Frankie found an axe to Finish her Foul Husband

Yep, it’s going to be another bloody, old-fashioned axe murder, folks. I am obsessed with these because a killer with an axe has to be filled with rage and have a strong stomach. Oh, and psychotic sometimes comes to mind although so far I’ve blogged about non-psychotic people who have wielded a bloody axe. This one isn’t any different.

Frankie Stewart Silver lived in the 1800s. She was a good-looking 18-year-old “mighty frankie-drawinglikely little woman. She had fair skin, bright eyes and was counted very pretty. She had charms, I never saw a smarter little woman. She could card and spin her three yards of cotton a day on a big wheel.” Frankie married Charlie when she was 14. He was 15.

It would seem that Charlie and Frankie were the perfect couple when they settled down in their own little cabin in 1830. They welcomed a little girl into their lives, Nancy Silver. Frankie became obsessed with her daughter and devoted more time and attention to her than to Charlie. Eventually Charlie “drifted back into his old habits. …word spread … to Frankie about all the other women in Charlie’s active life away from home….Frankie didn’t have to spell it out for people. They could see it in the haggard lines of her face that she was being abused.”  

The mountain lifestyle of the 1830s was a sexist society. Sometimes a man murdered his wife and receive no punishment. Charlie was perhaps an unfortunate product of an unfortunate environment – a young man who may have manifested the worst of his time’s mountain mores. It was possible that he was abusive with his pretty, young wife, an argument that would later be used by the defense during Frankie’s trial.

She eventually held the frankie-silvers-imageambiguous distinction of becoming the first white woman hanged in North Carolina for murder. In 1833, her husband, 19-year-old Charles Silver, was the lucky recipient of her axe blade. After hacking her hapless hubby to death, Silver dismembered his body and buried it. Ick. Strong stomach, that woman.

The investigation into the whereabouts of Charles Silver uncovered a fireplace full of excessive oily ashes, a pooling of blood that had flowed through the cabin’s floor and blood splatters on inside walls of the cabin. Pieces of bone and flesh were also discovered in ashes poured in a hole near the spring. Evidence showed that Charles had been murdered and his body burned to hide the evidence.

Shortly after the murder, suspicion fell on Frankie, her mother Barbara Stuart and her brother Blackston Stuart. All three were arrested. Barbara and Blackston Stuart pled not guilty before the magistrate on the 17th day of January, 1832, and were released. Frankie stood trial for the murder.

On March 29, 1832 the jury retired to determine Frankie’s fate. They reported that they were deadlocked 9-3 for acquittal and asked to rehear certain witnesses. But before the witnesses were recalled, they were allowed to mingle and discuss the case. After rehearing the witnesses, the jury judged Frankie guilty in a unanimous vote. A lot of testimony was changed in the interim. Frankie never gave her testimony. In the early nineteenth century, women were not allowed to do so, and she never confided in her attorney or the judge concerning what really happened.

Escape
During the time between her sentencing and hanging, Frankie was broken out of jail by her family, who gained access to the prison through a basement story windows, and opened the doors leading to the prisoner’s, apartment using false keys. She was apprehended a few days later in Henderson county, and taken back to jail. She attempted to appear to be a male, wearing male clothing, and having her hair cut short. Her father and uncle were committed to jail as accessories to her escape.

grave-site-of-daughter-nancySome reports say that Frankie was hung from the neck until dead from the limb of a huge oak tree that stood on a hill above the courthouse in Morganton. Another report stated there was a scaffold. After the hanging, Frankie’s father wanted to bring his daughter’s body home and inter her in the family burial plot, but extreme heat and humidity in North Carolina sped 90-pound Frankie’s decomposition, forcing him to bury Frankie in an unmarked grave in Mitchell County. Can’t say that I blame him.

