My great-grandfather, b. Feb 5, 1848, married his second wife in 1892, two and a half years after my great-grandmother died giving him his ninth child. Little information has come to light during the time from 1892 and 1913.
Apparently, he spent most of his working years alternating between farming and the railroad. That kind of split occupation wasn't all that surprising in the family, partly due to farming being totally reliant on God and the weather. If you have a bad crop or bad year, you need some way to bring in some money. The railroad provided that way. It's not an unreasonable assumption that it also appealed to the wanderlust that so many in the family had ...and still have..., giving them a chance to ramble and make money doing it. Same comments would apply to those who became builders or carpenters.
In 1913, if his death certificate is to be believed on that point, my great-grandfather and his second wife moved to Memphis, Tennessee. He would have been 65 at the time, with his wife being 48. According to my mother, they opened a boarding house. His wife ran the boarding house while he was off working for the railroad. On March 20, 1916, my great-grandfather died in Memphis, Tennessee and was buried on March 22, 1916 in Tupelo, Mississippi. That much is known and can be supported by documentation. But there is far more to the story.
According to the story my mother heard (presumably from her mother), my great-grandfather returned home from his railroad job one evening and was about to enter the house. His wife allegedly made a statement to the police that she thought a burglar was trying to break in, so she picked up a pistol and shot the 'intruder' who turned out to be, of course, my great-grandfather. The story, to this point, has more than a few holes in it (besides the hole or holes in my great-grandfather’s body).
For starters, why did his wife fire (apparently thru the door or wall) before identifying the intruder? If she already had the pistol in her hand, she could have certainly waited the extra few seconds needed to identify the intruder...or at least to make sure it wasn't her husband.
She most certainly was used to his unscheduled comings and goings that would have been an ordinary part of railroad employment. Then there's the matter of her boarders also moving about at all hours. She would scarcely have been huddled in her locked boarding house, jumping at every little noise.
This tends to suggest that she wanted her husband out of the way for whatever reason and took advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself. The precise reason will have to remain pure speculation, but consider a couple of points. It's a virtual certainty that my great-grandfather knew of his wife's probable illicit activities (see point 2 below). Whether he condoned that behavior, simply turned a blind eye to it or was an active participant in the business will never be known.
His death certificate is loaded with discrepancies and contradictions. One or two errors is not uncommon, but the number and combination of the ones on this death certificate leads inexorably to certain conclusions.
Consider the following:
1. Stated name of his mother is wrong. This can be supported with documentation.
2. The doctor attended him from Dec 12, 1915 to Mar 20, 1916, according to the certificate. That may or may not be true, as you will see later. Diagnosis of mitral regurgitation is open to question because of something I learned when my mother died. The physician who certifies the death frequently has never seen the deceased.
Beyond that, unless an autopsy is performed, whatever is listed as a cause of death is literally an educated guess. Since mitral regurgitation refers to a mitral valve in the heart that doesn't fully close, it's usually a chronic condition. Yet the doctor allegedly had only attended him for just over three months.
If there was a conspiracy to cover up the shooting (My mother specifically stated that her father and one of his brothers made several trips to Memphis trying to prove that the woman deliberately shot my great-grandfather.), the death certificate would have been a total fabrication. Whether they proved it or not, their trips to Memphis definitely supports the statement that my great-grandfather was gunshot. And keep in mind that a gunshot could have inflicted damage of a sort that would have
wound up involving the mitral valve prior to his death. In this way, my great-grandfather would have died from mitral regurgitation as an immediate cause of death, but the instigating cause would have been a gunshot. As to why the incident would have beencovered up?
According to my mother, my great-grandfather’s wife was known to her patrons as Road House Red. Given that, there's a definite possibility that she ran an operation that was more than just a plain boarding house. Bordello is one name for it, or House of ill Repute if your delicate sensibilities require a gentler term. If some of her clients just happened to be Memphis cops, city officials or county officials, then you have the reason for a coverup.
3. Finally, check out the various dates, especially the date and location of his burial. He died on March 20, 1916 at 4:00 p.m. in Memphis, Tennessee. Incidentally, he died in their boarding house at 1231 Latham Avenue. The death certificate was signed on March 21,1916. He was transported, presumably in a casket and by train, from Memphis, Tennessee to Tupelo, Mississippi, and buried on March 22, 1916. That's a distance of 100 miles. From the time of his death to his interment was less than 48 hours, which is awfully cottonpickin' fast for that time period...unless you've got something to hide. Hmm-m-m-m?
There are two other problem areas on the death certificate. The doctor signed it on the 21st of March. However, normal practice (as with my mother’s) is for the doctor to sign it only after the deceased has been buried. Why did he sign it the day before the burial? And the last point that is really strange. The registrar recorded the death certificate on the 21st of March...the same day the doctor signed it and the day before my great-grandfather was buried! My mother’s death certificate wasn't recorded until the 15th of July, 2002, which was the same day the certified certificate was issued and three weeks after her death. Death certificates can't be issued until they're recorded and they can't be recorded until final disposition of the body is known. In other words, where it's buried.
Based on the discrepancies just discussed, the bottom line is this: My great-grandfather was probably murdered by his wife and the death certificate was more than likely a complete coverup that included the police, doctor, county registrar and no telling who else.
If that isn't enough, his wife spent the next twenty years submitting letters, testimonials and affidavits to the Confederate Pension Board in an attempt to receive his civil war pension. What's interesting is that she claimed a right to the pension as his surviving widow. Since she had substantial supporting documentation (the marriage license alone would have been enough, you would think), it makes you wonder what else the Pension Board knew.
At this late date, there's probably no way to be absolutely certain that this analysis is correct. Every person involved has been dead for decades (and over a century in some cases), so it's basically a question of getting the historical record as accurate as possible. However, I think you would agree there's at least an eighty per cent probability that she did, indeed, murder my great-grandfather and escaped prosecution as the result of a coverup by public officials.
Could you get a conviction in a court of law? Absolutely not, because you would need proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But civil court is another matter. A preponderance of the evidence is all that's necessary and I'd suggest there's more than enough evidence to meet that criteria.