Cocaine, knock-out drops, and boosted clothes.

We first met Cora Moore when we read of her daring escape from the Wilson city jail. Here’s what put her there to begin with.

It started with the arrest of Mamie Ricks for possession of cocaine and “knock-out drops” after she tried to poison Ada McNeal. When Ricks was arrested at her Railroad Street home, police found “a number of pieces of fine clothing.” Efird’s Department Store quickly identified two silk dresses as goods stolen from them. The remaining items were a mystery, but Joe and Ada McNeal were also charged with larceny.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 November 1923. 

Less than two months later, the police cracked the case.

In short, a New York coat and suit manufacturer shipped goods south via Norfolk Southern freight. About three miles outside Wilson, someone (a co-conspirator?) threw the boxes of clothing off the train. Joe McNeal witnessed “two negroes in a large seven passenger car” stash the clothes at a spot in Grabneck. As the goods were already hot, he tipped off two friends, Cora Moore and Aaron McKeithan, and three retrieved some of them and hid them in a trunk in Moore’s house. When they realized they were under suspicion, they sold as much of the loot as they could.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 January 1924.


Neither Cora Moore, Mamie Ricks, Ada McNeal, Joe McNeal, nor Aaron McKeithan are readily identifiable in Wilson County records. The surnames of the McNeals and McKeithan suggests they came from the Cumberland County, N.C., area, and they may not have remained long in Wilson.

The stabbing death of Archie McLean.

The initial reporting of Archie McLean‘s terrible death, in addition to being breathlessly gory, tries and convicts his assailant, “a negro from South Carolina” named Bennett Bethea or Bennett McCarroll or Bennett McNeal. Also, note the third paragraph, in which Officer John Walston fired at a man he “thought” was Bethea/McCarroll/McNeal and instead shot a white woman bystander in the thigh. The reporter laconically noted the target “happened to be the wrong negro,” and Mrs. Davis was all right.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 September 1919.

Benny McNeal (as his name turned out to be) remained on the lam for more than two months before surrendering. He claimed self-defense, and witnesses at the inquest backed him up. After fleeing the scene, McNeal had stopped at his mother’s house, then headed south, finding work on a Hoke County farm.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 December 1919.

The grand jury agreed that McNeal had acted in self-defense and refused to indict him. Witnesses testified that McLean had come at McNeal with a piece of scantling (a small section of sawn timber) studded with twenty-penny (four-inch) nails, and McNeal had lashed out with a trench knife that penetrated McLean’s heart.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 December 1919.


In 1917, Arch McLean registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born March 1895 in Raleigh, N.C.; lived at 509 Stantonsburg Street; worked as a laborer at W.L. Russell Box Company; and was single. He signed his card with an X.

Archie McClain died 28 September 1919 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was  born in February 1894 in Wake County, N.C., to John Beckwith and Vicy Jones; was single; lived on Stantonsburg Street; and worked as a wagon driver for a  L.&M. [Liggett & Meyers] tobacco factory. Bessie McClain was informant.

“Stabed to Death by a man”


Studio shots, no. 182: Benjamin F. and Fannie McNeill Harris.

Benjamin Franklin Harris (1896-1976).

Fannie McNeill Harris (1898-1943).


In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Charles Harriss, 49; wife Maggie, 36; and children Ora, 16, Lee A., 14, Annie C., 11, Charlie, 9, Hattie, 6, Benjamin F., 4, and Carr H., 2.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Charles Harris, 50; wife Maggie, 44; and children Ora, 26, Charlie, 18, Hattie, 16, Benjamin F., 14, Hezekiah, 12, Mattie, 9, William H., 7, James C., 5, and Maggie, 1.

In the 1910 census of Back Swamp township, Robeson County, N.C.: farmer York McNeill, 49; wife Francess, 46; and children Franklin, 16, Lillie, 14, Fannie, 11, Walter, 8, Lulu, 6, Lonie, 4, and Dewey, 2.

In 1917, Benjamin Harris registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per her registration card, he was born 1 January 1896 in Black Creek, N.C.; lived at R.F.D., Fremont; was a self-employed farmer in Black Creek township; and was single.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Charley Harris, 60; wife Maggie, 55; and children Ora, 36, Ben, 24, Ezecar, 21, Mattie, 18, William, 10, 16, James, 14, and Maggie, 11.

In the 1920 census of Lumberton township, Robeson County, N.C.: John W. McNeill, 59; wife Frannie, 53; and children Lillie, 24, Fannie, 22, Walter, 18, Lula, 16, Lena, 14, and Hughie, 12.

Benjamin Harris, 29, of Black Creek township, married Fannie McNeal, 24, of Wilson, on 24 December 1925 in Wilson. Baptist minister B.F. Jordan performed the ceremony in the presence of Maggie L. Jordan and Nannie Jordan.

In the 1930 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: farmer Benjamin Harris, 34; wife Fannie, 28, laborer; daughter Kathaleen, 3, and Dorethea, 1; and nephew [sic] Mary L. McNeal, 11.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Ben Harris, 44, tobacco company storage hand; wife Fannie, 44; and children Catherine, 13, Duretha, 11, Lula May, 8, and Ernestine, 6.

Fannie Harris died 19 December 1943 at her home at No. 7 Carolina Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 45 years old; was born in Robeson County, N.C., to York McNeil and Frances McKeller; and was married to Benjamin Harris.

Photos courtesy of user Laraysha Shaw.