Family Account
Charlie was the only child of Jacob and Elizabeth Wilson Silver.  He was very strong, six feet tall, dark hair with black eyes and a fair complexion. Elizabeth died giving birth to him. His father Jacob remarried and Charlie had many half brothers and sisters.

Albert Silver, one of Charlie’s half-brothers, gave an interview in 1900 to the Morganton Herald. “[Charlie] was a favourite at all the parties for he could make merry by talking, laughing and playing musical instruments. I think he was the best fifer frankie-drawing-with-axethat I ever heard. ….It was Christmas, just his time for hunting. His wife…urged him to do cut enough wood to last all week. ….Being tired and sleepy after his labour of chopping, my brother lay down on the floor with his little girl in his arms, and went to sleep….Frankie picked up the axe from the door, where she had placed it for the purpose, and whacked his head off at a single blow. She intended to cut it clean off but miscalculated and either stood too close or too far back. The first lick did not kill him instantly for he sprang to his feet and cried, “God bless the child.” {Frankie} finished the job with a second blow.”…Frankie told Mother as he was away so long she did not care whether he ever came or not.”

Motive
The motive for the murder is unclear. The prosecution claimed that Frankie was a jealous wife seeking revenge. Theories asserted that she was an abused wife. There is no definitive evidence for either theory. Frankie never confessed nor did she discuss her motives. There is a theory that Frankie wanted to move west with her parents to join other family members, but Charles Silver refused to do so. There was speculation that frustration with Charles’ refusal was the motive for the murder.

How it was that Albert knew his half-brother’s final words is a mystery. Wayne Silver was a Silver family historian. He refused to believe that Charlie’s last words, God bless the child, were accurate. The picture below is of Jacob Silver, Charlie’s father.

jacob-silverWayne stated: “Charlie had been sent to get the Christmas liquor. On the way home he takes a nip….He takes another nip. That’s even better. He arrives home to a complaining wife and a screaming baby. Suddenly, Charlie is in a foul mood. Things turn ugly. He picks up his gun and shouts. ‘So help me Frankie – if you don’t shut up, I’m going to shoot the both of you!’ He probably didn’t mean it. But by this time Frankie has picked up the ax. ‘No!‘ She screams. ‘I won’t let you hurt me or my baby!‘ She swings the ax and Charlie is dead. I will never believe it was premeditated murder and few in my family have ever believed it. In fact, it was more of an accident than anything else.”

Insofar as the manner in which Frankie disposed of Charlie’s body, Wayne offered his opinion: “You’re 18 years old. You’ve just killed your husband. You’re scared. Would it not be normal to run to Momma? And would it not be the motherly thing for Barbara Stewart to say, “Yes, we’ll help you Frankie, but if you get into trouble, you must leave us out of it.”

Pop Culture
Frankie probably never guessed her story would become legendary, even working its way into 21 Century pop culture. In September 1963, author Perry Deane Young discovered letters and petitions to the governor which cast suspicion over the traditional story of a jealous wife seeking her revenge. Young spent the rest of his life determined to prove that Frankie Silver was unjustly hanged. At the height of the Nixon Watergate hearings, Sen. Sam Ervin wrote to Young, agreeing that Frankie should never have been hanged.

Young’s book, The Untold Story of Frankie Silver, reproduced the documents which allegedly proved Frankie’s innocence. These accounts are dubious with descendants of the Silver family who claim that “there were no documents to ever officially exist as this author suggests.”

balladA 2000 Film entitled  “The Ballad of Frankie Silverand re-released 2010 “The Ballad of Frankie Silver:(Special Edition) DVD was written, directed and produced by Theresa E. Phillips of Legacy Films Ltd. This film also had a theory of what happened in the death of Charlie Silver.

In a 2013 episode of the Investigation Discovery show Deadly Women, Frankie Stewart Silver appears. The episode was titled “Brides of Blood“.

A petition to have Frankie officially pardoned for the murder was formed unsuccessfully on April 9th, 2013.

 

 

 

 

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