Wednesday, November 23, 2016

House Fire Reveals a Terrible Horror

The skies were cloudy and spitting a light rain on 12 January 1950 in Hammond, Indiana, when firemen responded to an early morning alarm on the southeast side of town. Inside a fire-swept bungalow were the bodies of four adults and two children. The deputy coroner, B. W. Tidlaw, told the press there was evidence of a murder suicide and "blood was all over the place." According to the Decatur Daily Review, Tidlaw revealed machinist Felix Samas, 33, killed himself  and apparently killed his wife, Kathryn, 26, and their two children, Felix Jr., 4, and 18-month-old Phyllis Elaine; and two roomers, Richard Norman, 23, and his bride, Shirley, 18.

Kathryn Coleman before her marriage; courtesy
of member neonscarf

The bodies of Samas, his wife, and the children were found in one bedroom. The bodies of the Normans were found in a second bedroom. It was believed the murders were committed with a small caliber pistol and some butcher knives. The Normans and Mrs. Samas were stabbed and shot. In addition, Mrs. Samas had been beaten over the head and a portion of the butt of a .22-caliber pistol was found embedded in her head. The children were shot through the head.

Further investigation revealed the couple was estranged and Mrs. Samas was seeking a divorce. Felix lived Chicago and a 7-page letter written in red ink told the embittered husband's side of the story. The 13 January 1950 edition of the Terre Haute Tribune quoted from the letter in an article on page 17:

"I married my wife, Kathryn, while both of us were under the influence of liquor. She was 13...I want custody of my son, as I believe she is an unfit mother. We have a girl who is one year old. I don't want custody as I don't believe it is mine. I also want the baby and I to have a blood type to see if it is possible that I am the father....She claims I am violent, etc. -- This is for one reason only --  she thinks by having the police after me continuously I will not try to see my son, but judge gave me permission to see my son at our divorce hearing.

Terre Haute Tribune 13 January 1950 edition, page 17; courtesy of

Samas wrote that his wife had once been fined and put on probation for attacking her sister with a butcher knife. "I would like this incident brought out in court to show that my wife is the violent one and not I...I hired a housekeeper to help with the housework and Kathryn, my wife, would never take an interest in our family life any more...she liked the popularity of being the boss of the restaurant...Also I have always done the washing and the ironing."

Felix, Kathryn, Felix, Jr., and Phyllis were interred in Elmwood Cemetery in Hammond.

Felix Joseph Samas was born on 24 June 1917 to Justin Samas and Elizabeth Marie (Samas) Samas in Chicago Heights, Illinois. His parents were Lithuanian immigrants who were from the same home town in Lithuania and were probably cousins. Kathryn (Coleman) Samas was the daughter of George Coleman and Ollie May Woods and was born in Du Quin, Illinois. She and Felix married on 17 August 1941 in Cape Giradeau, Missouri. They lived in Hammond after Felix completed his Army service during World War II and owned a lunch counter-type restaurant, which Kathryn managed.

Felix Joseph Samas was the brother-in-law of first cousin twice removed, Bernice "Bea" Marie (Muir) Samas, who married Alexander Francis Samas about three years before this tragedy occurred.

The research for this story was conducted by Sarah Semple.


  1. Wow! What a terrible tragedy. The loss of all of those innocent lives is heartbreaking and frightening.

  2. So sad, all of it. The fact that he killed his family enforces the idea that he was the violent one, despite his protests.

  3. How awful. What people are capable of doing to each other...