homicide

Murdered while gambling.

An afternoon of gambling ends in the murder of Will Brown, and the frantic flight of the gunman and his friends.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 July 1913.

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  • Frank Tart — in the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Frank Tart, 30, is listed among laborers at Wilson County jail.
  • Will Brown 
  • Lum King — in the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Lum King, 35, is listed among laborers at Wilson County jail.
  • Otto King — in the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Jim Bass, 19, and lodgers James Allen, 21, and Otto King, 18, all farm laborers.
  • Peter Ward
  • Will Barron

Drapped the wrong one.

Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.

I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.

  • “on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
  • “a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
  • “a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
  • “‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the  verb “drop.”

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  • Will Scarborough 

On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.

Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.

  • Robert Hilliard

On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.

Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.

  • Riley Faison  

On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.

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*See Brent Staples’ opinion piece in the 11 July 2021 New York Times, “How the White Press Wrote Off Black America.”

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The murder of Cora Lee Carr.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 April 1924.

The victim, in fact, was named Cora Lee Carr. I have not found more about her terrible death.

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Cora Lee Carr died 21 April 1924 in Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was about 24 years old; was married to Earnest Carr; and was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Willie Williams was informant. Cause of death: “Crushed scull with axe Homicide Instant death.”

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Blackwell accidentally shot his wife to death.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1920.

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On 20 August 1904, William Blackwell, 29, of Taylors township, son of Nancy Howard, married Sally Ann Taylor, 18, of Taylor township, daughter of Ellen and Dora Taylor, in Wilson County.

In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: on Sharp Road, William Blackwell, 29; wife Sallie A., 20; and son Bennie, 11 months.

In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: tenant farmer William Blackwell, 45; wife Sally Ann, 29; and children Bennie, 10, Amos, 7, Jakie, 5, and Nancy, 1.

Sallie Ann Blackwell died 10 June 1920 in Taylors township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born in 1882 in Wilson County to Dora Locus and was married. Cause of death: “gunshot wound, shot accidentally.”

William Blackwell died 28 January 1928 in Old Fields township, Wilson County, of smallpox. Per his death certificate, he was 50 years old; was born in Wilson County to Nancy Howard; was a farmer; and was married to Carrie Blackwell. Bennie Blackwell was informant.

Exum dies after being struck with brick.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 July 1934.

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In the 1920 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County, N.C.: farmer Jesse Artis, 37; widowed mother Loucinda, 67; sister Ada, 35; brother Claud, 30; and nephew Leslie Exum, 13.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Exum Leslie (c) r 310 N Reid

On 11 December 1929, Leslie Exum, 23, of Wilson, son of Will and Ada Exum, married Beulah Artis, 20, of Nahunta township, daughter of W.M. and Etta Artis, in Nahunta township, Wayne County, N.C. A.M.E. Zion minister J.E. Kennedy performed the ceremony in the presence of C.E. Artis of Wilson, V.E. Manly of Mount Olive, and E.G. Boney of Mount Olive. [Leslie Exum and Beulah Artis were cousins. His maternal grandfather Jesse Artis was the brother of her father William M. Artis, making them first cousins once removed. Columbus E. Artis, their great-uncle and uncle, respectively, was a witness to the ceremony.]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 307 North Reid, hospital orderly Henry A. Best, 38; wife Anney C., 40, laundress; children Thelma, 13, Dubsette, 8, and Reatha, 6; and lodgers Leslie, 23, taxi driver, and Bertha Exam, 20.

Leslie Exum died 4 July 1934 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 27 years old; was born in Wayne County to Willie Exum and Ada Artis; lived at 304 North Reid Street; was married to Beulah Exum; and worked as a taxi driver.

 

Crazed by family troubles.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 August 1935.

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At findagrave.com, a family member offers a sympathetic portrait of William Bunn and a glimpse at the rest of the life of 17 year-old Maggie Barnes Bunn, who survived her husband’s attack.

