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

*This entry was originally published in 2013.


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

The Body of Captain Ward Comes Ashore

The Minneapolis Journal, 23 Feb. 1901

It was the inscription on Capt. William Charles Ward’s simple grave marker at Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery that caught my attention:

Went Down With His Ship
City Of Rio De Janeiro
San Francisco Bay

Continue reading “The Body of Captain Ward Comes Ashore”

Lovick Schoolfield & The Knickerbocker Theater Disaster

Readers of this blog might recognize the Schoolfield name from a previous post on one of Lovick’s cousins, Kate.

Danville locals have stronger ties to the family through its affiliation with Dan River Mills, once one of the city’s largest employers.

When I hear the name “Schoolfield” I usually associate it with a crumbling economy and factory buildings being dismantled brick-by-brick.

Continue reading “Lovick Schoolfield & The Knickerbocker Theater Disaster”

W.W. New & Family

Several years ago I wrote about 1911’s Pinnix Murder-Suicide, which took place in Danville and involved Fannie New Pinnix and her husband William Gunn Pinnix.

Both parties rest in Green Hill Cemetery in unmarked graves according to burial records, however; there are monuments in the plot designating the graves of Fannie’s immediate family.


Continue reading “W.W. New & Family”

W.W. Pool: The Richmond Vampire?

As spookical and seasonally appropriate as it would be if Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery had its own vampire, this one goes into the “Nah” files.

Even though The Richmond Vampire myth was debunked long ago, W.W. Pool’s mausoleum remains linked to one of Virginia’s most intriguing stories of the supposed supernatural.

W.W. Pool's mausoleum Continue reading “W.W. Pool: The Richmond Vampire?”

An Account of the Titanic’s Morgue Ship

The Dead Bell

Normally I reserve transcribing news articles for Misc. Tidings of Yore, but because of the nature of this piece about the “morgue ship” that recovered bodies from the Titanic disaster, I decided to include it here. Reading the words from the newspaper about the bodies just after they were pulled from the sea and embalmed on board (or buried at sea) gave me a different feeling than from reading or watching more modern accounts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read anything that described the “morgue ship” or the anxious behavior of embalmers waiting on the pier for the ship to dock either, but if you can recommend something feel free to comment.

This feature is from The Washington Times of Washington, D.C. on April 30, 1912.

Says Drowned Victims of Titanic Wreck, Buoyed Up by…

View original post 2,341 more words

Nathaniel Lea Johnston: A Bloody Yanceyville Tragedy

Nathaniel Johnston’s weathered marker in the Yanceyville Presbyterian Church graveyard doesn’t particularly stand out amongst the others. You can surmise based on the style that’s he’s been in the ground for awhile but there’s no indication to the casual observer that Johnston died in a particularly cold-blooded fashion. What’s even more interesting is that the man responsible for his death is buried not far away in the same graveyard.

But before we get to the April 1882 afternoon when Johnston was shot in the middle of a busy Yanceyville street, let’s look at some of the particulars of his life.

Continue reading “Nathaniel Lea Johnston: A Bloody Yanceyville Tragedy”

Showmen’s Rest: Evelyn Marrion’s Fatal Plunge

From the Morning Star, Rockford, Illinois

Daisy “Evelyn” Marrion is buried in “Showmen’s Rest,” an area of Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory, among the graves of over 400 former carnival and circus workers. Until I heard about this plot, I never really thought about where circus performers were buried which is alarming since I’m so fascinated by circus and carnival culture. It makes sense that graveyards around the world have special plots for “carnies;” most people are buried with their families and for this particular nomadic population, their fellow circus folk are family.

Continue reading “Showmen’s Rest: Evelyn Marrion’s Fatal Plunge”

Anna Anderson: Sad Tragedy in Clinton Orphanage

The Laurens Advertiser [SC] 20 May 1903

I read about Anna Theresa Anderson’s unfortunate death in the laundry room of a South Carolina orphanage while researching a different orphanage tragedy. The details of her life are few and far between, but there were accounts of her death in various 1903 newspapers. Descriptions of the accident was quite graphic. “Anna Anderson, aged 15, a native of Sweden, and a protege of Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, the wealthy Chicago lady, was accidentally killed this morning by the explosion of a piece of laundry machinery. She was almost completely disemboweled, besides having the right arm almost severed from the body.

The Pickens Sentinal-Journal 28 May 1903

The piece of steel broke both her arms and dreadfully mangled her body. The child died a few minutes after the accident.

The Watchman & Southron 27 May 1903

 “When one of the girls was passing by the wringer in the steam laundry it suddenly went to pieces with the noise of a pistol explosion. Miss Anna Anderson was struck by a flying piece and was dead within 20 minutes.

Thanks to Find a Grave, I learned that Anna was buried in Clinton Cemetery in Clinton, South Carolina. There’s no picture of a headstone*, but the person who created the memorial made a note that the inscription read, “Born in Konsor, Sweden.” From there we have Anna’s birthdate as well, April 27, 1887.

The big piece of the puzzle stems from how and when Anna and her sister, listed on the 1900 Census as Hedvig ended up in South Carolina’s Thornwell Orphanage after being born in Sweden.

Based on these newspaper clippings, they’d been pupils at the orphanage for “a number of years”, so there are still many unanswered questions about Anna’s early life.

Anna was well-liked by the other children in the orphanage and apparently a talented musician, playing the organ in the Presbyterian-affiliated institution’s chapel services. Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, mentioned in one of the articles, was Nettie Fowler McCormick. Her husband was the inventor of the horse-drawn reaper and built his fortune with the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. One of Nettie’s philanthropic endeavors was supporting the Thornwell Orphanage, explaining the link between the wealthy Chicago woman and the Swedish-born orphan. 

With musical talent and a connection to a prominent woman, Anna could have gone on to become a great musician, or at least found a way to get past the hurdle of orphanage life.

UPDATE (3/10/14):
I submitted a photo request through Find a Grave when I originally wrote this post and today one of the volunteers added her headstone.

photo courtesy of Charles Hawkins, Find a Grave volunteer

The inscription from “Away” by James Whitcomb Riley reads:

“I cannot say and I will not say
That she is dead, she is just away.
With a cheery smile and a wave of hand
She has wandered into an unknone
[unknown] land;
And left us dreaming how very fair
Its needs must be, since she lingers there.”