The months that followed

After the disappearance of Laura, the search for her continued. Even if it was not mentioned during trial, we must assume thart the search was most intensive in the days right after the disappearance, and then slowly was reduced to Sundays and "after hours". Everybody had to take care of their farms and plantations, so they didn't have time for a month long all-day search. Some must have continued searching though. And while the search still took place, other events with bearing to the case took place.

That the search became intensive from time to time, during the next month was confirmed at the trial. On Sunday the 24th of June, J. D. Winkler testified, "the neighbors" (presumably residents from the Reedy Branch settlement and Elkville) were out in force. They formed a seach line, like a line of battle, thats everyone walking in line with a few feet between each other. The search was conducted in the vicinity of the Dula house but with no succes. Later the same day the search was moved to Bates Place. Here a rope was discovered, tied around a dogwood tree. Winkler himself saw the rope soon after it had been discovered. Wilson Foster testified that he had identified the rope as the one, his horse had been tied with. He was sure of this, as he had made the rope himself. Winkler testified that the branches of the tree had been nipped off. Around 100 yards from the dogwood where the rope was found the search team found another place with traces of a horse being tied up. Winkler also mentioned a discolored spot about the size of a hand. The earth here had an offensive smell, not like the earth around it. The ground had been pulled over with twigs and branches of the nearby bushes had been broken and were hanging down. Winkler later testified, that he thought the discolored spot was blood and that someone had tried to conceal it. The spot was about 15 to 20 feet from the tree where the horse had been tied the second time. Winklers testimony was confirmed by James Isbell who also was part of this search one month after Laura's disappearance, even if he wasn't a direct neighbor. Isbell was present when the rope was found and also when the second place was found. He expanded Winklers explanation by telling that "the horse had dunged twice", indicating that it had been tied at this place for some time.

We must assume, that the later place found, must have been where the horse was tied first, and that it was later moved to the place, where rope was found. Why the horse was moved we don't know, but we can guess, that Laura might have gotten to Bate's Place and have hidden herself and the horse. After she was murdered, the killer must have moved the horse to the second location, maybe in order to find a better hiding place.

After Lauras disappearance, Tom had visited Ann every day or night, acording to Pauline Fosters testimony. On the Sunday when the rope was found, he came in the evening. James Melton was at home, and he told Tom, that some Hendricks' were telling stories of Tom killing Laura Foster. Unfortunately it is not specified which Henricks' it was, and as there was a lot of them in the area. Tom's cousin, Ann E. Dula (maybe his sister, I'll get to that in a later article) was married to a Hendricks.

The next day (June 25th) Tom looked up the Hendricks' in order to give them a beating. He returned to the Melton place, and was rather depressed. Ann Melton had made some preparations by making a hole in a wall with a knife, and pulled a string through the hole, tying it to a nail outside, and later to her wrist inside, so Tom could signal her. Tom decided to go to his own place, but changed his mind and stayed in a bed at the Melton home. Pauline testified that she went to bed with Ann, and that she felt Ann crying. After some time Tom joined the two of them, and both he and Ann were crying. A little later Ann went into the yard. Tom and Pauline followed her. Tom told Ann and Pauline, that someone was telling lies about him. He denied having anything to do with the murder, but he was afraid and would leave the area. He would return at Christmas time to get Ann and his mother. Tom said goodbye to Ann and Pauline and left. Ann returned to cabin crying, and asked by her husband,  she told him that Tom Dooley was leaving. Tom left Elkville sometime during the night or early next morning.

Warrant for arrest

On Monday 28th of June, the Justice of Peace from Elkville, Pickins Carter, send a message to the sheriff of Wilkes County. In this message he ordered him to arrest Thomas Dula, Ann Pauline Melton, Ann Pauline Dula and Granville Dula all of Wilkes County. As reason for the arrest warrant the justice of peace stated that upon the oath of Wilson Foster, "his daughter Laura Foster had mysteriously disappeared from her home, under cicumstances as to induce him to believe as that she had been murdered or otherwise fouly dealt with by certain persons under suspicion." As Wilson immediately after Laura's disappearance had thought that she simply ran away, something (or someone) must have made him change his mind, but we don't know what that might have been. The persons under suspicion was of course the four people that Carter wanted arrested. It is reasonable to assume, that the search was started shortly after this. On the 29th of June a hearing was held at Cowle's Store in Elkville. Justice of Peace, P. Carter found defendants Ann Melton, Granville Dula and Ann Dula not guilty of the charges alleged against them. As Tom had left he was not arrested, and was now a fugitive.

