murder

“I want to advise the colored people against gambling.”

Months after the fact, a North Carolina newspaper picked up this blurb about the murder allegedly committed by a Wilson man:

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Wilmington Messenger, 1 August 1893.

This short account appeared in an Atlanta paper just after the crime:

The Atlanta Constitution, 4 April 1893.

After Courney’s execution, The Constitution ran a deeply detailed story of Courney’s life and the events that led to Smith’s death:

The Atlanta Constitution, 29 July 1893.

  • Jim Courney — His real name was Burroughs Kearney. Though not found in Wilson County records, in the 1880 census of Shocco township, Warren County, North Carolina: farmer Logan Kearney, 45; wife Virginia, 35; and children Burroughs, 15, Lucy, 13, Cherrie, 10, Cilla, 7, George, 4, and Emely, 3.  The family appears in the 1870 census of Sparta township, Edgecombe County, and Burroughs Kearney was married there in 1887.

If she cooked, he would kill her.

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Twin City Daily Sentinel (Winston-Salem, N.C.), 2 May 1921.

Nolia Reid died 1 May 1921 of “homicide–stab wounds.” Per her death certificate, she was 19 years old and worked as a laundress. Her parents, George Best and Louisa Farmer, were members of the extended family of Bests who settled the Grabneck community on west Nash Street. Her uncle Thomas Farmer was informant.

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Ben Reid apparently did not succumb to his terrible self-inflicted wounds.

A pardon.

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Wilson Advance, 5 May 1882.

  • Simon Dildy
  • Charles Gay — in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm laborer Charles Gay, 35, wife Emma, 25, children Charles, 5, and Mary, 1, and two farm laborers Rich’d Harper, 20, and Haywood Watson, 17. Though the article above states that Gay was murdered in 1875, Emma Gay was appointed administratrix of his estate in early 1874. Gay had been a shopkeeper, and his wife took over his “old stand.” On 12 March 1874, the Goldsboro Messenger  reported his murder thus:

Artis’ Cafe padlocked.

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Wilson Daily Times, 13 February 1939.

  • June Scott Artis — A history of Stantonsburg gave the date of the cafe’s opening as 1947, which apparently was off by at least a decade. It remained in business into the 1960s.
  • Edgar Artis, June S. Artis’ son.
  • Walter Ward — The 6 February 1939 edition of the Wilson Daily Times reported that Ward pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 15 to 18-year sentence.
  • H.B. Swenson — H.B. Swinson died 28 January 1939. Per his death certificate, he was “murdered, knife wound of breast”; was born 18 April 1913 in Greene County to Allen Swinson and Henrietta Applewhite of Greene County; lived i Stantonsburg; and worked in farming.

Who was the victim?

Pittsburgh Courier, 16 May 1942.

In a nutshell: James Applewhite was arrested and charged with the murder of Willie Fate. A burial society paid an undertaker to conduct Fate’s funeral. After the service, a burial society adjuster thought he saw Willie Fate on his way home. The society contacted the Wilson County draft board for information about Willie — presumably, his whereabouts, if not dead — but got none. Had the adjuster seen Willie’s brother Perry Fate instead? Or was Perry the man dead and buried? Applewhite confessed, but whom did he kill? Perry was nowhere to be found.

Willie H. Fate’s death certificate shows that he was killed on 25 April 1942 on 264 Highway by a pistol shot to the chest. Toney Funeral Home of Spring Hope, Nash County, performed the burial, but there’s no indication of the society that paid for it.

Apparently, the matter was not cleared to the satisfaction of the United States military until 10 August 1942, when Willie Fate’s registration card was cancelled.

Willie H. Fate’s draft registration card.

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In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Fate, 33; wife Monna, 31; children Alice, 17, Willie H., 17, Perry, 11, Geneva, 7, Robert Jr., 5, and Mary E., 2; and in-laws Alice Jurant, 55, and Melvin Jurant, 56. All save the youngest three children were born in South Carolina.

