He spoke for nearly an hour, discussing his early childhood, his parents, his time in the army and the secessionist politics that still bedevilled his home state. He accused several witnesses at his trial of telling lies against him - reserving particular ire for James Isbell - and said it was only those lies which had put him on the scaffold today. His written confession, remember, was still a secret between himself and Allison, who'd sworn not to make it public till Tom was dead.
"The sheriff allowed Tom Dooley to make a long talk," Yount confirms. "And, at the conclusion, an old white-bearded man pointed at Dooley and repeated the song that had been sung many times for the six months prior. I don't remember the words, except the old man pointed and sang: 'Oh Tom Dooley, hang down your head and cry. Because you killed poor Laura Foster and now you must die'."
I doubt Yount's got those words exactly right, because they're impossible to scan to the tune we know was already used. They're certainly close enough to confirm Sutton's dating of something very like this chorus at 1867, though, and that's quite useful in itself.
Concluding his speech, Tom bade an affectionate farewell to Elisa, who was taken off the cart, and then watched as the rope dangling round his neck was thrown over the gallows' cross beam and fastened. The cart was then drawn away, leaving Tom to hang. Here's the Herald again:
"The fall was about two feet, and the neck was not broken. He breathed about five minutes, and did not struggle, the pulse beating for ten minutes, and in 13 minutes life was declared extinct by Dr Campbell, attending surgeon.
"After hanging for twenty minutes, the body was cut down and given to the afflicted relatives of this terrible criminal. Thus closed the career of a man who, though young in years, ignorant and depraved in character, was one of the most confirmed and hardened criminals of the age in which he lived."
Foster West confirms that the two-foot drop mentioned here would have been "not nearly enough" to break Tom's neck, and that he must therefore have choked to death instead.
Eliza and her husband placed Tom's body in the waiting coffin, and arranged for it to be buried on a patch of land then owned by Bennett Dula III, Tom's third cousin. The grave's in a meadow near Wilkesboro, alongside what's now known as Tom Dula Road. Tom's confession was made public shortly after the hanging, although not in time to make the Herald's May 2 report.
Ann's trial finally came in the Autumn of 1868, again with Vance defending, but Tom's confession meant the case against her was quickly dismissed. She'd already been in jail for two years by that time. "The gallows would have added little to her punishment," the Statesville American pronounced. (13)
The fact of Tom's confession is quite enough to explain Ann's acquittal on its own, but folklore likes to credit her extraordinary beauty too. In her letter to Brown, Sutton reports talking to an old man in Statesville who remembered the trial from his own youth. Ann Melton, he said, was "the prettiest woman I'd ever looked in the face of. She'd have been hung too, but her neck was just too pretty to stretch hemp. [...] If there'd have been any women on that jury, she'd have got first degree. Men couldn't look at that woman and keep their heads."
That description's backed by the Herald's reporter, who calls Ann "a most beautiful woman". Despite her lack of education, he adds, she "has the manner and bearing of an accomplished lady, and all the natural poise would grace a born beauty". As Foster West points out, this description is all the more remarkable for the fact that the Herald's man was meeting Ann after she'd been locked in a primitive jail cell for two years. What must she have been like in her full pomp?
Ann died in about 1875, after a long period of bedridden illness. This episode has entered local folklore too, and Foster West had an account of it from his own grandfather. "He told that, on the night she died, Ann Melton screamed in terror that she could see black cats climbing the walls and hear meat frying in hell," Foster West writes. "Folklore has her screaming that the devil was coming to get her." Doc Watson's grandmother Betsy Triplett Watson - and there's that link to Ann's family again - also claimed she was present at the death bed. "Ann Melton was said to have told Betsy Watson that she could see the flames of hell at the foot of her bed," Ralph Rinzler says in his sleeve notes to Doc's 1964 debut album.
"I have heard older natives of Wilkes County imply that Ann Melton may have died as a result of the advanced stages of syphilis," Foster West adds. "This version of Ann's death makes sense."
In evidence of this, he points out that about nine years passed between Ann catching syphilis and her death, placing that term neatly within the one-to-ten year period the disease typically takes to reach its final stage. In Ann's day, Foster West says, about 15% of syphilis patients would die of the disease, which often attacked their brains and spinal columns in the final days. This could lead to visual and auditory hallucinations, plus invalidism, violent rages and convulsions. All these symptoms fit the folklore accounts we have of Ann's death, and that prompts Foster West to conclude it was syphilis that killed her. "Ann Melton paid more dearly for the murder of Laura Foster than Tom Dula did during the final ten minutes of his life," he says.
Ann's neck may well have been "too pretty to stretch", as she herself is said to have boasted, but if Foster West is right, then a fat lot of good all that beauty did her at the end. James Melton had a happier ending, marrying again after Ann's death and living on till at least 1910, so perhaps Ann never succeeded in giving him the pock after all.
Betsy Watson's account adds one final element to Ann's death scene, claiming that she made - or nearly made - a last minute confession to the murder. "[Betsy] said she was told: 'If I knew I would never get well again, there is something I would tell you about Tom's hanging'," Rinzler writes. If Ann ever did make that confession, though, no trace of it seems to survive outside the folklore.
The first version we have of Tom Dooley on disc was recorded by a duo called Grayson & Whitter in 1928. The blind Gilliam Grayson, who sings and plays fiddle on the record, was one of James Grayson's grand-nephews. Henry Whitter accompanies him on guitar.
Document Records includes a short biographical note about Grayson in its sleeve notes for the duo's compilation. This tells us that Gilliam was born in 1887 on the North Carolina/Tennessee border and that James, his great uncle, died in 1901. Grayson and Whitter recorded several other murder ballads too, including Banks of the Ohio and Omie Wise.
The Tom Dooley lyrics they use include many elements from the versions Sutton had already collected, including the familiar tune and chorus, the reference to hiding Laura's clothes and Tom's final session with the instrument - in this case a violin - he'd soon be forced to give up. But they also have the first documented use of several ideas we've not seen so far.
Most significantly, Grayson & Whitter give us our first glimpse of two verses which almost every interpreter of the song now uses:
"I dug her grave four feet long,
I dug it three feet deep,
I threw the cold clay over her,
And tramped it with my feet.
"This world and one more,
Then where do you reckon I'll be?
Hadn't been for Grayson,
I'd have been in Tennessee." (14)