My own theory of the case: Conclusion
Several of the sources of this case comes to the conclusion, that Tom was actually the guilty party and that it's wrong when the folklore makes him the hero of the story. John Foster West comes to the same conclusion in "The Ballad of Tom Dula".
In my opinion though, Tom was a young man who took advantage of his good looks and charms, to conquer women, and women ready for conquering were apparently abundant in the local area. Tom may have seen these wome as what we in Denmark are calling "et tagselvbord", actually a buffet, where you help yourself to whatever and as much as you like. Tom helped himself to women, picked the ones he wanted and "threw them away" when he got bored, and as he got bored rather easily, his relationships seldom lasted long. He liked a drink (or two or three) which apparently was quite common, in the area and which may have helped him in his hunt for women. Some of his popularity with other sex, may also have come from his musical abilities.
Let me finish by summarizing my theory. A definitive answer to who
killed Laura Foster will probably never be given. Maybe the prosecution and the
first rumors were right and it was Tom Dooley, with or without the help of Ann Melton.
Maybe the later rumors were correct and it was Ann who was the culprit (perhaps
along with Pauline) and Tom just helped to get the body out of the way.
Maybe Laura was killed by a person we do not even know today and which was never
All the main characters were known not to hold back when it came to alcohol consumption, and the statements they made in drunken states, helped seal Tom's fate. His own fear of being arrested and his "escape" to Tennessee, helped to corroborate the suspicion that already existed against him, prompted by rumors in the local population. When he was arrested and imprisoned, the few who were on his side, were unable to help him. Therefore the case ended as it did, and I think that Tom finally came to terms with his fate, when he realized that nothing could save him. Yet he claimed at the gallows that he had been innocently accused and convicted and that witnesses had lied to put him on the gallows. I think he was right.
Tom was no hero - but he was no murderer either.
Rest in peace, Thomas C. Dula