August 10, 1961

Searchers Scan Area For Mrs. Jewel Stevens

A Tennessee highway patrol helicopter has joined in the continuous search for Mrs. Jewel Stevens in a wide area above Decherd known as the Wilder's Chapel Community.

More than one hundred persons have been combing the area for the woman, reported to be about thirty years of age, since she was reported to be missing from home late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

A note presumably left by her was found Tuesday, but the contents of the note, Sheriff Roy McClain said did not indicate that she was taking her own life. He said the note simple read, "Gone, but not forgotten, Love, Momma." McClain said the note was evidently directed to her three children.

He said that a search of the area was immediately launched with about seventy-five neighbors and friends participating. The search has continued with volunteers members of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 115th Field Artillery Battalion, Tennessee National Guard, joining in.

A spokesman for the National Guard explained that searchers from the local National Guard Battery are all on a volunteer basis. He said if the National Guard is called out, State approval will be needed.

Her husband, Luther Stevens, Jr., the Sheriff said, has not been able to shed much light on her whereabouts, but has continually assisted in the search. He told searchers that she was wearing a night gown, duster and a pair of flats when she left home. These items, he reported, were missing from her clothing.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Stevens are employed at Genesco in Cowan.

In commenting further on the note, McClain said, that it was written on a piece of note book paper that had scribbling on the back side, believed to have been done by one of the children and at the bottom was the word, "well" or "will". He said that this word prompted divers to be called out and that a search of wells in the vicinity of the Steven's (sic) home has been made.

McClain said that a pond was located some distance from the home, but that a heavy growth surrounding the pond had not been disturbed leading him to believe that she had not been in this particular area. He said that if she had jumped or fallen into a well or pond the chances are that by late Wednesday or early Thursday morning her body would rise from the depths of the water since the hot temperature has warmed the water considerably.

An investigation by the sheriff or her friends and acquaintances, at home and at her job in Cowan, has failed to turn up leads as to her whereabouts.

August 17, 1961

Coroner Reports Death By Drowning Was "Suicide"


Franklin County coroner Robert Sims, following a study of a report from state pathologist W. J. Core, ruled Monday that the death by drowning of Mrs. Jewel Stevens was "suicide."

His opinion came after a jury deliberated an hour and a half and was able to conclude only that death was by drowning, which was borne out by Dr. Core's report.

The body of Mrs. Stevens, missing from home since Tuesday, was found about 1.5 miles from the Stevens home in the Wilder's Chapel community floating in Elk River below Dabbs' Ford Bridge.

She had been the object of a search by hundreds of volunteers since she was first reported missing.
She was the mother of three children and was employe (sic) of Genesco in Cowan.

A native of Franklin County, she was the daughter of Mrs. Hassie McKelvey Hill, who survives, and the late Joe Hill, and was a member of the Church of God.

Funeral services were conducted Monday afternoon with burial in Mt. Garner Cemetery.

Sarah Jewel Hill was born on May 7, 1926, to Joe Carter Hill (1895-1959) and Hassie Beulah McKelvey (1902-1984). Her parents lived in the Wilder's Chapel community of Franklin County, Tennessee. She was the oldest of five children. She attended the Wilder's Chapel Elementary School and, after her marriage, the White Oak Grove Church of God, where her funeral was held.

She married Luther M. Stevens, Jr. (1924-2011) about 1943, probably in Rossville, GA. He was the son of Luther M. Stevens, Sr. (1890-1977), and Lizzie D. Kirk (1886-1968). Luther's close relatives, including Jewel, called him "Mann," which was probably his middle name. Jewel and Luther had three children, Nelson, born about 1947; Wayne, born about 1950; and Linda Marie, born about 1953. In 1961, Jewel and Luther both worked at the Genesco hat factory in Cowan. It is said that, during the lunch breaks, Jewel sat alone and cried.

On the night she disappeared, Jewel's two sons stayed at the home of a friend; her young daughter was at home. Jewel obviously left on foot, because the car was in the driveway, and she had not taken her glasses, purse, or clothes other than a nightgown, duster, and house slippers (flats). She left a brief note, and her mother confirmed that it was in Jewel's handwriting. An extensive search, involving neighbors and the National Guard, was undertaken.

Because it was thought that the word "well" was in the note, the searchers lowered a member of the National Guard into the well behind Jewel's house, but no body was found. Over several days, they searched numerous wells and woods in the vicinity. Other than the note, there were few clues to her disappearance. Her mother received several, unsettling telephone calls from people who considered themselves psychics. One told her that Jewel's body could be found on the altar of the black church at Prairie Chapel.

About a week later, some fishermen on the Elk River, about 1.5 miles away and about one-half mile west of the Dabbs Ford Bridge, found her body in the river near the north shore. She was in a small indentation in the bank, in water that was only two or three feet deep. She was floating on her stomach, swollen to twice her normal size, with her housecoat high on her back. Maggots were covering the exposed flesh. Her body, which had been in the warm, slow-moving water for a week, was recovered by Watson Moore, a funeral home director, and Billy Sansom, Jewel's second cousin and a member of the National Guard. A state trooper named Hullett held the boat while Billy and Watson placed her body in a bag inside the boat.

An autopsy revealed that Jewel died of drowning. The only marks on her body were scratches on her legs. Her death was ruled a suicide. A grand jury, meeting for 90 minutes, concluded only that she died by drowning. (No autopsy or sheriff's department records now exist.)

Jewel was buried in the Mt. Garner Cemetery in Decherd, with her dates of birth and death listed. Beside her is the empty grave of Luther, with a birth date but no date of death. Luther's obituary did not list where he is buried.

An unanswered question is: Why did she have scratches on her legs? Instead of walking on the meandering road, she could have taken a shortcut to the river, walking through fields to reach some woods about 50 yards from the river. She could have acquired the scratches passing through this area. (If this is the case, she would have entered the river more than a quarter of a mile upstream from the Dabbs Ford Bridge.) Alternatively, she could have hidden in briers beside the road to avoid being seen by someone in a passing car.

The information in this document relating to Jewel's death comes from the newspaper reports (see above) and from what I was told by various people familiar with the event.

Donald L. Hill (Jewel's first cousin)
July 18, 2011