December 1913 was a rather eventful Yuletide season. There were days of pleasant and nice news. And, there were nights when the naughty ran amuck.
The final month of the year brought the good news that everyone in Laurens County already knew. For the third year in a row, the county led the state in the production of cotton with a 50,000 plus bale crop.
Accordingly, the banks of Laurens County reveled in their prosperity. The county's six banks saw a one-third increase in their deposits. Most pleasing to their stockholders was the virtual elimination of all bank debts. The six-story First National Bank building was open for business.
The Brandon triplets were all christened by Rev. W.R. Smith, a former minister of the First Methodist Church. The impressive ceremony was the first known and probably only triplet christening in the history of the city.
Once the Sun went down and the nights turned cold, things began to change.
A band of miscreants set their sights on the safe of the Bank of Dudley. Housed in a simple wooden structure in the sleepy, isolated town of Dudley along the tracks of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah, the safe would be an easy target.
As the criminals entered the town, they cut all of the telephone and telegraph lines, or so they thought. They had hoped to be long gone before the town's residents could get word to the Laurens County Sheriff, some dozen crow-fly miles away in Dublin.
The outlaws pilfered a railroad tool box, taking a pick and crowbar. A local hardware store provided the necessary tools to pull off the caper, eliminating the need to bring their own explosives and equipment. To their delight, the burglars found a cache of four shot guns and a half case of shells. Twenty-five horse blankets were also taken in a futile attempt to muffle the explosion.
The malefactors picked and hacked their way through the wall of the vault to find the iron safe. When the nitro ignited, the safe door was blown clean off. Inside, the hoodlums found the disappointing, but still rather large, sum of $412.00 in cash. What the culprits didn't realize was the bank kept most of its cash in a safer vault in a Dublin bank. Leaving twenty dollars in small coins behind, the men dashed off into the darkness, confident that their scheme would be successful.
A.P. Whipple, living nearby, was awakened by three explosions of nitroglycerine. He jumped from his bed, gathered his night clothes and sought out to investigate the source of the explosion. Whipple spotted the band of yeggmen firing his gun and ducked as the fleeing felons escaped into the moonless, cold, rainy evening. He suffered a slight wound in his thumb when the night watchman fired back after Whipple refused his order to return to his quarters.
Turns out, the rogues forgot to cut a single, yet critical line of communication, the main telegraph line of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad.
As the town's folk rushed to the scene, a telegrapher was summoned, sending reports of the crime throughout the state. Within minutes nearly every sheriff in the State of Georgia was alerted to the despicable act.
As the dawn broke, quickly organized, heavily armed posses set out on foot, on horseback and in automobiles to scour the countryside for any sign of the gangsters. When the trail turned cold, law enforcement agents gave up.
Two days later, former railroad engineer J.H. Dover and Thomas Daly, believed to have been the ring leaders of the Dudley robbery, were arrested when they arrived at the Central of Georgia Railroad Depot in Augusta. Among their effects were portions of the money and checks taken from stores in Green's Cut on the night of the third of December, along with a quantity of nitroglycerin, guns and ammunition.
Down the road in Cadwell, the theretofore silent Christmas night was shattered as Town Marshal John Owen went to the home of Henry Mullis to arrest one of his kinsmen. When Marshal Owen attempted to leave the Mullis home, a multitude of Mullises pulled their pistols, furiously firing at the beleaguered marshal. When the firing ceased, both Mullis's and Owens's bodies were bleeding a bright Christmas red all over the floor. Mullis was wounded by friendly fire from an inebriated ally. Both men recovered. Apparently, only F.M. Joiner was arrested and placed under a $1000.00 bond.
The Christmas season of 1913 was not so jolly for one Lewis Davis, alias Lewis McLaughlin. Davis was tried in August and convicted of the 1904 murder of his wife Selma in the Brewton home of Ben Burney, the victim's father. Davis, in the presence of several competent witnesses, shot his wife three times and fled to Key West, Florida and Cuba After a nine-year absence Davis returned for a picnic in Ocilla when the sister of his former wife spotted him and reported his presence to authorities, who immediately took the felon into custody.
At his trial, evidence was introduced that Davis came in "talking big," that is until his wife and mother-in-law confronted him. Davis, in his own defense, told the jury that his father-in-law attacked him with a stick of stove wood. Davis testified that he pulled his pistol and shot his wife in self defense. In the commotion which followed, Davis slipped away and wasn't seen in nine years.
His attorneys appealed his conviction to the Georgia Supreme Court, which affirmed his death sentence on December 12. On the day after Christmas, Judge Hawkins set his date with the hangman for January. Despite the passionate pleas of Davis' attorney, R. Earl Camp, the execution remained on schedule.
As the January 24 hanging approached, Laurens County Sheriff J.J. Flanders began to make the necessary preparations for the indoor hanging in the Laurens County Jail. To start out the new year right, Sheriff Flanders purchased a new grass rope which he boiled in tallow. To make the hanging apparatus work properly, the Sheriff walked next door and picked up a tombstone from the Laurens Marble Company, which was located in the former courthouse building. The dense stone made an ideal weight to hold Davis' flinching, wiggling, dying body until he drew his last gasp of breath.
Davis's pastor made yet one final futile plea to spare his life. He asked for a 30-day respite to allow the condemned man ample time to make peace with his God.
Promptly at 1:25 on a Saturday afternoon, Davis walked calmly to his death. He confessed that he did indeed kill his wife with malice aforethought as he affirmed that he was ready to go straight to God's glory. Twenty minutes after the trap dropped, the attending physicians pronounced that he was dead.