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Tom Dooley: continued

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

This time, his point was that Tom and Ann's cases should be heard as two completely separate trials. Ann had made several incriminating statements since Laura's death, he pointed out, and often these statements had been made when Tom had no opportunity to instantly challenge them. Allowing those statements to be heard as part of the evidence in a joint trial would inevitably make Tom look guilty too, Vance said. The judge agreed, and Tom was tried alone from that moment onwards. Ann's own trial would have to wait.
These preliminaries dealt with, District Attorney Walter Caldwell gave his opening statement. The state's case, he said would be that "a criminal intimacy" had existed between both Tom and Laura and Tom and Ann. He expected to show that Tom had caught syphilis from Laura, that he'd communicated that disease to Ann, and that his own infection had prompted Tom to threaten Laura's life as an act of revenge. "By these circumstances and others, I expect to prove Thomas Dula, the prisoner, committed the murder, instigated thereto by Ann Melton, who was prompted by revenge and jealousy," Caldwell told the jury.
The trial had lined up 83 witnesses in all, though it's not clear how many were actually called. All the key players I've mentioned above were heard, though, and gave their evidence just as I've already quoted it. Pauline's declaration when first arrested that she would "swear a lie any time for Tom Dula" now seemed forgotten. It's possible that the police secured Pauline's co-operation by telling her any failure to testify against Tom would place her in the dock beside him. Despite her questionable character, the prosecution certainly relied heavily on Pauline's testimony, which fills a third of the summary transcript Buxton later prepared.

'Vance portrayed Laura as a loose woman and Tom as the brave soldier she'd seduced'

"The witnesses generally appeared impressed with the idea that Dula was guilty," the Herald later reported. "Though some of them appeared anxious to affect an acquittal through fear of some of his reckless associates in the mountains."
Ann was allowed to attend the court throughout Tom's trial but not to testify. Even so, Buxton allowed statements she'd made to various witnesses to be admitted in evidence at Tom's trial, and over-ruled Vance's objections every time he challenged this. It's hard to reconcile this with his reputation for meticulous care, and some take Buxton's rulings as evidence that the law was determined to railroad Tom for a crime he didn't commit.
Vance made the most of Tom's Civil War record throughout the trial, and deployed his considerable eloquence when the prosecution took to mentioning Laura's "lonely grave on the hillside". Vance's reply was that, before sending Tom to hang, they had best decide whether they wanted to see one lonely grave on that hillside or two. "Throughout his trial, Tom always maintained he was innocent, and refused to implicate anyone," Casstevens says. "Attorney Vance portrayed Laura Foster as a woman of loose morals, and Tom as a brave soldier who had been seduced by her." (6)
Closing his case for the defence, Vance asked Buxton to instruct the jury that any circumstantial evidence they used to convict "must exclude every other hypothesis" and remind them they must be convinced of Tom's guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Buxton agreed, and told the jury exactly that. After hearing two days of evidence, they retired just after midnight on Saturday, October 20, and spent the rest of night deliberating the case.
The jury returned at daybreak with a verdict of guilty. "Governor Vance and his assistant counsel for the defence made powerful forensic efforts which were considered models of ability," the Herald told its readers. "But such was the evidence that no verdict other than that of guilty could be rendered."
The Wilmington Daily Dispatch agreed, saying: "All the evidence that led to the conviction was entirely circumstantial, but so connected by a concatenation of circumstances as to leave no reasonable doubt on the minds of the jury". The Salisbury North State added breathlessly that the evidence presented had been "of the most thrilling character". (7, 8)
Buxton set Tom's execution date for November 9, when he'd be "hanged by the neck until he be dead". That appointment looked unlikely to be met, though, because Vance had already appealed for a new trial on the grounds that Buxton had admitted a good deal of evidence he should not have allowed the court to hear. The judge agreed to refer this request to North Carolina's Supreme Court, but rejected the stay of judgement Vance had also requested. In the unlikely event that Tom's bid for a new trial could be definitively ruled out in just 19 days, his November 9 execution date would still go ahead.
There were no court stenographers taking a verbatim transcript in North Carolina's courts back in 1866, so Buxton worked with clerk of the court CL Summers to prepare a condensed brief summing up the trial, which used testimony from 18 of the witnesses called. It's this summary which went to North Carolina's Supreme Court with Dula's appeal, and which still provides our best record of the trial today.

The fact that Tom had now been convicted of Laura's murder meant Wilkes County's balladeers felt free to name him as her killer. Not only that, but Buxton's sentence meant they could stir the prospect of Tom's execution into their lyrics too.
Frank Brown's collection of North Carolina Folklore, gathered between 1912 and 1943, includes three versions of Tom Dula contributed by a woman called Maude Sutton of Lenoir in Caldwell County. Land's ballad is the first one Sutton discusses in her letter, but it's her second entry which interests us here. "It was very popular in the hills of Wilkes, Alexander and Caldwell Counties in 1867," she says. "Many mountain ballad singers still sing it."
Sutton then quotes three verses from the song she'd just described, which were evidently sung to the same tune we know today:

"Hang down your head Tom Dula,
Hang down your head and cry,
You killed poor Laura Foster,
And now you're bound to die.

"You met her on the hilltop,
As God Almighty knows,
You met her on the hilltop,
And there you hid her clothes.

"You met her on the hilltop,
You said she'd be your wife,
You met her on the hilltop,
And there you took her life."

Sutton had collected this version from a Lenoir man called Calvin Triplett, a surname which Ann's mother used on some early census forms. We don't know exactly what Calvin's relationship to the family was, but it's reasonable to assume he was kin of some sort.