death by exposure

The death of Johnnie Bunn.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 January 1936.

Despite Times‘ breathless reporting of the violence of the crime scene, and an autopsy that showed Johnnie Bunn had suffered blunt force trauma to the head, in the end the coroner declined to call an inquest. The police tracked down three white men who were among the last to see him alive. They admitted to drinking heavily with Bunn, fighting him, and leaving him to die in the field because they were too drunk to help him. Though Bunn’s body lay in a frozen puddle for six days before two hunters found him, the explanation was good enough.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 February 1936.

John Bunn’s official death date was 26 January 1936. Per his death certificate, he was 25 years old; was born in Lucama to James Bunn and Millie ONeal; was single; and worked as a laborer. The coroner listed his cause of death as “Drinking. Exposure lying on wet ground probably freezed to death.”

The death of George Battle.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 February 1935.


In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Allen Battle, 50, farmer; wife Anna, 39; and children Mallan, 22, Anna, 16, Maud, 13, Mary, 11, Edward, 8, James, 6, George, 4, and Maggie, 1.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, farmer Allen Battle, 56; wife Amie M., 50, farm laborer; and children Annie, 26, cook, Maud, 23, cook, Mary, 21, nurse, Eddie, 18, farm laborer, James, 15, farm laborer, George, 13, and Maggie, 1, farm laborer. [Only George was without occupation.]

In 1917, George Battle registered for the World War I draft. Per his registration card, he was born 11 May 1896 in Wilson; lived a R.F.D. #1, Wilson; worked as a teamster for George Carpenter; was single; and was “deformed in limbs.” He was described as tall and of medium build, with black eyes and hair. He signed his name with an X.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Battle George (c) shoe shiner 513 E Nash h 508 E Green

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 508 East Green, renting for $12/month, Mary Taylor, 69, laundress; daughter Ida Barnes, 32, laundress; and grandchildren Jessie M., 6, and Annie B.,2; also renting for $12/month, Marobe Battle, 60, cook; daughters Maude, 35, cook, and Annie, 46, cook; son George, 33, cobbler at shoe shop; and grandson John Miller, 17, delivery boy at drug store.

George Battle died 9 February 1935. Per his death certificate, he was born 13 May 1900 in Wilson to Allen Battle and Marie Earl, both of Edgecombe County; was single; worked as a laborer; and lived at 420 East Green Street. Informant was Maude Battle of the same address. Cause of death: “Exposure. (Police found him in street at which time he was breathing. He was dead when I [Dr. W.C. Hunter] arrived.)”

Drunk and froze to death.

North Carolina, Wilson County } The examination of Elisha Barnes, Roscoe Morris and Mima Barnes taken before the undersigned Coroner of said county, this 25th day of Feb’y, 1907, upon the body of Robert Barnes (col) then and there lying dead, to wit:

Elisha Barnes sworn says: He saw Robert Barnes (Col) about 4 P.M. Saturday or a little after, as he was passing Demus Harriss’ house about a ¼ mile from where he died. He appeared to be drunk. He was a drinking man. He was staggering & I saw him fall down. He started to come into the house but was advised to go on home. He had a bag on his shoulder. He made no complaint of being sick. The next time I saw him was Sunday morning about 9 oclock lying in road dead about ¼ mile from where I saw him the evening before. It was snowing very hard & was very cold Saturday evening. I know of no one that I think would have injured him and my opinion is that he fell down on account of being drunk & froze to death.   /s/ E. Barnes

Roscoe Morriss sworn says: Robert Barnes came with my & my brother from Wilson Saturday evening riding in our wagon. Didn’t complain of being sick. He was under influence of liquor when he left our house but could walk very well. He had about 2/3 of a pint of liquor with him when he left us. /s/ R.O. Morris

Mima Barnes sworn says: I am the wife of Robert Barnes, dec’d. He left home Saturday morning to go to Wilson. We lived about one mile from where he was found dead Sunday morning. He has had some trouble with Eddie Coleman (col), but I don’t know when it was. Mima (X) Barnes

/s/John K. Ruffin, Coroner.

Be it remembered that on this the 25th day of Feb’y 1907 I, John K. Ruffin, Coroner of the county of Wilson, attended by a jury of good and lawful men, viz: S.J. Watson, Jesse Taylor, W.R. Bryant, Jas. D. Barnes, G.W. Walls and J.M. Leeth, by me summoned for the purpose, according to law, after being by me duly sworn and impaneled, in the county aforesaid, did hold an inquest over the dead body of Robert Barnes (Col); and after examination into the facts and circumstances of the death of deceased, from a view of the corpse, and all the testimony to be procured, the said jury find as follows, that is to say,

That Robert Barnes came to his death Saturday night, Feby 23rd, from exposure to cold while under the influence of liquor. /s/ J.K. Leath, W.R. Bryan, J.D. Barnes, G.W. Walls, S.J. Watson, J.M. Taylor.

  • Robert and Mima Barnes — on 3 June 1892, Robert Barnes, 26, married Mima Barnes, 25, at Dr. Woodards’ in Black Creek, Wilson County.
  • Demus Harris
  • Eddie Coleman — perhaps, in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Gray Coleman, 28, wife Harriet, 26, children Henrietta, 4, Lear, 2, and Eddie, 9 months, plus Molly Strickland, 7. In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Eddie Coleman, 20, and wife Emma, 22.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.