Tag Archives: coroners’ inquisitions

- Come On, Make Some History!


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We’re happy to announce that Making History: Transcribe is now live! This site will enable users to transcribe documents in the Library of Virginia collections in a collaborative online work space that will host 5-10 projects at a time. The goal is to generate transcriptions to allow full-text searchability in Digitool or other future delivery platforms and increase ease of use. We hope to engage the public in deciphering some of the most interesting items in the Library of Virginia Collections and, with everyone’s help, build a more searchable and useful way to access Virginia history.

The need for transcription vastly outstrips library staff time, both here at the LVA and globally. What better way to solve this dilemma than to engage the public around areas of interest? Developments in open source transcription tools, such as the Scripto for Omeka, are making it possible for users to assist cultural institutions in improving access to and understanding of our resources. Our transcription site is closely modeled after the University of Iowa’s DIY History site, in which they further developed the Omeka Scripto plugin used for crowdsourcing the transcription of documents. UI-Libraries also provided the Scribe theme which dictates the look and experience of the project. The Library of Virginia made only minor changes to UI-Libraries solution, all of which can be found within one of … read more »

- The Razor’s Edge: Using the Coroner’s Inquests in Elizabeth City County


Hampton, City of. County and Circuit Court, Felony Papers, 1926-1936, Box 61, Local Government Records Collection, The Library of Virginia.

Dr. Paul J. Parker ruled on 11 June 1935, that “James A. Branch came to his death of gun shot wound while gun was in hands of Lewis Smith at No 4 Curry St Phoebus Va [sic].” However, five months later he modified his ruling when he wrote, “James Branch came to his death by a gun shot wound just below the lobe of the left ear, this occurred at the corner of Curry and County Streets, Phoebus, Va.” Lack of an explanation for this momentous change amplified the intrigue and portended a unique case in the otherwise straightforward files of Dr. Parker.

As the medical examiner for Elizabeth City County, later the City of Hampton, Dr. Parker was tasked with conducting coroner’s inquiries into any sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious deaths, or any death which occurred without medical attendance. These inquiries included conducting depositions to determine how the victim came to his or her death and, if so warranted, forwarding his findings to the Elizabeth City County Circuit Court for grand jury consideration.

In the case of James Branch, Dr. Parker, after deposing eleven witnesses, found that Lewis Smith had held the gun that fired the fatal shot. Included in this group of witnesses was Mr. Smith, whom Dr. Parker advised had been charged with murder. Interestingly Dr. Parker then did what … read more »

- Magic Lantern After-Show Turns Deadly


Phantasmagoria by James Gillray, 1803. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

Sometimes what starts out in fun can turn into a deadly accident.  That’s exactly what happened on 5 September 1894, in Bedford County, Virginia, when John Robinson decided it would be amusing to play a prank on some friends.

The friends had attended a magic lantern show held at the “Negro church” in Montvale, Virginia, and it was after the show that John Robinson devised his idea for a prank. Bud Anderson was there that night and told about the events that led up to the incident. “The show closed at 10:15 P.M. I stayed a few minutes afterwards and went with Bob Rosebrugh and met [Robinson] on the railroad crossing.” Robinson had “proposed a plan to scare Hunter Clark and John Minter, who had gone home with the Flood girls.” He shared his plan with Anderson and Rosebrugh, who told him, “I’m afraid Hunter Clark will shoot.” Not to be deterred, Robinson left for “some minutes” and returned with a rope and white garment.  Robinson took the rope and garment and crossed the creek “by the Bluff Road.” Some 20 minutes later, Anderson and Rosebrugh heard four pistol shots.

Hunter Clark was able to fill in the details about the prank that went horribly awry: “Just before we got to the creek at Rice’s Mill, I ran against a white garment tied to a … read more »

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- Death by Eggnog


Vintage postcard, circa 1900.

During the holiday season we are warned to avoid overindulgence.  There are many temptations around this time of year—turkey and stuffing, grandma’s pecan pie, and, perhaps, even eggnog.  Sadly, we often hear of folks who would have done better to take a more moderate approach during holiday festivities.  Addison Williams was one such person.

