrs. Dugan had been married five times and all her husbands had disappeared.
After skipping out of Arizona Mrs. Dugan continued to correspond with friends in Pima County and the postmaster, alerted to be on the lookout for correspondence from Mrs. Dugan, informed the sheriff she had been in touch with friends in the area. The sheriff managed to trace her to White Plains, New York, where she had taken a job with a hospital as a nurse.
The sheriff headed to New York to question Mrs. Dugan and volunteers began going over Mathis’s farm and the surrounding desert.
Although the sheriff was certain she was guilty of murder, he had no evidence, but he was able to force her back to Arizona by charging her with grand larceny for stealing Mathis’s car. She returned and was convicted of larceny by a jury consisting of the rancher’s friends; they deliberated for 4 minutes before finding her guilty and sentencing her to jail.
The evidence that Mathis was dead mounted when rent money from his tenants was never deposited and his bills were not paid. But all the evidence was circumstantial, and without a body, proving murder would be impossible.
Then one night a desert wind storm came and a man in a camper stopped for the night in the desert. When the traveler exited his van in the morning he discovered the wind had blown sand away and he was looking at a skull. A local dentist was quick to identify the false teeth as belonging to Mathis.
Charged with murder, Mrs. Dugan’s trial only lasted two days. She claimed that drifter named Jack had done the killing, but her story was not believed. According to her, she and Jack had an affair and Mathis found out. Jack and Mathis got into a fight and Jack had killed Mathis. Panic-stricken, they buried Mathis in a shallow grave in the desert. Jack then took off for Mexico.
It didn't take the jury long to return a guilty verdict and Mrs. Dugan was sentenced to hang.
On the way to her cell on death row she broke down sobbing and became hysterical, but eventually regained her composure. While waiting for the sentence to be carried out she spent her time sewing her own death shroud complete with hand-made artificial flowers and wrote farewell letters to relatives. She also sent a telegram to her father asking for money to pay the balance she owed the undertaker. Mrs. Dugan gave interviews to the press for $1.00 each and sold embroidered handkerchiefs she knitted while imprisoned to pay for her funeral expenses. She also made a silk dress for her hanging.
Three years later her appeals were exhausted and it was time for her to swing. The
day before the hanging there were rumors she planned to commit suicide.
A search of her cell turned up a bottle of raw ammonia and razor blades
she had hidden. At 5 a.m. on Feb. 21, 1930, in the company of a minister, a jail matron and the prison warden she ascended the gallows in what was an historic day for Arizona.
Arizona was executing a woman for the first time and it was the first non-public execution where women were allowed to assist with a hanging.
The hangman had underestimated Dugan’s weight and planned for a six-foot drop. When the trapdoor opened at 5:11 a.m. and Mrs. Dugan reached the end of her rope, she was decapitated and her head rolled up to the feet of the witnesses causing two women and three men to faint.
Thus, Mrs. Dugan has the distinction of being the only woman ever to be hung in Arizona. Further, her grisly death had an impact on the decision by the state to replace hanging with the gas chamber as a method of execution.