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Police Blotter: Rape, Violence, Murder, Mayhem

Think Charlotte is rough today? Let's go back in time, to the early 1900s, when crime in the Queen City was a daily sport


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MOWED DOWN: In August 1912, Troy Harwell of Davidson "maliciously and negligently" plowed into Anna Black and her friend while riding his bicycle, knocking both down and injuring them. Harwell was later found guilty and fined $2.50.

• Sam Culp was arrested in 1901 for assaulting Ida Henderson with an electric car. According to witnesses, Culp ran his car at a very fast speed and did not give any warning or try to stop before he plowed into Henderson's buggy.

SHORT TEMPERS: In March 1900, Jim Byers was arrested for the murder of Fannie Gillespie. She was visiting Byers' father at the time and asked Byers to return some money she lent him. He flew into a rage and shot her dead while she held her newborn baby in her arms. Gillespie collapsed on top of the baby, which died a few hours later. Byers got 12 months in prison for manslaughter.

That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang.
  • That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

FAMILY MATTERS: Mack Fesperman shot and killed his alienated wife, Irene Fesperman, in 1900. The two had parted ways and Irene was living with her sister when Mack got his hands on a love letter to Irene from her new boyfriend. Mack confronted her and she refused to stop seeing the other fellow, and even volunteered that she planned to meet the guy the next night. Mack followed her and gunned her down as she made her way down Trade Street.

A jury sentenced him to hang for the crime, but two days before the execution, Mack made a heartfelt plea in the Charlotte News: "Other people have done what I did and people thought it was alright, but I guess they (the people) think I am a Negro and cannot feel as they do about family matters."

Despite the segregationist times, Mack's plea struck a chord with white and black readers alike and the editorial staff, who apparently thought it was OK to kill your wife if she cheated, and Charlotte News reporter C.A. Matthews wrote the governor, begging for clemency and explaining that the "public's sentiment was for Fesperman." The governor commuted the death sentence, and Fesperman was given life in prison.

JUST A GIGOLO: In March 1902, George Knox was arrested on seduction charges for seducing Maggie Coletrane with a promise of marriage, but not following through after they did the deed.

RAZOR GIRL: In May 1925, Nellie Freeman, 20, greeted her soldier husband, Alton Freeman, with a hug and a slit to his throat, nearly decapitating him. The trial was big news and concessionaires sold miniature souvenir razors outside the courthouse. Male jurors in the case believed she was guilty, but they couldn't bring themselves to sentence a woman to death, so they found her not guilty.

"Many of the jurors stopped to congratulate the girl, looking unusually fresh and dainty in her white dress, pink scarf and chic new pink hat," the News reported.

Freeman called the verdict "better than I expected" and later asked the judge if she could keep the razor and the blood-soaked dress. She would begin her new life in "better surroundings than she had ever known," the paper reported, because a prominent Charlotte citizen planned to take her in and charities formulated a plan to care for her.

DRUNK 'N CUSSIN': J.M. Crowell was convicted on disorderly conduct charges for being drunk in public and recklessly riding his horse through the streets of Matthews, "terrorizing and endangering the lives of the inhabitants of the town." At his trial, the jury also found that he used profane language, including the words "Damn, God Damn." He was found guilty and fined $50.

• In January 1902, Bruno Redman was arrested on Graham Street for drunk and disorderly behavior and using profane language in public. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and ordered to work on a chain gang, a pretty standard sentence for a fairly common crime.

YESTERYEAR'S DRUG DEALERS: Ada Adkins was charged with "retailing" or selling alcohol, which was illegal during prohibition. Adkins was arrested in February 1910 for selling John Downover a pint of whiskey. The pair was found guilty and sentenced to two months in jail.

• In January 1913, Henry Miller was arrested for selling J.H. Taylor two pints of whiskey. He was sentenced to four months in jail during which time he was to serve among the jail crews working on county roads, a typical sentence for this very common crime.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, THEN AND NOW: In May 1902, William McClain and Eliza Mason were both arrested for public affray, or fighting, after one of them attacked the other with a weapon. The arrest warrant describes the weapon as a table fork "one foot long and two inches thick." Each was released on a $25 bond and ordered to show up for trial in superior court the following month.


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