Annie Russell Bethune Lewis was felled with a blow from an axe in her own yard. Her husband James Lewis was quickly arrested and allegedly confessed, claiming he “just couldn’t get along with her.” On September 9, the Daily Times reported that Lewis had entered a plea of not guilty by virtue of insanity. On September 11, the paper reported that a jury convicted him of manslaughter, and a judge sentenced him to 10-15 years in state prison.
James Lewis did not serve his full sentence. By 1949, he had returned to Black Creek — where he was shot in the back and killed on November 25.
In the 1900 census of Sammy Swamp township, Clarendon County, South Carolina: Theodore Bethune, 34; wife Mary A., 25; and children Florence, 8, Alberta, 7, Amanda, 5, Oneitha, 3, and an unnamed girl infant, 2 months.
In the 1910 census of Stony Creek township, Wayne County, N.C.: Duckery Lewis, 42; wife Smithy, 36; and children John, 12, Ben, 10, James, 8, Floyd, 7, Albert, 6, and Needham, 3.
In the 1910 census of Manning township, Clarendon County, South Carolina: on Georgetown Road, Theodore Bethune, 45; wife Ann, 36; and children Florence, 18, Elberta, 17, Charlotte A., 15, Arnetha, 12, and Annie R., 10.
In the 1920 census of Sammy Swamp township, Clarendon County, South Carolina: Theodore Bethune, 45; wife Annie, 44; and daughters Charlotte, 17, Onithea, 15, and Annie, 13. [The children’s ages are wildly off.]
In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Duckrey Lewis, 50; wife Smithy, 40; and children Ben, 20, James, 19, Floyd, 17, Albert, 15, Needham, 13, and Duckrey Jr., 7.
On 31 March 1931, James Lewis, 29, of Black Creek, son of Duckrey Lewis and Smithie [maiden name not given], married Annie R. Bethune, of Wayne County, 25, daughter of Theodore and Annie Bethune, in Wilson.
In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Theodore Bethune, 70; wife Annie, 60; daughter Annie Lewis, 30; and grandchildren Annie M., 7, Willie, 5, and Ned, 2.
“Murdered hit on head with axe by husband James Lewis killing her instantly”
In 1942, James Willie Lewis registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 7 July 1901 in Wayne County; lived on Clifton Tomlinson’s farm, Black Creek township; his contact was Sip Rogers, Route 1, Black Creek; and he worked for Clifton Tomlinson, Route 1, Black Creek.
On 25 November 1949, James Willie Lewis died at Mercy Hospital, Wilson, of a gunshot blast to the back. Per his death certificate, he was born 7 July 1900 in Wayne County to Duckrey Lewis and Smithie Barnes; was a widower; and lived at Route 1, Black Creek.
In this strange story, the family of a missing Rocky Mount man elicited the help of a local Boy Scout troop to find him. Having heard of an unidentified injured man lying in a Wilson hospital, the Lion Patrol, photo in hand, traveled to investigate. Physicians and undertakers (C.H. Darden and Sons, as it were) in Wilson confirmed deceased Junious “June” Mangum’s identity.
Junious Mangum died 15 April 1933 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 40 years old; was born in Rocky Mount, N.C., to William Mangum and Ida Parker; was single; lived at 723 South Main [Rocky Mount?]; was a laborer; and was buried in Wilson. HIs cause and place of death: “compound fracture of skull (parietal and occipital h[illegible]” “A.C.L.R.R. tracks near Elm City.”
In early March 1924, Tom Hagin allegedly shot Otto King to death over a cheating allegation during a game of craps. The Daily Times could not help but engage in casual racism in reporting the tragedy, referring to the dice game as “African golf.”
Wilson Daily Times, 4 March 1924.
In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Shandy King, 51; wife Nancy, 49; and children Jack, 21, Marcellus, 19, Shandey, 16, Mahala, 14, Columbus, 12, Otto, 7, and Harriett, 6.
In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Jim Bass, 19, and lodgers James Allen, 21, and Otto King, 19, all farm laborers.
In 1918, Otto King registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 22 March 1891 in Wilson; lived at Route 4, Wilson; worked in farming for Charley Walston; and was single.
On 11 January 1919, Otto King, 26, of Saratoga township, son of Shandy King, and Roberta Taylor, 16, of Gardners township, daughter of Moses Fent and Rena Taylor, were married in Saratoga township, Wilson County.
In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Plank Road Highway, farmer Otto King, 28, and wife Roberta, 17.
Claude Sessoms — Claud Sessoms died 28 February 1931 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 86 years old; was born in Nash County, N.C., to Jim Sessoms and Chaney Sessoms; was married to Elizabeth Sessoms; lived near Elm City; and worked in farming.
In a follow-up to this post, we learn that authorities ruled that the shooting death of Nathaniel Ward was accidental.
Wilson Daily Times, 11 February 1921.
