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Dee Burris Blakley ([personal profile] dee_burris) wrote2011-07-31 08:55 am

Black Sheep Sunday: William Elihu Francis

It started with an email message from my Callaway cousin, Joe.

I wasn't online when he sent it, so he followed up with a phone call.

I need you to figure out if Elihu Francis is related to us.

Joe knows that I have carried my family tree out to include collateral relatives, because I can't just confine myself to linear relationships and call it good.

His urgency was evident in the tone of his voice. I asked for some detail.

In the wee hours of the morning on 3 April 1914, Elihu's wife and three young children were murdered with an axe. The house, in rural Clark Co., AR, was then set on fire to cover up the crime.
As I started looking, I found news reports from all over the country.

The Lincoln Daily Star, 4 Apr 1914:


Mother and Her Children Killed by Ax Murderer
Little Rock, Ark., April 4 - An unidentified assassin early yesterday murdered with an ax Mrs. Elihu Francis and three of her children in their home near Fendley, having previously set fire to the house, according to reports received here. Mr. Francis, the husband and father and a fourth child, narrowly escaped the same fate.

According to statements made by Francis, he was awakened about 4:30 in the morning by the barking of his dog, and found his house in flames. About this time, Francis said, he saw a man enter his wife's room carrying an ax. Believing the intruder was searching for him, Francis said he ran into the yard in an effort to draw the man away from the house, but the slayer remained and killed Mrs. Francis and the three children, ranging in age from two to six years.

Francis stated he then ran to the house and the assassin disappeared, the flames by this time had completely enveloped the house and he was unable to enter the room where lay the bodies of his wife and children. He succeeded, however, in rescuing the one year old baby from another room.

Great excitement has been aroused in the vicinity of Fendley by the crime. Bloodhounds have been sent from this city.

That story must not have sat well with the sheriff.

Indianapolis Sunday Star, 5 Apr 1914:


Father Held for Slaying Wife and Three Children
Arkadelphia, Ark., April 5 - On the recommendation of the coroner's jury, Elihu Francis is held in jail here today, charged with the murder of his wife and three children, whose charred bodies were found yesterday in the ruins of their home near here. Francis declared his wife and children were murdered wiith an ax by an unidentified man who set fire to the house and fled.

Three neighbors, who rushed to the Francis home when they saw the flames, testifed they saw no one leaving the place. An ax bearing blood stains and which Francis said belonged to him was found in the ruins of the house.

Other news reports of the time say that Elihu was bound over for trial, but was then committed to the Arkansas State Hospital for Nervous Diseases, where he died of tuberculosis in 1916.

Elihu's niece, Ada Elizabeth Francis, married William Andrew Callaway, who was Joe's grand uncle.

So technically, no - we are not related to Elihu Francis.

But the story still begs a question that transcends any bloodline...

What on earth would cause a 24 year old man to murder his own wife and children?

(Anonymous) 2011-08-03 03:33 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, this is too, too sad. Too alarming and unsettling. Have you found more information about the trial and whether they jury decided he was guilty or not? What a dreadfully sad situation.
Nancy from My Ancestors and Me