October has a way of summoning dark stories from the depths of our city’s past. Nestled among Fishers’ modern conveniences and cozy homes lies a history so chilling it could make any resident’s blood run cold. Gather around as we unveil a bone-chilling tale of grave robbing, treacherous stand-offs, and explosive defenses from our very own backyards!
David Heighway, the revered Hamilton County Historian, has been shining a lantern into the shadowy corners of Fishers’ past. And his revelations about the grave-robbing antics of yesteryears will leave you both horrified and intrigued.
Fishers, believe it or not, was a veritable hub for grave robbers in the late 1800s. Why? Two reasons: Joseph Alexander and Wade Hampton West. Born in Fishers in 1959, Dr. Alexander ventured to Indianapolis to become a renowned anatomy lecturer. However, the anatomy world of the 1890s had a dark side: without a proper system to source bodies for study, anatomists like Alexander often turned to illicit sources—grave robbers.
Enter Rufus Cantrell and Hamp West. These two weren’t shy about exhuming the recently departed. Cantrell, after his arrest, pointed a bony finger at West, his chief competitor, implicating him in the grim trade. A confrontation between the two gangs at the then-called Beaver Cemetery over a particularly “valuable” body escalated into a full-blown gunfight. Legend whispers that a member of Cantrell’s gang, felled by a bullet, found his eternal resting place in the very grave they were robbing. We can only guess what happened next, but whispers suggest the medical schools got more than they bargained for that evening.
Fishers might recognize the name of the cemetery: it’s the resting place of the Fisher family, the very founders of our town. The story takes another chilling twist when we learn about young Velmer Bell Fisher, who passed away on July 16th, 1903—the very day West was found guilty of his crimes. Local legends claim that her heartbroken father, fearing the unsavory attention of grave robbers, took a drastic measure to protect his daughter’s resting place: he encircled her coffin with dynamite.
Walking past the gravestones, one can’t help but wonder: How many of these final resting places still house their intended occupants? Or have they long been emptied by the grave robbers of yore?
So, as the chilly October winds sweep through Fishers, remember the tales of its eerie past. The spirits of those times might just be lingering, waiting for their stories to be retold. 🎃👻
Be sure to join us for more “Fishers Frights” as we continue to explore the spooky history of our city!
Kara Hall is the Marketing and PR Manager for the City of Fishers and has been with the department since 2017. Her favorite thing to do in Fishers is checking out the local restaurants and boutiques around town and taking walks with her daughter, dog, and husband at parks #AroundFishers. Her other hobbies include listening to podcasts, watching true crime documentaries, going to concerts, reading, and cheering on the Colts on Sundays. She loves that Fishers is always changing and is constantly looking for ways to create vibrancy within the community.