Goffney

The last will and testament of Courtney Goffney.

On 12 October 1914, Dr. William A. Mitchner tendered to the Clerk of Wilson County Superior Court a document purporting to be the last will and testament of Courtney Goffney. Satisfied that the document was authentic, the clerk entered the will into probate.

Goffney’s wishes were simple: (1) erect a suitable marble or granite headstone over the graves of her and her husband William “Billie” Goffney and (2) give all her property, real and personal, to her beloved nephew Sylvester Goffney.

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In the 1870 census of Swift Creek township, Edgecombe County, North Carolina: farm laborer Spencer Battle, 55; wife Eda, 49; and Constance, 26, Annie, 7, Mende, 2, Ovia, 24, Corteney, 19, Paul, 16, and George Battle, 14.

On 29 December 1881, William Goffney, 30, married Cortney Battle, 27, in Edgecombe County.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster William Gwaltney [Goffney], 56; wife Courtney, 50; step-son John Bunn, 25, blacksmith; and nephew Sylvester Gwaltney, 6.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, widow Courtney Goffney, 50; Ada Battle, 30(?), graded school teacher; and lodger Sylvester Goffney, 16, factory laborer.

Courtney Goffney died 9 October 1914 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 September 1845 to Spencer and Edia Battle and was a widow. Informant was Constance Battle, Rocky Mount, N.C.

Images of estate documents available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

State v. Goffney, 157 N.C. 624, 73 S.E. 162 (1911).

This case reached the North Carolina Supreme Court on appeal from Wilson County Superior Court.

In summary, the lower court convicted Sylvester Goffney of housebreaking. He appealed; the Supreme Court reversed the decision and dismissed the case.

Goffney appealed on three grounds, the first two of which were deemed without merit. The third: “It is contended by the learned counsel for defendant in a well-prepared brief that, upon the state’s evidence, no crime has been committed, and with this position we fully agree.”

George Barnes and Joe Barnes were partners in Barnes Brothers, a business that Goffney was alleged to have broken into. One of the Barneses testified: “I know the defendant, have known him for four years. He has been in my employ for several years, during which time I found him honest. He assisted me in my store and business a portion of the time. In consequence of statements made to me by Richard Farmer, a negro boy in my employ, I instructed Richard to induce [Goffney] to break in my store. On the night of July 7th Policeman Wynne, myself, and others watched the store, and about 12 o’clock we saw the defendant, Sylvester Goffney, and Richard Farmer go to the store, and saw defendant, Goffney, remove tacks holding a window pane, and remove the window, and enter the store. Richard Farmer immediately afterwards also entered the store through the same window. Policeman Wynne, myself, and others, who were watching the store, after firing pistols, entered the store, and arrested the defendant, Goffney, and required said Farmer to accompany us.” The only other witness corroborated Barnes.

The court’s determination: In the case at bar it appears that Barnes, the owner of the building entered, directed his servant Richard Farmer to induce the defendant to break in his (Barnes’) store; that the servant obeyed his orders, and that he and defendant entered the store together, and that Barnes was present watching them, and arrested defendant after he entered.

If it were possible to hold the defendant guilty of a felony under such circumstances, then Barnes could be likewise convicted of feloniously breaking and entering his own store, for he was present, aiding and abetting the entry of the defendant and induced him to enter. That would of course be a legal absurdity.

“Upon the facts in evidence, no crime was committed because the entry was with the consent and at the instance of the owner of the property. His honor should have directed a verdict of not guilty. Reversed, and proceeding dismissed.”

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Here’s how the Wilson Daily Times reported the trial:

Wilson Daily Times, 11 July 1911.