On 25 December1872 in Bedford County, Virginia, Williams paid a visit to the home of Cornelia and Charles Abram.  He arrived “about light” and was given a dram of whiskey by William Ogden.  Ogden then made a gallon of eggnog, and Williams “drank a glass and repeated several times.”   Everyone present “drank eggnog freely,” but Williams enjoyed it most of all, drinking more than the rest of the party.  He “left the house and threw up,” only to come back and take another drink.  Afterwards, Williams “left in a run, as in a prank,” never to be seen again. Williams “had commenced showing he was under the influence of liquor,” but no one at the party thought him too drunk to make it home. As one partygoer put it, “…as I thought he was going so well it was useless for me to go with him.”

Unfortunately, Williams could have used a little assistance. He was found on Christmas morning “dead and frozen” mere yards from his house.  The resulting coroner’s … read more »

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- Arsenic, Lies, and Bigamy

 

Photograph of Junius R. Williamson, #9470, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives, Box 130, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Cornbread and cabbage turned lethal for one Petersburg woman, but it was another woman’s need for some chicken feed that exposed the death as something more nefarious than a simple case of food poisoning. Parmelia Williamson became “deathly sick” after consuming what proved to be her last meal on 9 June 1909. Junius Williamson, Parmelia’s husband, first used the word “poison” to describe his wife’s condition because he did “not think she washed the ham as it oughter [sic] have been.” Even Parmelia said “her stomach felt like it did when she was poisoned in the country.”

Attended by her husband and neighbor Delia Brooks, Parmelia was examined by a Dr. W. C. Powell who pronounced it a case of “Cholera Morbus,” but Parmelia insisted, “I have no Cholera Morbus, I am poisoned.”  He gave her a hypodermic injection, put hot water bottles to her feet, and left.  As she continued vomiting, her condition worsened, and she threw her arms up and said, “Delia, save me, do not let me die…save me for the sake of my poor little infant baby.”  Another doctor, James E. Smith, was called and pronounced that Mrs. Williamson would not live two hours and that she had been poisoned by arsenic or “Paris Green,” a compound used as an insecticide for produce in the 1900s. After she gasped … read more »

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- Murder Most Fowl

 

Selden's Funny Farce, A Spring Chicken, circa 1898. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

On 17 April 1875, Anna Williams of 313 Canal Street in Richmond heard a noise and went outside to investigate only to discover a plank pulled off of her hen house and a man “breaking chicken necks.”   Emmet W. Ruffin, a neighbor enlisted to assist her, later testified as to what happened next., “I jumped back and drew my knife and waited for him to come out…. Just then the man jumped out of the chicken house and threw a handful of sand or dirt in my eyes…. As soon as I got the sand out of my eyes, I went after him… and struck him with the knife as he was going over the fence.”  The thief dropped some of the chickens inside the yard, but Ruffin continued to follow him.  Shortly, a chase ensued, with people joining in and crying “murder” and “thief.”   Some members of the group began throwing stones.  One struck the thief on the side of his head knocking him to the ground.  The chicken thief, later identified as Robert Bland, never got back up.

The Richmond coroner’s statement reveals that the chicken thief came to his death from a stab wound, inflicted by Emmet W. Ruffin, received while engaged in stealing chickens. The jury was of the opinion that Ruffin “[deserved] the thanks of the community for his action … read more »

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- Shoe Salesman Puts Foot in Mouth


Detail from a tradecard in Prints and Photographs Collection, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

In 1879, Charles C. Curtis was working at the retail store of Wingo, Ellett, and Crump at 1000 Main Street in Richmond.  A customer, a young lady named Isabel Cottrell, visited the store to try on a pair of shoes, and found Mr. Curtis’s behavior “exceedingly offensive.” Instead of allowing her to put the shoes on, he insisted on holding the shoe for her to put her foot in and on buttoning the shoe after she had “begged him” to let her do it herself.  She encountered Mr. Curtis on a second visit to pick up a pair of shoes she had ordered, and he insisted that she try them on in the store. Cottrell instead took the shoes home.

