Crime

The Oliver Marable case.

I happened upon this Notice signed by Columbus E. Artis, one of the principals of the undertaking firm Artis, Flanagan & Batts, in the Wilson Daily Times. Who was Oliver Marable? What was his “case”? What were the “false reports being circulated”?

Wilson Daily Times, 14 December 1925.

Here is Marable’s death certificate:

Filled out largely in C.E. Artis’ bold, readily recognizable hand, it states that Marable died 4 December 1925 in Spring Hill township; was about 55 years old; was married to Bettie Marable; resided at 717 Manchester Street; was born in Henderson, N.C., to Grand and Cornelia Marable. In a different script, Marable’s cause of death: “fracture of base of skull accidentally incurred in a cave-in of earth.” 

Or was it accidental at all?

An inquest held into Marable’s death revealed a bizarre set of facts. On a Friday evening, Marable, who lived on Roberson Street in East Wilson, was miles away in Springhill township digging with a dozen other men for “buried treasure.” Later that night, Marable’s battered body was taken to C.E. Artis and his business partner Walter E. Flanagan, who were preparing to bury him when the police intervened. 

When Artis and Flanagan could not produce a death certificate, the police halted the funeral and contacted the coroner, who went with several county officials to the dig site. Dissatisfied with the accounts of witnesses as to what had happened to Marable, the coroner ordered an inquest. A jury traveled out to Tobe Hinnant‘s farm in Old Fields [Springhill?] township, where they found a “huge hole” in a field near a creek bank. 

The witnesses, who had been digging the hole with Marable, testified that he had been killed when the hole’s sidewalls caved in, but the jury found foul play involved. 

The physician who conducted a post mortem of Marable’s body concluded he likely met his death from a skull fracture, but had also suffered a broken arm, collar bone, and femur and contusions of the back, neck and face.

The police arrested seven people in connection with Marable’s death. Tom Boykin, conjure doctor Richard Pitts and Amos Batts [who was both Marable’s brother-in-law and the third business partner of C.E. Artis] were held without bond; William Edwards, McKinley Edwards, Tobe Hinnant, and John Hinnant bonded out. The story these witnesses told: conjure man Pitts showed up in Hinnant’s neighborhood, claiming that there was buried treasure nearby. Hinnant said he had often dreamed of such a thing, and Pitts said he could locate it. Hinnant pointed out the X in his dreams, and Pitts performed a divination with mineral oil. Though it is not clear how the rest of the treasure hunters were assembled, digging commenced. When the tip of a seven-foot augur embedded itself in a wooden object, the treasure was found. Marable died during the attempt to dig it out. The jury viewed the stuck augur, several shovels, and some sounding rods, as well as a length of white cord festooned about the perimeter to keep out the “haints” lingering in a nearby cemetery in use during slavery. (The jury concluded the augur was more likely stuck in a coffin lid than a treasure chest.) On a side note, investigators also found a large hole, filled in, in Marable’s back yard on Roberson Street, evidence of an earlier search.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 December 1925.

The next day, Raleigh’s News and Observer reported that the jury had adjourned without a verdict, but with a recommendation that Pitts be held pending investigation by a lunacy commission. (Per the Times the same day, Pitts “in his many trips and ‘treasure hunts’ in and around Wilson county had poisoned the minds of many of the negro inhabitants in regards to buried treasure and hidden pots of gold. In many cases sections of the county Pitts has ‘engineered’ treasure hunts, receiving pay for his ‘knowledge’ while honest negroes work in good faith at the task of uncovering the treasure which is never found.”) Everyone else was released. The jury had gone back to the site to find that it had been tampered with. The augur and divining rods were gone, and someone had thrown four feet of dirt into the hole. Several convicts were put to work to shovel out the dirt, but Marable’s pick could not be found. Amos Batts had testified that he did not know about the digging until Marable had died, but when told that Marable had his hand on the money when the pit collapsed, joined the enterprise. (Presumably by agreeing to bury Marable reporting the death or issuing a death certificate.) Someone named Lee Pearce testified, but no details as to what.

Five days later, the matter was dropped. Most of the 20 witnesses had testified to hearsay, Tobe Hinnant’s six-year-old swore he had never accused his father of killing Marable, and county officials gave ambiguous testimony about whether they had seen blood in the pit. The jury was hopelessly confused. Hinnant was freed, leaving only Pitts in jail, presumably for his chicanery.

