Debutante “Found Dead in Bathtub Full of Scalding Water”

Kate W. Gravely Cabell was born in 1872 into a prominent Danville family, the daughter of Captain Peyton Gravely, a tobacco manufacturer and partner at  P.B. Gravely & Co., and Mary Walters Gravely. In her youth she no doubt enjoyed the privileges that accompanied the life of a person of wealth and higher social standing. Her name was mentioned in the society pages of newspapers even outside of Danville’s town limits where she was described as “bewitching” and charming.

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Husband Shoots Wife as Children Slumber

Late on the evening of May 15, 1928 police were called out to High Street to investigate reports of gun shots. They heard a muffled shot coming from 540 High Street, which was the home of James and Mattie Milam Jones (30) and their four children: David (11), Lola (9), Leila (3), and Clara (18 months). Upon the officers’ knocks at the door, James yelled through an upstairs window that the door was bolted and they would have to enter through a window. He eventually came to the door after coming downstairs and turning to go back upstairs holding a shotgun. Officers saw the gun & convinced him to come to the door. When he opened it, he had the loaded shotgun half-raised towards the police but they were able to get the gun out of his arms. Mattie’s “buckshot riddled” body was nearby at the bottom of the staircase. James was arrested and the children, who slept through nearly an hour’s worth of on-and-off shotgun blasts, were taken to  someone named Gus Warren’s home. Mattie’s father’s took custody of the children not long afterwards but months later, an article suggested that they were in the care of some sort of charity organization.

James, a tall, strong carpenter with a mangled foot and hand from an old accident, told police that he didn’t think he’d shot his wife, and if he did it wasn’t on purpose. Two alleged intruders were inside the house and he and his wife both armed themselves with shotguns for protection. These strangers had come through a hole in the floor and the shots that were fired were done so to scare them away as well as to fend off one of them who was coming up the stairs to where he and Mattie were standing in the darkness. James thought one of the intruders had shot back and after thinking that he’d shot one of the men he realized that Mattie was at the bottom of the steps, dead. He told police that the two men could’ve been the two insurance agents who had been to the home earlier that day.

“Hilarious dancers were burning powder in their enthusiasm”?

No autopsy was done even though there was initial question about whether Mattie was only shot once from the back with a shotgun, leaving exit wounds through her front or twice,  with one shot also from the front with a pistol. 18 shots had been fired in total that night. By May 17, police had determined that there were no intruders, no pistol had been used in Mattie’s killing, and there was no hole in the floor through which any intruders could have entered or fled.

James’ behavior in jail prompted one doctor to suggest that he go before a lunacy commission to plead insanity. Other officials felt that he was sane when he shot his wife, although intellectually he was functioning around the level of an 8-year-old. In jail Jones claimed that his body was plagued by impulses of electricity sometimes which kept him from sleeping. Two doctors were to testify in preliminary hearings that James was sane at the time of the murder but was pretending to be insane for the purposes of eluding prosecution.

Within days after the murder, their son David told his maternal grandfather, C.H. Milam, and an uncle that on the night of the murder his father had physically abused his mother and left the house, returning with a bottle of something that he made all four of the children drink. Police believed that the children had been drugged, explaining how they slept through all the shooting. During the trial David was called to the stand but upon seeing his father he began to cry and called out, “Daddy.” David, who was also considered “feeble-minded” was then removed from the courtroom without testifying.

In late January 1929 a jury found James guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 20 years (the minimum sentence) in prison, despite the prosecution’s desire for him to receive the death penalty.  On the way back to jail from the courtroom James seemed pleased that he’d avoided the electric chair and expressed that of the jobs he would be given in prison he didn’t want to “dig no dirt.”

On Jan. 24, 1929 the “Danville Bee” reported that James’ demeanor had improved since receiving the verdict.

Mattie’s grave is located in Danville’s Highland Burial Park. I am not sure what became of the four children or about James’ prison sentence or his life after serving time, if he was released.

Source:
Ancestry.com. The Bee (Danville, Virginia) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com
Operations, Inc., 2005.

*This entry was originally published in 2013.

Thomas Doe Keen: Catalepsy

doe

Thomas Doe Keen’s headstone was toppled over when I took this photo in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery several years ago. The state of this tombstone is not surprising given the number of others who are also in need of repair.

Thomas was born on June 21, 1876 to John Thomas Keen and Mary Virginia Doe Keen. At the time of the 1880 census, John Thomas was a tobacco dealer and the family lived in Pittsylvania County. Thomas was the third child, his siblings being Sallie, William, and Nannie.

Specific information about Thomas is sparse aside from his death notice, but upon researching his father’s death I determined that not long after the census the family moved to North Danville (“Neapolis”) and John Thomas became the mayor in July 1880.

Unfortunately J.T. didn’t hold that office for very long, as he died later that year.

According to the Richmond Dispatch, on the morning of March 17, 1896 Thomas’ body was discovered in his bedroom at his mother’s house. The night before he appeared to be well and even in “the best of spirits.”