“MR. WILLIAM BUNN the first husband of Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn. Their union was blessed with two daughters – Dorothy Mae Bunn and Virginia Bunn. Mr. William Bunn was a loving husband and father and friend. Mr. William Bunn accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at an early age, also Mr. William Bunn was reared in a Christan Home. However, Mr William Bunn became very controlling and jealous of his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn, which lead him into Domestic Violence toward his wife Mrs. Maggie Baines Buun. Mr. William Bunn left home to go to work on the Farm and Mrs. Maggie Baines Bunn took her two daughters Dorothy and Virgina and went to her parents home, Mr General Barnes and Mrs. Clyde Barnes. When Mr. William Bunn arrived at home, he found out that his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn and his daughters had left him. Mr. William went over to his wife’s parents home and shot his mother-in-law Mrs. Clyde Barnes, killing her and he shot and wounded her sister. Next Mr. William Bunn found his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn and shot her, but the bullet glanced her on the nick and arm. Mr. William left his wife’s parents home, thinking that he had killed his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn, Mr. William preceded to a tree that he had in-graved a heart shaped with William and Maggie Love Forever in the tree and blow his brains out. NOTE: Please do not be disrespectful of Mr. William Bunn’s behavior on this sad day, because Mr. William’s was crapped in his mind and heart by being in a jealous rage, which lead him out of his mind.”

“Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn Baines, was born on May 15, 1918 in Wilson, North Carolina to Mr. General Barnes and the late Mrs. Clyde Barnes. Maggie was educated at Calvin Level School in Wilson, North Carolina. After completing High School, Maggie met and married the late Mr. William Bunn. Their union was blessed with two daughters. Later Maggie met and married Mr. Jake Baines Sr. Their union was blessed with eleven children. Maggie was a loving devoted wife and mother, always cooked home made meals for her family and friends. Maggie loved to up-keep her home and Maggie was extremely talented at cooking sewing clothing for her children and coats. Maggie would make blankets, bed sheets and curtains for her house windows. Maggie would share her talents with her family, friends and the neighborhood. Maggie loved people and whenever help was needed, Maggie would respond with assistance to those who had a need. Maggie was a Christian Woman and reared her children in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Maggie always encourage her children to love the Lord Jesus Christ, to love one another, to love their family members, to love their neighbors and most of all to love their-selves. Maggie was a kind, caring and loving person, always made numerous of friends wherever she went and Maggie will be sincerely missed by all who loved and knew her. Maggie leaves to cherish her everlasting memories: her devoted husband – Mr. Jake Baines Sr.; six daughters – Mrs. Dorothy M. Dingle, Mrs. Virginia Williams, Mrs. Lillie M. King. Ms. Jackie Baines, Ms. Helen Baines and Ms. Paulette Baines; seven sons – Mr. Jake Baines Jr., Mr. John Davis Baines, Mr. James Arthur Baines, Mr. Willie Gray Baines, Mr. Charles Baines, Anthony Baines and Mr. Christopher Baines; her father – Mr. General Barnes and step-mother Mrs. Laffey Cox Barnes; five sisters – Mrs. Ruth Boykin, Mrs. Lucy Allen, Mrs. Irene Floyd, Mrs. Odessa Boykin and Mrs. Mildred Boykin; three brothers – Mr. Darthur Barnes, Mr. Wiley Barnes and Mr. John Dallas Barnes; five brothers-in-law – Mr. Howard Taft Boykin, Mr. Frank Allen, Mr. James Floyd, Mr. William J. Boykin and Mr. Lee Roy Boykin; one sister-in-law – Mrs. Rosa Barnes; numerous of great-children; aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and a host of other relatives and friends. NOTE: Maggie was forty-three years old and Cancer was the cause of her death.”

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General Barnes, 21, of Gardners township, son of Jarman and Mollie Barnes, married Clyde Barnes, 18, of Gardners township, daughter of Wiley and Lucy Barnes, on 2 December 1916 in Wilson in the presence of James Barnes of Elm City and Louis Barnes and Dempsey Mercer of Wilson.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer General Barnes, 21; wife Clyde, 19; and children E. Ruth, 3, and E. Maggie, 1.

In the 1930 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer General Barnes, 31; wife Clyde, 29; and children Ruth, 13, Maggie, 11, Luther, 9, John D., 8, Arthur, 5, Wiley, 3, and Irene, 1.

William Thomas Bunn died 6 August 1935 in Crossroads township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 23 years old; was married to Maggie Barnes Bunn; was a farmer; and was born in Lucama to James (crossed through) Bunn and Maggie Oniel (crossed through). James Bunn, 606 Warren Street, Wilson, was informant. Cause of death: “(Suicide) by shooting self in head with shot gun.”

