In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Friel Allen, son of Jasper “Jack” Allen and nephew of Floyd Allen, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of William McDonald Foster, Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Allen was sentenced to 18 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted to the penitentiary on 18 September 1912. By all accounts Allen was a model prisoner. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Friel Allen:
“I had noticed a well-dressed young man passing through the yard of the prison, and on asking who he was I got this reply: ‘that is the Superintendent’s Chauffeur, Friel Allen.’ I immediately remarked that he was only a boy, that if he had been here ten years and looked that now, he must have been only a kid when he was sent here. I ventured up for a talk with him, expecting a sad answer, but not so, he sprang a friendly joke on me right away and began to kid me, showing his youth and good spirits. Our association from then on became more intimate, especially evenings.
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition. Next Wednesday, 14 March marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous “Hillsville Massacre,” where five people were killed in a gunfight in the Carroll County courthouse. For the next week, Out of the Box will spotlight records at the Library of Virginia related to the individuals convicted for their role in the shooting.
On 13 March 1912, in the Carroll County Circuit Court, Floyd Allen was tried for attacking two deputies who had arrested two of his nephews for fighting and disturbing a religious meeting. The jury found Allen guilty of assault on 14 March and sentenced him to one year in the penitentiary. Allen stood up and stated, “Gentlemen, I ain’t going” and shots erupted in the courthouse leaving several county officials and a spectator dead. The Allen family claimed that several court officials opened fire on Floyd Allen, while other witnesses contended that Claude Swanson Allen, the defendant’s son, began the shooting. Nevertheless, Floyd Allen, Claude Swanson Allen, and other members of the Allen family were tried for murder in the Wythe County Circuit Court from April-December 1912. Floyd Allen was convicted of first degree murder on 16 May 1912. Claude S. Allen was also found guilty of first degree murder. Father and son were executed on 28 March 1913.
Sidna Allen, Floyd’s brother, was sentenced … read more »
On the morning of 14 March 1885, Lysander Rose, caretaker of the Old Reservoir in Richmond, went about his normal duties, but this morning would not be a typical one for Rose. As he approached the reservoir, Rose found what appeared to be a piece of broken shoe string, a woman’s red glove, and what he described as signs of a “desperate struggle.” When he peered over into the water, Rose saw “floating near the top the flounce or something of a woman’s dress and one leg jutting up.” After the coroner arrived, the muddy body of a young woman was lifted from the water. A cursory examination revealed that she had slight bruising on her face, a swollen mouth, and a rent in her gown at the elbow. Later, it would be discovered that she was also eight months pregnant. Several days and several false identifications passed before the body was finally identified as that of Fannie Lillian Madison.
At the time of her death, Lillian Madison, as she was commonly called by friends and family, was 23 years old, pregnant, and unmarried. Lillian had checked into the Exchange Hotel in Richmond under the name Fannie Merton mere days before her body was discovered. Lillian’s pregnancy (without the prospect of a husband) supported the coroner’s initial ruling of suicide, but as more evidence began … read more »
At one o’clock in the morning on 1 September 1859, Milly T. King arrived at the home of James Clary and found his slave Hannah “lying on the hearth gasping for breath, and I thought dying.” When King saw Hannah an hour later, she was dead. The following day Brunswick County coroner William Lett arrived to examine the body. With him were twelve men, none of whom had a medical background but rather were chosen as upstanding men and representatives of the county. The office of coroner held inquisitions in cases when persons met a sudden, violent, unnatural, or suspicious death. In this case Hannah had certainly met a sudden and suspicious demise.
Hannah, owned by the late Elizabeth H. Harwell, had been in the possession of James Clary, who adamantly maintained that the marks found on her feet and legs and the wound on her head were not from anything suspicious but came as a result of a fall from a window occurring a few weeks before her death. The coroner and his jury of white men were left to decide if Hannah had suffered an accidental death or if her death had been caused by something more malicious. Clary’s wife, Eliza, backed up her husband’s statements and claimed to know nothing of Hannah’s death, maintaining that her wounds were caused by the fall. … read more »
[Editors Note: Yes, we know it is not Monday. The Out of the Box staff had a technical glitch this afternoon and accidentally published Monday's post today. We will have a new, non-mug shot post on Monday.] Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate mug shots in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Theodore Gibson’s mug shots caught my attention because they showed how much he aged in prison. When I researched his case, I was shocked by what I found.
