LAUDERDALE COUNTY, ALABAMA
OBITUARIES - INDIVIDUAL
THE DEATH OF WILLIAM A. HAMMONDS
Contributed 12 Sep 2000
The following newspaper articles were taken from various issues of the Florence Times and the Florence Herald. I have rewritten them verbatim as the copy print is very small making it difficult to read. Peggy Bostick, June 2000
THE FLORENCE HERALD
Florence, Alabama, Thursday, May 12, 1904
W. A. HAMMONDS IS MURDERED
Found lying in Pool of Blood on Floor
back of head was beaten to a pulp
Family was Away at Church and Make
Ghastly Find on Return Home.
Lexington, a small town 28 miles east of here, and the country many miles
around was stirred Sunday as never before over the shocking death of W. A.
Hammonds, a prominent farmer of that section.
The wife and son of the murdered man started at 9 o’clock and drove several miles to the Baptist church, leaving him alone on the place. When they returned at 3 in the afternoon they found him lying, half in the hall and half on the porch, on his face where his murderers had left him. He had been shot from behind, the ball entering at the base of his skull and his head beaten out of all shape - evidently after he had fallen. The hammer used for the bloody work was found near the body. The house had been ransacked and a pocket book taken from a truck, containing $100, and $7 from the dead man’s pockets.
Sheriff Hill, who went to Lexington Monday morning to investigate the case, believes that more than one was implicated in the dastardly deed. From the position in which the body was lying, face down, with the head out, he thinks Hammonds was talking to some one outside the house when his assassin slipped up inside the house from the back entrance and shot him. One bullet missed its aim and struck in the door frame on a level with the man’s head.
Bloodhounds were brought from Lawrenceburg, Tenn., Sunday night, but by Monday morning, when they were put on the trail, it was cold and so many people had visited the spot that they could do nothing. They went to the house and to the room of a young man who lives in the neighborhood who had sat up with the corpse all night.
The hammer with which the murder was committed, the one clue which might have fastened the crime on the guilty party, was left lying around and between midnight and morning Sunday night it disappeared.
An inquest was held Monday morning by Esquire V. A. S. Green and a number of witnesses examined, but nothing of any importance developed. The verdict of the jury was that W. A. Hammonds came to his death from a pistol wound and from wounds inflicted with a hammer in the hands of parties unknown.
Sheriff Hill returned to Florence Monday evening without having made any arrests.
Mr. Hammonds has been involved in a lawsuit for several years with his brother over the division of their father’s estate, and they have been on very bad terms. Of late matters had reached an acute state and an attempt had been made to have the murdered man removed as administrator of the estate.
Friday, May 13, 1904
On Sunday last between the hours of 9 in the morning and 3 in the
afternoon, Mr. William A. Hammonds was brutally murdered at his home in Northeast
Lauderdale, within a mile and a half of Arthur post office.
On Sunday morning at 9 o’clock the other members of Mr. Hammonds’ family left the home to attend church. They returned at 3 o’clock, when a bloody and horrible spectacle met their sight. Lying on his face, with his feet inside the house and his head on the front porch lay the husband and father still in death, a bullet hole through his head and the back portion of the head beaten into a jelly. A pistol and a hammer had been used by the murderers in their horrible deed. The ball had entered the base of the brain at the back portion of the head and ranged upward, but did not pass entirely through.
The news of the murder spread rapidly to the neighbors and during Sunday afternoon and Monday a large number of people were drawn to the scene. Sheriff Hill was telephoned for, and arrived there Monday morning. Bloodhounds were brought from Lawrenceburg, and were put on the trail, but owing to the large number of people moving about could not perform the service positively.
Esq. Virgil A. S. Green summoned a coroner’s jury, which upon an examination, rendered a verdict in accordance with the above statements, and with the further opinion that the murderers were unknown. The interment took place late Monday afternoon, when a large congregation of people attended the services.
Mr. Hammonds was well known in Florence, and his horrible murder created a sensation here. He was prominent in his section of the county. He was about 70 years of age, and leaves a wife and several grown children.
When the family of Mr. Hammonds returned home, they not only found the husband and father dead, but also that the place had been raided and about a hundred dollars in money taken. A trunk had been broken open and its contents shaken up and thrown around. It is not believed by the best informed people of the neighborhood, however, that robbery was the main purpose of the murderers. The supposition is that that was a blind.
This is one of the foulest murders ever committed in Lauderdale, and we have much, unfortunately, to account for in this direction. The guilty parties should be captured by all means if within the range of possibility. Such affairs cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Every interest of the people demands that the guilty should be caught and made to answer for their crime.
