This article could be read in The New York Herald on Saturday May 2nd 1868, the day after Tom Dooley had been executed in Statesville. The article was on page 7, along with other articles under the heading TELEGRAHPIC NEW FROM ALL PARTS OF THE WORLD. The article filled one and a half column, more than any other article under that heading. Unfortunately, the newspaper didn't tell was the author of the story. I have referred to this article for several of my articles, and here it is in full.
THE DEATH PENALTY.
Shocking Revelations of Crime and Depravity in North Carolina-Thomas Dula Hanged for the Murder of Laura Foster.
STATESVILLE, N. C., May 1,1888.
Today took place one of the most singular executions in the annals of crime and under the most extraordinary circumstances on record. A terrible crime was perpetrated and a trial that has not its equal even in the Burdell trial followed. The evidence was entirely circumstantial; but at nearly half-past two P. M. Thomas Dula suffered the death penalty, for the murder of Laura Foster, in the presence of nearly three thousand persons of his own race and color.
On the 28th of May, 1866, a foul, inhuman murder was committed in the western portion of Wilkes county, in this State, the victim being Laura Foster, a beautiful, but frail girl who was decoyed from her father's house in Caldwell county to a place in Wilkes known as the Bates Place, and here brutally murdered. The body was then removed about half a mile from the scene of the murder, and was placed in a grave already prepared for it. Late in August of the same year the body was discovered in a state of such decomposition that it was difficult to identify it. There was a deep gash in the left breast just above the heart; the wound had evidently been inflicted with a large knife or dagger, causing death instantaneously. It was also believed that the murdered woman was enceinte.
The disappearance of Laura excited no alarm for several days, as it was supposed she had gone off to get married or to visit some acquaintances in Watauga county, but at length the opinion became general that she had been foully dealt with, and a general search was instituted, without success at the time.
The community in the vicinity of this tragedy is divided into two entirely separate and distinct classes. The one occupying the fertile lands adjacent to the Yadkin river and its tributaries is educated and intelligent, and the other, living on the spurs and ridges of the mountains, is ignorant, poor and depraved. A state of morality unexampled in the history of any country exists among these people, and such a general system of free-loveism prevails that it is "a wise child that knows its father." This is the Bates Place, where the body was discovered by blood marks, and where some ten or twelve families are living in the manner described. It is a poor country, covered with thickets and a dense undergrowth, and an attempt had been made to conceal the blood by covering it with bushes.
Soon suspicion attached to Thomas Dula, a returned Confederate soldier, and one Pauline Foster, an illegitimate cousin of the deceased, and, like her, also frail, as the guilty parties. Pauline was then servant to Mrs. Melton, and between her and Dula a criminal intimacy was known to exist, as also was the case between the deceased and Dula, and hence suspicion more particularly to the culprit because Pauline had mysteriously disappeared for a time after the murder. Her character was the most abandoned of all, and under the influence of brandy she admitted, when asked, that "Tom Dula and me killed Laura;" but, apparently recollecting herself, would make no further revelations. A day subsequent to this Pauline, when criminated by Mrs. Melton, confirmed the above statement, and she was arrested and confined in the jail of Wilkes county. Here she made a confession recriminating Mrs. Melton, who, she alleged, was jealous of Laura, and she guided a party to the place where the body was discovered.
Meantime, Dula had fled the country, but was pursued and arrested in Tennessee, where he was found under an assumed name. He was then lodged in jail upon the evidence of Pauline, as was also Mrs. Melton as accessory before the fact. True bills were found against both by the Grand Jury of Wilkes, but upon affidavit of the prisoners the trial was removed to Iredell county.
The most intense interest was manifested in this trial, which lasted several days, by the people here and of the surrounding counties. Nearly all the people on the Bates Place were examined, and the most extraordinary revelations of depraved morality were developed. Wilson Foster, the father of the deceased, testified that when he arose on the morning of Laura's disappearance his horse was also gone; that he traced the animal to the Bates Place; that he knew the track by a peculiarity in one of the hoofs. He never saw his daughter alive again, but he saw and recognized her body; knew Dula had been tn the habit of visiting his daughter, and had seen them in bed together, and that they had two private conversations on the Monday and Wednesday respectively preceding her disappearance. Further testimony went to show that Laura and Dula were both seen on the morning of the murder travelling by different routes from the direction of her home to the Bates Place, with a view, as was supposed, to marry Dula; that Dula had borrowed a mattock, the implement with which the grave was dug, the day previous, and that he had been heard to say that he contracted a disease from the murdered girl for which he would be revenged upon her. It was also proven that Dula changed his name, and when being brought back from Tennessee attempted to escape.