In 1940, Willie Henry Fate registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 27 January 1917 in South Carolina; he resided at R.F.D. #4, Wilson; his contact was Lula Fate; and he worked as a laborer for Mark Ellis, R.F.D. #4, Wilson.

In 1940, Perry Fate registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 7 January 1920 in Florence, South Carolina; resided at Route 1, C-10, Elm City; his contact was M.L. Ellis, Route 4; and he worked for James L. Ellis, Route 1, Elm City.

Surprise verdicts?

Just after Christmas 1948, an all-white jury acquitted Woodrow Taylor, a white service station operator, in the murder of Hugh Bynum, a black man.

In a nutshell: Bynum and Taylor had a “conversation” about a pack of cigarettes. Bynum stepped out of the store. Taylor followed and asked, “You don’t think I’ll kill you?” Bynum said no. Taylor went back in and returned with a shotgun. Again: “You don’t think I’ll kill you?” And shot Bynum in the chest. Or, “the gun went off” — Taylor said it fired accidentally when he tried to set it down on a “cold drink crate.” And he denied aggressively questioning Bynum. The jury believed him.

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Wilson Daily Times, 29 December 1948.

Bynum was not the only black man whose manner of death went before a jury that day. On 7 October 1947, William Cooper was thrown into the street at Nash and Pender Streets when M.O. Tripp, driving drunk, struck his wagon. Cooper died two weeks of later of injuries sustained, and Tripp was charged with manslaughter. The Daily Times reported the verdict in this case the next day. Surprise.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1948.

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In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Lynn Bynum, 70; wife Lena, 50; and children Patience, 18, Lynn, 8, Harvey, 6, Hubert, 5, and Bunny, 3.

In 1940, Hubert Bynum registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born in 1915 in Edgecombe County; resided at Route 1, Stantonsburg, Wilson County; and his contact and employer was his first cousin Jack Bynum. He was described as “feeble-minded” with a “displaced eye.”

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In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: William F. Cooper, 43, delivery man for ice and coal company; wife Lillie, 30, cook; and step-daughter Anna Bobbitt, 16.

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State vs. Jim, a slave.

State of North Carolina, County of Wilson   }  Superior Court of Law, Fall Term AD 1858

The jurors for the State upon their oath present that Jim, a slave, the property of Jacob Robbins, late of the County Wilson, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, in the first day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-eight with force and arms , at and in the said County of Wilson, int and upon one Jacob D. Robbins in the peace of the State then and there being feloniously, wilfully and his malice aforethought did make an assault: and that the said Jim with a certain axe, of the value of one dollar, which he the said Jim, then and there in both his hands had and held, him the said Jacob D. Robbins in and upon the right side of the head of him the said Jack D. Robbins, then and there feloniously, wilfully and and of his malice aforethought did hit and strike; and that the said Jim did then and there give unto him the said Jacob D. Robbins by such striking and hitting of him the said Jacob D. Robbins with the axe aforesaid one mortal wound of the length of two inches, and of the breadth of one inch in and upon the said right side of the head of him the said Jacob D. Robbins, of which said mortal wound the said Jacob D. Robbins then and there instantly died; and so the jurors aforesaid upon their oath aforesaid do say that the said Jim, him the said Jacob D. Robbins, then and there, in manner and form aforesaid feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought did kill and murder against the peace and dignity of the State.

And the jurors aforesaid on their oath aforesaid do further present that the said Jim a slave the property of Jacob Robbins, late of said County of Wilson, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, afterwards to wit on the day and year aforesaid, with force and arms, at and in the County aforesaid, in and upon one Jacob D. Robbins in the peace of the State, then & there being, feloniously, willfully and of his malice aforethought did make an assault and that he the said Jim, witth a certain axe of the value of one dollar, which he the said Jim, then and there, in both his hands had and held him the said Jacob D. Robbins, in and upon the right sight of the head, and in and upon the face of him the said Jacob D. Robbins, then and there feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought divers times did beat and strike, giving to him the said Jacob D. Robbins, then & there by striking and beating him as aforesaid with the axe aforesaid several mortal wounds of the length of one inch and the depth of one inch in and upon the right side of the head and in and upon the face of him the said Jacob D. Robbins, of which said mortal wounds the said Jacob D. Robbins then and there instantly died, and so the jurors aforesaid on their oath aforesaid do say that the said Jim him the said Jacob D. Robbins then and there in manner and form aforesaid feloniously willfully and of his malice aforethought did kill and murder against the peace and dignity of the State.   /s/ Geo. A Stevenson Sol.