——

  • Oliver Marable

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab 501 Lucas al

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab Robinson nr Stantonsburg rd

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab 501 Robinson

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 501 Robinson Street, Oliver Marable, 56, oil mill laborer; wife Betie, 48; and daughter Hattie, 7; plus brother-in-law John Batts, 52, oil mill laborer.

  • Tobe Hinnant  
  • Amos Batts
  • Richard Pitts
  • Tom Boykin 
  • William Edwards and McKinley Edwards — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 609 South Railroad Street, rented for $16/month, farm laborer William Edwards, 52; wife Lillie, 49; son McKinly, 28, worker at Hackney Body Company; McKinley’s wife Maggie, 25, farmworkers; and his son Bernard, 6.
  • John Hinnant

The murder of Willie Black.

When the registrar filed 48 year-old Willie Black‘s death certificate on 6 February 1933, she recorded his cause of death as “gun shot wounds inflicted by parties or party unknown to the Coroner Jurry.”

However, on 27 January 1933, the Wilson Daily Times reported Willie Black’s widow Sarah Black and her “paramour” Robert Collins had confessed to the crime. On 7 February 1933, the paper reported that a grand jury had returned an indictment against Sarah Black for first degree murder in the slaying of her husband. Collins was also charged.

Sarah Black went on trial in May. 

Elijah King testified that he heard two gunshots in the direction of the railroad. He went to the police station, then returned with officers to the Norfolk and Southern railroad, where they found a dead man lying about 150 yards from Rountree Bridge road. [Rountree Bridge road was most likely the continuation beyond city limits of what was then Stantonsburg Street and is now Black Creek Road. Rountree Bridge crossed Contentnea Creek three miles southeast of Wilson.]

Acting Coroner Ashe Hines testified that the body bore two gunshots wounds, one at close range behind the right ear and the other in the back. 

Willie Black’s son, also named Willie Black, testified next. He was Sarah Black’s stepson. His father and stepmother had been married about two years before, and they quarreled frequently. On the night of the murder, Black Jr. saw Sarah talking with a preacher who lived nearby. His father was not at home, and Black Jr. thought he was at work.

Willie Black Jr. got home about 7:30 PM and found a lamp burning in his parents’ bedroom. He went to James Stancil’s store and stayed until about 9:00 PM, then went home and went to bed. Sarah Black came home about 10:00 PM, and ten minutes later the police arrived. Willie Jr. asked, “Where’s Papa?,” and the police took him and his stepmother to view the body where it lay. Sarah Black cried a little. The police questioned them about a single gauge shotgun.

The night before the shooting, Willie and Sarah Black had argued about the pigtails he brought home for dinner. Sarah Black: “I do not like them.” Willie Black: “If you don’t like them, you can thrown them out.” Sarah Black: I don’t even know why I married you. Willie Black Jr. admitted he and his stepmother had argued, too, but denied ever pulling a knife on her or threatening her.

Officer Lloyd Lucas testified that he had questioned Sarah Black, and she told him that she was a burial society meeting and then a prayer meeting during the time WIllie Black was supposed to have been killed. Lucas denied trying to intimidate Sarah Black or “wring a confession out of her,” but allowed he might have said “damn.”

Robert Collins, who was alleged to be Sarah Black’s lover, was charged with the actual killing and was to be tried after Black’s trial.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 May 1933.

Which happened immediately. The next day’s edition announced that Collins turned state’s evidence and testified to this sorry chain of events:

Robert Collins lived in Happy Hill and had known Sarah Black three to four years. About a week before the murder, at Sarah Black’s sister’s house, Sarah had told him she was tired of Willie Black and wanted him out of the way. She would furnish him with Willie Black’s own gun and would pay him with money and clothing. (Williams Lumber employees testified that they saw Sarah come to talk to Collins at work.) On the night of the shooting, Sarah hid Willie’s shotgun in a ditch. She and Collins followed Willie as he walked down the railroad, and Collins shot him in the back. Black kept walking. Sarah Black asked if Collins was going to shoot him again, and Collins said he could not. She then took the gun and shot her husband down. Collins and Sarah Black went to the Black home, then separated. When confronted by the police, Collins confessed and took all the blame for himself.

The jury deliberated about two-and-a-half hours before delivering its decision. Guilty. As to both. Collins was immediately sentenced to 29 years and Sarah Black to the electric chair. 

[But stay tuned.]

