The Flavel House in Astoria, the home of “Hatchet” Harry Flavel, was once regarded as the most haunted house in Oregon. But the story of the abandoned house left to rot out of spite is a strange tale haunted by the decline of the city’s most prominent and mysterious family.
There are two Flavel houses in Astoria, Orgeon.
The most well-known is the Captain George Flavel House, now known as the Flavel House Museum, at Eighth and Exchange streets. It is a grand Queen Ann mansion built in 1886 by prominent Astoria resident Captain George Flavel.
The captain made his money braving the perils of the Columbia river, where more than 100 ships have been lost at its mouth, an area known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific,” since its discovery in 1792. He was the first bar pilot of the Columbia, and became one of the first millionaires in Oregon.
He was even regarded as something of a local hero for his efforts to rescue the sinking SS General Warren in 1852.
The other Flavel House, the once stately home that sat abandoned and decrepit on the corner of 15th and Franklin for decades, serves as a testament to the decline of the legendary Flavel family into a strange and reclusive bunch after George’s death.
It was in this house that the captain’s great-grandson, “Hatchet” Harry Flavel, lived with his mother Florence and sister Mary at the time of the stabbing.
The notorious Flavel House was built in 1901 by the captain’s only son, George. It was a beautiful Colonial Revival-style home stained glass windows, intricately-carved wooden pillars, and amazing views of the river.
When George died in 1923, he left the house to his son Harry M. Flavel, who lived there with his wife Florence and their two children, Harry and Mary until his death in 1951.
Astoria residents knew something wasn’t right with the younger Harry.
In 1947, at the age of 20, Harry Flavel earned his nickname.
Fred Fulton, a neighbor of the Flavel’s, heard screams for help coming from the home. He ran inside, found Florence locked in a room upstairs. Harry had locked her in. When Fulton tried to help, he began hacking at the banister with the hatchet in a fit of rage, and eventually turned on Fulton. Harry was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
During Harry’s trial, his mother insisted she had not been in danger. The family testified that Fulton had been drunk, and Harry had acted in self defense. The charges were dropped.
There were other incidents over the years. Neighbors would report gun shots from inside the home, particularly on Halloween and New Year’s. Police were called to physically remove Mary from a social gathering at another residence because she refused to leave. Harry locked Mary and Florence outside their home on the window’s peak on a cold night and sprayed them with a garden hose.
Harry had a soft spot for dogs, often taking in strays. One of his neighbors claimed he actually stole their dog because he didn’t think they walked it enough. They were too scared of him to take it back. Harry had 4-6 dogs at the time.
But that was as serious as it ever got.
Until February, 1983.
Harry was out walking two of his dogs when a car driven by 22-year-old named Alec Josephson came speeding down the road. As the car passed, Flavel swung the chain of a dog leash at it and made contact. Josephson stopped, furious, and chased Harry by foot down an alley.
The story goes that Josephson had grabbed Harry by the sleeve, demanding his name so he could call the police, when Harry stabbed him in the abdomen.
Josephson survived, but once again Harry was facing assault charges. This time, however, it came with an additional charge of attempted murder. A conviction meant up to 20 years in prison.
“Hatchet” Harry Flavel was found guilty of assault, but not attempted murder, in 1985.
After exhausting a string of appeals that took years, Harry failed to appear for his sentencing in 1990. Authorities discovered Harry, Mary and Florence had vanished. An elderly neighbor had watched them get into their car, along with their dogs, and drive away, abandoning their home.
Neighbors said they returned from time to time. They would receive phone calls from the Flavels, asking if police were around. But the Flavels never lived there again. Some believed they left the house behind as an eyesore to spite the proud historical city for turning its back on its “First Family.”
Harry was arrested in Pennsylvania later in 1990 for stealing motel towels, but disappeared again when he was released. The FBI arrested him the following year in Massachusetts. They brought him back top Clatsop County, where he spent a year in jail awaiting a hearing.
He disappeared again after his release.
Florence died in the hospital soon after.
Harry’s whereabouts remained a mystery until his death on May 31, 2010. He and Mary were both still in Oregon.
Though the house was still abandoned, black mourning bunting appeared, draped from the balcony of the decaying mansion, soon after Harry’s death.
Jack Applegate, building inspector for Astoria, learned later that Harry’s body had been stored at a mortuary in Portland for nine months after his death. No one knew whether the Flavel’s had no money or just didn’t like to spend it, but they were notoriously difficult to collect from…and Mary refused to pay for her brother’s funeral.
An indigent burial fund eventually paid for Harry to be cremated.
Flavel House Restoration
In 2012, after extensive efforts to locate Mary, the last-known remaining Flavel, Astoria officials used a newly adopted derelict building ordinance to enter the house.
The Flavel House had become a thing of legend by that point, with rumors that it was haunted.
“I grew up in the neighborhood and Harry was kind of like our Boo Radley from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,'” Astoria City Councilwoman Karen Mellin said of the house. “We always wondered what was behind that door.”
“Newspapers and magazines from the last 100 years were spread three-feet thick over all levels of the home, including the attic, the basement and the bathrooms,” The Astorian reported.
Retired Assistant Police Chief Alan Oja told The Astorian that he had been inside the house several times due to various complaints in the early 1980s. He said the newspapers at that time had been stacked up along the walls, not strewn all over the floor, and you had to turn sideways to walk down the hallway.
They also found a 1950s-era woman’s swimsuit hanging in an all-pink bathroom, a 1960s issue of Playboy, self-help books, a 12-inch knife, a Valentine’s Day card from Mary to her mother.
Clothes still hung in closets. There was a dead dog in the refrigerator. The stairwell banister, which might have still bore the marks of Harry’s hatchet attack, was completely gone.
Still, the condition of the house itself was better than many had expected. The bones of the structure were sound. It seemed the newspaper covering the floor probably absorbed most of the water leaking in through the roof, which prevented the floor from rotting.
The derelict building ordinance provided a fund that enabled the city to tarp the roof, board up windows, turn off the electricity, and take care of the overgrown yard until Mary returned. But she never did. Rent checks for commercial property the Flavels owned downtown went uncashed. Mary’s attorney said he didn’t know where she was or if she was even alive. Last he had heard, she was no longer able to drive and had stopped eating.
The city sold the property in 2015 to Greg Newenhof, who began the arduous task of the restoring the home. He opened it for tours, which included a stop in attic where some of the Flavel’s possessions, such as a jacket, a cradle, and some books, remained.
Astoria decided it was time to do something about the Flavel’s crumbling commercial properties in 2018. Anonymous tips helped officials discover that Mary was in fact still alive. She was living in a nursing home in Portland. They issued her fines totaling $5.6 million in hopes of getting her attention. Her health was failing, though, and she died in October 2018 at the age of 92.
She was buried in the Flavel family plot at Ocean View Cemetery in Warrenton, Oregon.
“Life in Astoria was great,” Mary once said, “unless you were a Flavel.”