violent crime

The obituary of Willie Knight.

Wilson Daily Times, 5 August 1941.

Brothers Avan and Calvin Melvin were arrested and charged with the murder of Willie Knight. Avan Melvin claimed he struck Knight because Knight was cutting Calvin Melvin.  Calvin Melvin claimed innocence. I have not been able to determine the outcome of the trial, which was held the month after the incident.


In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Colonel Knight, 24; wife Flora, 20; and son Willie, 1.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Colonel Knight, 34; wife Flora, 28; and children Willie, 11, Nella, 8, George, 7, Colonel Jr., 4, and Percy, 2.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 717 Vance Street, rented at $16/month, Cullan Knight, 44, farmer; wife Flora, 37; and children Willie, 21, odd jobs laborer, George, 16, baker, Cullon Jr., bakery delivery boy, Percy, 13, and Gladys, 9.

In 1940, Willie Knight registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 4 June 1908 in Wilson County; lived at 646 Wiggins Street; was married to Thelma Newman Knight; and worked for R.P. Watson Tobacco Company. The card is marked “Deceased.”

Willie Knight died 2 August 1941 on Banks Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in June 1909 in Wilson County to Colonel Knight and Flora Thomas; was married to Thelma Knight; lived at 127 Narrowly Street; and worked as a laborer. Cause of death: “hit on head with brick fracturing skull killing almost instantly.”

The murder of Mordecai Hagans.

We first met Mordecai Hagans, born a free man of color, here, as an employee of Wilson’s Confederate hospital.

Fifteen or so years later, Hagans was murdered.

Wilson Advance, 16 July 1880.

(Josephus Daniels was editor of the Advance at the time, so it’s no surprise he thought it paramount to note that Hagans faithfully voted the white supremacist Democratic ticket. He tells us nothing of Hagans’ family, his occupation, his history — but we know this.)

Wilson Advance, 30 July 1880.

The Advance‘s follow-up was devoted almost exclusively  to the exculpation of J. Frank Eatmon, primarily via inferences from the testimony of Hagans’ “old, half-idiotic” unnamed wife, who had been severely beaten the night her husband was killed.


In the 1860 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: Mordecai Hagans, 23, farm laborer, living alone.

In the 1870 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Mordecai Hagans, 37, and wife Cherry, 45.

In the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: laborer Mordicia Hagins, about 50, and wife Cherry, about 45. [They are listed immediately after the households of J. Frank Eatmon and Pearson Eatmon’s mother Aquilla Eatmon and likely lived on the property of one or the other.]

Milton Simms fatally struck by brick.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 August 1933.

Wilson Daily Times, 31 August 1933.

Milton Simms and Willie Jones bumped into one another on an East Wilson sidewalk. A petty argument broke out, and Jones hurled a brick at Simms. Struck in his midsection, Simms died within minutes, and Jones fled the scene.

Jones was captured a day later, charged with manslaughter, convicted, and sent to Wilson County’s state highway prison camp. He escaped in July 1934, but was tracked down by bloodhounds within hours.


In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Manchester Street, Frances Simms, 39, and children Milton, 22, Eddie, 18, Raymond, 10, Maggie, 8, Ava, 5, Richard, 2, and Ray, 3 months.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C.: Simms Milton (c) brklayer h 106 Manchester

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 106 Manchester, laundress Frances Simms, 37, widow, with Milton, 20, Eva, 7, and Neva Simms, 5. [Frances and Milton’s ages were considerably off in this census.]

Milton Simms died 29 August 1933 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 32 years old; was born in Wilson County t0 Ed Mitchell of Wayne County, N.C., and Frances Sims of Wilson County; worked as a common laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and died of being “hit in the stomach with brick by Willie Jones Died instantly Homicide.” Raymond Sims was informant, and he was buried in Wilson. [He was almost certainly buried in Vick Cemetery.]