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Tom Dooley: continued

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

Ann insisted that Pauline must come with her, saying first that she would dig up Laura's body if the grave looked suspicious and rebury it in her cabbage patch, then deciding it might be better to cut the body into bits and dispose of it that way. Ann led Pauline from the Melton's cabin past Lotty's place and across Stony Fork Road to a pine log part way up what is now Laura Foster Ridge. She paused there to shuffle some dead leaves over a spot which looked like it had been rooted up by some hogs, but told Pauline that the actual grave was higher up the ridge. Pauline was thoroughly spooked by now, however, and refused to go any further.
Realising Pauline was adamant, Ann marched on alone. She returned a few minutes later, apparently having satisfied herself the grave would draw no attention, and cursed Pauline for her cowardice all the way back home.

Pauline was falling apart fast now, tormented by the knowledge that she was probably responsible for the infection that had led to Laura's murder, and often drunk enough to make her more unpredictable than ever.
About a week after their trip to the grave, Ann and Pauline were together at the Meltons' cabin when the two deputies, Adkins and Ferguson, came to question them both. Ferguson said he believed Pauline had helped kill Laura, and that was why she'd fled across the county line. Pauline, who'd been drinking, answered: "Yes, I and Dula killed her, and I ran off to Watauga County. Come out, Tom Dula, and let us kill some more! Let us kill Ben Ferguson!" Seeing the state Pauline was, Adkins and Ferguson were not inclined to take this outburst seriously, and Pauline herself later insisted it had been meant as a joke. But Ann could see that her cousin was now someone she couldn't afford to trust.

'My father turned up a side of turf with his boot, and found Laura two feet under the ground'

A few days later, Pauline was visiting a neighbour when Ann pursued her there with a club. She demanded that Pauline come home with her immediately, pushed her out of her chair towards the door and said she'd wanted to kill her ever since Pauline's stupid words to Ben Ferguson. "You have said enough to Jack Adkins and Ben Ferguson to hang you and Tom Dula if it was ever looked into," Ann screamed, pinning Pauline to the ground outside and beginning to choke her. "You are as deep in the mud as I am in the mire!" Pauline screeched back.
Ann dragged Pauline 100 yards down the road towards home, then stalked back and threatened the terrified neighbour, demanding she tell no-one about what she'd heard. She began to walk off again, but then returned a second time, warning the woman that she'd follow her to hell itself for revenge if word of that day's fight with Pauline ever got out.
It was obvious now that Pauline was close to cracking, and the police decided that a few nights in jail could be just the push she needed. They arrested her and told her that she, like Tom, was being held on suspicion of Laura's murder. Questioned both in Wilkesboro jail and before a magistrate at Cowles Store, she told police all about her trip towards the grave with Ann, and agreed to help the next search party find Laura's remains.
The chosen day was Saturday, September 1, when a party of over 70 men followed Pauline to the pine log where she and Ann had parted company. Pauline pointed up the ridge in the direction Ann had gone, and the men split into pairs for the search that followed. One of the pairs climbing on that day was Colonel James Isbell and his father-in-law David Horton. Isbell was William Dula's grandson, and hence a member of Happy Valley's riverside aristocracy. His plantation included the Caldwell County farm where Laura had lived with her father, which may explain why he was particularly determined to bring her killer to justice.
Horton was then aged 74, and so conducted the search on horseback, rather than walking like his younger companions. He and Isbell searched their section of the ridge meticulously for an hour and then, about 75 yards on from the log where they'd started, his horse began to snort and rear up. Isbell's grandson, Reverend Robert Isbell, describes what followed in his 1955 book The World of My Childhood.
"My father, James Isbell, noticed the horse back and shy away," Robert writes. "He called to Major Horton to rein the horse back to the spot he had shied from, and when he did the horse refused to go. My father said he went forward and stamped the spot with his boot heel, turned up a side of turf and found Laura about two feet under the ground." (4)
James Isbell gave his own account of this moment at Tom's trial. "After taking out the earth, I saw the print of what appeared to have been a mattock in the side of the grave," he said. "The flesh was off the face. Her body had on a checked cotton dress and dark-coloured cloak or cape. There was a bundle of clothes laid on her head. There was a small breast pin."
The two men summoned Dr Carter over, and he examined the body where it lay, finding the slit of a knife in the fabric over Laura's left breast and a corresponding stab wound between her third and fourth ribs. Laura had already been in the ground for three months by that time, and her body was too decomposed for Carter to tell for sure whether the knife had penetrated her heart or not. He confirmed, however, that it certainly could have reached the heart, and that such a wound would have killed Laura outright.
"The body was lying on its side, face up," Carter testified. "The hole in which it lay was two-and-a-half feet deep, very narrow and not long enough for the body. The legs were drawn up." He made no mention of the legs being broken, nor of any indication he could see that Laura had been pregnant. This did not stop the New York Herald floating the pregnancy theory again when it reported Laura's discovery, but the paper could produce no evidence to support this.
The body was taken back for an inquest at Cowles Store and formally identified by both Pauline and Wilson, who recognised Laura by the gap in her teeth and what was left of her clothes. Ann was arrested and given the same Wilkesboro cell next to Tom's which Pauline had just vacated.

