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Meet Eva Dugan, the last woman hanged in Arizona

  • Eva Dugan was convicted of murdering a rancher she worked for
  • She died in a botched hanging in 1930
  • After her death, Arizona switched to gas chamber executions

Long before the Jodi Arias case, another murder case captured Arizona's collective imagination: the trial of Eva Dugan.

Dugan was described as a free-spirited woman who, according to Time magazine, had worked as a cabaret singer and prostitute in Alaska during the Klondike gold rush. After living that frontier lifestyle for years, she turned her attention south to the state of Arizona.

In 1927, Eva Dugan was in her early 50s and worked as a housekeeper for a wealthy reclusive rancher named Andrew Mathis. He was demanding, cranky and cheap. Eva had only worked two months for Mathis when neighbors reported him missing and became suspicious of Dugan, who had disappeared.

According to a book put out by the Pima County Sheriff's department, she was discovered living in White Plains, New York, and brought back to Arizona. It was almost a year after Mathis went missing that his body was found in a shallow grave near his ranch. Once prosecutors had the body, Eva was brought to trial for the murder of Mathis. She was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Two doctors testified that since Eva had been syphilitic for 30 years, her mental state had been compromised.

Despite the medical testimony, jurors determined that Dugan was indeed sane, and plans for her execution continued. She defiantly told the jury "At least I'll die with my boots on."

With no desire to be buried in the prison cemetery, Dugan made and sold embroidered items so that she would have enough money to pay for a proper burial. She remained stoic, and even flippant, as she walked to the gallows. She sang the popular tune of the time, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.”  Due to a miscalculation on the executioner’s part, when she fell through the trap and the rope snapped -- she was decapitated! 

Eva’s head rolled within a few feet of the 60 witnesses -- all of whom fled in terror.

On Feb. 21, 1930, Eva Dugan was the first -- and last -- woman to be legally hanged in the state of Arizona. Three years after the horror of her botched execution, Arizona switched from the rope to the gas chamber.

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