“Fractured skull, Base, Bullet wound, Accident.”
Nathaniel Ward registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 10 December 1899; lived at R.F.D. 4, Wilson; farmed for O. Woodard; and his nearest relative was Lillie Applewhite, Wilson.
Nathaniel Ward died 8 February 1921 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 20 years old; was born in Wilson County to Frank Ward and Lillie Applewhite; was a farmer; and was single.
The “ginger cake colored” woman was Maggie Coleman.
“Struck with stick on forehead and a gash under chin by party unknown (murdered). Sudden Death.”
Per a 26 December Daily Times article, “About noon Jim came into this office and said that his wife had not returned from a trip to Wilson on Thursday where she came to buy her Christmas. He was told that a body of a negro woman had been found and went to the undertaking establishment where he identified the body as that of his wife. It is believed that Jim wanted to get rid of her and took her to the woods and killed her, and then pretended he knew nothing about it.”
Maggie Coleman was buried on Christmas Eve, and her husband James Coleman was arrested for her murder.
The Independent (Elizabeth City, N.C.), 29 December 1922.
On 18 January 1923, the Daily Times reported on the inquest over Coleman’s murder. Jim Coleman did not testify on his own behalf. Maggie Coleman had been found about about two miles north of Wilson near the Atlantic Coast Line railroad. She and her husband lived west of the city “up Nash road.”
June Ross testified that two weeks before Maggie’s death, during a visit to Jim’s store, he had witnessed the two arguing. “Jim told her to shut up and reached up after a pistol.” Ross left. Albert Staples testified that he had seen the Colemans in Wilson on Thursday, but did not know if they had come together. Maggie had been at High’s store and Jim at “the old Mose Rountrees Corner.”
An unnamed witness said he had seen Jim chase Maggie with a knife and said “if she said anything about the other woman he would cut her head off.” “They lived bad together witnesses said.”
Dallas Vail testified that he knew nothing about the killing, but “My wife’s mother bought a pair of shoes, and Jim’s wife wanted them and said Jim would pay for them. Saw Jim who said he would pay for shoes if his wife picked cotton smart. I went later after the money, and Jim said he bought several pair of shoes for her and she had run through them. He said she don’t need any shoes. She has a good pair on now, and the best thing for me to do is to get the shoes and give back to you. He gave me back the shoes. That was Saturday morning when the woman was found dead. I asked when she left home. He replied Thursday. I asked him why he had not looked for her. He said he thought she might have gone to see a relative. He said he and Bill Thorne looked for her. She did not return and they did not go hunting. He said he sent his wife to Mr. Sauls in Grab Neck and Mr. Sauls said he let her have $2.00.”
Wilson Best testified that about December 1, on Warren Street in Wilson, Jim Coleman told him his wife tried to poison him, and he had been staying by himself for three months and had been eating can goods. “He offered me $100.00 to kill her.”
Hattie Vail (the shoe seller) testified that the report “about the woman Henrietta Knight who lived near them and Jim was bad.”
Paul Barnes testified that he lived up Nash road about a mile from Jim Coleman and knew Coleman’s [mule] team. He said he encountered a mule and wagon headed toward Wilson on Nash road on Friday night between Lamm’s store and Etheridge. A person standing up in the wagon turned his head to the side and Barnes could not see his face, but believed him to be Coleman. The person was wearing a man’s coat and seemed to be a colored person.
Tom Coleman testified that there had been much trouble over the past two months between Jim and Maggie Coleman over Henrietta Knight. Jim threatened to kill Maggie before she could testify against Knight [presumably in an adultery action.] Tom was at Henrietta’s house one night in December and asked for a Pepsi-Cola. Maggie also asked for one, and Jim cursed at her. Tom paid for the drink. Jim threatened to hit Maggie with the bottle, and Tom stayed his hand. Jim was Tom’s nephew, and Maggie was Tom’s wife’s half-sister.
Prosecutor Oliver Rand read a statement by Elam Ross, who testified that he was at his father’s house near Barnes crossing and saw a man and woman going north toward Elm City. The woman was wearing a red sweater. “She went down the embankment and the man followed. Both disappeared in the woods.” Ross stated he went to the jail and identified Coleman as the man he had seen going into the woods.
Jim Baker testified that he lived near Coleman about five years. He saw Jim Thursday night on a wagon coming to Wilson about eleven at night, but did not pay attention. He heard on Saturday that Jim’s wife was dead.
Jim Coleman was tried and convicted of Maggie Coleman’s murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Three years later, Roy Armstrong was arrested and charged with the same crime. Armstrong had been a suspect at the time of Coleman’s murder, but had escaped prosecution by leaving town. According to “the evidence,” Roy Armstrong and Maggie Coleman argued over ten dollars she found, and he killed her with a blow to the head. Armstrong went to Coleman’s husband, who said “I don’t care,” and demanded twenty dollars for his escape. Coleman, though he had always protested his own innocence, apparently did not implicate Armstrong until Armstrong was arrested.
