Saturday, June 13, 2015

'Most Horrible Crime' committed in Conecuh County on June 23, 1915


John Salter and Robert Watkins Commit Most Horrible Crime Wednesday Night, June 23

Two men, John Salter and Robert Watkins, on Saturday afternoon made full confession of the brutal murder of Mrs. Martha Lassiter, the attempted murder of Wiley House and the robbery and burning of Mr. House’s home, three capital offenses committed at the same time on last Wednesday night.

A web of very strong circumstantial evidence have been woven about the two men by the vigilance of the sheriff’s department and many interested citizens connecting them with the crime and when confronted with the facts they made full confession.

The two men had just completed a two-year term at Banner mines for burglary and arrived here on Tuesday night on train No. 3. At an early hour the following morning they started for Mr. House’s home, having previously learned that Mr. House had a large sum of money on his premises. They remained about his premises until dark when they ventured up to his house finding him on the front porch reading a paper by lamp light.

Approaching him they asked for a drink of water and were directed to the well. He gave no heed to their presence as it was not uncommon for Negroes unknown to him to come to his home for some purpose or other. Suddenly they appeared in front of him with a pistol thrust into his face with a firm demand for his money or his life.

At this juncture Mrs. Martha Lassiter, housekeeper for Mr. House, appeared at the door. One of them seized her and her screams caused the other to shoot her, the bullet passing through the neck. With blood streaming from the wound she was forced to open a trunk and gave them what money she had, about $150.

They then forced Mr. House into the room and he gave them all he had, $130. Demanding a “chest” of money which they said they heard he had, and being informed that there was no chest – that they had no money – one of them placed the muzzle of the pistol to his temple and he caught their hand pulling it down and the bullet passed through beneath the cheek bone and he fell to the floor. They then went in pursuit of Mrs. Lassiter whom they found outside the front gate.

One or two shots dropped her to the ground dead. They pulled her body into the house, and discovering that Mr. House was not dead they stabbed him over the heart seven times with a knife. Pouring oil on beds and clothing they set fire to these and fled.

Very soon Mr. House regained consciousness and by almost super-human effort dragged the dead body of the woman from the burning building and reached a place of safety himself, almost exhausted from the loss of blood and excitement.

In the meantime the little daughter of the dead woman managed to escape through a rear window and fled in terror to the home of a near neighbor and gave the alarm. Nearby neighbors gathered quickly but the building was soon reduced to ashes.

The negroes discarded their blood-soaked garments about 100 yards from the house and made their escape. The next morning their track was taken up by several citizens and traced to the home of a negro in Evergreen and their arrest immediately followed. The signed confession of the two negros is substantially as stated above.

As a matter of precaution to guard the safety of the prisoners against any possible violence, Sheriff Williams with several deputies quietly took them from the jail on Saturday afternoon immediately their confession and conveyed them to the Montgomery County Jail, making the trip by automobile.

Mr. House is reported to be doing as well as could be expected. His wounds are healing rapidly and he will without an unexpected backset be able to attend to his usual business in a few days.

This was one of the foulest and most horrible crimes ever committed in this county, and a record of speedy justice rarely if ever equaled in this state will be meted out to the heartless assassins. Judge Gamble came down on Monday morning and arranged for a special term of Circuit Court to try them. The grand jury has been summoned and will meet here today and the trail of the prisoners is set for next Tuesday, July 6. As soon as indictments are returned the prisoners will be arraigned for trial.

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