Thomas had a history of catalepsy, so the assumption was that after he went to bed he had another episode and died. In the 19th century catalepsy referred to a condition that caused a seizure or trance-like state.

keen
Richmond Dispatch, 18 Mar. 1896

 

Embra Scott Watson’s Deadly Descent

These images were taken in the fall of 2012 in the Watson family’s area in Green Hill Cemetery. The stones were still in disarray on my last visit in March 2013, so it’s likely that they’ll look the same the next time I visit. Whether the stones were knocked over by falling tree limbs, heavy wind, or vandals I’m not sure, but it’s sad, especially in a city-maintained cemetery.
However, the focus of this post is the man buried in the grave marked by the upright tombstone, Embra Scott Watson. He was born January 12, 1868 to John Thomas and Sarah Edmunds Read Watson in Danville, Virginia. The 1870 census lists his name as “Henry E.S. Watson,” so either Henry was his first given name or the enumerator made a mistake. In addition to E. Scott, there were four other children in the home. Embra and the youngest child, Clement, were from John’s second marriage to Sarah. The other three children were from John’s marriage to his first wife, Nannie (Anne?) Green Read, who died in 1863. His father’s occupation on the 1870 census was “lawyer” but by 1880 John was in the insurance business.
Roanoke Daily Times [VA] 6 May 1890

E. Scott, referred to in some of the news articles about his death as only “Scott,” attended Hampton-Sydney College, an all-male liberal arts school in Virginia. His interest must have been in journalism, because he worked at a Lynchburg newspaper and was the editor of a paper in Glasgow. He was described as having above-average intelligence and had a “firm athletic stride.” In 1897 he married Maria Selden, who died in 1900. Her bright grave marker is seen in the first photo, having fallen off its base.

The Times, 7 Jan. 1900
New York Tribune, 5 May 1902

From Maria’s obituary we learn that she and E. Scott had lived in New York City at least since 1897. At some point he was hired as a manager for the society paper “Town Topics,” which was more like a gossip paper than an actual news source. Scott was living on West Twenty-Sixth Street in May 1902 when he had the accident that cost him his life. Around midnight on the 5th, he pressed the elevator button wanting to go from the fourth floor to the first floor. In the dimly lit, or perhaps even completely dark hall, he didn’t notice when the elevator doors opened that the elevator hadn’t moved from its position three floors below. Stepping forward, he had nowhere to go but down, landing on top of the elevator car. Both of his legs were broken and he also sustained internal injuries. At least one of his legs may have been amputated while he was in the hospital.

Scott’s brother, John, who was living in Richmond, Virginia, went to his brother’s side upon hearing about the fall and was in New York on May 7 when he died. Scott’s body was back in Danville by the 8th, where he was buried in the family square.

Richmond Dispatch
The Times [Richmond, VA] 8 May 1902
The Times [Richmond] 11 May 1902

Kate Swann: Accidental Burning

I took this photo at least three years ago, knowing the young child’s cause of death but postponed writing about her in hopes of finding more details.

According to Green Hill’s mortuary reports Kate Swann died at age two from an “accidental burning.”

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Janie Sutherlin Smith Barrett (1872-1904)

Janie Sutherlin Smith Barrett’s monument is located in the Sutherlin family square in Green Hill, a towering, bright contrast to the sea of mostly gray tombstones surrounding it. The green appearance of the angel is due to patina on the bronze, which makes the marker even more beautiful (in my opinion).

 

 

 

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Murder or Death By Drunken Fall?

Several years ago I took this photo at Danville’s Leemont Cemetery, which was established in 1878 when North Danville was regarded as a separate community from Danville.

The inscription is almost too weathered to read, but this tombstone marks the grave of 32-year-old James Lucius Motley, whose body was discovered at the bottom of a rocky embankment near his home on September 14, 1886.

jl motley

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Orin Schoolfield: Consumption

Orin Cottrell Schoolfield’s vaulted obelisk is within the simple curbing outlining one of the Schoolfield family plots in Green Hill Cemetery. His brother Lovick, who died in the Knickerbocker Theater Disaster, is buried nearby along with other relatives.

Lovick was around ten years old when his older brother Orin passed away from consumption at age twenty-six. According to a death notice published on April 11, 1900 Orin spent time at one of the health resorts (possibly a mineral springs retreat) in an attempt to defeat the illness which forced him to return to Danville from his work in Chicago.

I held off publishing this entry hoping that I’d run across a photo of Orin, who was allegedly “one of the best known men in the State” but none were publicly available.

orrin 2
These photos were taken hastily in 2013.

orrin

orin

orin2
The Times [Richmond] 11 Apr. 1900

The Berger-Dickenson Family Cemetery

In 2013 I trekked to the northern part of Pittsylvania County to visit the graveyard at Siloam United Methodist Church. On the return trip I noticed a small family cemetery that looked too old and interesting to ignore. What caught my eye were the shapes of the markers and the symbols decorating them.
Because the Berger-Dickenson cemetery is on private property I parked on the side of the road and took a few photos from a distance. There were many other graves that I would’ve liked to have seen up-close, but I didn’t want to risk trespassing.
Mabel Berger was the intended focus of this entry, but over the years I haven’t been able to find out much about the the infant’s brief life in Oklahoma’s Sac & Fox territory or how she died. For that reason I held off on posting all of the photos of this graveyard…until now.
mabel berger

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