Court Cases Involving Slaves, Slave Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Neighborhood legend.

The Brutal Death of a Neighborhood Legend.

by Thomas Bell, Washington Post, 26 April 1990.

Seth Wilder, 88, was one of those old men who become neighborhood legends.

People saw him every day on his afternoon strolls or under the tree in front of his house, the same tree he planted when he moved his family here from a North Carolina farm 40 years ago.

Usually a friend would sit with him, and people would stop by and say hello. That’s the way he was — always making friends.

It’s also why his wife, Lillie Mae Wilder, didn’t think twice when he brought a stranger into their Capitol Hill Northeast home two weeks ago. The man she had never seen before followed her husband up the stairs to his bedroom.

There, he robbed Seth Wilder — and broke his neck, police and hospital officials say.

Seth Wilder, who would have turned 89 next month, died Tuesday, his big, six-foot frame strapped to a hospital bed.

For 12 days he could only blink his eyes. Doctors told the family that his chances for survival were a million to one, but his wife wouldn’t let the doctors shut off the machines that kept her husband alive. They had been married for 59 years.

Police say they have several suspects but have made no arrests in the case. They also say it was one of the most vicious attacks on an elderly person they have ever seen.

“It was an act of total brutality,” said 5th District Capt. Maralyn Hershey. “This man was defenseless and could offer no resistance.”

The crime has outraged the neighborhood, a changing middle-class community of longtime residents and young professionals. Elderly residents especially have been living in fear ever since the assault, said James Lawlor, who heads the local community association in Northeast.

He said one of Seth Wilder’s longtime friends has been walking around the street with a hammer “looking for the man who hurt his buddy.”

At a community meeting last week, Fred Raines, deputy chief of the 5th District, one of the busiest stations in the city, pledged to a crowd of 50 residents that he would find the man.

Police have interviewed dozens of neighborhood residents, including the men who live and work in a shelter for the homeless five houses away from the Wilder home on Maryland Avenue NE.

Wilder withdrew $500 in cash from a bank less than two blocks from his home early in the afternoon of April 13, according to bank records obtained by police. It was money he needed to buy a couple pairs of glasses, said his daughter, Callon Jacobs.

Police said the man followed Wilder home from that errand. His wife said she heard him and the man talking in hushed voices outside the front door. The stranger followed him inside and introduced himself. She doesn’t remember his name or what he looked like. The two men went upstairs, she said.

A few minutes later she saw the man leave “walking hard as he could,” she said.

Even then, Lillie Mae Wilder said, she didn’t think anything was wrong. About three hours later, their daughter came home and was chatting with her mother when she heard her father’s faint cry for help. She rushed up the stairs and found him on the foor, his head cocked down to the side.

“I said, ‘What happened, Daddy, did you fall?’

“He said, ‘No.’

“I said, ‘What happened?’

“He said, ‘A man came up here and choked me and took my money.’ ”

Jacobs said her father asked her to take off his shoes.

She said he never spoke a word after that.

“I don’t know what happened in that room,” she said. “That’s the thing I can’t deal with — what happened before and how afraid he must have been.”

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Seth Wilder Sr. and Jr., Washington, D.C.

Many thanks to Eunice F., who posted a comment on a yesterday’s post about Seth Wilder reminding us that her uncle’s life was not defined by a single careless incident with tragic consequences. The Wilders relocated to Washington, D.C., after Seth Wilder’s release from prison. He became a fixture on his Capitol Hill street, and his 1990 murder shocked his neighborhood. In less than a week, a homeless man was arrested and charged with killing Wilder, but was released without indictment after spending eight months in jail.

