1908 photo of the last hanging in Tucson. E.W. Hawkins is the condemned man. Standing next to him is the Rev. Peter Timmerman. At right is Sheriff Nabor Pacheco and at left is Undersheriff Henry Meyers. The scaffold stands in the high-walled yard on the south side of the Pima County Courthouse. Copyright 1996 Arizona Daily Star.

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E.W. Hawkins had been hanged for murder, and had confessed, in part, in an effort to shield his wife and baby. Mrs. Hawkins left Tucson a free woman before the hanging.

Mrs. Hawkins had been referred to as “half-witted” in several articles by the Arizona Daily Star, but perhaps she was smarter than people thought.

On March 9, 1909, a mere seven months after her husband’s execution, Bessie Chase Hawkins married Varnum Westcott in Sawtelle, California. She was 21 years old and Westcott was 83. He was a resident of the Soldier’s Home.

A March 16, 1909 article in the Bisbee Daily Review indicated that Westcott had been courting Bessie Chase for several years. He had fallen in love at first sight and it was believed that love was returned by Bessie. One must wonder, of course, how she came to be in Tucson and married to Hawkins during this time, but such is the case.

Shortly before the wedding, Westcott bought a house for his bride. He was considered to be “comfortably fixed.” It seems clear that she would be a young widow once again, but this time, she would no longer be penniless.

From the Bisbee Daily Review, Tuesday, March 16, 1909:

VETERAN, AGE EIGHTY-THREE, WEDS MAIDEN
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Romantic Love Affair Terminates In Soldiers Home at Sawtelle, California—Bride Is Only Twenty-One
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TUCSON, March 15.—A wedding which took place at Sawtelle, California, March 9, the parties to the affair being Electa Bessie Hawkins and Varnum Westcott, an inmate of the Soldiers’ Home at the place. The bride gave her age as 21 and the groom announced his to be 83 when the marriage took place before Recorder Walter Downs of Sawtelle.

For several years the aged veteran of the civil war had courted the pretty woman. Although nearly four times the age of his bride, Westcott is exceedingly active and enjoys robust health. He was “before the mast” for 20 years, having commanded the bark Sena, in which he rounded the Horn in 1849. Like his bride, Westcott has been married before.

Mrs. Hawkins is a daughter of C. E. Chase, also an inmate of the Soldiers’ Home. Chase at one time was one of the most prominent mining men in Arizona, but lost his money several years ago.

Westcott and Chase have been ward mates at the Soldiers’ Home. Chase’s daughter and Westcott met, however, several years ago.

It was love at first sight on the part of the aged veteran and the love was returned by Mrs. Hawkins, who was barely more than 18 years old at the time. Marveling at the former soldier’s remarkable history, which she learned from various sources, Mrs. Hawkins decided he was the man who should be her husband.

Westcott’s life has been filled with stirring incidents and many stories of his bravery in battle against the Indians, in the civil war and on the seas, were told her by her friends and by Westcott.

The wedding came as a great surprise to Captain Smith, who is in charge of the barracks where Westcott was quartered.

Even his closest associates were uninformed of his intention to marry. Westcott has been in the Soldiers’ Home hardly a month. During that time he has visited the woman of his choice daily. It was the general impression around the barracks that she was his daughter and the soldiers were taken by complete surprise when they learned that the two were sweethearts and had been married.

Two days prior to the wedding Westcott bought a cozy little home at Eleventh and Ohio streets, Sawtelle. He will live there with his bride just as soon as he can make arrangements to leave the home. He secured an eight-day leave of absence following his marriage, so that he could take his bride on a honeymoon.

Besides being a soldier, Westcott is a traveler and a pioneer. He came to California at the time of the gold excitement. At one time he owned a thousand acres of the famous San Andres ranch in Santa Cruz county. He has encircled the glove twice. In 1898 he went up to Alaska, although well on in years. He prospected with considerable good fortune and is comfortably fixed.

His marriage to Mrs. Hawkins developed the fact that the bride’s father had a son-in-law old enough to be his own father.

Electa Bessia Chase will be remembered quite well as the wife of D. W. Hawkins, who, with his wife, were implicated in the murder of Albert Leonhardt on East Alameda street late one night in December, 1907. The murder was a mysterious affair and it was not until several months later that the truth became known.

Hawkins, who had been a conductor on the Tucson Rapid Transit line, and his wife were arrested on charge of burglary. During their confinement in jail Hawkins, backed by his wife, confessed to the murder of Leonhardt, implicating one Earl Metzler, who had also been a conductor on the same road, with complicity in the crime. Metzler had gone to California, where he was arrested and brought back to Tucson and held for trial.

Hawkins told a number of sensational stories of his life, before and after the trial. The plea of guilty on his part ended in his being sentenced to be hung. The wife was given her freedom in view of her condition, becoming a mother prior to the trials, which were postponed several times.

The hanging of Hawkins, who admitted his many crimes, and gave his age at 22 years while in jail, in one of the interviews accorded a reporter took place in the jail yard last August in the presence of a large number of persons, admitted by invitation and many small boys and others from points of vantage on the court house roof and other roofs overlooking the yard. Hawkins was the coolest person in the whole crowd and smoked, talked and sang while on the scaffold. The scene was photographed and boys sold these. The whole affair from date of the murder until the end of the scene in the jail yard was one of the most sensational on record in Pima county, even in Arizona.

The widow and her child were provided with transportation and they left before the hanging for Chicago to make their home with the parents of Hawkins. Later Mrs. Hawkins drifted to Sawtelle, and the outcome is given above.

The father of Bessie Chase left here over a year ago to become an inmate of the home. He had been and engineer at the city water works and the university in recent years. His wife was left here and has been seen about the city since her husband’s departure. During the incarceration of Hawkins the mother associated with Bessie, who was kept in jail but a short time.

Contact Johanna Eubank at jeubank@tucson.com

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