Blog Post # 15
by Jane Van Ryan
If you have been reading these blog posts containing the comments of people who knew Evelyn Hazen, a picture has emerged of an elderly woman whose life was filled with disappointment, loneliness, and fear. Sarah Jane Grabeel, her companion of three decades, had left her. She was afraid to sleep in her own room, believing it was haunted. She had no faith in God. And she was terrified to be alone especially at night.
Many nights she refused to sleep at all. Lucille LaBonte told me Evelyn often sat up in a stiff, ladder-back chair at the top of the stairs where she could see the front door. With her pocketbook and her gun lying in her lap, she apparently felt she had to be vigilant to protect herself, her home, and her family’s antiques.
Lucille said she asked as many as 15 different people to stay with Evelyn overnight, but very few lasted longer than a night or two. In her loneliness, or perhaps to stay awake or simply to hear another person’s voice, Evelyn called Lucille and others repeatedly all night long.
Evelyn might have had good reason to be afraid. She was old and in failing health. Her antebellum mansion was isolated. It sat on the pinnacle of Mabry’s Hill where it was surrounded by a thick wall of shrubs and broken trees. In the early 1980s, someone had slit the throats of several of her beloved dogs and hung a noose on the porch.
Some people, such as Lucille and Dorothy Standifer, felt sorry for Evelyn and worried about her. Others discounted her fear and called her “mean,” including Bill Cardwell.
“She felt everybody was out to get her…[she was] paranoid,” Cardwell told me as he chain-smoked and dropped ashes into a plastic juice glass holding about an inch of water at the bottom.
Cardwell said Evelyn was so afraid to be alone, she offered to give him all of her Norfolk and Southern stock so he would stay with her. He figured it was worth about $100,000. He turned it down, he said, because “I just didn’t want no more part of it.”
If he had known that she was nearing the end of her life, he admitted he might have accepted her gift. “Anybody would,’ he said, “I would have been awfully tempted…but I didn’t want to get an attorney and go through that mess.”
“I was a nervous wreck,” Cardwell said, as a result of working for Evelyn. And the nighttime phone calls were even worse. He said Evelyn would call him 8-10 times an hour. Sometimes she would talk for an hour on his answering machine.
Why did Evelyn call him so frequently? “She liked me,” he said. “I understood her.”
Evelyn even gave Cardwell and his wife Sandy ten shares apiece of Norfolk and Southern stock for Christmas one year, he told me. She also gave him vases to take to his wife. Later she insisted that Cardwell had stolen a vase, so he had her write a note stating that the vase had been a present for Sandy. Cardwell said he got a total of four or five vases and other “stuff” from the Mabry-Hazen House.
Cardwell also said he argued with Evelyn frequently. “She liked arguing,” often about little things. Evelyn would complain he didn’t feed the dogs enough, or he didn’t cool her breakfast properly. “I told her she was a damned 85-year-old spoiled brat,” he said, which made her laugh. “She just liked to argue.”
But Cardwell leveled plenty of harsh criticism at Evelyn. He claimed she physically abused Grabeel, although no one I talked to, including Grabeel, confirmed this allegation. He accused her of pushing Grabeel down and breaking her wrist. Evelyn reportedly was standing behind Grabeel when she fell, but there is no evidence to suggest Grabeel was shoved.
Cardwell also said Evelyn never wanted Grabeel to leave the house for medical treatment, even when she broke her hip. The doctor came to the house instead. Later, after one of the dogs scratched Grabeel’s leg and it wouldn’t heal, Cardwell said he carried Grabeel out of the house and took her to the hospital. When she was released, Grabeel did not return to the Mabry-Hazen House. She moved to a nursing home in Knoxville, likely on the advice of her doctors.
Cardwell’s interest in Grabeel’s health helped to convince Evelyn that they were conspiring against her, and Cardwell was telling Grabeel to abandon her and the Mabry-Hazen House. Evelyn was furious and reported her suspicions to Lucille.
With Evelyn becoming increasingly angry and accusatory, Cardwell disabled her gun. He told me he found her box of cartridges and took the powder out of them. “I figured…she didn’t need live bullets in that pistol,” he said. Cardwell said Evelyn carried the gun everywhere, even to the bathroom. “She carried it constantly.”
“She could have lived like a queen in her later years,” Cardwell said, “but she just lived awful.”