I remember feeling excited as a child, more than excited, ecstatic when we drove to the small town of Batavia, Ohio, on holidays to visit relatives. Both sets of grandparents and my only cousins lived there in 1965, and since my father was in the Navy, we lived in various places, and could only visit there on holidays.
As we drove through the Appalachian Mountains from our home in Alexandria, Virginia, to spend Thanksgiving with the family that year, my sister and I could barely contain ourselves with excitement. I was seven years old, and my sister was six, and we loved the adventurous journeys to Batavia. This was before highways were built through tunnels in the mountains, which made the drive a long one as we drove up and down steep curvy roads. My father smoked a pipe and drank coffee from a thermos while driving, and would buy us trinkets when we stopped at souvenir shops along the way. My mother taught us traveling songs like, “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘round the Mountain When She Comes,” and “What’s Round on the Ends and High in the Middle, Ohio” to name a few.
Batavia was a typical small town in those days, something like Mayberry, you could say. The village was surrounded by hills, which kept it somewhat isolated in the valley between them, and made for a grand entrance when driving down the hill toward it. With a population of around 1200, most people lived in large older homes with front porches on streets extending from a main street. My grandparents lived in such houses, and would walk us to the post office, drug store, grocery store, and other shops on Main Street and proudly announce to the sales clerks who we were.
There were churches, a newspaper, several banks, the county courthouse, and the jail on Main Street as well, where you could hear inmates shouting and whistling through the barred windows as you walked on the sidewalk below. My grandmothers played bridge, socialized on front porches, and were busy maintaining a respected social standing in the community, which had begun generations before.
Our life in Alexandria was much different from life in Batavia, although we played with neighborhood children and went to school there, we did not have close ties with the community. Our house was in a large suburban area with many other modern houses that were within walking distance of the school, and nothing more. Needless to say, when we arrived at my grandmother’s house that Nov., we were greeted with such excitement and enthusiasm, we felt like the most important people on Earth. Little did I know, I was about to cross paths with another girl, exactly my age, and her sister who were also deeply loved, but whose importance would lead to anything but joy.
On Nov. 24, 1965, the day before Thanksgiving, my mother drove us to the home of my aunt and uncle to spend the day playing with our cousins while she helped my grandparents prepare Thanksgiving dinner. My cousins lived a few blocks from the center of town in a small subdivision of newer homes. They were small brick houses with attached garages, and were in sharp contrast to the older charming homes just a few blocks away.
We were excited about spending the day with our cousins since they were our only first cousins, and we rarely saw them. Kennedy was my sister’s age, and her brother J.B. was a few years younger. My aunt greeted us at the door, but did not appear to share the excitement we were feeling. In fact, she was quite upset, and started telling my mother about the horrible events that had just happened across the street.
At around 8:30 that morning, Janet Wolfe, who lived in one of the smallest brick houses across the street from my aunt, had shot and killed her two nieces and herself. Her nieces, Cynthia Kay Hitt, age seven, and Linda Fay Hitt, age six, had been living with their aunt for two years since their mother died. Their brother, age 12, had remained at home with their father and grandmother, and their father had recently married a widow with a daughter of her own.
According to the article in the Dec. 2, 1965, edition of the Clermont Sun Newspaper, the girls were going to spend Thanksgiving Day with their father and family, and Mrs. Wolfe was not willing to give them up, even for one day. She had called her sister Johan, who lived close by, and told her that the girls were crying about having to spend Thanksgiving with their father, and she didn’t know what to do. Something about the conversation alarmed Johan, and she immediately ran to her sister’s house and heard a series of guns shots as she came up to the door.
Johan broke the glass in the door in the rear of the house to get in, severely cutting her arm, and then found her sister laying dead between two twin beds with a 22 revolver beside her in the girls’ bedroom. Cynthia and Linda were also dead, lying in the twin beds, dressed in their school clothes, each with a gun shot wound in their head as well. Johan also found a note in the kitchen that read, “I did it,” signed by Janet Wolfe.
The story upset my mother, and she and my aunt talked about it for quite some time as we children watched. Kennedy, who had walked to school every day with the girls, said she wasn’t feeling well, and spent the day in bed. My six-year-old sister, four-year-old cousin and I picked up on the aunt’s last name of Wolfe, and spent the rest of the day beating up a large stuffed bear as we pretended to be fighting an evil wolf.
The next day at Thanksgiving, things went well as they normally did. We sat at the children’s table as my mother and grandfather could be heard laughing above the buzz of conversation of the large group assembled around my grandmother’s dinning room table. We were excited to be together, all dressed up, enjoying a delicious meal, with little mention of the horrible event that had taken place just a short distance away.
As the days passed and we returned to our home in Virginia, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened to Cynthia and Linda. Two sisters, the exact ages of my sister and myself, who were dressed up and cared for much the same way we were. I imagined them as their aunt told them to lie down before going to school that morning, and then walked up to each one and shot them in the head. Did they see her coming? Did the second victim see her sister being shot and then see her aunt coming for her? The horror of the event felt like gunshot wounds to my spirit, as the pain and terror jabbed me in quick gut-wrenching emotional thrusts.
The community newspaper in Batavia ran the story on the front page the next week with the headline, “Thanksgiving A Day of Grief in Batavia.” On the society page, my grandmother had given them a write-up of her Thanksgiving get-together. She listed her guests with proper titles, Mr. and Mrs. and children, Col. and Mrs., without identifying them as family members, as if she were leading readers to believe she had important people from across the country coming to join her at her home.
As the years passed, I didn’t think much about our family Thanksgiving get-togethers in Batavia, as my memories faded into a vague recollection of events. I can’t say the same for the memory of what happened to Cynthia and Linda Hitt, however. To this day I feel horrified as I clearly imagine two young girls lying dead in their beds with gun shot wounds to their heads.
Source: The Clermont Sun Newspaper, Dec. 2, 1965, copied from microfilm at Batavia, Ohio, branch of the Clermont County Public Library.
Copyright Kathleen Pfeiffer. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.