Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower



Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Jul 13

Wilson "Bert" Highwarden: The Murderous Husband x2

Posted on July 13, 2018 at 1:51 PM by Melissa Dalton

Remember when I said last Friday that there was a strange side story? Well, get ready for a crazy tale…

After Simeon Highwarden and Elizabeth Hill ran off to Canada, they did live as husband and wife. After reviewing many records, it appears Elizabeth changed her name to Elizabeth Scott after they moved (we believe Scott was her maiden name, but have been unable to confirm). Although they claimed to be married, I also was unable to find any marriage records for the two. However, the 1871 and 1881 Canada Census lists them as married and living in Ontario. As you can see, they had several children, one of which was Wilson Bertrim “Bert” Highwarden (Figs 1 & 2), whose life takes a tumultuous turn.

1871 Canada Census (JPG)
Fig 1. 1871 Canada Census (FamilySearch.org)

1881 Canada Census (JPG)
Fig 2. 1881 Canada Census (Ancestry.com)

At the time of the 1881 Census, Wilson (aka “Bert”) was about 6 years old. I wasn’t able to find much until 1890, when he popped up on the voter registration list for Chicago (Fig 3). This document states he was living in Chicago for almost two years when he registered to vote, meaning he must have moved to the States around 1888 or so.

1890 Chicago Voter Registration List (JPG)
Fig 3. 1890 Voter Registration for Chicago, IL (Ancestry.com)

Sometime between 1890 and 1898, he met Mabel “Ada” Anderson of Champaign County, Ohio, and on March 30, 1898, they married and were living in Urbana Township (Fig 4). By 1900, they had two children, Donald and Raymond (Fig 5), and by 1910, they had two more children, Ethel and Grace (Fig 6).

1898 Marriage Record to Ada Anderson (JPG)
Fig 4. 1898 Marriage Record for Bert and Ada (Ancestry.com)

1900 US Census (JPG)
Fig 5. 1900 Census Record (FamilySearch.org)

1910 US Census (JPG)
Fig 6. 1910 Census Record (FamilySearch.org)

Ada and Bert had many problems, and Ada filed for divorce due to his drinking and abusive behavior. Bert did not take kindly to this, and he threatened her life many times – and one fateful day, he carried out his threat. Ada had returned to the home to gather some personal items, and when Bert approached her and told her to remarry him, Ada refused, infuriating him. Within an instant, Bert shot and killed her (Fig 7). Newspapers reported that after killing his wife, Bert “calmly” walked into the police station and turned himself in stating, “she got what was coming to her” (Fig 8). Highwarden was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison (Fig 9).

1911 Death Certificate of Ada Highwarden (JPG)
Fig 7. Death Certificate of Ada Highwarden (Ancestry.com)

Excerpt from The Daily Herald dated August 2, 1911 (JPG)
Fig 8. Excerpt from The Daily Herald dated August 2, 1911 (Newspapers.com)

Excerpt from The Marion Weekly Star dated January 6, 1912 (JPG)
Fig 9. Excerpt from The Marion Weekly Star dated January 6, 1912 (Newspapers.com)

This is where one would think the story ends, right? Well, sadly, it doesn’t. Highwarden only served six years (you read that right) for murdering his wife, and was granted clemency by Governor Cox in 1917. The exact reason wasn’t explicitly listed, but various articles stated it was due to good behavior and staying sober (easy to do when imprisoned) (Fig 10).

Excerpt from The Cincinnati Enquirer dated December 22, 1917 (JPG)
Fig 10. Excerpt from The Cincinnati Enquirer dated December 22, 1917 (Newspapers.com)

After being released, Highwarden returned to Champaign County, and in 1923, he married Rovilla Everett. If you look closely, the marriage records stated Highwarden had no previous marriages (Fig 11). This marriage did not go well either, and within a year of marriage, Rovilla filed for divorce. Highwarden did not approve of this, and without hesitation, shot her several times, killing her.

1923 Marriage Record for Rovilla Everett and Wilson B. Highwarden (JPG)
Fig 11. Marriage Record for Rovilla Everett and Wilson B. Highwarden (Ancestry.com)

Highwarden was arrested without incident, but told police that his wife, Rovilla, had been unfaithful. However, that claim did not help him and this time, there was no leniency or clemency. Judge Middleton, the same judge who sentenced him to life in prison for killing his first wife, sentenced him to death by electric chair. Highwarden plead for a new trial, but his request was denied (Fig 12). Highwarden didn’t have long between his trial and sentence of death, and on February 9, 1925, he paid the ultimate price for his crimes (Figs 13 & 14).

Excerpt from The News-Journal dated October 28, 1924 (JPG)
Fig 12. Excerpt from the News-Journal dated October 28, 1924 (Newspapers.com)

Excerpt from The Tribune dated February 9, 1925 (JPG)
Fig 13. Excerpt from The Tribune dated February 9, 1925 (Newspapers.com)

1925 Death Certificate of Bert Highwarden (JPG)
Fig 14. Death Certificate of Bert Highwarden (Ancestry.com)

Highwarden’s actions not only ended the lives of two women, but forever altered the lives of Ada and Rovilla’s children. Ada’s children went to live with her parents, but all of Rovilla’s children were sent to the children’s home as they had no one to provide for them.

This is a deeply sad story, and although it is not specifically Greene County, I felt it was one that should be told. I also feel that this story just illustrates what one may find when sifting through records – the buried stories of our families and communities.

Sources:
Ancestry.com
FamilySearch.org
Newspapers.com



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