Florence, Alabama, Thursday, May 19, 1904
SHELTON IS IN JAIL HERE
Alleged Murderer of William A. Hammonds
awaits trial in prison cell
Pistol Said to Have Been Property of Dead Man
Lost by Shelton in Crap Game.
After a trial lasting two days which was attended by hundreds of people, John D. Shelton was brought to Florence from Lexington Tuesday evening by Sheriff Hill, and placed in jail to await trial at the September term of court, on the charge of murdering his uncle, W. A. Hammonds.
The Florence Times
Friday, May 20, 1904
John D. Shelton Charged with
He is Tried Before Magistrates
and Now Lies in Jail
Awaiting Final Trial.
Jno D. Shelton, son of
Mr. S. L. Shelton, is now confined in the county jail at Florence, charged with
the brutal murder of his uncle, W. A. Hammonds, in Northeast Lauderdale, on
Sunday the 8th instant, and account of which was given in the times last week.
He was arrested on Saturday morning last by deputy constable G. W. Morrison, who
held him until Monday, when the preliminary trial commenced at Lexington and
continued until late Tuesday afternoon.
The facts appeared to point very strongly to young Shelton as the guilty man, and the brutal character of the murder aroused a great deal of feeling in the community; so much, in fact, that those in charge of him kept him hid out in the woods Saturday night and all day Sunday, through fear of violence at the hands of the people.
On Monday the trial commenced at Lexington before four Justices of the Peace, Messrs. J. A. Gower, James Whitehead, G. M. Harraway and G. F. Thigpen, with Messrs. J. T. Ashcraft and Paul Hodges representing the kinsmen of the dead man. A large number of witnesses were examined, and the evidence was such the magistrates were unanimous in their decision to send the accused on for trial, without bail. On Tuesday night Sheriff Hill arrived and placed him in jail.
The feeling in the locality of the murder is very strong, and the law-abiding people are intensely interested in the work of unraveling the mystery. The evidence before the Justices did not implicate any one besides Shelton, though some people believe that others are involved.
Shelton, the prisoner, will be 20 years of age on the 1st of September.
An interview with him at the jail Wednesday morning showed that he did not fully comprehend the gravity of his situation. He denied his guilt an several times indulged in strong language not taught in the Sunday School books.
Some of the stronger points of testimony against Shelton is the fact that he had in his possession, and lost in a game of craps in the afternoon of the murder, the dead man's pistol; and that the blood-hounds tracked him to his home; that he could not prove his whereabouts at the time of the murder; and that there was enmity on his part against his uncle.
At the trial on Monday and Tuesday an immense crowd of people were present; on the first day probably 500; and on Tuesday between 200 and 300.
Shelton's trial will come on at the September term of the circuit court.
The Florence Times
Friday, May 20, 1904
Hons. John T. Ashcraft and Paul Hodges were called to Lexington Monday by the citizens of Lexington beat to represent the people in the preliminary trial of James Shelton, who was charged with the murder of W. A. Hammonds.
THE FLORENCE HERALD
Florence, Alabama, Thursday, June 23, 1904.
HAD OUTLIVED HIS
Successful Attempt on His Life Made by
S. L. Shelton, at Lexington
Despondency Over Sons Arrest and
Other Troubles the Cause.
Note Given Reasons
Another act in the horrible tragedy
which is being enacted in Lexington, was added Sunday morning, when S. L.
Shelton, father of the boy who is in the Florence jail for the alleged murder of
his uncle, W. H. Hammonds, attempted his own life by shooting himself through
He was in Florence Friday and talked with a number of friends in regard to the murder. He seemed very despondent over his sons chances of clearing himself and remarked more than once that he would rather be dead than alive.
Sunday morning Shelton asked his daughter Ollie to shave him and when she had finished he walked to the bureau drawer and pulled out his 38 caliber revolver.
In reply to his daughters question as to what he meant to do, he placed the muzzle against his left side just below the heart, and before she could interfere, pulled the trigger, the ball passing through his left lung and coming out behind.
He left a note saying that he had outlived his friends and had decided to put an end to it all.
Shelton had a talk with his son in his cell Friday, but it is not known what passed between them.
The boy, when informed of his fathers condition, showed considerable emotion, alternately crying and swearing, but he refused to talk.
The Florence Times
Friday, June 24, 1904
TO HAMMONDS KILLING
Samuel Leet Shelton, an Old Citizen Shoots
Himself to Death
Father of the Young Man Accused of Murder Grows Despondent After a Visit to Florence
SECOND CHAPTER IN FAMOUS HAMMONDS MURDER CASE.
On Sunday morning last Samuel Leet Shelton shot and fatally
wounded himself at his home near Arthur, in Northeast Lauderdale.
