May 18, 1801
Dedham, Massachusetts
Jason Fairbanks murders Elizabeth Fales after trying to force her into marriage

Fairbanks (21) and Fales (18) had a friendly relationship, though whether this relationship extended into romance is not certain. What is known is Fairbanks was enamored with Fales, so much so he informed his friends he intended to ask for Fales’ hand in marriage and, should she refuse, planned to “violate her chastity, or carry her to Wrentham to be married.” The friends thought little of his comment as he had made similar ones in the past.

On May 18, 1801, Fairbanks and Fales met in a thicket, though it was unspecified if the two agreed to meet in the location or if Fairbanks followed Fales there. Fairbanks presented Fales with a falsified marriage certificate — drafted by his niece whom he told was meant as a harmless joke — and a penknife to force Fales into lawfully marrying him. Fales refused and turned her back to Fairbanks, whereupon he stabbed her in the back between her shoulder blades. She turned to face her attacker and Fairbanks brought the knife to her throat, apparently to give Fales another chance to change her mind. She did not. Fairbanks slit Fales’ throat and stabbed her multiple times, then stabbed himself and visited Fales’ home.

Fairbanks, covered in blood, told the Fales family of the incident (or at least his version of events). Fairbanks claimed the two each attempted suicide, distraught they were unable to wed as Fales’ family disapproved of Fairbanks. Fairbanks brought the family to Fales, who was still clinging to life before she succumbed to her wounds 30 minutes after the attack.

A post-mortem examination revealed Fales had been stabbed 11 times. She had one wound in her back, one in her side, six deep wounds to her left arm (some of which severed tendons), two slight wounds to her right arm, a deep cut to her left hand which separated the fleshy area below her thumb from the bone, and a deep slash to her throat which cut through her windpipe nearly to her spine.

Fairbanks was examined as well. He suffered a slashed throat, three cuts to his chest, three to his right side, three to his thigh, one to his right arm, and three to his stomach. Though severely injured, Fairbanks survived his wounds.

Jurors did not believe Fairbanks’ story of an attempted double suicide, due to the locations of Fales’ wounds and the testimony of Fairbanks’ friend regarding his intent to force himself on Fales. He was convicted and sentenced to hang though he was broken out of jail briefly by a group of his relatives and fled to Canada. A US$1000 reward (roughly $20,000 today) was issued for his return, and Fairbanks and his companions were captured near the Canadian border after the group stopped to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Fairbanks was returned to Massachusetts where he was hanged on September 10, 1801.

“Jason Fairbanks Had Two Faces. One Killed Eliza Fales.” New England Historical Society. Accessed: May 18, 2019.
Freeman, Dale. “”Melancholy Catastrophe!” the Story of Jason Fairbanks and Elizabeth Fales.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts. Winter 1998. Accessed: May 18, 2019.
Weekly Raleigh Register. September 8, 1801
The Vergennes Gazette and Vermont and New-York Advertiser. September 3, 1801
The Vergennes Gazette and Vermont and New-York Advertiser [Vergennes, Vermont]. June 18, 1801
“Dedham, May 19. Melancholy Catastrophe!” The Maryland Gazette [Annapolis, Maryland]. June 4, 1801

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