A few interesting points from this account:

  • The Barnes Brothers operated a store in Samuel H. Vick‘s Odd Fellows building on East Nash Street “below the railroad.”
  • Sylvester Goffney had recently left their employ to go work for veterinarian Elijah L. Reid. The Barneses’ had regarded him as a trustworthy employee.
  • One of the Barnes brothers slept on a cot in the store. Goffney stopped by to visit, fell asleep and spent the night in the store.
  • The next day, Richard Farmer, an employee described as a “little boy” or “little negro,” cautioned Barnes that Goffney had solicited his help to rob the store — and cut Barnes’ head off.
  • The next time Goffney visited, Barnes refused to let him in. He later heard someone try the door, fired a shot, and all went quiet.
  • Barnes then directed Farmer to conspire with Goffney to break into the store. Barnes and a policeman hid while Farmer and Goffney entered through a window, then arrested both.
  • On the stand, Farmer testified that Goffney also planned to rob the restaurant of Richard Gaither, “a cripple and blind negro” and “fix” his wife.

Two months later, the Times reported a verdict:

Wilson Daily Times, 8 September 1911.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster William Gwaltney [Goffney], 56; wife Courtney, 50; step-son John Bunn, 25, blaksmith; and nephew Sylvester Gwaltney, 6.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, widow Courtney Goffney, 50; Ada Battle, 30(?), graded school teacher; and lodger Sylvester Goffney, 16, factory laborer.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Goffney Sylvester lab h 409 Stantonsburg Road

In 1914, Sylvester Goffney was designated beneficiary of the estate of his aunt, Courtney Goffney.

In 1918, Sylvester Goffney registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1894 in WIlson; resided at 147 Suggs Street, Wilson; and was unemployed. [Goffney signed his card with a firm, strong signature, evidence of a good education and opportunity to practice.]

In the 1920 census of Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan: auto factory laborer Sylvester Goffney, 25, was a lodger in the household of Ida L. Taylor, 42, on Saint Antoine Street.

In the 1930 census of Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan: at 2135 Riopelle Street, Sylvester Goffney, 35, roomer, porter in barbershop.

In January 1937, Sylvester Goffney applied for a Social Security number. Per his application, he was born 10 August 1894 in WIlson, North Carolina, to Christopher Goffney and Kate McCowan.

In the 1940 census of River Rouge, Wayne County, Michigan: renting at 450 Holford Street, Sylvester Goffney, 45, porter at veterans hospital, and wife Mattie, 41, confectionery clerk.

In 1942, Sylvester Oliver Goffney registered for the World War II draft in Wayne County, Michigan. Per his registration card, he was born 10 August 1894 in Wilson, N.C.; lived at 450 Holford Street, River Rouge, Michigan; his contact was Mrs. P. Henry, 475 Holford; and he was unemployed.

In the 1947 Wyandotte, Michigan, city directory: Goffney Sylvester (Mattie) conf 518 Elliott h 516 [Elliott]

Sylvester Goffney died 22 March 1948 in River Rouge, Wayne County, Michigan. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 August 1894 in Wilson, N.C., and was married.

 

Goffney bound over.

The Times published a blow-by-blow of the preliminary hearing Wilson mayor E.F. Killette held over the homicide of Blanche Williams. Joe Goffney entered a plea of not guilty, but Killette found sufficient evidence to hold him over for trial in the Superior Court.

Joe Brodie testified first. Goffney, who was married, came with Williams to the house in which she lives. Brodie was in the back room when the shot rang out. Williams staggered out and fell to the floor. Goffney ran out, shouting that he had not known the gun was loaded. Brodie sent for Dr. Mitchner, who declared Williams dead.

Nellie Williams testified that Goffney and Blanche Williams had entered the house laughing and talking. She was in the next room lacing her shoe when she heard the gun fire and heard Goffney say, “I didn’t say a word — or I will kill all of you.” Nellie Williams ran out of the house with one shoe on.

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Clifton Johnson also testified that Goffney and B. Williams entered the house talking and laughing. Johnson said he saw the gun on the center table when he entered and did not know to whom it belonged. (Neither Brodie nor N. Williams corroborated this, saying that as far as they knew there had been no gun in the house.) Goffney picked up the gun and said “let me see it.” Johnson’s back was turned to them when Goffney fired. Goffney did not say anything “out of the way” to Williams. The remark about “killing them all” came after the shooting. Goffney told them to get a doctor, then left the house. He gave Johnson the gun, who threw it away.

