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Murders With an Axe

With an Axe by H Paul Jeffers

H Paul Jeffers is a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction. We can scacrely keep track of his historical biographies on everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Diamon Jim Brady. He favors true crime stories and his agent, a New Hampshire resident, suggested a history of ax murders. We spoke to the author soon after his book was published.




SEE our Smuttynose Murder section

An interview with True Crime author H. Paul Jeffers

Imagine our surprise to discover acknowledged in the opening pages of a mass market paperback on ax murders. You know the kind. The lurid red cover with the embossed letters shows a two-fisted killer choking up on the handle of a bloody hatchet like a World Series slugger. Standing in the grocery checkout line, you can't help but thumb a copy.

ax murder study"The First Cut is Always the Deepest" the back cover blares, and among the shocking tales, is Smuttynose murderer Louis Wagner. "With an Axe" chronologically traces 16 crimes of passion committed from 1831 up to 1998. From the brother of gun maker Samuel Colt, to Lizzie Borden (including an 80-page trial transcript) and the assassin of Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky, true crime author H. Paul Jeffers offers the gory details with a practiced delivery.

We first met Jeffers via e-mail while he was researching the Isles of Shoals murder on this web site. How, we wondered, would our famous local tale compare to that of Karla Fay Tucker, who like Louis Wagner, found religion in prison. Despite her appeals for mercy, Tucker was among the many death row inmates executed during the administration of former Texas governor, now President George W. Bush. Author Jeffers has an impressive catalog of fiction and nonfiction work under his belt. We contacted the former broadcast newsman at his home in New York City and every word of our conversation -- without a single cut --- follows for your edification -- JDR

WITH AN AXE: 16 Horrific Accounts of Real-Life Axe Murders",
By H Paul Jeffers
Pinnacle Books

Buy the Book on
What led you to an all-ax murder book? It seems a gruesome topic.

H. Paul Jeffers:
The book was suggested by my agent, Jake Elwell, who's from New Hampshire and knows all about the murders on Smuttynose, so it was that event which was the inspiration for the book.
What made you work with the older British spelling of the word "axe" rather than the shorter modern two-letter spelling?

H. Paul Jeffers:
I debated which form to use, but I'd learned the AXE spelling in school, and chose to go with it. I also think AXE sounds more sinister and brutal than AX. I half-expected the publisher's copy editor to challenge AXE, and was pleased that it didn't happen.
From your cross-sectional study of ax murder cases, did you draw any new perspective on the Smuttynose Murder case?

H. Paul Jeffers:
Of the 16 axe murders in the book, the "Smutty Nose" killings are fascinating because of their savagery and aftermath: the discovery, the investigation, tracking down Wagner, and all the legal proceedings that resulted. And the continuing interest in the controversy. Before my agent told me about these murders I hadn't known much beyond what I'd read in a book on the general subject of sensational murders. Consequently, I did not appreciate the continuing local interest in the case and that it had been dealt with at some length by other writers.
Can you make comparisons among the cases?

H. Paul Jeffers:
The commonality in most of the cases is the attention they received by the national press. I attribute this entirely to the killers' choice of weapon. Had the murders on Smutty Nose, and the others in the book, been committed with a knife, gun, or even by strangulation, they would have been of little, if any, interest beyond the immediate area. Smutty Nose was also different because of the " foreigner" element, which reinforced the belief among many Americans at the time that immigrants were to be regarded with suspicion. The case also differed from other axe murders in the book in that someone survived to provide eyewitness testimony.

Continue with AX MURDER Interview

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