Man with the Killer Smile
On a cold, windy December night in 1926, hell was unleashed on a tenant farm near Farwell,
the last Texas town before the New Mexico border. Prone to the bottle and fits of rage,
the burly man with the smiling blue eyes was in no mood to quarrel with his third wife over
his bootleg whisky and sexual abuse of his stepdaughter. He went from room to room in the
house, killing his wife and each child with primitive cutting tools and his bare hands.
By the time he concluded his bloody work, he had taken the lives of nine family members
ranging in age from 2 to 41, committing what one local reporter called “the blackest crime”
in the history of the West Texas Panhandle.
Husband, father, uncle, embezzler, serial mass murderer, philanderer, child molester,
convict, and military deserter, George Jefferson Hassell was many things to many people,
most of them bad. His pattern of familicide crime had begun in 1917, when he slaughtered
his common-law wife and her three kids in Whittier, California. Later, in Texas, he married
his brother’s wife and became stepfather to her eight children.
Using Hassell’s confessions and his many interviews with reporters as well as the trial
transcripts and reminiscences of those who crossed paths with him in Texas, Oklahoma, and
California, Mitchel P. Roth presents the first comprehensive account of the life and crimes
of one of the least known multiple murderers in Texas, let alone American, history. Roth
situates Hassell’s saga within the 1920s Texas criminal justice system, including the death
penalty, which Hassell ultimately received from Old Sparky, the electric chair at Huntsville.