Family annihilators--namely, those persons (almost always men) who wipe out their spouses and children--are all too common throughout history, and have been the subject here three times (one, two, three, if you care to catch up). But your correspondent has noticed that one in particular arouses much more curiosity than any other. Repeated Google et al. searches that have led folks to this site have been for this particular annihilator--a piece of excrement named George Hassell, who slaughtered his family in 1926 in Texas--and it got me curious. There's nothing on the web about him other than a brief mention in a prior post here. At least not that I can find. Nor is he mentioned in any books about true crime that I can locate.
And yet it turns out he has to be the worst "family annihilator" in U.S. history--because he did it not once but twice, and because he killed, all told, thirteen women and children.
For much of his life, Hassell seemed the typical ne'er-do-well. He got a girl pregnant while still a teenager but abandoned her and their child. He enlisted in the merchant marines but had to serve a prison term for desertion. He met, married, and divorced several women. Then, in 1926, when Hassell was about 35 or 45 (the accounts vary), he became a national disgrace.
His sixth wife (who was never actually named in the voluminous press accounts, a journalistic practice of overlooking the victims of crime that has thankfully changed) was actually the widow of George Hassell's brother, who died some time in 1924. His brother's death looked suspicious only in hindsight, as the brother was allegedly kicked to death by a mule while working a field. George was the only witness. In Biblical fashion, George then married his brother's widow and took on the care of his eight nieces and nephews.
And then, on Dec. 8, 1926, three miles east of the town of Farwell, Texas, near the border with New Mexico and about 90 miles southwest of Amarillo, Mrs. Hassell and her children disappeared from the farm.
The neighbors were alarmed. They discounted George's story that his wife and stepchildren had moved to Oklahoma. Then the authorities swept down on the farm and discovered a mass grave containing the remains of Mrs. Hassell and her eight children, who ranged in age from two to 21. While they were uncovering the bodies, George Hassell stabbed himself in the chest. But it was a half-hearted effort. Barely wounded, George Hassell was taken into custody.
Almost immediately, he gave a three-word confession: "I did it." Expressing no remorse, no particular emotion at all, he supplemented this with a written statement:
I had just quarreled with my wife and gone out to the barn and taken a drink of whiskey. When I returned, my wife began quarreling with me. I grabbed a hammer, where it came from I do not know. I struck her and she fell to the floor.
He then went on to detail how he killed the youngest child, which is too awful to repeat.
When I saw what I had done, I decided that I had best go on and kill the whole outfit.
The "outfit" consisted of six more children. The eighth and oldest was away from home. Sadly, he returned two days later, and George killed him with a shotgun and added his body to the mass grave. The bodies were recovered and reburied in the Farwell cemetery, and it took the labor of every able-bodied man for miles around to dig nine side-by-side graves.
Then George Hassell elaborated on his confession, adding that it wasn't the first time he'd killed a woman and her children. He did it to a "common-law" wife ten years before. Her name was Marie Vogel, and he admitted that they were "joking" when he suddenly found himself choking her. Then he choked her three children to death. Police officials in Whittier, California, where the murders took place, dug up the cellar of their former home and found the four bodies.
George Hassell was stoic through all of this interrogation. The deputies were startled that he could express no remorse, that he could maintain that the murders were not premeditated. Two mental examinations found him sane. The press accounts said there was no apparent motive for the murders.
But there was a motive, and it was plainly stated in his confessions. Hassell would admit to the police that he had an "affair" with one of his nieces, and the cause of his last argument with his last wife was his "intimacies" with her daughter. Hassell, you see, was a child molester. One who was willing to kill when caught.
Hassell went on trial in Farwell. The jury took less than two hours to find him guilty and recommend the death penalty. The condemned man was indifferent to the verdict and awaited the outcome of his appeal in a prison in Huntsville, where he declared that the electric chair held no more fear for him than a barber chair. He also regaled his fellow inmates with detailed descriptions of his crimes.
In his last statement, Hassell declared, "I would like to announce to the world that I am prepared to meet my God. I have made my confession to God and man--man does not understand it all, but God does."
Three shocks and eight minutes after he was strapped in the chair, he got a chance to test his theory.
UPDATE: The Whittier Museum in Whittier, California, has opened an exhibit on that city's crime history. It includes accounts of George Hassell's annihilation of his California family. Frank Girardot of the San Gabriel Tribune recently wrote a feature on the exhibition.
Meanwhile, a book is in the works about the Hassell case; I'll have more details here as it nears publication.
"Dad Confesses Slaying Eight Children, Wife; Mystery Death is Recalled by Police; Funerals Held; Farmer Attempts to Take Own Life on Discovery," by the Associated Press, Nevada State Journal, Dec. 26, 1926.
"Hassell's Confession of Killing Bares Fresh Crime; Says He Slew A Woman and Four [sic] Children in California," The Helena Independent, Dec. 28, 1926.
"Search for Bodies is Started," Nevada State Journal, Dec. 31, 1926.
"Hassell Convicted of Killing Stepson," Fitchburg Sentinel, Jan. 12, 1927.
Lincoln Evening State Journal & Daily News, Jan. 9, 1928.
"Killer to Die," by the Associated Press, Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Feb. 6, 1928.
"Hassell Has No Fear of Death; Killer of Thirteen Stolidly Awaits Electric Chair March 25," Lincoln Star, March 6, 1926.
"Killer of 11 Children and 3 [sic] Women Dies; Texas Executes Man Who Confessed Four Killings in California," by the Associated Press, Oakland Tribune, Feb. 10, 1928.