A somewhat different theory
Some years ago, when I visited Wilkes
County, I got the impression that almost everybody inm the area had their own theory of what
happened. Theories that they weren't willing to drop, no matter har hard you
tried to convince them, that their specific theory was contradicted by facts.
One of the most persistent allegations were that Ann Melton remarried after
Tom's execution, to either Bob Grayson, Bob Cummings or soneone else, and even
if the census records shows that she stayed married to James Melton until her
death, they let themselves be convinced :-). Like this one most of these
theories were based on one or more of the legends, but I heard one version of
the events that I haven't heard, neither before nor later, and I haven't been able to find it
on the Internet either. Perhaps it was invented by the man who told it to me,
but like other legends, it may also contain elements of truth. When I choose to
bring it here, it is because it somehow can be said to provide yet another
reason for Ann to confess, if she actually did confess.
The theory is based on the assumption that the murder was committed by Ann
Melton and that Pauline Foster knew about it, but that Tom was not involved at
all. I believe the theory is right in that the two girls knew something about
the murder. Their statements to each other at Mrs. James Scotts place makes this
and whether Pauline Foster's testimony or Mrs.. Scott's testimony tells the
truth doesn't actually matter much. According to both testimonies, Mrs. Scott's
and Pauline's own, Pauline
indirectly admitted that she had knowledge of the murder: "You stick just as deep in it as I" can
only be interpreted as Pauline believes that both she and Ann were involved in
the murder to some extent. And according to Mrs. Scott, Pauline
first admitted having committed the murder, and then added that Ann was just as guilty as
she was. On the other hand, it was Ann who returned to Mrs. Scott and admitted she
has killed her best friend. So it definately seems as if the girls were involved in one way or
another. Or at the very least believed that the other one was involved.
Now to the theory.
According to this, Ann Melton was truly in love, but not just with Tom Dooley. She
was also in love with Laura Foster. While living in an area with fairly liberal views
on sex between men and women despite marital status, a sexual
relationship between two women was not acceptable in the community. If Ann and Laura therefore would live together
as lovers, they would have to run away together to a place
where they were unknown, and where they could live together under the pretense
of being sisters or something like that, and where no one would suspect them to be more than that. In any
case, the man told me, they had decided to run away together, and would meet at Bates Place.
The evening before Ann wanted "say a loving farewell" to Tom Dooley. Ann asked him to
some liquor so they could enjoy
themselves outdoors while Pauline Foster entertained Ann's husband at the Melton
place. Unfortunately, Anns mother decided to join the festivites between Ann and
Tom, so it was so-so with
the physical part of the farewell. Ann was therefore quite annoyed when she returned to the house early
that Friday morning. She went to bed, but got up again soon after, and sneaked
out of the house and went to Bates Place. Pauline Foster had noticed
her leaving and
for some reason decided to follow her, staying unseeen.
At Bates Place Ann met with Laura. Ann was still annoyed that she had not been able
to say a proper goodbye to Tom, the way she wanted, so she wanted to postpone the
departure until the next morning. Laura, however,
had brought all her possessions with her on the horse, and was not inclined to
return to her home, even if just for one more night. The disagreement evolved into an altercation and
later into a fight. At this time one of the girls pulled
out a knife. My informant didn't know, which of the girls actually brought the
knife, but thought it was Laura, as she was ready to leave home for good. It
came to blows between them and suddenly Laura was stabbed
in the chest with the knife, probably by accident, but again my source for this
story didn't know for sure. When Ann saw what she had done, she went into a
panic, and would run for help. However, she was stopped by Pauline, who had witnessed
everything. Pauline, who believed that she now had something she could use
against Ann at a later time, persuaded her not to do it, because she wouldn't be believed
if and when she explained
that it was an accident. Pauline suggested that they had to hide the corpse, and then return
later to bury it.
painting to the left
depicts Tom and Laura at a dance and a jaloux looking
Ann in the background as Edith
imagined it. The original picture
is in the Tom
Dooley Art Museum
Academy and Village
North Carolina and is
with permission from
Sometime Friday morning Pauline "borrowed" the mattock from Tom Dooley, who she knew was
sick in bed (after a hard night of drinking) and probably wouldn't look for it anymore that day. In
the evening there was the "celebration" at Melton's home and Pauline used the
opportunity to get 17 year old Thomas Foster to drink a lot. When the rest of
the party had gone, she
went to bed with him and when he was asleep she got up and Ann too, and they went to the
place where Laura's body was hidden. They used the horse to transport Laura's
away from the scene of the crime, and across the ridge in direction of Dula's home.
Not in order to cast suspicion on Tom, but simply to remove it from the vicinity
of the Melton home. At the ridge they dug a hole as best they could, using the
mattock and their hands and put Laura's corpse
in it. Here they covered it, and while Ann went back to her home, Pauline led the horse
back to Bates Street, where she tied it to a tree before she went home too.
