Eva Dugan was born in Sailsbury, Missouri, some time in 1878. Not much information is known about her parents. She migrated to Juneau, Alaska, during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-1899 and took a job as a cabaret singer.
Eventually, Dugan moved to Pima County, Arizona, and began working as a housekeeper for an elderly chicken rancher named Andrew J. Mathis. She was terminated from this position shortly thereafter, and Mathis disappeared, along with his Dodge coupe and other possessions.
Neighbors reported that Dugan had tried to sell off some of Mathis' possessions before she disappeared.
Police launched an investigation and discovered that Dugan's father lived in California and she had a daughter that lived in White Plains, New York. It was revealed that she was married five times, and all of her husbands mysteriously disappeared.
She sold the Dodge coup that she stole for $600 in Kansas City, Missouri. Dugan was arrested in White Plains when a postal clerk, who alerted authorities, had intercepted a postcard that was sent to her from her father in California. She was extradited to Arizona on March 4th, 1927, and held on auto theft charges.
Dugan was convicted of auto theft and sent to prison. Nine months later, a camper discovered Mathis' decomposed body on his ranch. Dugan was tried for murder based primarily on circumstantial evidence. During her testimony, Dugan stated that Mathis believed she had poisoned his breakfast, but she claimed that he ate rotten rabbit meat which had boils on it. She also testified that she had sex with Mathis weekly, and even performed prostitution on the ranch. According to Dugan, if her employer "saw any of them men on the street that he thought was all right he would call them off and tell them to come on out to the house." She said she performed sex acts for three dollars and gave Mathis fifty cents from her profits.
In her testimony, Dugan claimed that a teen boy named "Jack", who was working at the ranch, accidentally killed Mathis by punching him after Mathis beat him for refusing to milk a cow. She claimed that "Jack" came back to the house to tell her what had happened, and they both attempted to revive Mathis with mouth-to-mouth after they removed his false teeth. She continued on, stating that after their attempts to revive him failed, they loaded his body into the Dodge and "Jack" left alone to dump the body and came back to the house at 5 a.m.
The prosecution was successful in proving to the jury that Dugan had murdered Mathis alone, and the weapon used in his death was an axe. After she was convicted, Dugan told the jury in her final statement, "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."
Dugan gave interviews to the press and charged $1.00 each, and sold handkerchiefs that she knitted herself in prison to be able to pay for her coffin. She also made her own "jazz dress", which was a silk, beaded creation that she wanted to wear for her hanging, but later relented to wearing a cheap dress. Dugan kept a positive attitude, and Time magazine even called her "Cheerful Eva" in a story about her execution that was published on March 3rd, 1930.
The day before her execution, rumors circulated that she was planning to kill herself. Authorities searched her cell and found a bottle of raw ammonia and three razor blades hidden in a dress, and they were confiscated.
Dugan appealed for clemency on the grounds of mental illness, and it was denied. She was taken to the gallows at 5 a.m on February 21st, 1930, and was the first woman to be executed by the state of Arizona. This was also the first execution in Arizona history which permitted women to be present as witnesses.
According to a newspaper report, Dugan was composed as she mounted the gallows. She told the guards, "Don't hold my arms so tight, the people will think I'm afraid". Dugan swayed slightly as the noose was placed around her neck, and shook her head no when asked if she had any last words.
The trap was sprung at 5:11 a.m, and at the end of the drop, the snap of the rope decapitated Dugan. Her head went rolling and stopped at the feet of the spectators. This scene caused two women and three men to faint.
Because of this incident, Dugan was one of the last persons to be hanged in Arizona, and the last woman to be executed. The gallows were soon replaced by the gas chamber in 1934, and lethal injection in 1993.