Evelyn Fariss, who was 12 years old at the time, was sold as a wife to husband No. 1, who was 77 years old. Fariss then married husband No. 2 when she was 15, but she had the marriage canceled about a year later without telling him.
Fariss went on to become a Broadway and silent movie star after her third marriage. She left him while he was on a long business trip to Europe, taking a lot of his money with her, and got married again before he came back.
That fourth husband took her to Tampa, where she finally reached the social level she had been looking for for a long time. In 1923, the husband killed a man in what may have been an act of jealousy.
In total, she got married 10 times, twice to the same man. Three of them had ties to Tampa. Most of them were shocking, but the murder trial of one husband in Tampa that made national news was the worst. This is Fariss’ life story, told 100 years after the trial that caught the attention of Tampa.
A year ago, K.H. Rafferty wrote a book called “Sister E X: A Cruel Fate” about her great-aunt Fariss. In it, she talks about how her ancestor’s story is tragic and starts with that first marriage. Rafferty said, “She lost her whole childhood.” “She should have said it was stolen because her sister Mary sold it.”
According to Rafferty’s book, Fariss was born in 1896 in a mountain town in Tennessee. Her sister sold her to Van Heusen, an older man from Chattanooga, for $250,000. Van Heusen abused the young girl physically, sexually, and mentally.
A few years later, he died, leaving her with a lot of money. He wrote that her life wasn’t easy, though. “She was a little girl who was put in charge of adults.” And that slowed down her emotional and mental growth in many ways. Evelyn’s life was like a house that didn’t have a base to support it.
Fariss worked at a Chattanooga department store, where she met Carl Merritt, the man who would become her second husband. She married him, but later divorced him to become an actress in New York.
“A beautiful child of the South, Evelyn Fariss stood behind the ribbon counter of a department store… and dreamed of someday shining in society,” the New York Daily News wrote about Fariss in 1923.
In New York, she got a part in the famous and complicated Broadway variety show Ziegfeld Follies and was cast in six silent movies. She was given gold by fans, which made her known as the “Million Dollar Beauty of Broadway,” Rafferty wrote.
But instead of becoming well-known, she became hated. Fariss married stockbroker William Gill and had a daughter named Peggy with him. But in 1920, while he was in Europe, he left Gill.
Two years later, Gill sued her, saying that when he got home, his “apartment was empty of furniture and his wife had gone south with a fortune in securities to marry someone else.” He said he put off going to court because he had a broken heart, according to a national story in the New York Daily News about the lawsuit.
The newspapers said Gill asked for $75,000 and was given $30,000. “He got all of his jewelry back, along with some furniture and stocks, but only $6,000,” Rafferty wrote.