What in the world happened here?
These articles appear back-to-back in the same issue of the Daily Times, and I have not yet found further information to clear up the confusion.
An eight year-old boy named James Applewhite had been missing a week when 13 year-old Raymond Sheppard confessed to police that he had pushed the younger boy into Toisnot Creek, where he had drowned. The very next day, James Applewhite showed up the police department claiming that he had gotten lost on his way home from school — a doubtful claim in 1940s Wilson — and wound up on a farm between Lucama and the Dixie Inn. Police had begun to drain “the lake in Maplewood cemetery” [what lake? Toisnot reservoir? It’s a half-mile north of Maplewood]* when Wiley Barnes‘ wife brought him into town, having just heard about a missing boy. He had appeared at her family’s farm, she said, and had asked for work. To compound the confusion, Raymond Sheppard and other boys claimed this was not the boy who had drowned, though that boy was also named Applewhite.
An article by John G. Thomas, often the Times‘ local-color writer, but here somewhere between straight reporter and editorialist, immediately followed the one above. The focus of the piece leaps from place to place, but these asserted facts emerge: Raymond Sheppard threw rocks at two boys trying to save Applewhite, hindering their efforts; the police rounded up eight boys and parked them in jail while investigating; the year before, Sheppard and two other boys had been charged with beating a white man, who later died of his injuries, for thirty cents’ gain; two of the boys, John Sowers, 15, and Andrew Jackson, 13, had admitted to burning down a Black man’s store and throwing a railroad spike through a truck windshield; Sheppard, Sowers, and Jackson were free because there was no place to hold them (a situation remedied on the spot); Jesse Lee Barnes, 9, Paul Mitchell, 12, Mitchell Hargrove, 13, Roy Lee Barnes, 14, and James Hall, 15, were also arrested; William Roberts, apparently owner of the burned store, pleaded with county commissioners for more police protection in East Wilson; they punted him to the Board of Aldermen.
Wilson Daily Times, 3 April 1945.
*Update: Toisnot Reservoir didn’t exist in 1945, but there was a small pond in Maplewood Cemetery that has since been filled in. Thanks, Matthew Langston!