Who Really Killed Mattie Hackett?

On the evening of August 17, 1905, Levi Hackett sat down for dinner with his family. It had been a long but ordinary day on the farm, and he was grateful for a meal to refuel after a full day of labor in the sun. His wife Julia sat amongst their children — his sons Lucius, James, and Earl, and his daughters Ethel, Nettie, Winnifred, and Mattie.

Mattie Hackett was born in Aroostook County during a brutal Maine winter, just a few months before the Great Blizzard of 1888 made the record books as one of the worst storms in American history. The Maine winter paired with the life of a working-farm family must’ve made her tough, because Mattie was as determined and strong as she was beautiful, and she was certainly known about town for her beauty. Mattie attended Maine Wesleyan Seminary and College, which would later be named Kents Hill School, but left early to begin working at Woolworth’s in Lewiston and at The Elmwood Hotel as a waitress.

The very next day, Mattie was set for an operation. She’d battled what doctors believed to be appendicitis, and so on the morning of August 18, she’d undergo an appendectomy to relieve her pain. That’s why Mattie stayed behind to clean up after dinner as the other members of the Hackett family ventured off to socialize at a neighbor’s house. Mattie’s father, Levi, stayed behind, too.

It was around 7:30 or 8 o’clock when a man knocked on the front door of the Hackett home. He introduced himself as Harry Jones. Harry told Mr. Hackett he’d recently been released from jail after serving time on vagrancy charges — that is, Harry had been experiencing homelessness, and resorted to panhandling, scavenging, petty theft, and begging as a means for supporting himself. 

Harry asked Levi if he could stay at his home that night, and possibly get something to eat. Levi told the man he could sleep in the barn and agreed to feed him. He hollered for Mattie over his shoulder, since his wife was at a friend’s house and asked Mattie to fix the man some supper. As she began preparing a plate for their surprise house guest, Levi and Harry went out to the barn where Levi had a few remaining chores to complete.

Not 10 minutes later, while the pair were in the barn, they heard noises coming from down the road. Loud voices, faint shouting. Harry was the one to point it out to Levi, but he seemed to shrug it off, saying to Harry, ‘I guess it must be children’.

The next sounds they heard coming from the road were much more alarming. From what they could discern, it was the voice of a woman, and she was in some sort of struggle. Over the chirp of crickets, Levi and Harry heard loud and clear a high-pitched exclamation, “Oh, you dirty, nasty thing!”

In a piece published by the Fall River Daily Evening News in 1905, Mr. Hackett said they rushed back to the house to check on Mattie, but, “My daughter was not there and I began to get scared.”

Despite there being no signs of trouble or struggle inside the Hackett home, the father’s fear quickly escalated. He and Harry Jones searched for Mattie inside the house, and then outside, combing the dooryard with a frantic pace. For nearly thirty minutes they called out her name, but Mattie didn’t respond.

Mr. Hackett doubled-back onto the road running parallel to his farmland, heading towards what he believed to be the direction of the voices he heard but dismissed as children playing less than an hour earlier. His eyes were trained on the culvert, and just ahead he could see the form of what he believed to be his daughter, Mattie. 

There he found her lying in a ditch, a large bleeding gash on her forehead. She was alive, but unconscious. Her breathing was labored, and it wasn’t improving. With a powerful bellow mustered only from a father’s place of fear, Levi Hackett shouted for help, and the rest of his family poured out of the neighbor’s house down the road, rushing home to help their sister and daughter Mattie.

They tried all they could to save her — some sources saying her siblings splashed water on her face and rubbed her feet and hands, but Mattie’s pulse weakened. She died there, surrounded by her siblings and parents.

The scene had been chaotic, and as the rush at attempts to revive Mattie subsided into frozen shock, her parents discovered what they had overlooked just minutes before. The murder weapon — a tightly bound cord constricting Mattie’s windpipe, so deep in her neck that there’s no way her family could’ve seen amidst the panic and fear.

The Hackett’s sent for the High Sheriff. What was once a long but routine day on the Hackett Family Farm on Kents Hill in Readfield, Maine, had become their very worst nightmare. Levi cried out to whoever would listen, “I can’t imagine who could do such a thing.”

Hear the full story and the suspects implicated in Mattie’s murder on Dark Downeast. Tune in wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

Episode Source Material