Tag Archives: murder

- Mug Shot Monday: Theodore Gibson, No. 32872


Photograph of Theodore Gibson, #32872, 25 October 1934, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 23, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

[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 »

- Mug Shot Monday: Sylvia Elwood Huffman, No. 38770


Photograph of Sylvia Elwood Huffman, #38770, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 32, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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.

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 … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: James “Jimmie” Strother, No. 33927


Photograph of James Strother, #33927, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 25, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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.

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 »

- CSI: OLD VIRGINIA: SCENES OF MURDER AND MAYHEM IN THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT RECORDS COLLECTION

Chesterfield County, County Court, Criminal Causes, and Grand Jury Presentments, Commonwealth v. Willis and Whitehead, 1870.

Editors Note: This post originally appeared in the former ”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 »

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- Murder at the Second Market

View of Western State Hospital, Staunton, undated.
Editors Note: This post is a modified version of an article that originally appeared in the former “Virginiana” section of Virginia Memory.

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 »