• 66°

Descendants of lynching victim: Don’t assign blame without proof

SALISBURY — Descendants of a man suspected in the 1906 Lyerly family murders in Rowan County — who was subsequently lynched along with two other men — say they don’t want to see a rush to judgment about a new suspect in the century-old killings.

“The Man From the Train,” a recently released nonfiction book by Bill and Rachel James, traces dozens of ax murders that took place across the country between 1898 and 1912 and connects them to a serial killer they identify as Paul Mueller.

The Jameses say they are certain Mueller killed the Lyerlys — prompting a call to clear the names of lynching victims Nease Gillespie, John Gillespie and Jack Dillingham.

In a statement released over the weekend, Nease Gillespie’s descendants advise caution.

“While we welcome the discovery of any factual information that could identify the killers of the Lyerly family and fully exonerate our family members, we feel that it would be irresponsible to accuse any individuals without concrete evidence of their guilt,” the family statement says.

“It was rampant speculation without facts or evidence which led to the brutal murders of Nease, John and Jack. While the theory is intriguing, it is not evidence and we will not contribute to any narrative that does to another what was done to our family — assign blame without proof.”

Isaac Lyerly, wife Augusta and two of their children died after being attacked with an ax in their farmhouse near Barber Junction on July 13, 1906. Three black sharecroppers among those charged with the crime were dragged from the county jail by an angry white mob. The men were taken to what is now North Long Street, where they were tortured, hanged and shot.

After years of silence on the subject, the Salisbury community held a service to commemorate the men’s deaths just two months ago, on Aug. 6, the anniversary of the 1906 lynchings. Called “A Service of Truth, Healing and Reconciliation,” it came after a panel discussion earlier in the day about the lynchings.

The murder and lynchings were so infamous at the time that children made a game of imitating the crimes — hence the name of Susan Barringer Wells Vaughan’s book, “A Game Called Salisbury.” Vaughan, a distant relative of both Isaac and Augusta Lyerly, extensively researched the murders and the lynchings and concluded there was no evidence that the sharecroppers killed the family.

But, as the James book says, this is the South. “When a terrible crime occurred, people immediately assumed that black people had done it,” James writes.

Vaughan, who lives in Greensboro, learned of “The Man From the Train” when the book’s publishing company contacted her to find out how to pronounce “Barringer.” When she learned the authors had identified a likely suspect — and read their book and accepted its conclusions — she began to look for a way to clear the names of the three lynched men.

They were never convicted, so they cannot be officially exonerated, according to legal authorities. But Vaughan has contacted the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office to see if there could be some public or official recognition of the men’s innocence.

Paul Mueller was an itinerant farmhand when he was identified in 1898 as a suspect in the murder of the Newton family for whom he was working at the time in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. He eluded arrest, though, and there followed over the next 14 years a string of similar ax murders, all in homes near railroad tracks, with several more common characteristics.

Mueller, a loner with a heavy German accent and unkempt appearance, was not charged in any of the ax murders.

Comments

Crime

Blotter: Man brandishes AR-15, runs over motorcycle at Rockwell-area gas station

Crime

Salisbury man charged with exploitation of minor

Crime

Road rage incident results in assault charges

Local

Dukeville lead testing results trickle in, more participation needed

Education

Faith Academy interviewing staff, preparing site for fall opening

News

Volunteers work around obstacles, alter procedures to offer free tax services to those in need

Education

Education shoutouts

Local

Retired Marine gets recognition for toy collection efforts

Local

March issue of Salisbury the Magazine is now available

Education

Five get Dunbar School Heritage Scholarships

Education

Education briefs: Salisbury Academy fourth-graders think big as inventors

Education

Bakari Sellers keynote speaker at Livingstone College Founder’s Day program

Nation/World

Biden aims to distribute masks to millions in ‘equity’ push

Nation/World

Chief: Capitol Police were warned of violence before riot

Nation/World

GOP rallies solidly against Democrats’ virus relief package

Nation/World

FDA says single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson prevents severe COVID

High School

Coaches, lawmakers react to governor’s order expanding sporting event capacity

Coronavirus

Three new COVID-19 deaths, positives remain below triple digits

BREAKING NEWS

Gov. Cooper announces end to curfew, changes to restrictions affecting bars, high school sports

Crime

Blotter: Two charged after call about package

Crime

Salisbury Police investigating two shootings

Crime

Chase involving Kernersville man ends in woods behind Carson High School

News Main

North Rowan girls end season with playoff loss to Murphy

Education

Rowan-Salisbury EC department plunges in place after raising $1,300 for Special Olympics