Clyde Barnes died 6 August 1935 at Mercy or Moore-Herring Hospital [both are listed.] Per her death certificate, she was 33 years old; was married to General Barnes; was a farmer; was born in Wilson County to Wiley Oree and Lucy Barnes; and died of a gunshot wound to the neck. 

The story of a 27 year-old murder.

In August 1912, 17 year-old Nash County boy Lieutenant Hawkins was found stabbed to death on his employer Iredell Williams’ farm near the Wilson County line. His body had lain in a pasture overnight. The Wilmington Morning Star reported that two men, Paul Powell and Oscar Eatmon, were quickly arrested.  

Eatmon was convicted “of having something to do with the killing.” (What?) He served five years in state prison and returned to Wilson. Meanwhile, Paul Powell’s brother Dempsey Powell, also involved in the incident, left the state. When he returned in May 1939 for one of his brothers’ funeral, he was arrested and charged with Hawkins’ murder. 

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1939.

A mere five days later, the Nashville Graphic reported that Powell had been acquitted. Eatmon was the star witness. Eatmon, Hawkins, Powell and others had argued on their way home from church. A fight broke out, and Hawkins was slain. Eatmon was taken into custody as a witness, but “at a preliminary hearing talked too much and was arrested in connection with the crime.” Powell  returned to North Carolina about 1933 and saw and talked to Eatmon, but Eatmon had not reported him. When Powell came back in 1939, Eatmon alerted authorities. 

All good until cross examination. Defense attorney I.T. Valentine confronted Eatmon with a sworn statement from the 1912 trial record. Eatmon had testified then that another boy, named Wiggins, had stabbed Hawkins, and Powell had only pulled Wiggins off the victim. After reviewing this bombshell, the judge directed a “not guilty” verdict, and Powell’s ordeal was over. 

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  • Dempsey Powell — in the 1900 census of Jackson township, Nash County, N.C.: Ichabod Powell, 50, farmer; wife Mary A., 50; children Mary A., 20, Martha, 18, Joseph, 16, Margarett, 14, Geneva, 12, Billie P., 11, Dempsey H., 9, and Paul J., 6; and nephew Henry Lassiter, 28. In the 1910 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer William T. Powell, 38; wife Mary, 21; brother-in-law Dempsie, 16; and sister-in-law Martha, 6. On 14 February 1912, Dempsey Powell, 19, of Old Fields township, son of Tom and Clarky Powell, married Bessie Hedgpeth, 18, of Oldfields township, daughter of Dock and Clara Hedgpeth, in Wilson County. [Is this the same Dempsey?]
  • Paul Powell — Paul Powell died 21 July 1966 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 30 May 1894 in Nash County to Jabe [Ichabod] Powell and Mary Ann Lancaster [Lassiter]; lived at 1304 Carolina Street; and was never married. 
  • Oscar Eatmon — in the 1910 census of Jackson township, Nash County, Oscar Eatmon is a 16 year-old farm laborer living with his widower father Jarman Eatmon.
  • Lieutenant Hawkins — in the 1910 census of Jackson township, Nash County, Lieutenant Hawkins is a 14 year-old farm laborer living with his parents Bynum and Julia Hawkins.
  • I.T. Valentine — Itimous Thaddeus Valentine, later an associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Two balls in the dead man’s forehead.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 September 1921.

On 30 December 1921, the Wilson Daily Times reported the cases the Superior Court recently heard, including:

It was a curious crime. Jack Anna Ricks Rich had inherited a farm from her husband ten years earlier, and as noted above, Charlie Martin was a long-time tenant. In fact, when Martin registered for the World War I draft in 1918, he listed Jack Ann Rich as both his employer and his nearest relative.

Charlie Martin was listed in the 1900 and 1910 censuses of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, as a single farm laborer boarding in the households of white farmers. He seems to have had no close family. When he died at Rich’s hands, a neighbor struggled to provide adequate information about him. Martin’s birthdate was unknown, and his age was “look to be 45 or 50 years.” His parents were unknown, but his birthplace was thought to be Ohio (though census records listed North Carolina.)

“No Doctor Kill By Pistol Shot”

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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