This comprised the essential testimony, and the witnesses generally appeared impressed with the idea that Dula was guilty, though some among them appeared anxious to effect his acquittal through fear of some of his reckless associates in the mountains. Another fact attempted to be proved was that the disease contracted by Dula from the murdered woman was imparted by him to Mrs. Melton, who forced him to the commission of the crime on that account. An appeal was granted from the first trial, and a second one had, where the same witnesses were examined, the same testimony elicited, and the same state of excitement existed. Governor Vance and his assistant counsel for the defense made powerful forensic efforts which were considered models of ability, but such was the evidence that no other verdict than that of guilty could be rendered.
Mrs. Ann Melton has not yet been tried, though she was present at both of Dula's trials, and, like him, heard his sentence without exhibiting any visible emotion. She is apparently about twenty-five years of age, is the illegitimate daughter of one Carlotta Foster, and is a most beautiful woman. She is entirely uneducated, and though living to the midst of depravity and ignorance has the manners and bearing of an accomplished lady, and all the natural powers that should grace a high born beauty. This may in part account for the great influence she obtained over Dula, with whom she is illegitimately connected, and also for the fact that he persistently denies all knowledge of and participation to the murder.
Pauline Foster, the principal witness against both the accused, is remarkable for nothing but debasement, and may be dismissed with the statement that she has since married a white man and given birth to a negro child.
Thomas Dula, the condemned man, is about twenty-five years old, five feet eleven inches high, dark eyes, dark curly hair, and though not handsome, might be called good-looking. He fought gallantly in the Confederate service, where he established a reputation for bravery, but since the war closed has become reckless, demoralized and a desperado, of whom the people in his vicinity had a terror. There is everything to his expression to indicate the hardened assassin—a fierce glare of the eyes, a great degree of malignity, and a callousness that is revolting. He laughs and jokes when spoken to of his approaching end, and exhibits a shocking indifference as to hereafter, refusing persistently all spiritual comfort from attending clergymen. Yesterday evening his sister and her husband, who came with a wagon to take his body, sent him a note from his aged mother, entreating him to confess the truth for her sake, so that she would be satisfied of his guilt or innocence. But further than asking that they be allowed to see him, which request was refused, he said nothing. He still remained defiant, nor showed any signs of repentance, and seemed to have some hope of escape, though he did not say so. A confession had been looked for that might either exonerate or implicate still further his alleged accessory, Mrs. Melton, but this he refused to give, and left the impression that she is guilty and shall not be "blowed" upon by him, though the contrary is generally believed. He partook of a hearty supper, laughed and spoke lightly, but ere the jailer left him it was discovered that his shackles were loose, a link in the chain being filed through with a piece of window glass, which was also found concealed in his bed. While this was being adjusted he glared savagely, and in a jocose manner said it had been so for a month past. Before being finally left for the night by the jailer, he requested that Mr. Allison, one of his counsel, be sent for, and while charging him with the strictest injunction as to secrecy while he was living, handed him the following, written in a rude manner with a pencil : —
THOMAS C. DULA.
Besides this he had also written a lengthy statement of his life, but without any reference to the murder, which was intended as an exhortation to young men to live virtuously and not be led astray in paths of vice, as he was. There was nothing remarkable to this document, though it covered fifteen pages.
Left alone in his cell on the last night of his earthly existence, the savage fortitude that had characterized his trials, sentences and imprisonment began to give way and he nervously paced the floor as far as the chain would reach. This was only interrupted through the whole night by an attempt to court "Nature's sweet restorer," but in vain, if a fitful half hour to be excepted, and the condemned, after the weary minutes of that night, saw the last sun he should ever behold shed its glorious light through the bars of the window. After breakfast he sent for his spiritual advisers, and seemed for the first time to make an attempt to pray; but still to them and all others denying his guilt or any knowledge of the murder. His theory seemed to be that he would show the people that be could die "game?' with an awful crime resting upon his soul.
Early in the morning he was baptized by the Methodist clergyman, and from that time engaged fervently in prayer; but when left alone was heard speaking incoherently, words occasionally dropping from his lips in relation to the murder, but nothing that was intelligible, And thus wore away the last hours of the condemned.
