My Grandmother: The Axe Murderer

Some people who take in interest in genealogy discover that they are Irish when they thought they were Scottish. Others find a long-lost cousin. When I began looking at my family history I found out that my great-great grandmother murdered my great-great grandfather with an axe on a snowy winter’s night in Detroit, Michigan in 1910. 

Nellie Kniffen’s violent rampage and her husband Frank’s grisly demise was front page news in Detroit for several weeks, but she and her crime were soon forgotten, both by the public and by her family. Those who remembered it tried hard to forget it and those who came after knew nothing about it at all.

Through research of public records, personal interviews and a review of the sensationalistic newspaper stories written before Frank Kniffen’s body grew cold, I unearthed a chapter which had been torn out of my family’s history. And I began to better understand the ghosts and demons which have haunted my family for over a century. 

UPDATE: I had an e-book about all of this but I eventually put the whole thing up for free here

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.