Tragedy in Tin
Chapter 1 and 2
Grace Sims, Daughter of Tyre Houston "Ti" Sims and Mary Jane Robinson. Grace
Was Depicted as a Serial Killer in the Book, "Tragedy of Tin Can Holler"
Written by her Granddaughter, Rozetta Mowery, Daughter of Seignoyst Randolph
'Seigs" Mowery (son of Grace Sims and J Marion Mowery) and Eliza Mae
Eliza Mae Robinson Mowery
The year 1959 was an uneventful year for most people. In the life of one little
7-year-old girl, Rozetta Mowery, it was a life-altering year. Her mother’s
vicious murder left her with emptiness and a heart full of unanswered questions.
It took her until she was 53 to find the answers and “the truth.”
Rozetta was born on August 4, 1952, to Seignoyst Randolph Mowery (aka Seig Sims)
and Eliza Mae Robinson at Epperson Hospital in the small town of Athens,
Tennessee. She was brought home to a two-room shack on the other side of the
railroad tracks to a community called “Tin Can Holler.”
She was told her mother named her after Rosita Bazamba, a Spanish dancer who was
famous at the time. At the age of 15 she discovered the real spelling of her
name when she received her birth certificate while applying for a social
security card and a learner’s permit. She was in shock! All of her report cards
and anything containing her name were not spelled correctly. Where had this
mysterious “Rozetta” come from, or rather, where had she been all those years?
It was half a century and what seemed a lifetime later before she found out the
truth regarding her last name and what it should have been.
She uncovered the truth about her mother’s brutal murder at the hands of someone
she had loved and trusted as a small child in Tin Can Holler. This truth exposed
family secrets that had been buried for decades and shocked her entire family
and three small communities in Tennessee.
Rozetta’s family tribulations began in Meigs County, Tennessee, a century before
she was born and a long time before Tin Can Holler. Meigs County is located in
southeast Tennessee. Its county seat, Decatur, is located in the middle of the
Tennessee Valley. It’s bordered on the west by the Tennessee River. The northern
third of the county is bordered on the west by Watts Bar Lake and the rest of
the county is bordered on the west by Chickamauga Lake. The lower third of the
county is divided by the Hiwassee River.
Rozetta’s great-grandfather was Tyre Houston Sims. He was named after his
mother’s father, Tyre Lawson, Sr. Tyre was the sixth child born of
Washington Sims and Caldonia Lawson, who had 10 children. George and Caldonia
were married on July 15, 1844. George was 21 years old and Caldonia was 17. The
family was very poor and times were grueling during the Civil War era from 1860
to 1865. The eldest son, William Henry Harrison Sims, enlisted in the 4th
Tennessee Cavalry unit in Nashville at the age of 24. After he returned home, he
and his wife, Mary, lived next to his family’s farm in Meigs County because
George gave his sons acreage from his original homestead when they became men.
George and his sons were loggers and owned a local sawmill. The illiterate
children had to work on the farm or at the sawmill and were not allowed to go to
school. They also farmed and raised hogs. They were a very private, close-knit
family that was feared and considered evil by their neighbors. They had limited
association with anyone in their small community. They only ventured to town
once a month to purchase needed supplies.
Rozetta’s grandparents, Tyre Houston Sims and Mary Jane Robison, applied for a
marriage license in Meigs County, but the marriage license was never returned to
the courthouse. There is no legal evidence that they ever consummated their
marriage by law. Tyre was 27 years old and Mary Jane was 28. Tyre built a small
cabin for his bride on the 12 acres given to him by his father. The surrounding
farmlands were owned by the Lockmillers on the north, the Davises on the west,
and the Fikeses on the east; to the south were Brickell Ridge and the McMinn
County line. Tyre continued to work with his brothers harvesting lumber for
their sawmill, raised hogs and farmed his 12 acres.
Mary Jane had a lot of health issues. These health problems caused her to have
many miscarriages. On September 21, 1886, at the age of 34, she gave birth to
Rozetta’s grandmother, Grace Victoria Sims. Her grandmother, Grace, was their
As Grace began to blossom into a young woman, her mother’s health issues
worsened. It is not known why she had so many health problems, but she may have
had cancer. Grace had to care for her mother and do all the chores her mother
had always done. She had been allowed to go to school but dropped out to care
for her mother. Grace, still a child, was a big girl and looked older than her
age. She was 5 feet 5 inches, with dark blue eyes and long dark brown hair, and
weighed around 155 pounds. At this same time, Tyre’s affection for Grace became
compulsive and uncontrollable. He began to show her more attention and
affection. Grace mistook this as her father’s way of showing her he loved her.
His demands and sexual advances increased, and Tyre began abusing Grace worse
than incest and completely ignored his wife, Mary Jane. Grace became withdrawn
and angry and tried to avoid his advances. Whenever she refused, he would beat
her. There was no way to escape the clutches and the control of her father.
