Even one of Jefferson County’s most heinous crimes and painfully drawn out cold cases — the murders of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew — could not, after four decades, crush the dream of a woman with the closest of ties to the couple.

Sam Hack has finally been able to return to her Fort Atkinson home and, in a few days, will work in the same beauty salon her friend and childhood idol, Kelly, did.

Born “Susan,” Sam Hack has been called “Sam” since she was 2 years old. She said that will never change. She conquered any apprehensions she had about returning to her hometown, which carries with it many memories of activities with her brother, Tim, and his girlfriend, Kelly, who was also her close friend and childhood ideal.

Tim and Kelly were murdered in 1980, after being abducted outside the Concord House in the Town of Concord following their attendance at a wedding reception Aug. 9, 1980. Two months later, their skeletal remains were found by hunters just east of Watertown, along a railroad track that still parallels state Highway 16.

Many readers will recall the extended saga of the Hack/Drew killings that culminated three decades after they occurred, in 2010, with the conviction of drifter Edward Edwards. Edwards was, by then, a senior citizen. He appeared in court in Jefferson in a wheelchair with a breathing apparatus.

Edwards was ordered to serve two consecutive life terms in prison by Jefferson County Branch II Circuit Court Judge William Hue.

The now-deceased 76-year-old former Kentucky man was also directed to spend the rest of his life in an Ohio prison and died in Ohio Corrections Medical Center in Columbus April 7, 2011. He admitted to killing another couple, and his stepson, in a separate incident decades ago in Ohio.

The Hack/Drew murder mystery was Jefferson County’s most prominent and frustrating cold case until Edwards was arrested in the summer of 2009.

After receiving a tip, investigators were able to obtain a DNA match between Edwards and semen found on the pants of Drew, which were recovered as evidence in a Concord-area ditch shortly after the couple went missing. Edwards was quickly transported north from his trailer home in Louisville, Kentucky, for charging in Jefferson County. An emotional trial took place and the conviction was entered.

Since just before his arrest, authorities believed Edwards, an itinerant con man who lived in a campground adjacent to the Concord House near Interstate 94, abducted Hack and Drew after the wedding reception.

The murders are part of terrible, but fading, memories for the general public. To Sam, her family and the Drews, however, they remain vivid.

Sam still has strong fondness for Kelly, whom she viewed as an older sister. She loved hanging around the teenage girl when she was 10 and 11 years old.

“I was so much younger than she was,” Sam said.

Barbara Congdon has owned the Robin’s Nest in Fort Atkinson for almost 50 years. Congdon also owns similarly named salons in Jefferson, Whitewater and Milton. She has owned the Robin’s Nest III in Watertown for 35 years.

Congdon recalled she cut Kelly’s hair since Kelly was 2 years old and all the girl ever wanted to do after that was to be a hair stylist, like Congdon. She went on to do just that, with Congdon in Fort Atkinson, until Edwards ended her life.

“When they went missing, the police came right to me and questioned me,” Congdon said. “It went on and on, about whether (I had seen anyone suspicious come into the salon). From that day on, it all just started.”

Barb went on to establish a scholarship for people interested in becoming hair stylists, in memory of Kelly. She recalled that, fairly recently, Sam returned to Fort Atkinson and came into her shop.

“Sam came back and wanted to be a hairstylist with me. She wrote this letter that was just incredible and she wanted to come back to her roots, here in Fort Atkinson,” Barb said. “It made my heart feel so good and it’s wonderful. Kelly encouraged her as a youngster. It’s quite a story about how this all came into her life.”

Sam had been married and raised several children, who are now adults, in Madison. She lived in the state capital for 35 years, working for three more years as a hair-stylist in Lake Mills, while commuting from Madison after her divorce. In recent years, she and her boyfriend relocated to Fort Atkinson, leading Sam to a commute to, and from, Lake Mills each day.

“When my oldest child graduated from high school, my boyfriend and I came across a house in Fort Atkinson. This was about two-and-half years ago,” Sam said. “This meant I’d drive by Kelly’s former house, then the Robin’s Nest, on my way home. One day, I think it was in the fall of 2018, I pulled over and ran in and met Barb again after many years. So here was this beautiful woman, with this wonderful southern accent, in the exact same place Kelly once worked. When she saw me, she said, right away, ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’”

Congdon holds Sam’s talent and charisma as a stylist in high regard.

“She is so good that all her clients came along with her from Madison to her (salon) job in Lake Mills,” Congdon acknowledged. “(Sam) came in a year ago to ask if she could work with me and I said, ‘By all means.’ It was incredible.”

“I had been driving by (the Fort Atkinson Robin’s Nest) for a year-and-a-half and something just caused me to stop and think, then turn in,” Sam said. “There is not a day that passes that I don’t think of Tim and Kelly. Everything came full-circle and I wanted to move back.”

Sam was 11 years old when Tim and Kelly went missing. Tim was 18, Kelly was 19, when they disappeared. Not only did Sam lose an older brother, she lost an older girlfriend she revered.

“She was like an older sister to me,” Sam recalled. “She would come around our farm a lot. We played ‘hair’ a lot — combing and cutting. We’d go shopping. We’d do makeup. She’d put makeup on me and I’d put makeup on her. She was just fun to be around and she was about nine years older.”

Sam also remembered making cookies and crafts with Kelly.

“We’d always meet up in the kitchen, and we’d be baking and cooking. She’d give us our haircuts,” Sam said. “We’d go to her house, go in her closet and wear her shoes.”

Sam said her brother dated Kelly through high school and they enjoyed attending formal events, the last being the wedding reception in Concord.

“She was around a lot. I idolized her. I always wanted to be just like her. I tried to chew the same kind of gum she did and use the same lipstick — everything,” Sam said.

Sam went on to be the winner of a Kelly Drew scholarship for budding cosmetologists, founded by the Hack and Drew families. A few years later, she presented the award to another young woman, keeping Kelly’s love of cosmetology alive. Sam wants to create another scholarship to inspire more careers.

Sam’s return to Fort Atkinson also means she is closer to her father and other family members, while having a chance to renew old friendships.

“I have a lot of family here and we’re close,” she said. “Fort Atkinson is a great little community. I never dreamed I’d come back, but there is a stronger attraction now. It wasn’t a hard decision. It was comfortable. Everything just connected. I use Kelly’s name for the middle names of my children and two of my girls are in cosmetology.”

For many, such a change in lifestyle, carrying so much significance, might be emotionally taxing. Sam, however, feels satisfaction with her decision will not only be sustained, but will grow.

“I haven’t officially started work at the Robin’s Nest yet, but I think I can do this,” she said. “I’ve run into a lot of familiar faces in Fort Atkinson. I remember so many people. So often, over the past couple of years, I’ve heard myself telling people, ‘Oh my God, it’s so good to see you!’” There will be so many faces that I will be seeing that I haven’t seen since a funeral, or maybe a wedding a long time ago.”

Sam said she often ponders what life would be like if her childhood hero was still with her.

“I keep wondering where we would be in our relationship if Kelly had lived,” Sam said. “Would we still be close and would we be working in the same salon? I would call my coming to the salon at this point in life a triumph. Kelly was passionate about cosmetology and hair-styling. I still want to follow in those footsteps. Maybe I want to share my spirit with Kelly. I don’t know. It just all feels comfortable.”

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