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“Colored physician” William Mitchner testified that he found Blanche Williams on the porch dead. The bullet had struck her in the chin, breaking her lower jaw, and exited the back of her neck, possibly fracturing her spine. In his opinion, Goffney was standing directly in front of Williams when he fired, and the bullet’s trajectory was slightly downward.

Clifton Johnson was recalled to testify that he and Goffney were on the same side of the table, and he was behind Williams.

Goffney testified that Clarence Johnson carried concealed weapons. [Is this Clifton? Or a different man?] Clarence had placed a magazine and .32 cartridges on the table.

Officer Weathersbee testified that he and Officer Sikes asked Johnson for the gun, and Johnson said he had thrown it in the pea patch. Johnson admitted the gun was his, and it had not been found.

Clarence Johnson denied telling Weathersbee the gun was his. He did not own a gun. Goffney was mistaken when he said Johnson had pulled the gun from his pocket and that there had been a magazine on the table. Johnson works at an express office and borrowed a holster from a fellow employee. He did not borrow a gun. The holster is in a bureau drawer at his house. Mayor Killette interjected that the holster had been found between the bed[frame] and mattress in Johnson’s room. Johnson could not explain why he borrowed a holster.

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Joe Lee denied seeing Goffney take a pistol from Johnson’s pocket. Apparently, Nettie Williams did, too. Johnson’s mother testified that he did not own a gun and had not brought one to the house the night of the killing.

Johnson’s lawyer F.D. Swindell argued that in the excitement of the moment, it was perfectly natural for Johnson to throw away the gun Goffney gave him. The only evidence that the gun was his was Goffney’s testimony, which was inherently biased.

The mayor was satisfied that Johnson had borrowed the pistol and bound him over as a material witness and for carrying a concealed weapon. He fined Johnson $75 and set his bond for $500. Goffney was sent to jail to await trial.

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Wilson Times, 30 September 1921.

  • Joe Goffney — Was Joe Goffney convicted? I have not found a follow-up, but the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists: Goffney Joseph tobwkr [tobacco worker] h 206 Manchester. This is likely the Joseph Goffney listed in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Lemon Barnes, 51; wife Dollie Ann, 51; children Ida, 26, Lemon Jr., 20, Mattie, 17, Charlie, 15, and Howard, 12; stepsons Cornelius Neal, 11, Paul Goffney, 17, and Joseph Goffney, 15; and grandson Sylvester Barnes, 6.
  • Blanche Williams — Per her death certificate, Blanch Williams was 24 years old; single; resided on Stantonsburg Street; and worked as a common laborer. She was born in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Wash Smith and Laura Williams, and Selena Craig of Goldsboro was informant. Her cause of death: “revolver wound of head (probably accidental).” [A 26 September 1921 Times article about the shooting reported that Williams was married and lived in Goldsboro, but had come to Wilson to work briefly in domestic service. She had planned to return to Goldsboro the week she was shot. She had been “going with” Goffney while in Wilson, and jealousy was believed to be at the root of the violence. Unnamed witnesses heard Goffney tell Williams, “If you go with that man, I will kill you,” as they walked to Joe Lee’s home. As Williams walked out of the house to return home, Goffney called her back in and shot her.]

  • Joe Brodie — possibly Josephine Brodie listed in the 1922 city directory as a student living at 303 Mercer Street.
  • Nellie Williams
  • Clifton/Clarence Johnson — perhaps the Clifton Johnson listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory as a porter living at 118 Ashe Street.
  • Dr. Mitchner — William A. Mitchner.
  • Joe Lee — possibly Joseph Lee listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory as a factory hand living at 115 Manchester Street. [However, the 26 September Times article identified Joe Lee and Joe Brodie as the same person, a woman.]
  • F.D. Swindell — lawyer Fred D. Swindell.
  • W.A. Finch — lawyer William Atlas Finch.
  • Mayor Killette — mayor Edwin F. Killette Sr.
  • Officer Weathersbee
  • Officer Sikes