“W. Foster Parsons Confesses to Slaying of Joe Wilson. Special Term of Court Asked For to be Held Not Later Than First Monday in October. Is Parsons of Sound Mind?” from the front page of the Rockingham Post-Dispatch, Sept. 4, 1919
Solicitor Brock sent a request to the
Governor’s office Wednesday asking that a special term of court be called for
Richmond county not later than the first Monday in October for the purpose of
trying W. Foster Parsons, charged in the death of Duck Phillips and Joe Wilson.
Post-Dispatch called the Governor’s office by long distance this (Thursday)
afternoon at 4:30 o’clock to learn whether the request had been acted upon. The
Governor is out West, but his Private Secretary, Mr. Sandford Martin, informed
the editor that the letter containing the request had not at that hour been
received, but that when it does reach his office, he will act upon it
immediately. He stated that a special term will be called, provided a judge can
be found who is not engaged.
As the Post-Dispatch went to press
on Thursday afternoon of last week, the identification of the dead bones found
near Keyser earlier in the day as being those of Joe Wilson, colored jitney
driver of Hamlet, was made complete. It was intimidated in the paper that W.
Foster Parsons, a white man aged 23, might be connected with the disappearance
and death of Wilson. Since last Thursday developments followed rapidly,
culminating with the confession by Parsons on Friday.
Parsons had been placed in jail on Rockingham Monday, Aug. 25th,
having been bound over to court by the Hamlet Recorder under $750 bond charged
with larceny and receiving, at that time he being accused only of the theft of
a car driven by Joe Wilson. Investigation during the next day or so tended to
connect him with the theft of the Duck Phillips car on Aug. 1st
(when Phillips was killed) and then after the Joe Wilson bones were found on
Thursday, the circumstantial evidence was made very strong. Confronted with the
evidence in jail on last Friday morning, Parsons confessed, the substance of
his confession as made to Sheriff McDonald and Jailor Bean being as follows:
He admitted killing Joe Wilson but denied killing Duck Phillips. He said
that on the night of July 31st, he and a white man named James
Hammock came from Durham to Hamlet. That they hired a jitney driver, Duck
Phillips, to drive them up the road; that when they got near Hoffman, Hammock,
who was sitting on the front seat, suddenly reached over, pulled the driver to
him and shot him through the back of the head; that Hammock then dragged the
body to the woods, and shot him again, as he still showed signs of life. That
Hammock then returned to the car, and the two proceeded on to Durham. That next
morning he (Parsons) sold the car for $250 and later in the day met Hammock at
the depot and gave him half, $125. That he has not seen Hammock since.
He (Parsons) says he later came to Hamlet Aug. 20th, the next
morning hired Joe Wilson and that when near Keyser he shot Wilson through the
back of the head from the rear seat. He then dragged the body from the car, and
driving on towards Aberdeen, stopped before reaching that town, beside the
road, and went to sleep. That someone passed in the afternoon and woke him and
that he then drove on to Durham.
He appears to remember only disconnectedly, and says he was drinking on both
occasions. When asked why he did it, he simply replied, “I don’t know.”
The foregoing in brief covers his confession.
It is thought by many people that his mind must be impaired, for, reason
many, surely no person in his right mind could perpetrate such crimes.
Parsons is a white man, the son of the late Allen Parsons, of Black Jack
township, Richmond County. He was married to a Miss Thomas last Spring. More
recently he has been working in Durham county, about 8 miles from Durham.
A detailed story of the two crimes, each interwoven with the other, makes
intensely interesting reading. The Post-Dispatch
in its constant endeavor to be “on the job” is giving this big story to the
public in the form of an EXTRA, the special issue appearing this (Friday)
afternoon on the streets at four o’clock—only a few hours after the confession.
