After Thomas Debnam allegedly shot and killed Ross Flowers, the farmer from whom he rented, he went on a bizarre loop through his neighborhood before fleeing Wilson County. According to this account, he first interrupted church services to hug his wife and bid her farewell, then went to the house of man named Henry Sing. He took Sing’s gun, then sat under an oak for a while, asking a girl to remove his shoes before running into the woods. Hearing a gunshot, John A. Jones went into the woods to find Debnam lying on the ground. When Jones spoke, Debnam sat up to say he had shot Flowers and was going to kill himself. Jones, unaware of the earlier incident, scoffed, saying, “Oh, you are crazy. You have not killed Mr. Flowers; give me that gun.”
Wilson Daily Times, 20 October 1913.
On the 19th, the Charlotte Observer somehow had beat the times to the punch, providing more details of the alleged incident. Debnam and Flowers recently had made molasses from sugar cane they raised together, and Debnam demanded his immediate share of money from the sale of the molasses. Flowers said he would sell the molasses in a few days and would pay Debnam after. Debnam raised a shotgun. Flowers tried to scramble behind an African-American man on the wagon with him, but Debnam shot him in the throat.
Governor Locke Craig authorized a one-hundred-dollar reward for Debnam’s apprehension. A description of the suspect, along with a number of stereotypical physical features, noted that Debnam was “a negro with some intelligence.”
News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 23 October 1913.
An article in the same edition noted that a posse comprised of Nash County sheriff R.H. Biggs, Ross Flowers’ brother A.A. Flowers, and others had searched as far west as Eagle Rock on the Norfolk Southern rail line, believing Debnam to be hiding out with friends in the Wendell vicinity.
Six days later, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that Wilson County sheriff Howard Rowe and two deputies, “following a telephone call which told them of the possible whereabouts of the negro Tom Debnam,” drove for hours “through flooded swamps”, but did not find him.
On 12 November 1931, the Charlotte News reported:
I have found nothing further about Tom Debnam.
- Tom Debnam
In the 1910 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Debnam, 23; wife Zilphia, 32; and daughter Addie, 6.
- Henry Sing
- John A. Jones — John Alce Jones.