murder

The murder of Maggie Wooten Coleman.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 December 1922.

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.

A great day in Charlotte Court House.

This event didn’t happen in Wilson County, but it has everything to do with the mission of Black Wide-Awake, and I want to share it.

The freshly unveiled marker.

The program:

My remarks:
 
“First, I’d like to recognize my family, Joseph R. Holmes’ family, here today — including three of his brother Jasper’s great-granddaughters. Some here may remember their uncle, Dr. J. Maxwell Allen, who practiced dentistry in Charlotte Court House. His sister, my great-aunt Julia, first told me of Joseph Holmes when I was an inquisitive teenager digging for my roots. She did not know the details — only that her grandfather’s brother Joseph, born enslaved, had been killed because of his political activity. That was enough, though, to set this journey in motion.
 
“On behalf of the Holmes-Allen family, I extend thanks to all who made this day possible. So many in Charlotte County gave in so many ways — time, money, influence, prayer (look at God!) — and we are profoundly grateful for your embrace and support of this project.
 
“We are also grateful to Kathy Liston. When I reached out to Kathy nearly ten years ago, seeking help to find the truth of Joseph Holmes’ life, I did not even dream of this day. I first visited Charlotte Court House in 2012 at Kathy’s invitation. She took me to Joseph Holmes’ homestead; to Roxabel, the plantation on which he may have been enslaved; to the school at Keysville whose establishment he championed; and finally to this courthouse, to the very steps on which he bled and died. The historical marker we reveal today stands as a testament to Kathy’s persistence and insistence, her values and vision, her energy and expertise, and we cannot thank her enough.
 
“The beautiful story of Joseph R. Holmes’ life, and the terrible story of his death, were all but forgotten in Charlotte County — suppressed by some, repressed by others. This is an all too common phenomenon of American history. Though Africans arrived in this very state in 1619, the contributions of African Americans to the building of this country — both literally and metaphorically — are seldom recalled, much less memorialized. Black communities dealt with their trauma by hiding it away, refusing to speak of their loss and pain. It is never too late, however, to reclaim our heroes.
 
“For hundreds of years, the Akan people of Ghana have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and proverbs. The word Sankofa, often depicted as a bird looking toward its tail, means ‘go back and get it.’ The broader concept of Sankofa urges us to know our pasts as we move forward.
Today, we have gone back for Joseph R. Holmes. In the shadow of Confederate monuments, we shine a light on his works; we affirm his life; we reclaim his legacy. As long as we speak his name, he lives forever. Will you say it with me?
 
“Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes.
 
“Your family remembers. Your community remembers. We honor your life and sacrifice.
 
“Thank you.”
 
For press coverage, please see articles in the Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Cardinal News.

The mysterious deaths of Miles and Annie Pearson.

An anonymous letter arrived at the sheriff’s office on 13 January 1922. Miles Pearson had killed his wife, it said, and fled the scene, leaving her lying the yard. The sheriff and several deputies rushed to the scene to find Annie Pearson‘s body, shot through the heart and mutilated by hungry animals. 

“Pistol shot wound through the heart. Murdered by husband”

The Daily Times reported on 14 January that the Pearsons were sharecroppers who had been on this farm, owned by Lithuanian Jewish brothers-in-law Morris Barker and Morris Popkin, just weeks. Their animals were found tied up and famished. 

… and then Miles Pearson was found in the woods, shot in the back.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 January 1922.

A Black man named Jim McCullen and two white men, prowling about the farm, found Pearson’s body stretched out behind a log with a shotgun nearby. Suddenly, it seems, everyone recalled a man and woman who’d been living with the Pearsons and were nowhere to be found. A week earlier, some said, they had briefly borrowed a horse and buggy from George Barnes, but had not been seen since.

“Pistol shot wound Murdered by unknown parties No Doctor in Attendance”

Were the Pearson murders ever solved?

Pop-bottle blow.

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News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 August 1944.

Robert Evans was arrested and charged with murder after flipping a glass bottle back at Walter T. Woodard.

Two weeks later, Evans was free. Judge J.J. Burney had directed a verdict of acquittal — meaning the prosecution has not proved its case under any reasonable interpretation of the facts.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 September 1944.

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“Blow on head with Bottle Instant death”

Soldier kills soldier.

In November 1898, the Third North Carolina Infantry moved from Camp Poland near Knoxville, Tennessee, to a winter camp at Fort Haskell, Macon, Georgia. Just days before the regiment paraded in formation before President William McKinley, Private James Ellis shot and killed Private Robert Thomas in a dispute over money. Former tent mates, both men were from Wilson.

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Macon Telegraph, 16 December 1898.

Per subsequent news reports, Ellis was found guilty, dishonorably discharged, and sentenced to imprisonment “for the term of his natural life” at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Held for murder of neighbor.

The Rocky Mount Telegram‘s headline blares “WILSON NEGRO,” and the article identifies both the alleged shooter and his victim as black. However, the Wilson Daily Times‘ 28 January 1938 coverage of the incident reveals that both Charles Davis and Lawrence Lamm were, in fact, white.

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Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram, 28 January 1938.

Lamm’s death certificate, marriage license, and census records confirm that he was white. (The Daily Times‘ piece revealed that the bad blood between Davis and Lamm stretched back “since a day over a decade ago when Lamm is alleged to have bitten off Davis’ father’s ear in a quarrel.” On 8 September 1938, the Daily Times reported that the defendant, whose actual name, was Charles Smith, was found not guilty on a directed verdict as the evidence determined that he had acted in self-defense.)

They believed they were merely playing.

On 27 March 1932, Chester Parker shot to death his sister Sarah’s husband, Ed Howard.

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Wilson Daily Times, 28 March 1932. 

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Raleigh Road, David Parker, 39; wife Elizabeth, 38; and children William E., 15, Richard, 13, Anna, 12, Sarah, 10, Sylvania, 9, Millie K., 7, Mary L., 5, Chester, 3, and John F., 7 months.

Eddie Howard, 21, of Edgecombe County, son of Tim and Mary Howard, married Sarah Parker, 20, of Gardners township, on 4 February 1920 at Joe Pender‘s house in Gardners township. Primitive Baptist elder Ruffin Hymon performed the ceremony in the presence of Crumel Farmer, John Barnes and another.

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“Murdered by Chester Parker shot through chest with revolver”