Two days after visiting the grave of convicted killer Jesse Worley Osborn in Greentown in late December 2016, I headed south to Hamilton County, where four of the people featured in my book—three murder victims and one killer—are buried.
My first stop that chilly, sunny day was West Grove Cemetery, located alongside one of the county’s east-west backroads, halfway between State Road 31 and Cicero. West Grove is the final resting place of Harry Hiatt.
When I first learned about Hiatt, I couldn’t muster a speck of sympathy for him. In March of 1911, when he was 27, his wife of four years, Nellie, 21, decided she’d had enough of their stormy relationship. So, she packed her bags and moved from the home they shared in Cicero to her parents’ farm a few miles outside of town, taking her two young boys with her.
Throughout his trial, he ignored what was happening in the courtroom and often slumped over the defense table with his chin resting on his fist and nodded off. The unusual behavior earned him the “Drowsy Uxoricide” (wife killer) moniker, a jab that never failed to evoke an eye roll. When the trial ended, Hiatt awoke to a first-degree murder verdict and a life sentence at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.
Although Hiatt had never appeared interested in making a good impression, he managed to make one in the strict, structured prison environment. Over the course of thirty years, he worked hard, matured, and became a model inmate. His good behavior was rewarded in 1943 with a parole. Upon release, Hiatt returned to Hamilton County, made amends with his sons, and quietly lived out the rest of his life there. He died in 1959 and, in a sense, became the killer who made good.
West Grove is a well-tended, rural cemetery bordered by lots of trees. It’s small, so Hiatt’s headstone wasn’t difficult to find. As I gazed down at it, I wondered what the odd man buried there would have to say to me if he could. But if his early behavior was an indication, he likely wouldn’t have much to say. He’d probably nod off.
After bidding Harry Hiatt goodbye, I made the five-mile drive east through the country to Cicero Cemetery, situated on the west side of town. Finding Nellie Hiatt’s grave on the cemetery’s sprawling grounds took a while. I finally found her headstone in the Voss family plot, near her parents, Albert and Sarah, both of whom had died in 1959, coincidentally, the same year Hiatt passed. Nellie’s stone identifies her as Nellie May Voss, not Hiatt. Considering the circumstances of her death, her parents’ choice is understandable.
Sarah had married at the age of 18, given birth twice before she was 20 and, as the result of one senseless, angry moment, died at 21. If her husband had not killed her, what path might this innocent young woman have taken? What accomplishments might she have attained, and how might she have used them to benefit her loved ones and her community? When I visited Nellie, I was acutely aware of those questions and the tragic consequences of a life unfinished. Rest well, Nellie. •