The painting to the left depicts Ann Melton, as Edith F. Carter imagines her. The original picture is in the Tom Dooley Art Museum at Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson, North Carolina and is reproduced here with permission from the artist.
Ann Melton was "The other woman" as she is called, for instance on a signpost at
"The Lump" lookout at milepost 264.4 on Blue Ridge Parkway in Watauga County:
"But the song did not reveal the other woman who may have done the deed", as the
text on the sign claims. As she was still alive during the trial and afterwards,
we know a bit more about her than about Laura, but still there are many
unanswered questions about Ann.
The first mystery about Ann Melton, is what her name actually was. At the time of the trial, she was married to James Melton, and she was known as Ann Melton. In the 1870 census she is recorded as Ann P. Melton. I will get back to the 'P' a little later on. In the 1850 census Ann was living at home with her mother and her siblings. At this time, the family is called Triplett. In 1859 when she married James Melton, she called herself Ann Foster, while her mother and siblings were still called Triplett in the 1860 census. In 1861 her older brother Pinkney joined the confederate army under the name Pinkney Foster. In the 1870 census her mother and the children still living at home, were recorded as Fosters too, but in the 1880 census the last name of the mother and family were once again Triplett. A rumor tells that Ann's mother married a Foster and later murdered him, but there is nothing to support this in any official records. Another explanation could be that the father of Pinkney and Ann was a Foster, and that they used his name, and maybe later he married their mother and she took her own name back when he died. All kinds of explanations are possible, but the fact is, that Ann started out as a Triplett, became a Foster and ended her life as a Melton. As for her first name, she wasn't christened Ann. She is referred to as Ann, Anne and Anny in different sources. In some of the census records she is named Angeline so I guess that that was what she was actually christened. In the arrest warrant issued after Laura's disappearance, she is called Ann Pauline Melton, so I have to believe, that her middle name was Pauline, hence the initial "P" in the census records.
As Ann was married to James Melton in June 1859 almost three years before Tom Dooley joined the Army, the marriage couldn't have come as a big a surprise to him when he returned from the war. According to Ann's mother's testimony Ann was already married to James when Lotty caught her in bed with Tom. According to legends, James Melton was a wealthy older man, and as it is true that he was older than both Tom and Ann, he can hardly be called "an older man". James was born in 1838, so he was only about five years older than Ann, and was only 20 or 21 when they got married, and he was hardly wealthy. He had no draft animals, but had to use his milk cows for plowing.
On February 19th 1861 Ann gave birth to a daughter, Martha Jane (some sources have Jane or Jean Martha and even the census records don't agree). This daughter was not mentioned even once during the trial, and even Pauline Foster, who explained who slept in which bed in the Melton home, doesn't mention her, so it's possible that she - at least for a time - lived with her grandmother or other relatives, instead of staying with her parents. It is possible that she had to "move out" to make room for Pauline when she moved in as a servant of the family, but there may also be other reasons. According to the census records of the area during this period, it was if not common then at least regularly occurring that small children lived with relatives other than their parents, perhaps because their parents could not support them in the hard times after the Civil War.
Today 15 may seem a young age to get married and 17 a young age to have children,
but it was quite normal at the time. Martha Jane herself had her first child,
when she was 17. The census records tells of many women who had
children even yonger than 17. In 1871 Ann had her second known child, Ida V. She may
have had more children between 1861 and 1871, but if so, they are not registered.
One of the more malicious versions of the legend tells that Ann had several
white and mulatto children, but that she got rid of them by throwing the
newborns into the pigsty. Even if the purpose of this story is to incriminate
Ann, it can be true.
At the time of the murder Ann lived in a small one-room cabin with her husband
James and Pauline Foster. The cabin had only three beds which may explain why the
5-year-old daughter did not stay at home. Ann, Pauline and James each had one bed,
but Pauline explained that it often happened that Tom Dooley and Ann Melton
shared a bed while she and James each slept in one of the other two. In fact, some
said, that Ann was more married to Tom than to James Melton. Later a very
persistent rumor was told, that Tom, not James Melton was the father of her oldest
daughter *. In the spring of 1866 she went to see Dr. Carter and was diagnosed
with syphilis. She thought that she had been infected by Tom Dooley, who in turn,
had been infected by Laura Foster. Pauline Foster told at one point during the
proceedings that Ann and James did not sleep with each other, but it may not be
entirely correct, because when Ann was diagnosed with syphilis, she told Pauline
that she would fool James to believe that she had got the disease from him, so
some sexual relations between the spouses must have taken place. If not, such a
plan would have been somewhat unrealistic and naive.
When Ann was arrested after the discovery of Lauras's body, she was imprisoned in the Wilkes County Jail, in a cell next to Tom Dooley's. Here she sat about a month before they were both transferred to the Iredell County Jail in Statesville. Unlike Tom, who never returned to Wilkes County, Ann was only in prison in Statesville until April 25, 1868, after which she was taken back to Wilkesboro where she was waiting for her own case to go to trial in October 1868. Why she was taken back to the Wilkesboro when the date of Tom Dooley's execution was determined, we do not know today, bit it was probably to save some money for the county. The Statesville jailor were paid by Wilkes County to keep Ann in jail and an extra fee a so-called kedy-fee) whenever she was taken from her cell to the courthouse and back again. Such fees did not apply if she was in the county's own jail, as the county had to pay the jailor anyhow.
died in 1873 (perhaps as late as 1874, according to her newly raised tombstone).
Exactly when and how is not known. Legend has it that she died after an accident
with an ox cart that rolled over her, and there are some who even today,
will show you the exact spot on Gladys Fork Road where the accident happened. John Foster West and others points
out, however, the possibility that she died of neurosyphilis in the terminal stage, as the symptoms
mentioned in connection with her death, are consistent with such an
explanation. We may unfortunately never know for sure.