Tom has been arrested

The painting to the left depicts Tom Dooley on colonel Graysons horse stopping in Elkville on his way to jail in Wilkesboro as Edith F. Carter imagines it. 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.

Tom Dooley must have walked from Elkville through Watauga County and into Tennesee. He arrived at colonel James Grayson's farm near the town of Trade, Tennessee, around July 4th and stayed for four or five days. He left the farm after having earned enough money to by himself a new pair of boots. Tom Dooley was arrested near Doe Creek in Tennessee the next day by two deputies from Wilkes County, John Adkins and Ben Feguson assisted by colonel Grayson. He was taken back to Wilkes County tied to James Grayson's horse, and on Wednesday, July 11th, he was incarcerated in what is now known as "The Old Wilkes Jail".

Around the 16th of July, Pauline Foster and her brother returned to Watauga County. She had told Ann about this, a conversation overheard by one Taylor Land, and Ann was not happy about it, as she didn't wan't to do the milking herself, so she followed Pauline some of the way, to try to talk her into staying but to no avail. During her stay in Watauga County Pauline made a trip to Tennessee, but we don't know why. About two weeks later Ann and one Sam Foster went to Watauga County, and by telling Pauline, that the authorities had plans of arresting her, they talked her into returning. This is part of Paulines own testimony but it sounds strange, that a threat of being arrested was what caused Pauline to return to the county, that actually wanted to arrest her. In some later versions of the story, Sam Foster is said to be Pauline's brother, but it sounds strange, that she mentioned that she had returned with her brother to Watauga County and then did not mention, that the Sam Foster, who came to talk her into returning was the same (or another brother). Personally I doubt if Sam Foster was Pauline's brother but I admit that I don't know who else he may be. If Pauline was married Foster, he may have been her future husband, as a contemporary newspaper article states that she was married sometime between the murder and Tom's execution.

Around August 1st, while Tom was already in jail, Ann told Pauline, that the search for Laura had almost ceased and she asked Pauline to accompany her to the grave of Laura Foster to see if it had been disturbed. If so she would dig up the body and bury it elsewhere. Pauline and Ann walked by Lotty Fosters house and across the Reedy Branch and up on a ridge to a certain log. Here Ann covered the ground with leaves that she picked up and carried in her apron. Pauline refused to go any further so Ann continued alone. The grave must have been all right, because she returned without the body. (Unfortunately the only source for these events are the testimony of Pauline Foster, and as we shall see next, she might have had good reason to lie about it.)

Quarrels and fights

An evening about a week later, problably after some drinking, Ben Ferguson, one of the the deputies who had arrested Tom Dooley  accused Pauline of the murder, and she admitted that she and Tom Dula had killed Laura, and that she had ran away to Tennessee. Later she stated in court, that she had said so as a joke. Apparently  the other deputy that helped catching Tom, John "Jack" Adkins, was also present at this occasion. She probably told the same thing to James Melton because in her statement in court she claimed that he had told her not to joke about things like that. Someone must have taken her confession seriously though, because in court she also denied having admitted to James Melton, that she killed Laura Foster. After her statement to the deputies, Pauline had a quarrel with Ann Melton. Ann accused her of being a drunken fool, that had said enough to bring both herself and Tom Dula to the gallows. Pauline again excused herself by saying it was a joke.

