"Flung Himself From a Tower" (1894)

On the morning of August 23, 1894 banker Col. James Monroe Winstead sedately climbed the stairs to a balcony tower at Richmond’s City Hall, “threw his cane and shoes down” and then jumped to his death, landing on the iron fence over 90 feet below.

As I dug deeper into the circumstances surrounding this gruesome death, I found two additional pieces of information that in some ways shed more light on what happened that day and other ways only open up more questions.

The Roanoke Times, Aug. 1994

On the morning of August 23, 1894 banker Col. James Monroe Winstead sedately climbed the stairs to a balcony tower at Richmond’s City Hall, “threw his cane and shoes down” and then jumped to his death, landing on the iron fence over 90 feet below.

As I dug deeper into the circumstances surrounding this gruesome death, I found two additional pieces of information that in some ways shed more light on what happened that day and other ways only open up more questions.

Col. Winstead’s body hit the railing with such force that it actually bent the ironwork, as you can see here at WTVR. The video in that link also includes a photo of Winstead, probably taken much earlier than the date of his death, as well as an image of his grave marker in Greensboro’s Green Hill Cemetery. His unexpected and unexplained suicide caused his loved ones to speculate that he’d fallen or that he’d been pushed. Panicked bank customers in Greensboro rushed to withdraw their money, thinking that he’d taken his life due to financial troubles at his branch.

The Sun [New York] 24 Aug. 1894

Another article I found about Winstead’s death paints a more vivid picture of the final moments of his life and the first moments of his death.

FLUNG HIMSELF FROM A TOWER.
Suicide of an Aged North Carolina Bank President at Richmond,
     RICHMOND, Va., Aug. 23-Col. J. M. Winstead, President of the Piedmont and People’s Bank of Greensboro, NC., committed suicide here this morning in sight of hundreds of people. He was a fine-looking gentleman of 70. He went to the balcony of the City Hall tower, 100 feet high, threw his hat and cane away, took off his shoes, threw them before him, and jumped off.
     He fell head downward until he reached the second story, when his body doubled up like a ball. The next moment it struck on the sharp points of the iron rails which guard the area. There it was suspended from one of the sharp spears which had caught the left leg just at the hip joint. The force of the fall tore the leg out of its socket. He died before help reached him. In removing the remains from the fence the leg was separated from the trunk.
     Col. Winstead had asked the way to the high tower of the City Hall, and was calm in his demeanor when he did so. Letters found in his pockets indicated his identity. He registered at a hotel in this city last night. He had $1.24 in his pockets. An unmailed letter to his brother said:
     ‘My land company business is worrying me no little, but we are likely to get it in better shape.’
     Col. Winstead was a native of Person county, N.C., and was about 70 years of age. Under the Grant Administration his brother, Col. C.S. Winstead, was Collector of Internal Revenue for the Greensboro district, and the dead man was his deputy. He afterward engaged in the banking business, and became President of the Piedmont and People’s Bank of Greensboro, which place he held at the time of his death. People who knew him here say he was a man of stainless character. He leaves a widow. His brother, Col. Charles S. Winstead of Roxboro, is rated worth from $250,000 to $500,000.”
After a number of visits I finally found J.M. Winstead’s grave marker at Green Hill. He is buried beside his wife, Maria Black Winstead.

Col. Winstead's grave is on the far right.
Col. Winstead’s grave is on the far right.

 *This entry was originally posted in 2013.

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