In the early morning of Thursday, 18 October 1934, William H. Woodfield, a 71-year-old night watchman for the coal yard of W.A. Smoot and Company in Alexandria, was murdered. Woodfield’s skull was crushed with a hammer. No money was stolen but Woodfield’s watch was missing. On Tuesday, October 23, acting on an anonymous tip, the Alexandria police arrested 25-year-old Theodore Gibson. He confessed to the killing two days later. Gibson stated that he was walking through the coal yard when he was accosted by Woodfield who ordered him to leave the yard. Woodfield struck him, Gibson claimed, so he grabbed a small sledge hammer and hit Woodfield in the head twice. Gibson dragged the body 50 feet and fled.
The speed of Gibson’s legal proceedings, according to the Washington Post, was “believed … read more »
In June 1936 in the Augusta County Circuit Court, Sylvia Elwood Huffman was convicted of first degree murder in the death of W.H. Riddle, an Annex merchant. Huffman shot and killed Riddle in a botched robbery attempt that netted him less than $5. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 7 August 1936. Governor George C. Peery granted Huffman four respites during his two appeals to the Virginia Supreme Court. On 27 December 1937 Governor Peery commuted Huffman’s death sentence to life in prison after receiving a report from the Board of Mental Hygiene that stated Huffman was not sane. Huffman had been a patient at Western State Hospital on two separate occasions (January-June 1924 and December 1931-June 1935) and Huffman’s defense attorneys unsuccessfully presented an insanity defense.
Huffman’s mug shots caught my attention because they showed how much he had aged in prison. I was curious why there were two negatives, one from 1937 and a second one dated 3 March 1959. Huffman’s entry in Prison Book No. 2 noted that he had been returned to the Penitentiary in 1959 for violating his 1957 conditional pardon. Governor J. Lindsay Almond, … read more »
In April 1935 James “Jimmie” Strother, a blind musician, was convicted of second degree murder in Culpeper County in the death of Blanche Green, his wife. Strother received a twenty-year prison sentence. He was received at the Virginia Penitentiary on 21 May 1935 and transferred to the State Farm in Goochland County six days later. He was pardoned by Governor James Price in 1939.
According to a Virginia Department of Historic Resources Historical Highway Marker, famed folklorist John A. Lomax visited the Virginia State Prison Farm and the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond in 1936. The marker states that “working for the Library of Congress’s Archive of Folk Song, Lomax canvassed southern prisons in search of traditional African American music. On 13 and 14 June 1936, Lomax, assisted by Harold Spivacke, recorded quartets, banjo tunes, work songs, spirituals, and blues at the State Farm. Among the notable performers were inmates Jimmie Strother and Joe Lee. The Library of Congress first released songs from the sessions in the 1940s and they have appeared on many recordings since. These sessions are among the earliest aural records of Virginia’s black folk-song tradition.”
In 2002-2003, the Library of Virginia … read more »
Editors Note: This post originally appeared in the Virginiana section of Virginia Memory.
The beautiful maps in the Voorhees collection and those that reside in Special Collections are well known to Library of Virginia researchers. Yet thousands of rough but informative maps exist in the Library’s local government records collection. Often classified as “plats,” these detailed property maps were created and filed as part of county land records, chancery records, or other legal proceedings.
Some of the most interesting local plats are found within criminal papers. Murder trials occasionally required jurors to consider a particular crime scene, and the resulting sketches created for this purpose offer fascinating glimpses into landscapes and violent episodes. One is featured on the Library’s 1997 web exhibit The Common Wealth: Treasures from the Collections of the Library of Virginia. This drawing shows a portion of Manchester, Virginia, in 1869, at the time of a barroom-related shooting, complete with building facades and streets. And in her 2003 book A Murder in Virginia, based on three Commonwealth Causes against Pokey Barnes, Solomon Marable, and Mary Abernathy, historian Suzanne Lebsock drew upon a court-directed plat from Prince Edward County to illustrate the scene of an infamous 1895 crime involving four black defendants.
While processing Henry County’s criminal causes, I came across a number of particularly gruesome plats. The most remarkable one … read more »
The following story was gleaned from a case book found in the Western State Hospital collection (Accession 41404). Included in this volume are approximately twenty pages of physician’s entries, as well as a copy of the commitment order, a letter to the court, and several Richmond Dispatch newspaper articles relating to Mrs. Anne E. Kirby. Some of the dates and information are conflicting, but I have done my best to present the story as accurately as possible, well aware of the sometimes questionable nature of 19th century journalism and the possibility of human error within the case book entries.
NOVEMBER 21, 1865…
A shot rings out in the middle of a bustling crowd at Richmond’s Second Market. A fish and oyster vendor staggers through Pink Alley, bleeding from the neck, only to die minutes later in the back of a wagon. Several stunned witnesses pounce on the shooter. Holding the gun is the victim’s young wife, Anne, the mother of his three children. What might have driven her to commit such a bold act in a busy public place? Was the murder in retaliation for her husband’s infidelity or was it merely the work of a mad woman? Depending upon what one … read more »