The next day Ann and Pauline quarrelled once again, this time because Ann wanted Pauline to milk the cows as well as make breakfast. After the quarrel  Pauline Foster visited the neighbor, Mrs. James Scott (Celia). It's not obvious how well the two of them knew each other, but they were acquainted somehow and had been for a while. Pauline stated that earlier Mrs. Scott had sent a negro boy with a message from Laura Foster to Pauline. Soon after Ann came to the Scott's residence with a club. She told Pauline to go home, and pushed her out of the door. Outside Ann tried to choke her and the two of them got into a fight. According to Paulines testimony Ann then said to her: "You have said enough to Jack Atkins and Ben Ferguson to hang you and Tom Dooley if it was ever looked into." To this Pauline replied "You know you are as deep into it as I am". Then she admitted the things she said to the deputies, but once again stressed that it was said as a joke. Ann and Pauline left, but soon after they turned back, and Ann Melton told Mrs. Scott not to tell anyone anything about what the two girls had said during their quarrel. Ann Melton told Pauline, that she had wanted to kill her ever since she made her "confession" to the deputies. Later Ann returned to Mrs. Scott once again, but Pauline couldn't hear what was said.

Celia Scott also testified, and for the most she confirmed Paulines testimony but with a few differences. According to Mrs. Scott Pauline had arrived and Ann Melton had followed a few minutes later. Ann had ordered Pauline to go home, pushed her out of the chair she was sitting in and hit her with the club. She had threwn Pauline to the floor and tried to choke her. She had abused her verbally and kept ordering her to go. Ann had said, that she (Pauline) had told Ben Ferguson enough to hang herself and, that she had said that she (still Pauline) had killed Laura Foster and hid the body. Also Pauline should have said "Come out, Tom Dula, and let us kill some more". To this accusation Pauline had replied "I do say now, come out Tom Dula and let us kill Ben Ferguson". According to Mrs.Scott Pauline had said to the accusations from Ann: "It is the truth and you are as deep in the mud as I am in the mire". At this time Ann had accused Pauline of being a liar. Then the two girls had accused each other of having "the disease". After they left once, they returned and Ann had warned her about ever telling anybody, what was said at the occasion. According to Mrs. Scott Ann had said that she wanted Mrs. Scott "to make it her dying secret, that she had started out that morning to take revenge, and had commenced with her best friend". The transciption of this part of the records is not easy, as the handwriting can be difficult to read. On Faye Moran's homepage ( the word "commenced" is replaced with "coincided", giving the sentence quite another meaning. If "commence" is correct, it must mean, that Ann had killed her best friend (Laura) as first part of her revenge. If "coincide" is correct, it must mean that she had worked together with her best friend (Tom Dula or Pauline Foster?) to get her revenge.

Later Ann returned once more, this time alone and had once again threatened Mrs. Scott to follow her to hell if she ever told, what she heard. Mrs. Scott testified, that Ann had said, that if it was ever told, she would know where it came from, since only four persons had heard it. Mrs. Scott is one, Ann and Pauline are two more, but who was the last person? Nothing is said about a fourth person being present at this occasion in any of the records. It could have been James Scott, but why then only threaten Mrs. Scott? I don't think he was present at this occasion. An article in The Wilkes Recorder from 4th of July 2001, suggest that the fourth person, was James P. Scott, son of James and Celia Scott. The paper brings an interview with 83 year old Edith Law. She told in the interview, that in the 1940s she heard "the truth of the matter" from her now deceased neighbor, James Pinkney Scott. According to Mrs. Law, Mr. Scott had told her, that he, being 12 years old at the time, had been present when Pauline and Ann had told his mother that they had agreed on killing Laura Foster, and had went with Tom to meet Laura Friday morning, and that Pauline had requested Ann to do as they had planned. Ann had then stabbed Laura with a knife. According to this, Tom did'nt have anything to do with the actual murder. The newpaper article doesn't say anything about him helping hide the body, so he might not even have done that.

This rises another question. Why was James P. Scott's testimony not taken into account during trial, as it could have saved Tom from the gallows, and send the two girls there in stead? I have a probable answer to that.  His age might have prevented it. Either Mrs. Law remembered wrong when she claimed that James P. was 12 at the time of the murder, or he himself had remembered wrong. All census records and also the death certificate of James P. Scott agrees that he was born in 1862. As the murder took place in 1866 he must have been only three or four at the time, and what he told Mrs. Law is probably not his own memoirs, but something that he had been told at a later time. His story about Ann and Pauline agreeing to murder Laura is not in accordance with his mothers testimony from the trial.

Two or three weeks after her remarks to the deputies on August 28th or 29th , Pauline Foster was arrested and incarcerated in the Old Wilks Jail, next to Tom Dula.

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