The two girls was getting more and more on each others nerves, driving Pauline
to drink more than usual, and making Ann more and more angry about even small
things. The bickering finally lead to
the quarrel at Mrs.
Scotts place. Eventually, Pauline got so tired
of the bickering and quarrelling that she chose to return to her home in Watauga County.
the suspicion began to focus on Ann (not
Pauline as she told in court), Ann went to Watauga with Sam Foster and persuaded Pauline to follow
back to Elkville. When Pauline herself became a suspect and was arrested,
she hastened to blame everything on Ann Melton - and Tom Dooley, who really
knew nothing about what had occurred. She had no problem with directing the
search team to the grave, which she herself had helped to dig.
The rest of the story we know, except that according to this version, it was Ann
who - perhaps with the help of her female charm - persuaded James Horton (in
this story he is back in
the picture) to get Tom a good lawyer, because she actually pitied him -
though not enough to confess.
That was the story that I was told, only it was longer but the story of Toms trial
and execution, Anns later confession and such, was no different from other stories. It was Ann who killed Laura (unintentional), and it
was Pauline who helped her hide the body. This story completely absolves Tom,
but is there any lind of truth in it? I have previously pointed out, that Ann Melton could
hardly be the murderer,
due to lack of opportunity and
in the same article, I reject
the possibility that Pauline was the killer. In return, I admit to a conspiracy between the two girls
being possible, but is there anything else to be said for or against
this interpretation of events?
The missing opportunity I mentioned above. But this lack of
opportunity for Ann as well as Pauline is based on the fact that Pauline Foster
told the truth when she testified
that Ann came home an hour before dawn and had stayed in bed all day while she was
in the field planting corn. Since she only mentioned in court that she would have
seen Tom Dooley, had he come from Bates Place, we must assume that James
Melton worked somewhere, where he could not see whether Tom came from Bates
Place or not. There is therefore no one that
can say with any certainty whether Ann and Pauline left the Melton place on Friday morning.
If they did, they actually could have had an opportunity to meet with and kill Laura. We know however that
they wouldn't have had time to bury the corpse at that time, for when Wilson Foster,
Tom Dooley and George Washington Anderson visited the house around breakfast,
they all found Ann in her bed, and Anderson confirmed that her shoes were wet.
Could Ann and Pauline have moved the corpse on Friday night? They probably would
at least have had the opportunity. James Melton was not interested in how Ann
spent her time, and Pauline Foster had no problems, getting a young Thomas Foster so
drunk that he would fall asleep, at least when she had "slept with him" for a
Unfortunately for the theory, according to doctors the body at this point would
be so affected
by rigor mortis that it would be almost impossible to move, so it does not sound likely.
They may of course have left the body for several days until rigor mortis had
disappeared again. Throughout the case there was no one that asked questions of what the
two girls did on the Monday after the murder or later. They would not have had the
horse to help as it had returned to Wilson Foster, but perhaps they asked Thomas
Foster to help them. Ann was
his sister, and he was apparently sweet on Pauline, and he had, according to his
own testimony access to a horse. This could also explain why he was so
eager to suggest that Tom had been going to Bates Place on that Friday.
But why then would Tom confess the murder (if in fact he actually did)? To protect
Ann Melton comes back as the only reason I can see. Perhaps Ann
persuaded him to help her, or perhaps
someone else persuade him to help her. Unfortunately we do not know if
anybody visited Tom while he was in prison in Statesville and if so who it was. If Tom wrote the
confession, he did it very late (ie after it was discovered that he had cut
through his chains). In that case he knew that there was no way out for himself
and he may have wanted to save his lover Ann. This, however doesn't explain neither the wording of the note, or
the strict requirement of secrecy until he was dead.
Is the suggestion of a relationship between Laura Foster and Ann Melton possible?
Definitely. The two knew each other and were perhaps distantly related. They were
roughly the same age and both were known to be sexually very active.
Ann had apparently, according to witnesses, sexual relations with Pauline
and Tom together, so maybe she had it with Pauline, Laura or other girls without
Tom being present. This could also explain why she was so angry with Laura because of
the syphilis, if she thought Laura was the source of the disease. And if Laura had an affair with
another woman, and a married woman at that, this would probably be a good reason
for her to run
away from home.
So yes, the theory is certainly possible, but I must admit I don't find it likely. Had there been a general rumor that Ann was
sleeping with women as well as men, it
would have been mentioned during the trial. And certainly it would probably be
mentioned in several legends, unless the storytellers simply found it so embarrassing that
they omitted it. So no, I do not think that Ann and Laura were lovers and
planned to run away together and I still do not believe that Ann killed Laura
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