Prisoners condemned to die often react stoically, no doubt because the full impact of the sentence doesn’t strike home at once. Eva Dugan, 43, was different. When an Arizona jury found her guilty of first-degree murder she turned her rolling eyes on them and declared:

“Wal, I’ll die with my boots on, an’ in full health. An’ that’s more’n most of you old coots’ll be able to boast on.”

Eva murdered neighbour Arthur Mathis, 65, at his lonely ranch just outside Tucson, buried him under a rubbish pile on another neighbour’s land, and then sent off a series of letters purporting to come from the old man, saying he had gone off to California to marry Eva Dugan.

Mathis was felled by an axe blow but did not die instantly. His body was discovered and it was found that a gag of heavy cloth had been rammed into his mouth, either to choke him to death or to stifle his last screams. Particles of the rotted cloth were still visible between the bony jaws of his skull. Confronted with the skull by the police, Eva commented dryly, “Sort of gamey, ain’t he?”

When she was arrested she concocted another elaborate lie to the effect that she stood by helplessly while Mathis was killed in a fight with a young man named Jimmy Jones, who was to drive them to California to wed. No Jimmy Jones was ever found.

At dawn on Friday, February 21st, 1930, three years after she was sentenced, Eva mounted the scaffold at Arizona State Prison. To the last she wisecracked and chaffed with guards and visitors, scoffing at the proceedings. And her final words before she swung into eternity were a defiant farewell.

“I don’t know where I’m headin’ for, but here I come. Let ’er go, boys,” she called out heartily, even though muffled in the folds of the hood.

Even the hanging did not go without incident. The hangman, intending to be humane, miscalculated the drop so that when she plunged through the trap the noose snapped her head clean off. Five official witnesses fainted.