Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Minnie McBride Murder

Thanks to Brenda Overholt, my distant cousin a few different ways, for some additional information about Minnie.

When I posted "A Rose for Minnie" back in 2010, I didn't know many of the details about Minnie McBride's murder. From what my daddy told me as a kid—"Old woman kilt her with an ax"—I knew she was young and had been murdered. 

Minnie's stone in Bethel Church graveyard.

Later I found out that her murderer was Lucy Mitchell, a 40-something woman who lived and  worked in the household where Minnie was killed. But recently, I've found out much more about Minnie and her sad life. A search on revealed that Minnie, born in 1891, was the daughter of William Davis McBride (1871-1929) and Jennie Bell Brooks (1872-1900). She had two younger brothers and a sister—Chapman (1893-1908), William Lester (1895-1985), and Grace Bell (1898-1984).

From Brenda Overholt, I learned that after Minnie's mother's death (around 1900), her father placed his two boys, Chapman and Lester, with his half-brother, John Henry Brown. John Henry and his wife Lauretta Wright had several children, but they took in the boys nonetheless. He placed Minnie and Gracie with his half-sister  Sallie Fannie Brown Crum and her husband, Joseph Robert Wesley Crum. Then William Davis McBride took off for West Virginia, where he had some relatives, and started a new life. He likely never saw Minnie again.

I recently learned I have a connection to Minnie: My grandmother, Sallie Lee Brown Smith (who was married to Joseph Robert Smith), and Minnie's half-aunt, Sallie Fannie Brown Crum, were second cousins. Both were the great-granddaughters of Daniel Brown and Martha Joice Snider. 

The Crums, who had no children of their own, were well off financially. Mr. Crum was a county official and was also a farmer. The Crum's house was somewhere behind the Old Salem School. According to the 1900 Union Hall census, Minnie was 9 and a member of the Crum household. Did Minnie attend Salem School? It would likely have been just a short walk for her.

Old Salem School in 2015.
The woods behind the school were likely where the Crum farm was.
My grandparents' farm was about a mile as the crow flies from Salem School. Both my grandparents and the Crums attended Bethel Church.

Minnie's little brother, Chapman McBride, died in March 1908. He'd been ill, possibly with measles earlier in the year, but was made to work out in the cold. But Minnie was getting her life together. A pretty girl, she was engaged to marry her sweetheart Walter Irving Johnson. No doubt she dreamed of living happily ever after.

A newspaper article after Lucy was convicted gives a few details about Minnie's murder.

A month earlier, Lucy Mitchell had been interviewed by an unnamed reporter while she awaited trial. The clippings are a little hard to read, so you might have to click to enlarge them:

So Lucy Mitchell had a sad life too. The daughter of Iyanation Franklin Mitchell of Union Hall, Lucy had worked hard all her life and had never known love. And she was unattractive. One story says she had a hare-lip and big feet. At any rate, Lucy was likely envious of the attractive Minnie who was going to get married to Walter Irving Johnson the next day.

Here's the story about "one of the most horrible murders" in Franklin county that was attached to the previous interview, with a mention that Lucy had a grudge against Minnie's fiancé:

So—Lucy, who had worked as the Crums' servant for seven years, struck Minnie with a piece of wood  in the kitchen, a separate building from the main house. Minnie made it outside, but Lucy finished her off with the ax. Lucy had waited for two weeks and finally had an opportunity when Mrs. Crum and Grace were at Bethel Church and Mr. Crum was in Rocky Mount.

In a 10-page collection of memories written by Esterlene Smith Brooks Kesler, a close friend of Grace McBride Perdue, Mrs. Kesler wrote that Grace told her that Lucy had been sleeping with an ax for a couple weeks because she'd said she was afraid someone would come in the night. But Grace suspected that Lucy wanted to kill her as well as Minnie.

"Grace told that Minnie was first struck with a pine knot, and a trail of blood led from the kitchen table to the yard" where Lucy finished her off with the ax. "Investigators found the pine knot, but not the ax. In 1998, an ax was found in a sack when the kitchen was torn down. The blade was rusty and the handle was only about 18" long." Also in the sack was Minnie's hairclip with several teeth broken out. While the ax and clip were given to Grace's son, no one knows where they are today.

It didn't take long for the news to spread throughout the area, and a crowd began to form with the purpose of hanging Lucy.  Four or five men (including Brenda Overholt's great grandfather Isaiah "Zar" Perdue) came to walk Lucy to the train in Union Hall to take her to the poorhouse. "The men whipped Lucy's legs to make her trot and move fast." I can't help but wonder if my grandfather was one of the men who came to the Crum house. I guess I'll never know.

Soon, Lucy was taken to the jail in Roanoke for her own safety. Perhaps "the poorhouse" she might have been taken to was the Joseph Rives home in Redwood that served as the poorhouse in the 1800s.

Front of the Poorhouse.
Pictures from Brenda Overholt
Back of Poorhouse
Anyhow, after being kept in the Roanoke jail for a few months, she was brought back to Rocky Mount for trial where he was found guilty, sentenced to eighteen years, and sent to prison in Richmond. There she died of tuberculosis in 1913. During her incarceration, she worked in the prison shoeshop as a "paster." It was probably easier work than what she'd been used to.

There are no happy endings to Minnie's and Lucy's story. 

But maybe there's a happy ending for one of Minnie's nephews. Minnie's brother Lester stayed with the Browns for years but was in Richmond in 1917 where he registered for the WWI draft. He was a clerk in Richmond in 1920 but at some point reconnected with his father and moved to West Virginia, where he married in 1923 and had several children. One of Lester's sons is John Andrew McBride, who had a long successful career as a military pilot and astronaut.

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Blogger Aunt Margaret said...

Thanks Becky, Sad story, but good storytelling. I never heard of this before. My mother was about 3 years old and being raised by her grandparents in Union Hall at that time. Thanks again Margaret

12:07 AM  
Blogger Sandra Jones said...

My maternal grandfather is from Union Hall. His name was Raymond McBride and he married my Granny from that area, Mae Turner.
Thank you for posting this story.
I'm working on my family tree and there are a lot of McBrides, Perdues, and Turner's.

11:37 AM  

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