The Tragic Death of William McCune

In my first family history blog post a year ago, I wrote about our great-grandmother, Carrie McCune, and said that I would share what information I have on the murder of our great-grandfather, William McCune, Granddaddy Bill’s father, at a later date. Well, it’s been a year and it’s about time, don’t you think? William’s story is one of those sad, tragic ones that families generally choose to forget. That’s why most of us never knew about it. Even my Dad, James McCune, knew virtually nothing about his grandfather. After all, granddaddy Bill was only 11 when his father died. Although a murder in a family is a sensitive subject, I believe we should acknowledge and honor the life and death of our great-grandfather, and telling his story will help do that.

William was the fifth of eight children born to Andrew J. “Frank” and Sarah (Davis) McCune. He had two brothers and five sisters. If you remember, Andrew was in the 30th Georgia Regiment during the Civil War and wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga and the Battle of Jonesboro. After the war, Andrew was a farmer for many years in Fayette County, GA, so it’s possible that William, born in March 1875, did farm chores as a young child alongside his brothers and sisters. Sometime between 1880 and 1885, Andrew moved his family to Girard, AL, and began working in the Eagle and Phenix Mill in Columbus. Many poor tenant farmers moved to cotton mill towns about this time to better support their families.

In the 1880 U.S. census for Fayette County, GA, William was 5[1]. The 1890 U.S. census was destroyed by fire, but I assume the family was still living in Girard or Columbus. In the 1900 census, William, 25, was reported as living in two households: that of his brother John in Troup County, GA, and also in the home of his sister Mattie and her husband, Robert Moss. William and Carrie married 4 August 1895 and already had two sons, Frank and Willie, but Carrie and the boys were living in the household of her mother, Rebecca Tillman.[2] The 1900 Columbus City Directory lists William and Carrie at a residence on 14th St. in Columbus with William working at Hamburger Mills[3]. 1900 seemed to be an eventful year for William. We don’t know if he was moving around to find a job or if he and Carrie had separated due to marital problems.

William moved his family to Griffin from Columbus sometime between 1906 and 1910. They are listed in the 1910 U.S. census for Spalding County, GA, renting a house at 503 Cherry St., and William, 36, and his son Frank, 14, were working in a textile mill. Granddaddy Bill, 12, and Rossie, 5, were attending school, and Carrie was unemployed[4]. I suspect that they moved there because Will was looking for a job or was following friends or family who had also moved to Griffin.

I had been researching our family lines for a few years when I traveled to the Griffin-Spalding County Public Library in Griffin, GA, on 18 April 1993 to look through genealogy records for our McCune family. I was scrolling through microfilm of the local newspaper’s obituary notices when I made the startling discovery about William’s death.  According to an article dated 3 October 1911, William had been murdered early on the morning of 1 Oct 1911. I printed out all of the articles concerning the murder, investigation and subsequent trial and have continued to research his death through the years as more digitized sources have become available online.

Through my years of research, I’ve accumulated news articles about the crime from the Griffin Daily News, Columbus Daily Enquirer, Columbus Ledger, Macon Telegraph, and Atlanta Constitution. In deference to any living descendants of the three men involved, I’ve decided to use only their first names and the first initial of their surnames in this blog post. Granted, their names were legally used in the newspapers and this crime occurred over 100 years ago, but I still feel it’s ethical to maintain some anonymity for their families. What follows is a basic summary of the news reports.

William and three companions, Jim H., Trummy H. and Jeff T., got into an altercation late Saturday night or early Sunday morning of 1 Oct 1911 near some railroad switch tracks at a rock quarry near downtown Griffin. Jeff T. claimed Jim H. ordered him at gunpoint to strike William which he did. Then Jim H., according to Jeff T., beat and hit William with a stick and stabbed him with a knife in the neck and throat. The men ran off and left William there. Two other men found him in a semi-conscious state about 7 a.m. Sunday and notified county authorities. He was taken to the Griffin Hospital but died soon afterward. The Griffin Daily News stated, “McKune [sic] the dead man, was apparently about 45 years old. He was a spinner at the Kincaid Mill and leaves a wife and three children[5].” Sadly, we know them to be our great-grandmother, grandfather, great-uncle and great-aunt. The Columbus Daily Enquirer stated that “the evidence introduced at the inquest showed that they were all drinking at the time the crime is alleged to have been committed[6].”

During my library visit in 1993, I asked the librarian about any available trial transcripts. Unfortunately, she said that old Spalding County court records were water damaged in a fire back in the 1980s and were boxed up and stored in a jumbled mess in the courthouse basement. Last year I requested a microfilm copy of Spalding County Court records in 1911 from the LDS Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Unfortunately, the McCune murder case transcript was not included in the records and is no longer available to my knowledge.

The Griffin news article reported that a coroner’s jury was empaneled that Sunday afternoon to begin an investigation and interview witnesses. By 9 p.m. the jury had decided that Jim H., Trummy H., and Jeff T. should be arrested and charged with the murder of William McCune. Meanwhile, William’s younger brother, Jesse, and brother-in-law, Joe Prince, husband of his sister Nettie, traveled by train to Griffin to escort William’s body to the home of his mother, Sarah McCune, in Girard, AL[7]. What a tragic and sad death for the family, but even more so for Sarah because William was her third child to bury.

 

Next post:  What the court decided in the case of the state of Georgia vs. Jeff T., Jim H., and Trummy H.

 

[1] 1880 U.S. Census, Fayette County, Georgia, ED 54, District 624, p. 78B, dwelling 41, family 48; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA, T9, roll 146.

[2] 1900 U.S. censuses for Muscogee and Troup Counties cited in previous posts on Carrie McCune.

[3] Polk, R.L. compiler. Columbus, Georgia, City Directory, 1900; database image, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015).

[4] 1910 U.S. Census, Spalding County, Georgia, population schedule, Griffin City, p. 21B, ED 117, dwelling 367, family 411, William M. McCune; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA, T624, roll 209.

[5] Griffin Daily News, 3 October 1911, microfilm image accessed 18 April 1993, Griffin, Georgia Public Library.

[6] Columbus Daily Enquirer, 5 October 1911, Vol. LXXXIV, Issue 219, p. 1, Genealogy Bank.com (http://wwwgenealogybank.com: accessed 2015).

[7] Columbus Ledger, 2 October 1911, Vol XXV, Issue 32, p. 6, Genealogybank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 1 Dec 2015).

4 Comments

  1. Rodney Byard said:

    Great job, Christine!

    February 9, 2017
    Reply
    • Christine Ellington said:

      Thank you, Rodney.

      February 9, 2017
      Reply
  2. Janice Lott said:

    Christine – I love receiving your family posts!! Thank you!!

    February 15, 2017
    Reply
    • Christine Ellington said:

      Thank you, Janice! I enjoy the research.

      February 15, 2017
      Reply

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