Joe Wilson Killed
Boiled down, a history of the killing of Joe Wilson, colored, is as follows,
as pieced together by Chief Braswell:
On Wednesday night a week ago, Aug. 20th, Mr. Parsons came to
Hamlet from Durham and registered at the Terminal hotel. Thursday morning it is
said he hired Joe Wilson, a colored boy about 16 years old, to drive him to
Childress store near Hannah Pickett. They returned to Hamlet about 10 o’clock,
and then Parsons hired the boy to carry him to Cognac. At this juncture a boy
named George Ross asked the boy to let him ride as far as Pine street, so he
could deliver some clothes. This Wilson agreed to do; when Ross got out at Pine
street, he remarked to Wilson that if he would wait till he delivered the
clothes he would go with him to Cognac. So the boy delivered the clothes, but
when he returned to the car, the driver told him that he couldn’t go as he
would have a load coming back.
Evidently, Parsons had spoken to him in the
meantime. A citizen of Hoffman saw the car with Wilson and Parsons in it pass
that town about 11 or thereabouts. He identified Parsons by a fancy shirt he
wore. That is the last seen of the two together.
On Thursday morning, Aug. 28th, a young white man carrying a load
of tobacco to Aberdeen, saw a big flock of buzzards hovering to the left of a
short-cut road about a mile and a half from Keyser, and upon investigating they
founds the bones of a human being. They have the alarm and officers from Hamlet
and the Sheriff from Rockingham went there, as did also the officers of Moore
county, the spot being about two miles within the Moore county line. All the
flesh was eaten from the body, the bones picked clean and only a bit of flesh
remained in the shoes, the buzzards making strenuous efforts to get event hat
bit. The clothes were scattered about, blackened. Sheriff McDonald after
viewing the bones, brought the clothes to Hamlet, and interviewed the mother of
Joe Wilson with the view of connecting Joe with the dead body. The mother said
he had a yellowish shirt, black pointed shoes which corresponded with the
So much for the dead body.
On Friday morning of last week, Mr. Vernon Allen, manager for Hinson Bros.,
garage at Hamlet, informed Chief Braswell that the car driven by Joe Wilson had
disappeared. Chief Braswell thereupon went to Aberdeen Friday hunting a trace
of it. Saturday morning he got Mr. Allen and they decided to drive towards Raleigh
in search of it. And just here is how remarkably events happened. They reached
Sanford Saturday afternoon, and finding no trace, started on towards Moncure.
When about a mile from Sanford, and traveling about 20 miles an hour, they met
and passed another car containing a man and two women, the other car going
about 25 miles. Allen in a glance recognized his car, as well as the numbers!
Quickly Braswell stopped, turn around and sped back towards Sanford. By another
streak of luck, a freight was standing across the street, and this held up the
Parsons car, for such it turned out to be. Approaching Parsons, Chief asked
where he got it. He said “in Durham” and that he paid $250. A Sanford officer
then arrested him and he was lodged in jail.
This was about 5 o’clock Saturday
afternoon. Chief quizzed him in jail, and then placing handcuffs on him told
him he was going to carry him to Durham to find the man from whom he said he
bought the car. Parsons thereupon told him he hadn’t told the truth, that for a
face he and the negro Wilson had conspired to steal the car, that when they got
to Durham he had given the negro $50 for his interest in the car and that the
negro had then gone to Greensboro. Chief then brought Parsons to Hamlet where
he remained in the lockup until a hearing was given him before Recorder Austin
the 25th. The Recorder bound him to Superior Court under a $750
bond, which he was unable to give, and he was lodged in jail. The charge
against him was larceny and receiving.
On Thursday, the 28th, Messrs L.W.P. Webb and E.A. Waddell came
to Rockingham and arranged to give the required bond. Sheriff McDonald was
about to release him, was within a few minutes of doing so, when he received
the following telegram from Chief Braswell from Durham:
“Hold Parsons without bail. New and strong evidence developed.—J.S.
The wire of course kept Parsons in jail.
In the meantime after committing Parsons to jail Monday, Chief Braswell went
to Greensboro in search of the negro, and then went to Durham. And here is
where another remarkable part comes in. He was sitting in a car on Main street
at noon Wednesday eating a lunch, when he noticed a Ford pass, and his trained
eye observed that it had two new fenders with a new running board on the left
side. This corresponded with the car stolen from Hamlet August 1st
(details of which appear further down, and for which Parsons was connected in
the killing of Duck Phillips.)