Photo courtesy of Edith Jones Garnett.

Dew triangle ends in murder.

The story broke on the Fourth of July 1907. Raiford Dew had shot and killed his wife Mittie and her lover — his brother Amos Dew. Newspapers across the state could not resist the tragedy:

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News & Observer (Raleigh), 4 July 1907.

A few days later, the Clinton Caucasian reported different details.

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Clinton Caucasian, 11 July 1907.

Unsurprisingly, Raiford Dew was convicted of second degree (unpremeditated) murder three months later. (And attention moved to another act of violence — the murder of Wiley Faison by Will Scarborough at a “negro dance” on a farm southeast of Wilson.)

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News & Observer (Raleigh) 12 October 1907.

Somewhat surprisingly, five years later, Dew received a conditional pardon at the recommendation of the trial judge and jury.

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Greensboro Daily News, 16 November 1912.

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In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Louisa Dew, 35, and children Isaac, 20, Nellie, 17, Mourning, 10, Grant, 9, Raiford, 7, Mary Ann, 6, and Amos, 2.

On 10 August 1895, Rayfus Dew, 22, of Cross Roads township, son of Amos and Louisa Dew, married Mitty Daniel, 18, of Cross Roads, daughter of Isaac and Edna Daniel. Free Will Baptist minister Daniel Blount performed the ceremony at Pine Grove in Wilson township. Tom Moore, Noah Moore and Riney Ricks were witnesses. [William H. Pate, who fled from Raiford Dew’s threat, was the son of Alford and Polly Ann Daniel Pate and was Mittie Daniel Dew’s cousin.]

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Roford Dew, 25; wife Mittie, 20; and children Lee M., 3, and Murray, 5 months. Two households away:  widow Louisa Dew, 65; daughter Mary, 27, and son Amos, 20; Roselle Deans, 75; and widowed sister Ellen Emerson, 60.

Mittie Dew was buried in Becky Pate cemetery near Lucama. Her headstone notes that she was the wife of R.D. Dew and proclaims her “Gone but not forgotten.”

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In the 1910 census of Halifax township, Halifax County: at State Farm #1, Raiford Dew, 38, prisoner.

On 23 August 1914, Raiford Dew, 44, of Cross Roads township, son of Amos and Louisa Dew, married Maybel Dawson, 18, of Cross Roads township, daughter of Perry and Sarah Dawson. Witnesses were Grant Dew, W.H. Mickerson and Vanderbilt Dawson.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Raiford Dew, 57; wife Mary Belle, 34; and children Clarence, 15, Lema, 13, and Joseph, 11; sister-in-law Dazzell Dawson, 17, and her daughter Sarah, 4; and brother-in-law Willie Dawson, 19.

Raford Dew died 28 December 1933 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 62 years old; married to May Belle Dew; was a farmer; and was the son of Amos and Louisa Dew.

Photograph of headstone courtesy of Findagrave.com.

The murder of Calvin Barnes … but not by THAT John Jefferson.

Patrick M. Valentine’s The Rise of a Southern Town: Wilson, North Carolina, 1849-1920 is an invaluable history of the city’s first seventy years. In a chapter devoted to the blossoming of Wilson’s tobacco market in the 1890s, Valentine details a gun battle in the street between banker and cotton man Alpheus Branch and new tobacco man Calvin Barnes. Nine years later, Barnes was murdered as he rode home in a wagon with his grandsons. Valentine describes the alleged killer, Jonathan [sic] J. Jefferson, as Barnes’ “black overseer” and notes the even-handedness of the law toward Jefferson, whose initial conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court on an evidentiary point and who was later found not guilty.

The decision in State v. Jefferson, 125 N.C. 712 (1899), made no mention of Jefferson’s race. This raised my antennae. Contemporary news accounts also failed to mention that Jefferson was black, though they did describe concerns that he would be lynched. Instead, reports explicitly describe him as “a white renter of Captain Barnes’,” having a “white face,” “pale,” and “slightly pale, but no different from the many other spectators.”

