1912. The good old days when life was slower. Families and neighbors were close, children were still innocent, and feuding was quite popular, especially so in Carroll County, Virginia…the tiny town Hillsville, to be precise. The place where a judge, the sheriff, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, jury members, and a witness were all gunned down. Murdered. Slaughtered. All because of a single kiss between two kids.
Like many killings that occur in our day, this whole ugly mess started when a guy kissed the girlfriend of another boy. The kiss was actually part of a longstanding tradition during the time of the annual corn-shucking. Tradition said that any boy who found a red ear of corn could kiss the girl of his choosing. Well, Wesley Edwards was the lucky boy that year. With the red ear in hand he planted a nice juicy kiss right on the lips of a girl who was currently being properly courted by another boy. And that just didn’t sit right with the betrayed boyfriend. Not at all. So he and a few friends caught up with Edwards and his brother as were leaving church the next day. And, as they say, it was on. Punches were exchanged, clothing was tattered and torn, but the Edwards boys came out on top and bested the boyfriend and his backup.
Here’s where things really begin to go downhill. The Edwards boys were arrested on charges stemming from the fight. But, as officers were hauling them to the Carroll County jail, their uncle, Floyd Allen, managed to set them free.
Of course, Allen was arrested for poking his nose in a place where it didn’t belong (cops tend to get a little irritated when you rough them up and turn their prisoners loose). Anyway, Allen eventually stood trial for his unlawful actions…obstructing justice, or something along those lines.
During the trial, emotions ran high. Judge Thorton Massie knew the possibility for trouble was imminent. The folks in his courtroom were like individual sticks of dynamite just waiting for their fuses to be lit. The Allens were a rowdy bunch, to say the least. They were moonshining feuding-democrats who blamed the republicans for all their troubles (sounds like folks from this day and age, huh?). Still, Sheriff Lewis Webb and his deputies took no extra precaution. Judge’s order.
When the verdict of guilty was finally announced to the court, defendant Floyd Allen stood and said, “Gentlemen, I just ain’t a goin’: That’s the moment when the gunplay started. And that’s when five people died and seven more were wounded. No one knows who fired the first shot, or the last.
Some accounts of the event say that the Commonwealth’s Attorney and court clerk, Dexter Goad, came to court armed on that day. Another writing states that Allen fired in self defense. But where’d he get the gun?
What is clear, however, is that Allen and his son, Claude, were both executed for the murders. Sidna Allen, Floyd’s brother, received 35 years in prison for the part he played in the murders.
The courtroom killings made all the newspapers and generated buzz all over the country. In fact, the story remained on the front page of the papers until a story of equal interest broke. Something about a big boat sinking with a lot of people on board. I think the name was The Titanic. Yes, it took a story that huge to get this one off the front page.
The Carroll County Courthouse murder is still the center of controversy in the Hillsville area. The anniversary of the event is March 15, and some of the locals plan an hour-long presentation that’ll begin with the events leading up to the shooting. Organizers say they’ll wind up the presentation with lots of detail about the actual shooting. Many residents are already beating the war drums, saying their relatives (the Allen’s) got a bum rap. Others say the event could finally help the community begin to heal from its century-old wounds.
Either way, I’d certainly suggest using a metal detector at the entrance to the courthouse on the night of the presentation. Or, perhaps an off-duty TSA officer could spare a few moments of his time…
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