The Murder of Fay Lewis


Fayette, or Fay for short, was 17 years old and living in Brazil, Indiana, when she met Swede, a young coal miner.

Several years before, large deposits of coal that was ideal for iron construction and manufacture were found in the region. After the pork production industry had largely been moved to larger meat processing companies in Kansas City and Chicago, the area was in sore need of a new industry to sustain itself.

Coal mining was it and became a leading industry in Indiana through the early 20th century. Hundreds of men would spend their lives in the dark and dusty mines under the Midwest, their efforts fueling the industrial efforts of the nation.

Born in Indiana in 1885, Charles Lewis had been 13 years old when he had followed his father’s footsteps and first started working the mines. The son of Scandinavian immigrants, Charles had picked up the nickname “Swede.” By the time he met Fay eight years later, the name had stuck.

Swede Lewis and his wife, Fayette, did not have a happy marriage.

From the early days of their marriage, Fay and Swede had a rocky relationship. They fought often, and there were rumors that Swede physically abused Fay. There were some bright spots, however. A few years after their marriage, Fay gave birth to a daughter, Lily May.

The arrival of their daughter did nothing to ease their marital troubles, and the fighting continued. Eventually, they decided to move to the nearby city of Terre Haute, Indiana.

Swede continued to work in the mines, while Fay continued to stay at home and take care of things there. The move didn’t do anything to help their relationship, however, and their mutual dissatisfaction continued to grow.

Finally, their powder keg of a relationship reached a breaking point shortly before Christmas of 1921. Lewis grabbed a few things and left the house, going to stay in Illinois. The state was close enough for him to still go to work, but far enough away that he apparently didn’t have to deal with Fay anymore.

Things continued on like that for a few weeks, leaving some relative peace in Fay’s life. Eventually, though, things had to be resolved, one way or another.

In mid-January of 1922, Lewis came back to Terre Haute. Word started to spread that he was threatening to murder Fay.

While it’s not known if Fay heard those rumors or not, she did decide that she had enough of the years of abuse she had suffered at Swede’s hands. Shortly after his return, Fay filed for divorce.

On the morning of January 20, 1922, Lily May kissed her mother goodbye and started her walk to school.

The only other person in the house that morning was a boarder whom the Lewis’ had rented one of their extra rooms to for a little extra income. Before long, they gathered their things and left for work, leaving Fay alone in the house.

Close to noon, Lily returned home for lunch. The table had been set, and coffee was brewing on the stove. Fay wasn’t there, so Lily must have thought she must have been in the bedroom.

Wanting to let Fay know that she was home, Lily went to her parent’s bedroom door to tell her. Politely, she gave a couple short knocks and announced herself as she turned the knob.

The door wouldn’t budge. Lily called out again, louder this time. No answer came. She tried the door again, but it was stuck firm, not giving an inch. Just as she felt the first tugs of concern, Lily thought she smelled something.

Brows furrowing, she carefully sniffed the air. With a start she realized that she was smelling gas. It must have been coming from inside the bedroom!

Knowing how dangerous gas fumes could be and the danger her mother could be in, Lily ran out of the house and began screaming for help.

Two men, Charles Shumard and Harry Kennett, heard her cries and ran to her. Crying and desperate, Lily told the men that she smelled gas in the house and that her mother was inside her bedroom, but the door was stuck.

The two men ran inside, and, after a few seconds, found the bedroom door. They tried their best to open it but couldn’t make it move any more than Lily had. Thinking quickly, Shumard went outside and found the bedroom window. Testing it, he found that it was unlocked and lifted a little.

With a shove, he forced it all the way open, coughing as the gas fumes vented out.

After letting the room air out for a few moments, Shumard readied himself and climbed into the bedroom. He was completely unprepared for the scene that awaited him.

Fay Lewis lay on the bed, covered in blood. On the floor nearby was her husband, Swede, lying in a pool of blood. A knife lay close to him.

Looking around for a moment, Shumard saw a gas jet. He crossed over and discovered that it had been turned all the way open. Quickly, he closed it and went back out the window.

A short time later, the police arrived. When the neighbors had heard Lily screaming, they had immediately called the authorities.

Shumard told them what he had seen in the room, and that it looked like both Swede and Lily were already dead.

Carefully, the police made their way in through the window. Examining the door, they saw that someone had stuffed clothing into all the cracks around it, making the room airtight. It had been done so well that the door couldn’t be opened anymore.

After airing out the room completely and removing the clothes in the door so that they could open it, the police immediately started their investigation.

According to interviews with family, friends, and neighbors, as well as evidence discovered at the scene, Swede had tried to reconcile with Fay. She was done with the marriage and was going to go through with the divorce. Swede had left, unsatisfied.

Apparently not one to give up easily, he had returned to the home on the morning of January 20th to try again.

Once again, Fay refused to reconcile. Swede became enraged and began to beat her. Bruises found on her body later would support this.

The beating resulted in him knocking Fay unconscious. Despite earlier rumors claiming that he wanted to kill Fay, it’s unknown whether or not he intended to murder her that day or not. Regardless of his initial intentions, Swede picked up the unconscious body of his wife and carried her into the bedroom.

Laying her down on the bed, he returned to the kitchen and took a sharp silver table knife. With no one else in the house, Swede could move around freely with no one to question him.

Going into the bedroom, he used the knife to cut deeply into Fay’s neck. The wound was so vicious that it severed both of her carotid arteries and jugular veins, almost severing her head entirely.

As his wife lay dying, Swede made the decision that he was also going to die that day.

Swede found a pen and paper and began to write. The letter, addressed to Lily, read:

“Lillian, go to Grandmother Mary’s (his mother) and she will take care of you. Look in the sideboard drawer, get your mothers valuables and take them with you. Good-by. Father.”

Laying it on the kitchen table, Swede went back to the bedroom and closed the door. He began taking clothes and stuffing them into the cracks around the door. He took his time, wedging them carefully and tightly so that the spaces were completely filled.

Swede then turned on the gas jet and let the fumes fill the room as he steeled himself for what was going to be his final act. Then, gripping the same knife he had used to murder his wife, he brought it to his neck and, with a sharp pull, cut his throat.

He fell to the floor, the knife slipping from his fingers and landing close to his body.

Even if that wound hadn’t been enough to kill him, authorities believed the gas in the room would have ended his life regardless.

There was nothing left to investigate. Fay and Swede’s marriage had ended not in divorce, but in a gruesome act that the police of the time would label the worst murder/suicide to ever happen in Terre Haute history.




Former Brazil Man Kills Wife; Ends Own Life. The Brazil Daily Times. 1/21/1922

Cuts Off Wife’s Head and Then Kills Self. The Indianapolis News, 1/21/1922

Miner Cuts Wife’s Throat and Own in Dual Tragedy. The Indianapolis Star, 1/21/1922

Taylor, Jr. Robert M., Stevens, Errol Wayne, Ponder, Mary Ann, Brockman, Paul. Indiana: A New Historical Guide. Indianapolis; Indiana Historical Society, 1989.

Lewis, Charles – Indiana Death Certificate

Year: 1920; Census Place: Terre Haute Ward 4, Vigo, Indiana; Roll: T625_468; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 138

Year: 1910; Census Place: Brazil Ward 3, Clay, Indiana; Roll: T624_343; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0005; FHL microfilm: 1374356 Indiana, U.S., Marriages, 1810-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

Registration State: Indiana; Registration County: Vigo Description Draft Card: L



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