On a third visit, she took both pairs of shoes back to the store “with the purpose of leaving one pair of shoes and having the heels of the other plated.”  Cotrell claimed Curtis opened the bundle of shoes and remarked, in a rather impertinent way, “what a pretty little shoe, I certainly would like to put them on you.  I don’t see how you can walk with such a foot.”  Ms. Cottrell “was very much provoked, and told him he would oblige [her] by not commenting on [her] foot.”  She was further annoyed when Curtis accompanied her to the phaeton, where a friend was … read more »

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- Fortune Teller Comes to Unpredictable End


Present-day location where fortune teller James Harris died in Richmond in May 1883.

On 15 May 1883, a seemingly intoxicated man approached Richard Stevens and his group of friends as they were standing together at 513 N. 17th Street in Richmond’s Church Hill area. The man was James Harris, a fortune teller or maybe just a swindler, who asked if he could tell their fortunes. Most of the group declined, but Richard Stevens agreed, and they went to a nearby passageway after Mr. Harris suggested they find a more private location. To the skeptic’s delight, this fortune teller was not able to see his own unfortunate end coming.

The pair settled in on a bench, but before he would tell Stevens’ fortune, Harris requested payment. Stevens informed him he would give him the money only after he told his fortune, but the fortune teller claimed, “I’ve been bit too often.”  James Harris then got up and started backwards, staggering. Richard Stevens provided an eyewitness account of the events that followed:

“He had a stick with a crooked handle which he nearly dropped, and I tried to help him with it by catching hold of the …end. He was intoxicated and was at that time on the edge of the doorsill and seemed to have such a slender hold on to his end of the stick that I aimed to catch [him] by his garments to prevent him

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- Souls of the Departed: Ida V. Belote


Richmond Times-Dispatch, 20 March 1912 (enlargement).

16 August 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the execution of Virginia Christian for the brutal murder of Ida V. Belote in Hampton, Virginia, on 18 March 1912.  Out of the Box featured select documents from the Christian case in September 2010.  The 23 September 2010 execution of Teresa Lewis for her role in the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis, sparked new interest in Virginia Christian, who up to that time was the only woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since the General Assembly centralized executions at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908.

Often in high-profile criminal cases, the victim and victim’s family are an afterthought.  To mark this infamous anniversary, I decided to write a post on Ida V. Belote.  Who was she?  What happened to her eight children?  Two of her young daughters discovered their mother’s body and testified at the coroner’s inquisition.  What became of them?  My search for answers led me to the Belote coroner’s inquisition, newspaper articles, and Ancestry.com.  What follows is a fragmentary picture of Ida Belote and her family.

Ida Virginia Hobbs, the daughter of James and Harriette Hobbs, was born in March 1861 in North Carolina.  Hobbs married James Edward Wadsworth Belote (17 February 1846-6 June 1911) on 5 November 1879 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  By 1880 the … read more »

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- Man Caught by Husband with Drawers Down, Killing Ruled “Eminently Proper”


Engraving from Harper's Weekly, 9 August 1879. (Image used courtesy Library of Virginia Special Collections.)

On the night of 4 August 1882, James M. Duesbury heard pistol shots coming from the nearby home of Christopher Goode and ran to see what the matter was. Goode, a resident of Richmond, Virginia, lived at 709 West Marshall behind what is now the Siegel Center near Virginia Commonwealth University. When Duesbury arrived at the home, Goode stated “I have shot a man; here he is lying down on the floor.” When Duesbury asked why he shot him, he answered, “I caught him on top of my wife.” Policeman Lewis Frayser arrived at the scene and found Winston Robinson “lying on the floor with his pants and drawers down to his knees”  and met Mahala Goode, the wife, in a dress that was “very much disarranged” and “bleeding very freely” from the gunshot wounds she accidentally received during the altercation.

In his testimony to police, Christopher Goode stated, “My God Master, I couldn’t help it to save my life, I shot him and couldn’t help it.”  Mr. Goode further elaborated, explaining that he had been “under the porch and heard them hugging and kissing” and heard his wife invite Robinson upstairs, but Robinson declined saying he “didn’t care about going upstairs” because “if the old man came there would be a fight and one or the other would be killed.”  When Goode heard them … read more »

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