——

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, day laborer Chas. Hines, 38, and wife Isabella, 38; step-daughter Mary Jane Bryant, 18; cook Jane Black, 35, widow, and her children William, 14, Clara, 4, Lucy, 1, plus day laborer Ed Black, 21, all boarders; and day laborer William York, 75, boarder.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, widow Jane Black, 45, house servant, and children Willie, 24, Caria, 14, Lucy, 11, Samuel, 7, and Gertrude, 3. 

In 1918, Will Black registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in February 1883; lived on Goldsboro Street, Wilson; was a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and his contact was wife Matilda Black.

On 27 August 1928, Matilda Black died in Castalia township, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was about 36 years old; married to Will Black; lived in Wilson; was born in Nash County to Richard Taylor and Dianah Hill; and was buried in a family cemetery. Will Black was informant.

Will Black, 40, of Wilson, son of Fred and Jane Black, married Sarah Kittrell, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Ed and Rosa Kittrell, on 11 August 1930 in Wilson. Disciples minister Fred Williams performed the ceremony in Wilson in the presence of Mae H. Young, Jas. H. Knight and Clara Ward.

Boxcar.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 8 June 1913.

Joe Saunders was arrested for shooting Charles Coley at a house at 114 Wiggins Street. Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home (later known as Mercy) did not open until 1914. Other hospitals in town would not admit African-Americans, so Coley was carried to a boxcar to die or recuperate.

 

Pop-bottle blow.

N&O 08 28 1944.png

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 August 1944.

Robert Evans was arrested and charged with murder after flipping a glass bottle back at Walter T. Woodard.

Two weeks later, Evans was free. Judge J.J. Burney had directed a verdict of acquittal — meaning the prosecution has not proved its case under any reasonable interpretation of the facts.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 September 1944.

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“Blow on head with Bottle Instant death”

The ax slaying of Ollie Richardson.

White farmer Walter Butts split open the head of farm worker Ollie Richardson after an argument. The next day, following a preliminary hearing, a justice of the peace dismissed charges against Butts.

A guide to the article: the lighter text in the second half, beginning “A preliminary hearing …,” is the first edition version. The heavier text at the beginning, which details what happened at the hearing, was inserted later.

In a nutshell, deputy sheriffs responding to the scene arrested Butts and William Moore, an African-American material witness, who was later allowed to post bond. (After all, he was not accused of committing any crime.) Butts did not testify at the hearing the next day. Moore  testified that Butts and Richardson argued, and Richardson said he was going to straighten Butts out and advanced on Butts, but Moore did not actually see anything in Richardson’s hands. “Two Negro girls” testified to something similar. Unnamed others testified that they saw a pitchfork under Richardson’s body after he’d been brained. In other words, there was no actual testimony that Richardson had threatened Butts with a pitchfork before Butts smashed him in the skull with an ax. Nonetheless, a justice of the peace declared the incident a justifiable homicide and let Butts go.

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Wilson Daily Times, 2 July 1946.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Frank Richardson, 28; wife Mary W., 24; and children Lonie, 7, Ollie, 5, Bettie, 3, and Earlie, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson Mills township, Johnston County: Frank Richardson, 40; wife Harriet, 27; and children Lonie, 17, Bettie, 16, Ollie, 14, Early, 13, Beatrice, 10, Earnest L., 11, Vernell, 8, Gertrue, 6, Dump, 5, Tobus W., 5, Odel, 6 months, and Rosevelt, 2.

On 23 September 1935, Ollie F. Richardson, 21, of Cross Roads, son of Frank and Mary Richardson, married Crematha Wiggins, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Littleton Wiggins and Annie Royal, in Wilson in the presence of Oscar Eatman, Frank Richardson and Anna H. Royal.

In 1940, Ollie Frank Richardson registered for the World War II in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 20 August 1914 in Wilson; his contact was wife Crematha Richardson; and he worked for Otis Nichols, Bailey, Johnston County.

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He was waylaid and shot to death.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 July 1923.

To compound tragedy, the 8 July 1923 homicide of Jim Guess was a family affair. Accused murderer Gray Reid was married to Mary Hagans, daughter of James and Hannah Hagans. (And Gray’s brother Elijah Reid was married to Mary’s sister Ida.) Jim Hagans was Jim Guess’ first cousin; his father Lawrence Hagans was brother to Margaret Hagans Guess.

  • Jim Hagans

In the 1880 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Laurence Hagans, 30, wife Mary, 24, and children James, 6, and Elizabeth, 3.

