Steve Greene, 2019 president of the Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society, recently gave a chilling presentation about Murders in Madison County.
The Shelton Laurel Massacre was a brutal execution of 13 men and boys by the Confederate soldiers in Shelton Laurel, North Carolina. Greene said his fourth great grandfather was the founder of Shelton Laurel.
“The old homestead on Cutshaw Road is still there where David Shelton and his father Roderick lived,” he said.
“Two brothers had an argument about a horse trade,” Greene said. “Hiram Wilson had a reputation for being high tempered and impulsive. He got so angry that he pulled out his gun and shot his brother. He was arrested and jailed in Burnsville to await results of the ensuing investigation. Some say they didn’t really do much with Hiram because political issues got in the way and they didn’t like his brother anyway.”
An article in the newspaper from July 1906 referred to Wilson as a desperado, and stated that he was killed Friday by a boy. The headline read, “The career of a noted man comes to a bloody end.” In August of the same year, it was revealed that Wilson was still alive.
“Gossip killed him, but he wouldn’t stay dead,” Greene said. “A letter received from Wilson said he is living and doing extraordinarily well. ‘Somebody got killed, but it wasn’t me.’”
Greene brought up a story he read in Our State magazine, How to Get Away With Murder.
“There were two men, one named William Hall, and the other Andrew Bryson. They were friends in the early 1920s and lived close to each other. They shared a moonshine still and it went missing, and each one blamed the other. Hall, and a friend John Dockery, hunted down Bryson. A confrontation ‘on a ridge’ left Bryson dead, with a gunshot from a Winchester.”
The “ridge” formed the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, clearly marked with chalk marks on the trees. Hall was in North Carolina when he shot Bryson. Bryson was in Tennessee when he was shot by Hall, so the actual crime was in Tennessee. Hall and Dockery could not be tried in North Carolina because they didn’t commit the murder in North Carolina. The judge and jury in North Carolina saw it differently and sentenced them to hang. The NC Supreme Court threw out the conviction.
Lawyers came up with a new argument when Tennessee agreed to try them for murder. The men could not be fugitives from the law in Tennessee because they had not been there during or after the crime.
“How can you flee from a state you haven’t been to? You see the trouble they were having? From that came the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, drawn up in 1926, and passed in 1930. So that old ‘I’m not a fugitive trick’ became explicitly illegal,” Greene said. “So what happened to the moonshine still? That would be the next legitimate question. Well, it was never really missing at all. Hall and Bryson had stolen it from a local farmer who found it in Bryson’s barn, and taken it home with him. Bryson’s father knew the farmer had taken it, but failed to tell his son.”
W.T. Henderson, “Wild Bill,” was slain by a man named Baker.
“Kye Barker had contracted with a man to sell him some sacks of beans. Barker and Henderson both had small country stores in Big Pine. Henderson wanted the beans even though Barker was supposed to get them, but Henderson was willing to pay more money for them. Barker didn’t like that because those were his beans. Henderson ordered Barker to leave his property, and followed Barker up to his mule, so Barker took out his pistol and shot him. W.T. Henderson died over beans,” Greene said.
Bailey’s Branch is the road that runs across from the Madison County Courthouse in Marshall.
“It was a Saturday night, and a man by the name of Charlie Bryant shot and killed Zeb Brooks. They lived in the same house. Some citizens of the community took some whisky and went down to the house. The account reads, ‘all parties, men and women, fell under the influence of whisky.’ Sometimes people get drunk and have some trouble.”
Charlie Bryant and his wife got into a “difficulty.” Zen Brooks’ wife started taking the part of the other wife, that got into it with her husband, and she attacked with a razor blade.
“Brooks took a banjo to Bryant’s head,” Greene said, noting that he could back these facts up with newspaper articles. “Bryant took his wife and they left. Later on that the fight renewed at the house of Jack Caldwell. Bryant used a shotgun killing Brooks, his uncle by marriage. You never know where an argument’s going to go.”
A man named William Ledford was murdered. He lived in a dilapidated shack, surrounded by three ten foot tall barbed wire fences with three big metal gates. That’s why he was known as the “hermit of Spring Creek.” Robert Cockle reported it to the sheriff, who with his deputies went to examine evidence, revealing how the slayers broke through a window to get into the cabin. Was it nosiness or riches?
Cockle lived about five miles up the road from Ledford.
Into the story comes a woman by the name of Miss Zeb Beasley, Ledford’s sister. She rarely saw her brother, and had gone to church in Spring Creek that morning, and noticed one of the gates on his fence was open. She knew something was wrong because he never left the gates open. She found her brother dead when she went in to investigate.
The sheriff found a gray hat. Beasley said it was not her brother’s hat. When the sheriff investigated the kitchen, found Ledford’s body. His feet had been tied, and of course he was bound up. They found three long heavy sticks of firewood. The sheriff also spotted a white handkerchief with lace trim outside. Ledford was not known to have any lady friends.
Al Jones lived up the road, a solitary share farmer. Ledford owned the property.
“The story goes that Jones had visited the house and left his pipe down there. When he learned of the murder, he became concerned that the sheriff would find his pipe making him a suspect. He also had a large $10 bill previously won in a coin toss with the killers at the café in Waynesville. Back then, dollar bills of lower denominations were smaller,” Greene said.
“Now comes in a lady by the name of Cora Mason,” Greene continued. “She visited the café in Waynesville all the time. When the sheriff questioned her, she told him about two cousins, Frank Davis and Willard Clemmons. These were aliases Mason had overheard at the bar. One of them mentioned a place called Cosby, just over the mountain in Tennessee. When the sheriff went looking for them men by those names were of course nowhere to be found. He interviewed a physician in Cosby who knew of two men who had been away for a while and just recently returned, the Duckett brothers.”
Apparently, Ledford was a rich man.
“The Duckett boys had stolen money from him, the first time $200, then $274. They found $2,000 in the shoes of the hermit, $3,550 in his home, and $7,000 at the bank. The Ducketts were found guilty on December 2, 1939. They received identical sentences of 30 years at the state prison, with an annual salary of $9.13. They hadn’t made much out of that robbery, and they killed a man,” Greene said.