The discovery of Laura's body gave her story a convenient punctuation point, and that's when the case's first ballad emerged. This was written by Happy Valley's Captain Thomas Land, who Gardner calls "a local poetical celebrity".
Land does not mention Tom or Ann by name in the 84 rather plodding lines he composed, and his effort bears no resemblance to the Tom Dula song we know today. But he is clear that Laura was murdered by the lover she'd hoped to marry, and that this man did not act alone:

"'Ere sun declined toward the west,
She met her groom and his vile guest,
In forest wild, they three retreat,
And hope for parson there to meet."

Grave concerns: continued

The others had all joined us outside by now and the rain had resumed.
    The genealogist lady's husband was very amused to see me once again struggling with an inside-out umbrella. "You're English!" he said, laughing. "That's not supposed to happen!" At that moment, I had the open-but-reversed umbrella propped upright on the ground between my feet as I struggled to get the canopy right-side out again. "It's not my umbrella," I growled, wrenching it closed.
   The conversation moved on from Tom Dooley to murder ballads in general and hubbie mentioned Banks of the Ohio, prompting Jack to slowly (but very persistently) chant a dozen or so lines from the song. Someone asked if Banks had been based on fact, and I was able to show off a bit by offering my theory that it's essentially an offshoot of Knoxville Girl - or at least, part of the same family of songs.
    No-one knew quite what to say after that, so the genealogy couple began the long process of making their farewells, Parrot Shirt headed back to the museum and Jack produced the jailhouse key at last.
    We moved quickly through the ground floor jailer's quarters, then went straight upstairs to the cell where Tom himself had been held. It was bigger than I'd imagined, with ancient graffiti scratched into every wall and a metal door gridded with steel bars. It was very dark inside, so I could do little more than point my camera at random and hope for the best.
    I got Jack to take a photo of me posing awkwardly against the cell door, then we stopped to examine the display case opposite showing Tom's POW release papers from the Civil War and a few other documents. The cell next door, where Ann Melton had been kept, was much lighter and - to judge by the furniture now placed there - rather more comfortable than Tom's accommodation. Jack, like everyone else I mentioned the case to in North Carolina, took it for granted that Ann was the real killer.
    We returned through the jailers' quarters to see the downstairs punishment cell with its barred hatch in the door allowing food to be delivered with no human contact. This cell would have been Wilkesboro's equivalent of what every prison movie calls 'The Hole", but no-one seemed to know if Tom had spent any time there or not.
    Our tour was now complete, so I bundled my bag, my camera and that blasted golf umbrella together again and we walked back out front.
    Jack pointed to a tree on our right and explained it had been grafted from the white oak that stood there in Tom's day. The original tree, he added, had been used by the good people of Wilkesboro "to hang our Tories". I'd never heard the term Tories used in an American context before, but it seems this is what they called people who supported the hated British in the War of Independence.

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