Wilson Daily Times, 7 November 1925.
Despite this development, little changed. Nearly a year later, Armstrong was still in jail awaiting prosecution, and I have found no record that he was ever tried.
In February and March 1930, Jim Coleman’s attorneys published a series of notices that he intended to apply for a pardon for his wife’s murder, having served a little more than seven years.
Wilson Daily Times, 6 March 1930.
The application apparently was turned down. However, Coleman walked free three years later when the governor of North Carolina paroled him for risking his life to prevent a boiler explosion at the prison camp saw mill. (Note the article states Coleman had served 18 years of a 20-year sentence. In fact, he served no more than ten years.
Charlotte Observer, 18 April 1930.
Maggie Coleman and James Coleman
In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Benjaman Wooten, 51; wife Clara, 55; and children Elizabeth, 19, Joseph, 15, Maggie, 11, Eddie, 5, and Willie, 11 months.
In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: James Coleman, 15, was a servant in the household of white farmer John F. Flowers, 29.
Jim Coleman, 22, of Taylor township, son of Gray and Harriet Coleman, married Maggie Wootten, 18, of Wilson township, daughter of Ben and Clara Wootten, at Ben Wooten’s in Wilson township. Free Will Baptist minister Daniel Blount performed the ceremony in the presence of Ben Wooten, Eddie Coleman, and Spisey Barnes.
In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: sawmill laborer James Coleman, 25; wife Maggie, 21; and children Bettie, 3, and Grady, 3 months.
In 1918, Jim Coleman registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his draft registration card, he was born 1 October 1880; lived at Route 3, Wilson; was a farmer [“owns home”]; and his nearest relative was wife Maggie Coleman.
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jim Coleman, 35; wife Maggie, 34; and children Grady, 11, Sanders, 7, Claydee and Collie, 6, and Leroy, 2.
Perhaps, in the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Wilson, 56; wife Leanna, 50; and children Sarah, 17, Ester, 15, Thomas, 14, Georgia, 11, Nancy, 9, Gola, 7, and Margie, 3; plus sister Nanie, 16.
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, farmer June Ross, 40; wife Nancy, 38; and children Sylvina, 14, Nancy Ann, 11, Charles Willie, 8, John Ed, 5, and Marse Robert, 1.
Dallas and Hattie Vail
On 8 February 1914, Dallas Vails, 34, of Wayne County, son of Ned and Rachel Vails, married Hattie Barnes, 23, of Wayne County, daughter of Perry and Louisa Barnes, at Turner Swamp church. Primitive Baptist minister Jonah Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Thomas Ayres of Lucama, Geo. Robbin of Spring Hope, and C.H. Hagans of Sharpsburg.
In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer James Joyner, 27; wife Mahalia, 26; and boarders Auston Daws, 28, farm laborer, and Roy Armstrong, 3.
In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Wilbanks and Elm City Road, farmer Guston Armstrong, 73; wife Pricilla, 66; and grandchildren John C. Geer, 14, Roy Armstrong, 12, Frank Armstrong, 11, and Paulina Armstrong, 5.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Roy Armstrong, 23; wife Mary, 22; children Daisey, 3, and Mary, 2; and boarder Gerin(?) Bullock, 21.
More articles about the mysterious circumstances under which Joe Gaffney (or Goffney) shot and killed his girlfriend Blanche Williams in September 1921.
The breaking news:
Wilmington Morning Star, 26 September 1921.
The Daily Times‘ edition, published the same day, gave a blow-by-blow of the testimony adduced at the preliminary hearing. Both Gaffney and Williams were married to other people, but were in a relationship. Williams had come to Wilson from Goldsboro to work in domestic service. Gaffney and Williams were at the home of a woman named Joe Lee (or Joe Brodie) when Clifton Johnson brought in a gun. While Gaffney was examining it, he accidentally shot Williams. However, witnesses claimed they overheard Gaffney say, “If you go with that man I will kill you.” When Williams stepped in the house, Gaffney shot her, then threatened everyone else in the house before he fled.
In December 1921, Joe Gaffney was convicted of Williams’ manslaughter. He drew a twelve-month sentence “to be hired out to pay costs.”
Wilson Daily Times, 23 December 1921.
Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1921.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Lemon Barnes, 51; wife Dollie Ann, 51; children Ida, 26, Lemon Jr., 20, Mattie, 17, Charlie, 15, and Howard, 12; and stepsons Cornelius Neal, 12, Paul Goffney, 17, and Joseph Goffney, 15.
Blanch Williams died 24 September 1921 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 24 years old; was single; was born in Wayne County to Wash Smith and Laura Williams; and worked as a common laborer. Selina Craig of Goldsboro, N.C., was informant.
Cause of death: “Revolver wound of head (probably accidental)”