Claw-fingered Kitty, a.k.a. Eva Dugan

eva dugan true west

A few months ago a friend up in Yukon Territory wrote asking for some information on a lady of the evening who resided in the red light district of Dawson City and was later hanged in Arizona for murder.  She called herself “Claw-Fingered Kitty.”

My friend was wondering who she really was, her real name and any information I could find on her.

The detective work was pretty easy since only one woman in Arizona was ever legally hanged for murder, Miss Eva Dugan.

Turns out as a young woman Eva Dugan had worked in Dawson City’s red light district and called herself Claw-Fingered Kitty. We shared our information and came up with a story.

Around the age of twenty Eva set out for Dawson during the Alaska Gold Rush where she worked as a prostitute in Dawson and other towns. During her adventuresome life she married five times and one way or another all of them went missing. She settled in Pima County in southern Arizona during the 1920s where she went to work for a chicken rancher named Andy Mathis. Mathis was a cranky old tightwad and the two butted heads more than once. After two months he fired her for unknown reasons.

In January, 1927 she and a man named “Jack” allegedly killed Andy with an axe and stole his car. The mysterious Jack was never found. She later said they parted company in Texas. She was tracked down in New York and brought back to Arizona and charged with auto theft.  A few months later Mathis’ body was found in a shallow grave on the ranch.  Eva was charged with murder and was convicted on circumstantial evidence and she was given the death penalty.

Undaunted and defiant, Eva died game. After her conviction she told the jurors, “Well, I’ll die with my boots on, an’ in full health. An’ that’s more’n most of you old coots’ll be able to boast on.”

As they were walking her to the scaffold Eva instructed the guards to not grip her arms so tightly lest the witnesses think she was afraid. One of the female witnesses at remarked admiringly, “She died like a man.”

Eva was hanged on February 21st, 1930. Unfortunately, the hangman miscalculated her weight and she was decapitated.

She was the first woman to be executed in Arizona and the last to be hanged. As a result of the botched hanging, Arizona switched from hanging to the gas chamber.

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.