One of my favorite pastimes is looking through old newspapers, especially those published over a century ago in and around Conecuh County. Often I’ll come across old news stories about events that I’ve never heard of and more often than not these stories demonstrate the truth behind the old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” This seems especially true when it comes to violent crimes, which were arguably more common back in the old days than they are today.
I ran across one such story involving Conecuh County last Friday afternoon while looking at some 1895 editions of The Monroe Journal newspaper. In the Sept. 26, 1895 edition of The Journal, editor and proprietor Q. Salter reported the following story under the headline, “A Ghastly Find.”
According to that story, “a human skeleton, with particles of decaying flesh still hanging to it, was found last Monday in the woods near Belleville. Investigation has shown the remains to be those of Silas Hobley, a faithful mail carrier who unquestionably lost his life in the discharge of his duty. The particulars of the crime appear to be as follows:
“On the first day of the month Silas Hobley, the murdered man, left here (Evergreen) about six o’clock a.m. with the United States mail for Belleville and Bermuda. At the latter place he met another mail carrier from Perdue Hill, Monroeville and other points in Monroe County with whom he exchanged mail pouches (as was the custom every day), and started on his return about three o’clock the same afternoon.
“At Belleville, Postmaster Newton opened the mail and returned it to the carrier, who left for this office on time, where he was due at six o’clock that evening. He was never seen any more after leaving Belleville, however, until his mutilated remains were found last Monday in the woods about a half mile from the public road and about two miles this side of Belleville.
“Failing to appear here in the afternoon, he was last seen in Belleville, Postmaster Wiggins, at this office, at once notified Mr. John Fraser, who has the contract for carrying the mail over this route and early the next morning the contractor started out over his route in search of the missing man and the mail pouch, the latter of which, with the horse and cart with which it was carried, was found the second day some distance from the road, and about a quarter of a mile from where the man’s remains were found last Monday. The horse had been tied to a tree and was nearly perished and the mail pouch had been cut open and robbed of a number of registered packages.
“As nothing was heard of (Hobley), it was generally believed that he had taken the horse and cart into the woods, rifled the mail pouch and fled the country. The finding of his remains last Monday, however, proves that not only was this opinion incorrect, but that he was the subject of a most dastardly murder.
“An inquest was heard over the scattered remains of the unfortunate man yesterday, the decision of which was that he was hung and shot, as several empty Winchester cartridge shells were found nearby, and a sloping tree gave evidence of its having been used for the purpose of hanging.
“The prevailing opinion now is that the robbers were in disguise, and that the carrier refused to surrender the mail pouch when commanded to do so, and in their efforts to take by force, he discovered who they were, and in order to escape punishment for the robbery they took the faithful man into the woods and murdered him.
“Suspicion points strongly to two of the parties implicated in the Castleberry burglaries that created such a sensation in that neighborhood last year, as they were seen in Belleville the morning before the robbery and the murder of the man that afternoon.
“Immediately after it was discovered that the mail carrier had been murdered, Postmaster Wiggins wired the department and yesterday he received the following telegram from Chattanooga – ‘Postmaster, Evergreen, Ala: Reward of $500 will be paid for arrest and conviction in United States court of person robbing the mails. Get local authorities to take hold of the matter at once. Write department. Whiteside, inspector.’
“The citizens here are strong in their condemnation of this bold robbery and foul murder.”
Prior to last Friday, I’d never heard or read about the murder of Silas Hobley and reading the article above left me with many questions. Who was Silas Hobley? Where did he live and how old was he? Were his murderers ever apprehended or convicted of the murder? Did anyone claim the reward? What were the full names of postmasters Newton and Wiggins? Who was John Fraser?
If anyone out there in the reading audience knows anything more about the incident above, I’d like to hear from you. Please give me a call at The Courant at 578-1492 or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write me through the mail at The Evergreen Courant, ATTN: Lee Peacock, P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401.