From the recording Songs From Burke County
(Mark W. Winchester)
The story of Charlie and Frances “Frankie” Silver is undoubtedly one of the most infamous excerpts of Burke County history. Part of what makes this story so compelling is that the opinions greatly outnumber the facts, and the unanswered questions leave plenty of room for debate.
Around Christmas time in 1831, Charlie Silver went missing. After some investigation by his family and friends, disturbing discoveries were made. Traces of blood, ashes, and body parts were found in the fireplace, underneath the cabin, and even in a hollow stump outside the couple’s home.
Initially Frankie was arrested along with her mother and brother, as it was thought that a woman of such small stature could not have chopped up and disposed of Charlie’s body without assistance. Frankie’s mother and brother were later released due to a lack of evidence regarding their participation.
As for the motive for Frankie’s crime, some alleged that she was driven by jealousy. Many said that Frankie’s suspicions were warranted due to Charlie’s philandering.
Other theories had Frankie acting in self-defense, protecting herself and their infant daughter when an abusive Charlie came home full of whiskey.
The trial of Frankie Silver began on March 17, 1832, in Burke County Superior Court. Less than two weeks later, a guilty verdict was delivered, and she was sentenced to death by hanging. Attempts to have the verdict overturned by legal and/or political means were made, but none were successful.
Just prior to her execution, Frankie was broken out of jail by her family. Even though she was disguised as a man, she was soon apprehended in Rutherford County. Approximately one year and six months after the murder of Charlie Silver, Frankie Silver was hanged on July 12, 1833 at Damon’s Hill in Morganton.