So long had the execution been pending, and as the murder wan committed in one county and the trial had taken place in another, it became generally known throughout the entire western section of the State, By eleven o'clock A. M., dense crowds of people thronged the streets the great number of females being somewhat extraordinary. These, however, came merely because it was a public day, and afforded them an opportunity to make purchases, but a certain class indicated by a bronzed complexion, rustic attire, a quid of tobacco in their mouth, and a certain mountaineer look, were evidently attracted by that morbid curiosity to see an execution so general among the ignorant classes of society. The preliminaries were all arranged by Sheriff Wasson. A gallows constructed of native pine, erected near the railroad depot, in an old field—as there was no public place of execution in Statesville—was the place selected for the final tragedy. A guard had been summoned to keep back the crowd and enforce the terrible death penalty, and for the better preservation of order the barrooms were closed. The curious numbers of the people who had never seen a gallows before visited this structure, eyeing it with strange feelings, and as it was merely two uprights, with a space between them of about ten feet and a cross piece on top, under which the cart with the condemned had to pass, many singular observations were made.
Previous to his being taken from the jail to the gallows many of the condemned man's former companions in the army from the mountain region in which he lived appeared upon the streets, and some singular reminiscences of his former life were related. Among them that it was generally believed he murdered the husband of a woman at Wilmington, in this State, during the war, with whom he had then criminal intercourse. The opinion of all was that he was a terrible, desperate character, and from their knowledge of his former career an anxiety and singular curiosity was excited among them to see how he died. Few there were who pitied him, dying, as they believed him guilty without a confession, and none sympathized with him.
At eighteen minutes before one o'clock, the guard being formed to a hollow square, the condemned was led forth attended by the Sheriff and some assistants, and with a smile upon his features, took his seat in the cart, in which was also his coffin, beside his sister and his brother-in-law. The procession moved slowly through the streets, accompanied by large/crowds, male and female, whites and blacks, many being in carriages and many on horseback and on foot. While on the way to to the gallows he looked cheerful and spoke continually to his sister of the Scriptures, assuring her he had repented and that his peace was made with God. At the gallows throngs of people were already assembled, the number of females being almost equal to that of the males. The few trees in the field were crowded with men and boys, and under every imaginable shade that was present were huddled together every imaginable species of humanity.
Soon the procession came in sight, accompanied by horsemen dashing over the field, dispersing the crowd, and at eight minutes past one the cart was halted under the gallows. The condemned man appeared unaffected by the sight, but talked incessantly to his sister and others of religion, trying, if possible to assure them that he had repented.
Upon being informed by the Sheriff that he could address the assembled crowd he arose, and turning his dark eyes upon them spoke in a loud voice which rang back from the woods as if a demon there was mocking the tone and spirit of a wretch who well knew he was going into eternity with an unconfessed murder upon his mind and falsehoods on his lips. He spoke of his early childhood, his parents and subsequent career in the army, referred to the dissolution of the Union, made blasphemous allusions to the Deity, invoking that name to prove assertions that he knew were, some of them at least, false. The politics of the country he discussed freely, and upon being informed, in reply to a question of his, that Holden was elected Governor of North Carolina, he branded that person as a secessionist and a man that could not be trusted. His only reference to the murder was a half explanation of the country and the different roads and paths leading to thee scene of the murder, in which his only anxiety was to show that some two or three of the witnesses swore falsely against him. He mentioned particularly one James Isabel, who, he alleged, had perjured himself in the case, and concluded by saying that had there been no lies sworn against him be would not have been there. This concluded his speech, which had lasted nearly one hour, and after an apparently affectionate farewell of his sister, who was then removed from the cart, the rope, which all the time had been round his neck, was thrown over the gallows and fastened. Standing there on the brink of eternity this man, calm in the presence of that vast crowd, refused to admit publicly the murder of which they all believed him to be guilty.
At twenty-four minutes after two P. M. the cart was moved, and the body of Thomas Dula was suspended between heaven and earth. 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 thirteen minutes life was declared extinct by Dr. Campbell, attending surgeon. Alter hanging for twenty minutes the body was cut down and given over 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. As yet the written confession above given has not become known, and the
greatest anxiety is evinced among the people to ascertain whether he has left
any confession that he might be too proud to make known in public. Hid
reticence, however, is accounted for by the wish that he would not implicate his
accomplice, Mrs. Anne Melton, now to be tried.