Chalfant: Questionable deaths leave 3 children orphaned
In the second decade of the 20th century, brothers Sidney Hawks and Thurston Hawks purchased a farm southeast of Sedalia from Dr. D. F. Abell, a well-known Sedalia physician who lived with his wife at 407 West Broadway. Sidney Hawks lived on the property for two years.
Sidney Hawks was married to Katie Ann Sims, the daughter of Elbert and Cora Smith Sims, of near Versailles. Sidney and Katie Ann had two preschool aged children, Raymond and Mary Ann.
The family, according to the Sedalia Democrat, was “among the best known and most highly respected residents of the neighborhood.”
After two years, Sidney and Katie Ann moved to Kansas City. Her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Van Dyke, moved onto the Abell farm.
While in Kansas City, Sidney Hawks worked as a salesman for W. B. Schneider Meat Company at 520 Walnut Street. The couple had a third child, Florence, in 1928.
At a time when most married women had either no life insurance or only a small burial policy designed to pay for a modest funeral, Katie Ann Hawks held a policy valued at $1,500. The value of the policy in today’s dollars represents $65,000 of labor costs needed to replace Mrs. Hawks’ wifely work as housekeeper, cook, and child care provider, or $22,000 in market purchasing power.
Things did not go well for the Hawks family after they left Pettis County. Katie Ann was in poor health, suffering from chronic myocarditis. In addition, the couple was having problems described by the family to a Democrat reporter as “domestic trouble.”
In June 1931, the Hawks family was living at 1304 Delfountaine Street. Katie Ann came to Versailles and Sedalia to visit relatives in July, then returned to her Kansas City home. A few days later, she became ill and died the next day. Dr. D. R. Russell, who visited Katie Anne three times during her final illness, identified the cause of death natural, resulting from “acute dilation of the heart”; he also noted on the death certificate that she had “chronic myocarditis.” A few relatives would later question whether her death was indeed from natural causes.
The Democrat noted that family and friends mourned Katie Ann’s death. Sidney Hawks collected the proceeds from Katie Ann’s insurance policy. He sent his children to live with her parents in Versailles. He moved to an apartment at 1419 Harrison Street. His landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Jeffers, said he seemed despondent because of his father’s death in 1930 and his wife’s death.
Hawks’ life deteriorated after his wife’s death. He frittered away the life insurance money. He lost his job. His co-workers thought he was mentally ill. He turned, unsuccessfully, to insurance fraud as a way to make money.
In December 1932, he approached several car dealers and offered to burn cars from their inventories so they could collect the insurance on the destroyed vehicles. He would charge the dealers a special price of $25 per car, half his regular rate, and they could pocket all the insurance proceeds.
The dealers informed the police, who arrested Hawks on Dec. 7. After holding Hawks for two days, police released him because he hadn’t actually burned any cars. The police who questioned him also believed him to be unbalanced.
In late December, police were called to Hawks’ apartment. They found him dead of a self-administered dose of strychnine. They also found a 15-page note detailing why he had taken his life. He felt guilty, he admitted, because, with the help of a woman named Helen, he had plotted to poison his wife, “as pure and as decent a woman as God ever let live.”
Hawks’ body was taken to Versailles for burial at Freedom Church Cemetery. Police began a search for the mysterious Helen.
Next week’s column details the police’s search for Helen, her account of her relationship with Hawks, and her series of denials of any role in the tragic incident.
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