Posted on: September 3, 2014

The story of Hatchet Harry and the crumbling Flavel House mansion is one of those classic stories of a wealthy, well-to-do family who degenerate into eccentrics and recluses. Flavel House, Astoria, Oregon, was built in 1901 by a Captain George Flavel – Astoria’s first millionaire – and he lived there with his wife, Winona and son Harry.

Harry eventually inherited the house, and in turn lived there with his wife Florence, and their two children, Harry Sherman, and his sister Mary Louise. It is with Harry S that the story of the Flavel family takes a dark turn. His father died in 1951, leaving Harry S to live in the house with his mother and sister. Weird tales emerged of Harry locking the two ladies outside on a wintry night, and turning a garden hose on them. Of him firing a gun on New Year’s Eve and Halloween. And, on one occasion, chopping up the stair bannisters in a stroppy teenage fit, whilst his mother was locked in a room upstairs, hence earning himself the nickname ‘Hatchet Harry’. Neither Harry nor Mary Louise ever married or had children.

In February 1983, Harry S was involved in what you could call a road rage incident outside the house. Someone was speeding down the road outside the house. Harry, who was walking his dog at the time, clearly took exception to this and hit the car with his dog’s chain leesh. The driver got out and demanded to know his name so that he could report him. Harry didn’t like this and promptly stabbed the driver in the abdomen. This incident led the family to become total recluses.

In 1985 Harry was convicted and sent to prison. He launched a string of appeals, but absconded during a court appearance on 17 August 1990, when he and his family fled the state. One local woman, who lived across the road from the house, said she saw the family (Harry, Mary and their 90-year-old mother) pile into the car, along with two dogs. The house was left to rot and decay.

Harry was re-arrested two months later in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, for stealing motel towels. His sister raised his bail, and the family promptly disappeared again. Harry eventually died on 31 May 2010 at the age of 82. His body was to languish in the morgue for 9 months because his sister, Mary Louise, refused to pay for a funeral.

Mary Louise never returned to the house, and for a while no one knew what had happened to her. She was finally tracked down by a local newspaper in July 2012, but would agree to be interviewed only on the grounds that they didn’t revel exactly where she was living. Mary Louise by then was an old lady of 87. She remarked that life in Astoria had been easy, unless you were a Flavel. She said the family’s wealth had earned them much jealousy in the neighbourhood, particularly during the time of the Great Depression.

In 2012 local authorities obtained a derelict building ordinance, and were finally able to get into the house. They found rooms piled high with old newspapers, some dating back a 100 years, along with piles of unopened mail, and a strange collection of bleach bottles in the basement. There was a 1950s-style lady’s swimsuit hanging in an all-pink bathroom. The refrigerator still contained food, along with the remains of a dog!

The whole story has a strange, mysterious twist, when in October 2010 black bunting appeared draped on the balcony.



The house was recently purchased by a local Astoria citizen named Greg Newenhof, who wants to restore it.

Capt. George Flavel WAS Astoria’s first millionaire, but he was married to Mary Christina Boelling Flavel and they had three children: Nellie, Katie and George Conrad. Neither Nellie nor Katie married. It was their son, George Conrad (who was also “Capt.”) that was married to Winona Callender. Their only child was a son named Harry. Harry married twice, first to Elizabeth Patrician, with whom he had three children: George Edward, Patricia and Virginia. There was reportedly a scandal whereby Harry fell in love with his children’s teacher Florence Sherman, divorced Elizabeth and married the teacher. To this second marriage two children were born, Harry and Mary Louise. It is this Harry that was nicknamed Hatchet Harry.

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