Friday, September 9, 2016

Why Dr. Peacock Shot Police Chief Taylor, 1921

Did the previous post leave you wondering about the details of this story? Here are some previous articles from North Carolina newspapers on the shooting of the police chief by the doctor.

From the High Point Review, June 9, 1921

Fight for Life Now On at Lexington….Mental Condition of Dr. J.W. Peacock Described at Trial

Several Witnesses Testifying in Behalf of Thomasville Doctor Who Killed Chief Taylor Says He Was in Strange Mental State on Morning of Tragedy

Lexington, June 6. Witnesses testifying here this afternoon in behalf of Dr. J.W. Peacock of Thomasville, now on trial charged with the murder of Chief of Police J.E. Taylor of Thomasville, April 16, declared that the defendant on the morning prior to the tragedy was in a strange mental state; that he was apparently suffering from burns on the top of his head, neck and hands sustained while trying to get his two automobiles out of his barn which was destroyed by fire at the early hour of the morning of April 16. Witnesses for both sides asserted that Peacock, following the tragedy, said that he killed Chief Taylor because he set fire to his barn.

The state offered the testimony of 10 witnesses, beginning at 3 o’clock, and concluding at 4:40 o’clock. Those testifying were either at or near the scene of the homicide. The state put before the jury of Rowan citizens a clean-cut case showing that Chief Taylor met death at the hands of the defendant, Dr. J.W. Peacock. The defense as soon as the state rested called its witnesses and when court adjourned at 5:30 p.m. had examined a half dozen. It will continue upon the convening of court tomorrow morning at 9:30 o’clock. Exceptionally good progress was made today, the first day of the trial.

Varner First Witness
Andrew Varner, a world war veteran who was talking to Chief Taylor when the first shot was fired, was the first witness for the state. Varner said that he and Taylor were standing on Salem street on the opposite side of the street from Peacock’s office, when the first shot was fired. He told of hearing the report of a gun, and turning, saw blood flowing from the chif’s face. He didn’t know who fired the shot. Taylor, said Varner, threw his hand up to his chest, and slightly turning, hollered: “Oh!” he then went into Pearce’s grocery store on Salem street. Varner declared that he decamped and didn’t see the remaining parts of the tragedy.

Dr. Peacock’s Testimony
The murderer of Chief Taylor, of Thomasville, gives his testimony as follows:

“I first realized that I had been shooting and had killed Taylor after I went to the telephone and attempted to call my wife,” said Dr. Peacock. “The last thing I remember before the shooting was seeing John Lambeth and Mr. Huff.”

The defendant did not know what happened, he said, when he was in his office on the morning of the homicide.

Dr. Peacock testified that he contracted tuberculosis when he was 21 years of age, but that his condition had improved. Last fall he was stricken with influenza and since then his health had not been good, he said.

The defendant testified that he had no malice whatever toward Chief Taylor.

“The first question that came up,” said the defendant was in regard to increasing his salary. “I made a motion as a member of the council that the chief’s salary be increased. Taylor was suspended by the mayor and at the next meeting I seconded a motion that he be reinstated. That was some time in March.”

“What did you subsequently do with regard to the chief?” asked John J. Parker, of the defense.
“Later I made a motion at another meeting that the chief be asked for his resignation. That was after we had investigated Mr. Taylor’s record. There was nothing personal in it and I was absolutely sincere in making the motion,” replied the witness.

“The next morning,” said Dr. Peacock, “Chief Taylor met me and asked me why I had it in for him.”
Dr. Peacock said he had done what he had done as his duty as an official of the town.
The defendant stated that several persons had been to him and said the chief was evidently threatening him. Dr. Peacock also stated that on Thursday before the killing F.C. Bivens informed him that Chief Taylor had said “If I didn’t stop working against him I was going west and damn quick.”

Dr. Peacock testified that John Moore asked what the doctor had done to Taylor, requesting that if anything had been done to stop it as the chief threatened to break up the physician’s home.
The witness also swore on the stand that R.E. Zimmerman informed him of one of Taylor’s alleged threats.

“I feared him worse than I did a rattlesnake,” said the prisoner when questioned by his attorney.
“Knowing the man as I did I was afraid. I knew he was brave enough to do anything he said he would do.”


