Blog Post #14
by Jane Van Ryan
I met Bill Cardwell at Fire House Station #4 in June 1988, a year after Evelyn Hazen died. He was a handsome man, fit and trim in his navy blue firefighter’s uniform. His blue eyes flashed as he recalled his complicated—some would say poisonous—relationship with Evelyn Hazen.
Cardwell said worked for Evelyn for about five years. He had done remodeling work on his days off from the fire department since about 1975, and Evelyn hired him to work on her house, her rental units, and run errands for her. He quit in October 1986, because he said she was “mean…[and] because she threatened to shoot [him].”
“The people who knew her for years said she was always a mean person. She shot at people. She’d argue a lot,” he said. Bill said he argued with Evelyn to “put her in her place…she thrived on it.” But finally, he said, “I just had all I could take.”
He said he first went to the Mabry-Hazen House in December 1981 or January 1982 looking for work. To his surprise, Evelyn immediately asked him to stay overnight. Sarah Jane Grabeel, Evelyn’s long-term companion, had just suffered a stroke and had gone to the hospital. Evelyn told him she had never been alone in the house at night.
Cardwell agreed to stay because he needed the money. He had broken his thumb and couldn’t work as a firefighter. Evelyn “caught me at a good time,” he said. For three weeks, he slept in Evelyn’s kitchen every night, although “the house was spooky,” and it smelled bad due to the cats.
“The second night I was there,” Cardwell said, Evelyn told him, “I had a visitor last night.” She claimed the ghostly apparition of Jack McKnight, her friend from New York, came into her room and stood next to her bed. She described what he was wearing and claimed Jack was watching out for her. Cardwell discounted Evelyn's story because he didn’t believe in ghosts, but it stayed on his mind that Evelyn was armed, might hear something suspicious in the middle of the night, and would shoot him.
Evelyn told Cardwell he reminded her of Jack. She also said she believed in the occult. Cardwell said she sent money to a psychic in Florida named Mary Burnett Burcell and would call her at night. Evelyn also believed her mother was haunting the Mabry-Hazen House. Occasionally, she would see her mother in the yard, tending her flowers.
Evelyn also told Cardwell she didn’t believe in God and did not want Him to be mentioned in the house. Cardwell learned about Evelyn’s views while Grabeel was in the hospital, and Evelyn gave him the biggest “cussing-out” he ever got. He responded by advising Evelyn to go to church or have a preacher come to the house. But Evelyn said she was an atheist.
“That bothered me more than anything,” Cardwell said. Then one day at breakfast after Grabeel had returned, Evelyn got up from the table and said, “Oh Lord, help me get through this day.” Bill told her, “You better call on someone that knows you.” Grabeel burst out laughing, and finally Evelyn laughed, too.
According to Cardwell, much of what happened in Mabry-Hazen House was not a laughing matter. He claimed Evelyn was “cruel” to Grabeel and wouldn’t let her leave. “Every time I’d go in, she’d be cussing Miss Grabeel. [Then] she’d start on me to give Miss Grabeel a rest.”
Cardwell said Evelyn would go into Grabeel’s bedroom in the middle of the night and beat her with her crutch. He also claimed Evelyn threw things at her, such as her knife, fork and spoon when they were eating together. In Cardwell’s opinion, Evelyn kept Grabeel “in prison in that house.”
But the facts indicate Grabeel was able to leave whenever she wanted. At one point, she moved to Florida with a woman who had befriended her. She returned to Knoxville a few weeks later when it didn’t work out. Grabeel also moved in with Cardwell and his wife Sandy for about a month. That convinced Evelyn that Grabeel and Cardwell were conspiring against her.
“She was real jealous of me and Miss Grabeel because I would take the poor old thing’s side,” Cardwell said. He speculated that Evelyn “probably thought we had something going.”
More on Cardwell in the next blog post.