Looking at this photo it looks like a very nice, typical 1900s era family. Here you see a husband and wife with their 8 sons. They had two daughters who ran out of the frame just before the photo was taken. Who would think, by viewing this picture, that there could be so much heartbreak and deceit behind it?
John Daniel Willard was born May 21, 1847, in Adams County, Illinois. He met and married the beautiful Vaninet “Evanda” Decker (born in 1848 in Illinois) on January 5, 1869. Shortly after their marriage, they moved to Easley, Macon Co, Missouri. Over the next 14 years, they had 4 sons. During this time Evanda began talking to herself constantly and acting very erratic. She would just wander off leaving her young children alone. It got increasingly worse after the birth of her 4th son in August of 1883. John felt the only option was to have Evanda committed. Sometime before the end of 1883 she was admitted into the Missouri State Mental Hospital in Fulton, MO.
Early in 1884, John petitioned the court to be granted a divorce from Evanda but it was denied. This did not stop John from finding a new wife. On March 16, 1884, he married a Miss Rosa Noble in Adair, MO. He was 36 years old and she was under the age of 18. Her father had to give permission for them to marry. Not much is known about this marriage. What we do know is that Rosa moved into John’s house and took care of his 4 sons. All of a sudden there are no more records of Rosa. No divorce papers, no other marriage licenses, and no death certificates. One day she is there and the next day she is gone!
On December 26, 1886, John marries his 3rd and final wife, Sarah Jane Pinkerton born in the month of August 1863. She was 23 years old and he was 39. A little less than 9 months later they welcomed their first child, a little girl. They went on to have a total of 6 children, 2 girls, and 4 boys. After they were married they moved the family to the mining community of Willard, MO which is just north of Springfield, MO.
After Sarah died in 1910, John and the younger children moved to Lexington, MO where the older boys had moved. On January 25, 1914, at the age of 66, John died of liver cancer. He is buried in the Dover Cemetery in Dover, MO. In the 27 years since he had Evanda committed he never went to visit her. He never divorced any of his wives and he never revealed what happened to Rosa. This was indeed a very mysterious man. It is unknown if Rosa and Sarah knew that John never divorced Evanda, therefore they were never really married to the man.
Evanda Decker Willard died in the State Mental Hospital on November 15, 1925, at the age of 77.
The Willard Family Picture:
Back row L-R
William Albert Willard, Charles Andrew Willard, George Earnest Willard, and John Henry Willard
Front row L-R
Sarah Jane (Pinkerton), John Daniel Willard, Jim H. Willard (on lap), Mitchell Lee Willard, Benjamin Harrison Willard, and Joseph Andrew Willard.
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