Mary Jane, although she knew what was happening to her daughter, was too weak
and ill to stop it. Even in the best of health Mary Jane had never been able to
stand up to Tyre, because she knew he would also beat her. Family secrets, no
matter how terrible, were never spoken back then. This was an era of secrecy and
those remained within the family.
As Grace approached her late teen years she became very rebellious and began
drinking. On one occasion she was seen drunk, riding her mule through the city
of Decatur wearing only her gun and holster belt around her waist. In 1905, when
Grace was 19 years old, she met Cleveland Smith, a married man. She could always
get moonshine from him. They became drinking buddies and partners in crime. She
and Cleveland Smith were arrested numerous times for trespassing, public
drunkenness, carrying a pistol, public profanity, manufacturing moonshine, and
lewdness. Lewdness during that time period was unmarried couples living
together. Grace never served any jail time in Meigs County. She only had to pay
Because of her abuse at the hands of her father, Grace became a very vicious and
evil woman with a hateful disposition. She also became a callus, fearless woman
who did whatever she desired. She was charged twice in 1905 for felonious
assault but was not arrested. Again, the local authorities only made her pay the
Cleveland’s wife, Elizabeth, divorced him, but he did not want to marry Grace
and this made her very angry. She stopped seeing him and began to drink more.
Once again she was arrested numerous times for public drunkenness and paid the
fines. She continued her crime sprees but did so in the Chattanooga area, where
she and a group of teenage boys would rob mom-and-pop stores. She would also
steal other peoples’ mail from their mailboxes, looking for money.
None of the local women would associate with Grace, and the local men would
cross the street to avoid passing her on the sidewalk when she came to town to
do her shopping. The local men said she was “meaner than a diamondback
Because Grace was half German and half Italian she inherited a spirit of energy.
She also may have had some type of chemical imbalance in her brain. Today she
would possibly be diagnosed with hallucinations and schizophrenia. This could
explain her bizarre behavior, or it could have been the moonshine. Grace
certainly did not interpret the world in the same way normal people do. The
abuse of her father probably enhanced the already pronounced chemical imbalance
within her body and mind.
She was extremely divided. She was two different people. This was horrifying to
Grace, as she did not know who she was. There were extremes of love and fear
that went on within her constantly and she would rationalize what she did as
love, because her interpretation of love was so warped from her abuse and her
addiction to moonshine. Her left side was the victim and her right side was the
aggressor. This is like a dual personality, and she probably had more than two
personalities. The only remedy for this condition was to confine people to the
Grace, however, had a clever way with words, especially with men, and knew how
to manipulate them. Grace began to travel outside Decatur in search of rich
married men. She would be gone for weeks and sometimes a month or more. When she
came back she always had plenty of money. With this money, she built a huge barn
on the south end of the property and purchased more hogs. Her father had taught
her the hog business and how to slaughter them and process the meat. She later
built her own house close to the barn on the property which is now called Sims
In 1909, at the age of 23, she met another married man, J. Marion Mowery, who
leased the Sims family sawmill that Tyre and his brothers once operated. She did
not care that Marion was a married man, because she had no self-respect and did
not care what others thought. Because this type of behavior was uncommon for
ladies during this time period, Grace became the gossip in the entire town of
Decatur. Her reputation was ruined and Tyre was full of shame because of what
his daughter had become. He knew he had created a monster but also that he could
no longer abuse his daughter. She was out of his control. He had to let her go.
Grace became romantically involved with Marion. She now had her own home where
he became a frequent visitor. On June 19, 1910, she gave birth to his son whom
she named J. Cornelius Mowery. Eleven months later, May 4, 1911, little
Cornelius was dead. He was a beautiful child and looked just like Grace. Because
Cornelius was so like her, Grace in her tormented mind, could not allow this
baby to grow up. The real reason for his death is unknown, but the rumor around
the county was she killed Cornelius and fed him to her hogs. Grace told people
he died in his sleep. No gravesite or birth and death records for Cornelius can
She continued her affair with Marion Mowery and once again gave birth to another
son on February 4, 1912. She named him Defoyst Marion Mowery. Grace was now 25
years old. Marion would sneak away from his wife and other children in
Cleveland, Tennessee, to spend time with Grace and Defoyst, but it was never
enough for Grace.
Marion Mowery’s visits were sporadic, and Grace needed money desperately. She
would leave Defoyst with her parents and go out of town for weeks at a time in
search of more wealthy married men. She always returned home with plenty of
money. The townspeople said she was blackmailing these married men after she had
affairs with them. If these men didn’t give her money, she would tell their
wives about their extramarital affair with her. Of course these wealthy married
men paid her to keep her quiet.