Brutal Murder of Brave Officer…Dr. Peacock Is Still in Jail to Await Hearing on His Sanity,” from the High Point Review, June 16, 1921

The Hearing Will Take Place Before Judge Finley at Lexington on June 28

Lexington, June 15—Dr. J.W. Peacock, who was found “not guilty” of murder Saturday night by a jury of Rowan county citizens on the grounds that he was insane at the time he killed Chief of Police J.E. Taylor of Thomasville, remains in his cell at the county jail to await the hearing on his mental condition at the present time, which will be held here before Judge T.B. Finley on June 28.

The judge will then make a final ruling as to whether the physician shall be committed to the criminal insane department of the state penitentiary

Few big cases here have come to a less dramatic close. There was no demonstration of any kind on the part of anyone when the jury announced its verdict, except that when Dr. Peacock resumed his seat after standing up to hear his fate his wife placed her arms around his neck and he held her in his embrace for perhaps a minute. In the meantime, Judge Finley turned to the jury and merely said: “Gentlemen of the jury, you are excused.”

When the jury came in and stated that they have arrived at their verdict, they arose and in response to the predestined question: “What say you?” they answered in unison, “Not guilty.” After the argument as to the time of hearing about half an hour, court was adjourned and members of the jury came over and shook hands with Dr. Peacock.

When Dr. Peacock entered the court room at 9 o’clock Saturday night to hear the reading of the evidence of Dr. Isaac Taylor of Morganton, which enabled the journey to soon agree, he supported Mrs. Peacock who leaned heavily on his arm and appeared almost completely exhausted after a most trying week. Other members of his family appeared, most too tired to display emotion.

It was upon the testimony of the three alienists that Dr. Peacock is now a paranoiac, coupled with that of a number of other physicians who have known him for hears that they believed him insane at the time of the act, that the jury returned a verdict holding him not guilty of murder. The judge had charged the jury that they found the defendant to have been insane at the time of the killing they should return the verdict as not guilty.

Many here are included to draw a sort of parallel between the trial here and that of Harry K. Thaw, who was found not guilty on the plea that he was a paranoiac. Of course, most of the elements entering into this case are different from the famous New York case.

It is general conceded here by those to whom the verdict is not pleasing that the jury did their duty as they saw it and that if they accepted the large mass of testimony as to Dr. Peacock’s insanity no other verdict could have been returned.

Some discussion hinges around the reports that Henry Shaver, who was accidentally shot through the stomach by a bullet passing through Taylor, and Mrs. J.E. Taylor, widow of the slain chief, had taken steps to bring suits against Dr. Peacock for large sums of damages. In view of the fact that the jury apparently held him to be insane at the time and incapable of committing a crime, an interesting case has been brought up as to whether he could commit a tort upon which damages might be recovered. The result of the insanity inquisition before Judge T.B. Finley on June 28 may throw more light up on this question.


From the Rockingham Post-Dispatch, June 16, 1921

Dr. J.W. Peacock was acquitted in Superior Court at Lexington last week of the murder of the Thomasville Chief of Police, J.E. Taylor. The experts, Doctors J.K. Hall, Isaac Taylor and Albert Anderson (the same three who testified in the Foster Parsons trial here at Rockingham last year) testified that Dr. Peacock was crazy at the time of the killing, and it was on this testimony that the imported Rowan county jury acquitted the man. A hearing will not be held on June 28th to determine whether Peacock is insane at the present time; this coming hearing will decide whether he will be committed to the insane department or turned loose.

Mrs. Ethel Taylor, widow of the slain man, has brought suit against the estate of Dr. Peacock for $40,000 for damages. H.S. Shaver, who was wounded by Peacock at the tie Taylor was killed, has also brought suit. He is suing for $25,000. It is to be hoped that both will recover the full amounts. To the lay mind it would seem that the acquittal of Peacock for this brutal murder is an outrage on justice.


From the Elizabeth City Independent, June 17, 1921.

Mrs. Ethel B. Taylor, widow of Chief of Police J.E. Taylor, who was shot and killed in Thomasville by Dr. J.W. Peacock, has instituted suit against the physician for $40,000 as damages.


From the High Point Review, June 23, 1921

Lexington—At 10 o’clock p.m. the jury trying Dr. J.W. Peacock charged with the murder of Chief of Police Taylor at Thomasville, brought in a verdict of not guilty. The jury accepted the evidence of alienists that Dr. Peacock was insane at the time Taylor was killed.

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