Blog Post #12
by Jane Van Ryan
For eight years, Dorothy Standifer did Evelyn Hazen’s hair. They first met at a beauty shop where Dorothy worked. Later, when Dorothy established her own shop in her home, she would pick up Evelyn on Sunday afternoons at the Mabry-Hazen House or handyman Bill Cardwell would bring her for her weekly hair appointment. Evelyn brought her pocketbook and her gun with her.
For her own protection, Dorothy adopted Lucille LaBonte’s methodology for approaching the house. She parked where Evelyn could see her car, walked up to the porch, stood at the side of the door, and stretched her arm to ring the doorbell. Both she and Lucille avoided standing directly in front of the door where they could be shot.
Dorothy spent virtually every Sunday afternoon with Evelyn, which gave her the opportunity to hear her stories and observe her habits. She told me how Evelyn would climb the staircase at the Mabry-Hazen House. She would lay the gun on one step, walk up a step, move the gun to the next step, go up another step, etc., until she finally got to the top of the stairs.
Dorothy said Evelyn had a card table in the foyer holding a big box of candy. She always insisted that Dorothy eat a piece of candy, which she said she hated. Dorothy also was not a pet lover, she said, so she wasn’t happy whenever Evelyn insisted that she feed the dogs. She had to do it exactly to Evelyn’s specifications, which meant Dorothy had break up the dog food from several cans into little bites.
There also were times when Evelyn asked Dorothy to clip her toenails. She would sit on the kitchen floor at Evelyn’s feet while the gun was pointed at her head. Occasionally Dorothy would raise her hand and turn the gun’s barrel in a different direction. Once when Dorothy did Evelyn’s hair at the Mabry-Hazen House, she said she twisted, turned, and “nearly stood on my head” to get away from the gun.
Yet spending time with Evelyn could be a pleasant way to pass the afternoon. Dorothy enjoyed Evelyn’s company and hearing her stories. “The only time I think she was happy was when she talked,” Dorothy said. She loved to talk about her work at the University of Tennessee, where Evelyn was employed as a secretary but was asked to teach classes as a substitute.
Evelyn also talked about seeing the ghost of Jack McKnight, the handsome man she met in New York City in the 1920s. “She got to seeing Jack when she’d go upstairs to bed,” Dorothy said. “She just relived it all over…I think she couldn’t separate reality from fiction in her later years,” Dorothy added.
Once when Evelyn was in Dorothy’s shop, she suddenly became ill. “I got scared,” Dorothy said. Bill Cardwell had brought Evelyn to the beauty shop that particular Sunday, and Evelyn asked Dorothy to call him to pick her up. Because Bill was a Knoxville firefighter with some medical training, the request made sense to Dorothy.
“She was sick,” Dorothy said. “It seemed like the color [drained] out of her.” When Bill arrived, he took her pulse, and helped her get into his car. Dorothy was worried so she called Evelyn’s home 20 minutes after they left, but got no answer. She called again in 45 minutes, but still there was no answer. When she finally reached Bill, he told her they had driven to UT and down Gay Street rather than going home or seeking medical help. Dorothy seemed perplexed by Bill and his priorities.
Interestingly, of all of the people I interviewed about Evelyn Hazen, only Bill Cardwell and Sarah Jane Grabeel expressed truly negative opinions about Evelyn. The rest tended to like Evelyn despite her ever-present gun.
Renter Archie Russ, for example, said he “had a lot of good times” at the Mabry-Hazen House. “To me it was like visiting a little museum” where he and Evelyn would sit up and talk half of the night. He said she “would tell you stories and make you laugh.” When she died in 1987, Archie said, “We weren’t prepared for it.” He thought he would have at least a couple more years with her.
“I miss her more than any client I’ve ever had,” Dorothy told me in 1988. “When I had had all I could take, suddenly she would smile and say something sweet. Then I’d feel like a heel for having awful thoughts about her.
“I don’t know of anybody I miss more than her, really and truly.”