Here is what happened around sunset on 28 December 1899. First, the setting: “This road is known as the New Road and comes into Wilson from Barefoot’s Mill and enters the city at the old circus grounds. About a quarter of a mile from the city limits is a small stream — Hominy Swamp — and just beyond this is a steep hill descending to the swamp. The steepness of this hill has necessitated its being cut down so that the road is in a cut, the banks on each side rising about eight feet. At the left side of the road at this hill the woods comes up to a small bluff overlooking the road. About half way down the hill in this woods a fence corners and runs at right angles with the road and parallel with the swamp for nearly half a mile, when it turns to the right and running almost due South, makes the line between the lands of A. Nadal and Mrs. Sid Clark. Where the fence corners near the hill on the New Road was the place selected by the perpetrator of this most dastardly crime.”

“Captain” Calvin Barnes and two grandsons had spent the day at his farm. As their horse-drawn buggy descended the hill towards Wilson, Barnes was shot in the back. The crack of the gunshot and the children’s screams attracted Ned Bunch, “a negro man close at hand,” who grabbed the reins of the runaway horse, climbed into the buggy, and drove Barnes to his home on Nash Street. Drs. Needham B. Herring and Nathan Anderson soon arrived, but Barnes died about 2:30 the next morning. Before he passed, Barnes told his friends that he had recently had words with John J. Jefferson, who managed one of his farms. Jefferson gave an alibi, but was quickly arrested and brought before a coroner’s inquest, which returned a charge against him. Fearing a lynching, the sheriff secretly moved Jefferson to Lucama, where he was put aboard a train for safekeeping in Raleigh.

The Raleigh Post carried a salacious confession that appeared in the Wilson News the very same day – on the very same page – that the News reported Barnes’ murder. “Jefferson is a tall, sparsely built man. He has a grizzley brownish beard that conceals his white face. His eyes are positively wicked.” “I shot at him,” the paper quoted, “They swore this thing on me, and I reckon I killed him.” Jefferson went on to detail a litany of grievances against Barnes, including failure to buy supplies, interference with his hands (i.e. farmworkers), and attempting to make Jefferson work his daughter in tobacco. The night before the murder, Jefferson asked Barnes if he had brought some cloth to make dresses for Jefferson’s daughters. Barnes had not and Jefferson threatened to kill him.

Jefferson was tried and convicted in late October, and his execution by hanging was set for November 16. He appealed the verdict on the basis that one of the State’s contentions had been that Barnes had made a dying declaration that Jefferson shot him. The State Supreme Court ruled that “[s]tatements of deceased, made shortly before his death, that he had quarreled with the prisoner in the morning, and that after sunset somebody shot him, and that he saw a man running out of the bushes, but could not recognize him, as it was too dark to recognize him, and to have prisoner arrested, are inadmissible as dying declarations.” “At most, the evidence was but the opinion of the deceased that the prisoner shot him….” (Further, the indictment was flawed.)

On 22 June 1900, Jefferson was retried and, to the shock and outrage of local citizenry, acquitted of Barnes’ murder.

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  • Ned Bunch – in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: teamster Ned Bunch, 50; wife Lissa, 50; and children Mary, 16, Martha, 13, Orra, 11, Willie, 9, Mattie, 7, and Lucy, 5. Ned Bunch died 19 March 1916 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 1851 in Wilson County to James Bunch and an unknown mother and was married. Malissa Bunch was informant. [Less than a year after the trauma of intercepting Barnes’ bleeding body, Bunch carried the dying James A. Hunt home after he was shot down in the street by Jefferson D. Farrior.]
  • John J. Jefferson – in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: John J. Jefferson, 50, farmer, prisoner in the Wilson County Jail. [Valentine may have confused this Jefferson with John Jefferson, 52, a black day laborer, who appeared in the same census of Wilson township.]

Narrative abstracted from articles in the Durham Sun, 30 August 1899; Wilson News, 31 August and 26 October 1899; Wilson Daily Times, 1 September 1899; News & Observer (Raleigh), 23 June 1900, as well as the text of the Supreme Court decision.