The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Big smile, good looks - and violent

Little was known about George Hassell before bodies were discovered

 

September 1, 2019

Courtesy photo: Lana Payne Barnett

The Hassell murders were front-page news.

Editor's note: Marlowe J. Churchill's family secrets have been largely buried since 1926. His search for truth brought him to Parmer County in 2017 and he recently completed a manuscript detailing the violent death of his great aunt and her eight children, who are buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery south of Farwell. This is the second of a three-part excerpt from his unpublished book. The series continues Wednesday.

George Hassell's documented life story was disappointingly brief when he was taken into custody on Christmas Day in 1926.

But after a brief period of silence and in a no-comment mode following his arrest, Hassell quickly opened up about himself. He seemed to enjoy the national limelight that followed as he gave many jailhouse interviews in the days leading to his trial and after it concluded before he was transferred to state prison.

From obscurity, Hassell strode into the national scene overnight.

In newspaper accounts across the nation, he gave no hint of remorse for the murders he committed, and he seemed happy go-lucky. He was portrayed as a morbid celebrity who loved to chat with the children who flocked to his first-floor jail cell.

Historical records tell us Hassell was born July 5, 1888, in Smithville, Texas. He and his family moved to Oklahoma when he was a toddler.

Upon the death of his mother, he ran away at age 15. He later claimed his stepmother killed his father in 1905 by poisoning him. He also said he abandoned a plot to get a gun and kill his stepmother and family. He stated that he got too drunk to act on his threat.

His stepmother died a short time later from accidentally drinking poison, news accounts show.

Hassell was never charged in connection with her death.

Hassell's first known serious trouble with the law began with his conviction of embezzlement in Abilene, Texas, probably when he was a teenager. He was sentenced to two years in prison. When he got out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in Galveston, Texas, using the alias Stovall. Records show he deserted nine months later while stationed at Fort Sam Houston.

The timing of Hassell's military career and his first marriage are confusing.

According to news reports, he married the first of six women at age 18. She was Minnie Lofley, whom he pined after for years, and who bore him a son he only heard about and saw from a distance.

After the marriage ended, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, then soon deserted in San Francisco.

He next surfaced in San Angelo, Texas, and hooked up with a woman identified as Marie Vogel and her young son.

The trio soon set out for California.

A Sacramento (California) Union newspaper story in 1915 reported that Hassell, Vogel, and an unidentified man, were being sought by Chicago police for killing a man during a card game. Hassell was identified as the killer.

But there was no follow to that story, and no reports that Hassell ever was arrested or charged in connection with the Chicago slaying.

Some time after that, Hassell and his common-law wife ended up in Whittier, California, where he said he worked in the oilfields. Hassell and Vogel soon adopted two more children. Hassell confessed to killing Vogel and the three children in the same manner - choking them all to death.

Some reports say Hassell lived with a Whittier neighbor after he killed his first family, but quickly abandoned her.

His next documented stop was on the doorstep of his late brother's widow in 1924.

What led him to my Aunt Susan is unclear. A series of news stories by the Amarillo Daily News reported, without sourcing, that Susan contacted George to report Thomas had been killed. She supposedly asked George to come help harvest her crops.

The Amarillo story reports Hassell finished the harvest, went to Kansas, and then was re-contacted by Susan who asked him to return. They decided to marry four months after Thomas was killed.

• • •

I've long wondered how my great aunt could ever agree to marry such a crass, conniving man as George Hassell.

By all accounts, George had no problems attracting women with his good looks, a big smile, and his ability to hide his drinking problems and penchant for violence.

Newspaper accounts show he also had a jovial personality and enjoyed chatting with strangers.

At age 39, Susan Hassell had about 22 years of marriage and eight children - one married and living in California - and was pregnant when George showed up.

My best guess is that the marriage of Susan and George was one of convenience. Susan desperately needed help, and George was there to provide the muscle to keep the family intact and help prevent the loss of the farm that Thomas had worked so hard to keep afloat.

Susan and Thomas appeared to have enjoyed a happy marriage. Born Christmas eve in 1885, Susan married Thomas in Burnet County, Texas, on Sept. 4, 1902, when she was 17 and Thomas was 19. They quickly began raising their big family.

Thomas died on July 3, 1924. News reports show he was kicked in the stomach by a mule and died from his injuries.

 
 

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