Saturday, March 5, 2011

Murder Most Foul?

Ok, confession time.....I am one of those serious researchers that gets a certain twinkle in the eye when skeletons are uncovered. After years of romanticizing my ancestors, these skeletons are always ready to pop out with a historic reality check! Let's face it, we all have family is exempt from this proof of human frailty....and our job is to record them for the next generation - or next party topic. Learn to embrace the skeletons. Hiding them allows for an incomplete picture of your family's story, and many times they provide a unique opportunity for deep analysis.

After closing down my original website of ten years for a future migration, I have been trying to place some of the important photos here for fellow researchers. This photo of my great great grandparents was always on my site, but without the controversy that surrounded the last years of their lives. William (Billy) Watts and his wife Sally Fuller were married for almost 30 years. They were the parents of eight children and made their lives as farmers in the Western Kentucky/Tennessee areas. Billy died suddenly in 1907 after an accident that involved a shotgun:

Sounds like a pretty straight-forward, albeit icky incident. I'm personally glad we don't include descriptions about brain splatterings when we write about current news stories. But in this case, where is the genealogy CSI unit when  you need them? I mean really - quite the wound angle when removing a gun from over your head! According to family legend (two letters from two different branches of the descended children) - this was no accident. Despite their long marriage and raising of eight children, it was the children who did not believe this report. Instead, they perpetuated the report that their Mother, Sally, contrived with her lover Clarence Clyde Chapman to kill Billy and then married each other the very next year.

Their eight children were widely dispersed in age. At the time of Billy's death, the children ranged in age from 30 to under 9:
  • Mary Ann (Bowlin) - b.1877 (Born a year prior to Billy and Sally's marriage)
  • Sadie (Bowlin) - b.1885
  • William - b.1888
  • Bessie (Wilkerson) - b.1890
  • James Thomas (My Great Grandfather) - b.1891
  • Steven Clyde - b.1895
  • Noah - b.1898
  • Hetti - b.?
In this case, it would be safe to assume that it was not just older children who had left the nest and were bitter over Mom marrying again so soon, but rather a combination of observers. Yes, a few had left in marriage already, but ironically, even at advanced ages, most of the children had not yet married and were still residing at home at the time of this incident.

Apparently, Sally and Clarence never paid for any "crime" as accused by the children. I did some searching around the time of the death in more local newspapers, but the incident is always described as an accident. I cannot locate an obituary for Billy, but I may need to visit the area to get my hands on more complete runs of the local papers....among other records. The older family group sheets are a fun mix of fact and personal opinion. They include a marriage date for Sally and Clarence as March 15, 1908 - just over one year after Billy's death. Next to Billy's death date of February 9, 1907 they include the word "murdered". Another interesting side note is that Sally was not married to Clarence for very long as she died within 2 years of her second marriage. I'm wondering if her death was suspicious at all? Definitely an area that I will turn some of my research towards.....but who would be the suspicious party? The second husband? The angry children? Karma? Or simply coincidence? Despite the fact that this was only a rumor and never proven, I have a hard time believing that eight children would turn on a devoted and loving mother by declaring her a murderer simply because she got married again the next year. My radar says something foul was going on in that family. Even though we may never know what really happened (all of the children are long gone) I think it safe to conclude that we have another prime example of a dysfunctional, so what else is new?


Greta Koehl said...

Fascinating - I hope you are able to find more information on this family. My "doesn't add up" radar would be going off, too!

Kathy Reed said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I love the unanswered questions.

Joan said...

A mystery story --- too bad you may never know the real story --- but it could make the basis of a heck of a good novel or movie. Enjoyed this very much.


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