Chief hastened after the car, but it had disappeared. He then went to R.E.
Dillard’s garage, simply strolling about on the lookout, when by another
strange chance a man drove up in an Oakland and told the garage people he
wanted to swap for a Ford. The Dilliard people brought out the Sharpe Ford
(Sharpe the owner in Hamlet from whom the first Ford was stolen) and as soon as
Braswell saw it he called an officer and a trade was forbidden. Chief wire M.R.
Sharpe at Hamlet to come at once to identify his car. This Sharpe did August 28th,
and for that reason Braswell wired Sheriff McDonald at once to hold Parsons
Braswell then came to Rockingham next day and upon interviewing Parsons in
the jail cell, Parsons admitted killing Joe Wilson and taking the car. He
denied killing the first negro, Duck Phillips, and says that a white man named
James Hammock of Virginia and who he met in Durham did the actual killing of
Phillips while he himself was seated on the rear seat and took no part.
However, he says he sold the car next day for $250 and according to agreement
divided half ($125) with Hammock. This, he claims, was the last he saw of
Hammock. The next job, the Joe Wilson killing and car theft, was done entirely
by himself, he said.
He said he had not planned the killing of Joe Wilson when he left Hamlet,
that a notion simply came to him on the spur of the moment. He said he had had
no words with the driver. He also said he was drinking.
Duck Phillips Killed
Now that Parsons has confessed, the mystery surrounding the death of Duck
Phillips comes to light.
On the night of Friday, Aug. 1st, Duck Phillips, a colored man
aged about 33 who drives a jitney for M.R. Sharpe of Hamlet, carried Mr. Sharpe
home about 8:30 o’clock. At nine o’clock a passenger, Parsons it now develops,
hired him for a trip. Nothing further was seen of Duck until the following Monday
morning when a section hand, stepping out into the bushes near the Gates farm,
between Hoffman and Marston, discovered a terrible odor and following it found
the dead body of Duck, about a hundred yards from the public road. A bullet
hole was through the left side of the head and a hole in the chest. Signs
showed the body had been dragged from the road to the spot, and a disturbance
of the ground indicated that the man was not quite dead when dragged there, as
the foot stirred up the earth as if in a death sporadic kick. A coroner’s
inquest was held, the verdict being that he came to his death at the hands of
unknown party or parties.
The car had disappeared, and no clue was available as to who killed Duck or
what became of the car until Chief Braswell saw the car pass him in Durham
Wednesday at noon.
And now for a history of that Duck Phillips car. It seems that after killing
Duck, Parsons drove the car to Durham. Next morning, Saturday, Aug. 2nd,
a Mr. E.D. Woody, a contractor at Durham, was in Dillard’s garage and was
approached about 9:30 by a stranger who remarked that he had a car to sell him
about which he was speaking the week before. Woody replied that the man was
mistaken, as he had never seen him. (Parsons was evidently mistaking Woody for
O.D. Barber; they resemble.) The man, Parsons, then told him he had a car he
wanted to sell, that it was given him by a farmer on a debt, and that it had no
encumbrance etc. Parsons then carried Woody to Mangum street to see it,
claiming that he could not drive a car himself. The upshot was that Woody
bought the car for $250 and an hour later sold it to R.E. Dillard for $340.
Woody paid Parsons $200 cash and a check for $50, with the bill of sale.
Parsons will be tired in Richmond county Superior Court for the killing of
Duck Phillips and if tried for the Joe Wilson murder he would be tried at
Carthage in Moore county, since Wilson was killed in Moore.
Men from Durham
E.D. Woody, to whom Parsons sold the first car, was in Rockingham last
Friday and had Parsons sign a mortgage, securing him for the amount he had paid
him for the car. It seems that R.E. Dillard of Durham has a first mortgage on
Parsons’ two horses and five mules. These animals were shipped by Mr. Parsons
to Yatesville, Ga., where he intended going last week to either saw-mill or