James Hagans, 20, of Gardners, son of Lawrence and Mary Hagans, married Hannah Bynum, 19, of Gardners, daughter of Joe and Hazel Bynum, on 20 November 1895 at Joe Bynum’s in Stantonsburg in the presence of Alber Bardin, Moses Woodard, and Joe Hagans.

In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Jim Haggans, 30; wife Hannah, 30; and children Ida, 13, Tom, 12, Mary, 8, James, 6, Alice, 5, Charles, 3, Etta, 2, and twins Jonas and Joe, 3 months.

Elijah Reid, 21, of Gardners township, son of Gray Reid, married Ida Hagans, 18, of Gardners, daughter of James and Hannah Hagans, on 13 January 1915 on the Old Whitehead farm. Witnesses were Robert Hilliard, Lawrence Hagans and J.B. Owens.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: James Hagans, 45; wife Annie, 40; and children James, 17, M. Allice, 13, Etta, 11, Joe and Jonah, 9, Nelia, 7, Haggar, 6, and Lawrence, 4; and cousin Will Coley, 25.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: James Hagans, 53; wife Nora, 50; sons John, 18, Joe, 18, and Laurence, 16; daughter Etta, 21; grandchildren Elizabeth, 15, Sudie M., 13, Leeoma, 10, David, 5, Bessie M., 3, Lillie M., 1, and Charlie Reid, 4; and daughter Ida Reid, 32.

James Hagans died 27 June 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in Wilson County to Lawrence Hagans and Mary Gray; was married to Nora Hagans; and was a farmer. Oscar Hagans, 1114 Atlantic Street, was informant.

  • Grey Read — Gray Reid.

In the 1900 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Gray Read, 47; wife Lucy, 37; and children Joseph R., 18, Nancy L., 7, Elija, 5, Mart Eva, 4, Jona, 3, and Lucy, 5 months. [Gray Reid Jr. is missing from this household.]

In the 1910 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: on Tarboro and Wilson Road, Amos Reid, 64; lodger Gray Reid, 57, widower, and his children Gray, 18, Eligh, 15, Margrett, 13, and John, 12.

On 14 February 1915, Gray Reed Jr., 23, of Gardners township, son of Gray Reed and Lucy [last name not given], married Mary Hagans, 18, of Gardners township, daughter of James and Hannah Hagans, in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. Primitive Baptist minister Ruffin Hyman performed the ceremony at John H. Morgan‘s in the presence of Morgan, Hilliard Reed of Wilson, and John Thomas Reed of Stantonsburg.

In 1917, Gray Reid registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born July 1891 in Edgecombe County; lived in Elm City; worked on the Wilson and Grantham farm near Wilson; had a wife and one child; and had an injured leg.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Ruff Reed, 28; wife Mary, 19; and daughters Enice, 3, Hannah, 1, and Runcie, 1 month.

In the 1940 census of Burgaw township, Pender County, North Carolina: at North Carolina State Prison Camp, Gray Reid, 48, inmate #29137, who lived in Macclesfield, Edgecombe County, in 1935. [This was evidently pursuant to crime subsequent to the murder of Jim Guest.]

Gray Reid died 11 March 1950 in Wilson, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 November 1891 in Edgecombe County to Gray Reid and Lucy Joyner; was a widower; and worked as a laborer. Elijah Reid, 300 South Reid Street, Wilson, was informant.

  • Jim Guess

On 23 April 1922, James Guess, 49, of Gardners township, married Allice Davis, 46, of Gardners township, in Stantonsburg, Wilson County. Ruffin Hyman, Primitive Baptist minister performed the ceremony in the presence of Emma Hyman, George Hagans, and Bennie Guess.

James Guess died 8 July 1923 in Saratoga township, Wilson County, of “Homicide by Gunshot wound. No doctor in attendance. He was waylaid & Shot to death.” Per his death certificate, he was born about 1879 in Edgecombe County to Luke Guess of Edgecombe County and Margarett Hagans of Wilson County; was a farmer for Albert Harrell; and was married. Alice Guess was informant.

“He was waylaid & Shot to death”

Under the influence of conjure dust.

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Wilson Daily Times, 17 October 1911.

  • Adaline Williams — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Moore Street, Adaline Williams, 30, house servant, and daughter Bluma, 4.
  • William Arrington — perhaps, in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Sam Daniel, 25; wife Pauline, 22; son Harry, 2; boarders Will Arrington, 50, widower day laborer, and son Will Jr., 13; and boarder Mattie Parker, 19.