A Gruesome Murder or Two
As you drive through the small village of Groveland in northeastern Putnam County you notice a gas station, about twenty homes, and a few small businesses. It is easy to picture this sleepy little hamlet as a quiet and peaceful place. But that was not always the case. If you close your eyes and let your mind drift, you might be able to picture the terrifying figure of a deranged man with a scar on his face and a blood-stained axe in his hand, peering through your window late at night. One of the more colorful events in the early history of this sleepy little community was a notorious and particularly gruesome double murder.
On Center Street in the village of Groveland lived twenty-year-old Tilghman H. Hanna and his wife Lydia, not yet nineteen. This young couple had been husband and wife just a little over one year, when on the morning of January 7, 1861, their bodies were found with their throats cut, their skulls crushed, and their bodies otherwise mutilated with an axe. Pieces of furniture were split and ornaments were destroyed. No valuables were disturbed so robbery did not appear to be the motive. A memorandum book lying on a table in the bedroom contained several vulgar and indecent sentences which the murderer had written across one of the pages. One of the sentences was, ‘I have done the deed – now G—d—you, ketch me if you ken.’ Suspicion soon pointed in the direction of Goodlow H. Evans, known as Harper Evans, a young man about twenty years old, who lived in the community.
It is believed that Harper Evans had unsuccessfully tried to court the beautiful Lydia, only to lose her affection to his rival Tilghman Hanna. Harper Evans was described as a handsome dashing dare devil with an ungoverned temper, who longed for several of the young ladies of the community with no success. He was promptly arrested and boldly submitted to all examinations and laughed at his accusers even though his handwriting and way of misspelled words corresponded exactly to the note. A bloodstained axe was also found near his home. He was arraigned on two counts of murder. He pled not guilty to each charge and his trial was held in Greencastle, beginning on April 8, 1861.
The jury, which was selected from the southern part of the county, returned their verdict of imprisonment for life. The most convincing evidence against Evans was the writing in the memorandum book found in the room where the murder took place, which was proved to be his, and the blood stained axe found near his home.
The Evans trial at Greencastle was one of the most famous in early Putnam County history. While the trial was in session, Fort Sumpter was fired upon and the Civil War began. Judging from the papers of the day, this memorable and historic occurrence captivated public interest and attention, along with the details of the trial. It was one of the most exciting and infamous weeks in the early history of Putnam County.
But the story does not end there. Sometime during the night, the day after his conviction, Harper Evans tried to commit suicide in his jail cell. During his trial someone was able to pass Evans a pocket knife and he was able to secrete it by breaking it in pieces and shoving it into the crevices of the wall. He spent most of his time in sharpening one of these pieces, about an inch and a half long, on the stone in his cell. About three o’clock in the morning, he got up and, holding a mirror in one hand and a bit of knife in the other, he was able to entirely sever the jugular vein of his neck, from which he bled profusely, so much so that he fainted when the blood stopped flowing. He was found about 8 o’clock the next morning weltering in his own blood. For some time it was doubtful whether he would recover or not. In about four days he had recovered sufficiently to withstand the journey to the Jeffersonville prison, where he had been sentenced to live out his days in a cell for his brutal crime. Several years later, and before the close of the war, he escaped from prison and was never seen or heard from again… or was he?
For many years after Harper Evan’s escape, the residents of the community were sometimes startled by what they thought to be the image of Harper Evans in their window late at night, forever recognized by the distinctive scar from his suicide attempt. Or maybe they simply could not erase the vivid picture of this deranged young man from their minds.
But Harper Evans was not the only quarrelsome member of his family, which was generally considered one of the more respected of the community at the time. In June 1891, Harper Evans’ brother Noah was tried and convicted on the charge of having killed Erastus R. Adams, in the town of Roachdale. He was also given a life sentence and died while in prison at Michigan City. Their quarrel was also believed to be over a woman. But that is another story for another day.
Tilghman and Lydia Hanna are buried in the old New Maysville cemetery, and their gravestone, which is still legible, states that they were murdered. The blood-stained axe found near Harper Evans’ home lay for many years on top of their graves. It is hard not to feel a chill up your spine as you stand at this gravesite and picture the blood-stained axe lying on their graves and the gruesome injustice of this couple meeting such a violent end to their promising young lives. But don’t go there late at night or you just might run into an eerie spectral figure wandering around axe in hand, looking for his next victim.
Information for this article was obtained from Weik’s History of Putnam County Indiana 1910, and the Putnam County Sesquicentennial, 1966, both of which contain a more detailed version of this story.