This is the second chapter in the story of the murder of W. A. Hammonds in that neighborhood on the 8th day of May, last, Hammonds, one of the best known citizens of that county, was found mutilated and dead at his home, and a few days later D. Shelton, son of the S.L. Shelton, was charged with the murder and confined in the jail at Florence, where he now lies awaiting the action of the court. Since the arrest of his son Leet Shelton had been noticeably affected, and his self-murder, while shocking to the community, was what might not have been unreasonable expected.
On Sunday morning Mr. Shelton had his daughter to shave him, and this unusual act aroused some suspicion in the minds of the family that the father was not in a normal condition. A little later, while the family were around as usual, he shot himself, the ball passing entirely through his body and out the front door, over the heads of the daughter and a young man named Will Wright, who were sitting in the door. The pistol used was a 38 Harrington & Richardson revolver, and the ball entered the left breast and inch and a half below the nipple. Shelton fell to the floor, exclaiming "good bye." Dr. Smith of Lexington was hastily summoned, and expressed the opinion that the wound was a fatal one. The lung was penetrated, but the heart, at which the poor man doubtless directed the shot, was missed. At this writing he is still living, but with little or no hope of recovery.
Shelton had written a note on the morning of the tragedy, which disclosed the fact that the act was premeditated a deliberate intention to kill himself. The note, written in a nervous hand and barely decipherable, read as follows: "This is Sunday morning, and I have out-lived all my friends, and I have decided to end it. It is death anyway. I believe God is with me."
Shelton had led a dissipated life, through when not drinking was a quite and orderly citizen. His wife has been afflicted mentally for many years, and this deplorable fact added to the trouble of his son, in jail for murder, was to great a burden to be longer borne.
The commencement of the troubles in this unfortunate family arose from the division of the property of the late John C. Hammonds and the litigation following. W. C. Hammonds, the man murdered on the 8th of May, and Mrs. Leet Shelton, were son and daughter of John C. Hammonds, and in settling the estate bitter disputes arose, and several personal encounters took place between some of the parties interested. The case lingered in the courts a long time, and the sequel has been the brutal murder of one man, the imprisonment of another and the attempted suicide of the third member of the connection.
Mr. Shelton was a well-to-do farmer and stood well until drink affected him.
Mr. Shelton died at 2 o'clock Wednesday afternoon.
When this sad news was communicated to his son in jail he was greatly affected and wept bitterly. He afterwards ate the heads of nine matches with suicidal intent, when Drs. Lindsey and Boyd were called in and applied a stomach pump. In his cell was found a letter to his family stating that he intended to kill himself.
THE FLORENCE HERALD
Florence, Alabama, Thursday, September 15, 1904
Will Begin Next Thursday in Circuit Court
special venire of fifty summoned
Criminal Docket Will be Taken Up Monday, September 19th.
Other Court News
In the case against Dee Shelton for
the murder of Wm. Hammonds, the defendant was arraigned and the case set for
trial for Thursday morning, Sept. 22, and a special venire of fifty jurors was
drawn by the court and ordered to be summoned to be present in court on the
morning of the above date.
On Monday morning next the circuit court will take up the criminal docket and proceed to try all the criminal cases on the docket. Defendants and witnesses are notified to be present on that day.
Louis Schmidelkoffer, charged with the offense of forgery, plead guilty to the charge in court yesterday.
Lawson Reeder, a negro man, plead guilty to the charge of grand larceny, in court Wednesday.
The grand jury will finish its duties Friday or Saturday. Up to Thursday morning fifteen true bills had been returned.
The Florence Times
Friday, 16 September 16, 1904
The Shelton Trial
The trial of John D. Shelton for the alleged murder of his uncle, W. A. Hammonds, near Arthur, has been set for next Thursday, the 22nd instant. The murder of Mr. Hammonds, it will be remembered, was a particularly atrocious one, he having been shot and mutilated about the head on Sunday while his family were away at church. Great interest is being taken in the approaching trial, especially in the neighborhood in which the bloody deed was committed.
THE FLORENCE HERALD
Florence, Alabama, Thursday, September 29, 1904.
Verdict Returned in Shelton Murder Case.
jury unanimous on first ballot.
Prisoner Jokes at Sentence and is
Most Indifferent Man in Court Room.
The trial of Dee Shelton in the
circuit court for the murder of his uncle, W. H. Hammonds, at Lexington, May 8,
which commenced Thursday morning of last week, came to an end Tuesday morning
when the jury returned a verdict of guilty and assessed the punishment at
imprisonment in the penitentiary for life.
The best legal talent in the city was engaged in the case and the fight on both sides was a stubbornly contested one. The defendant was represented by Simpson & Jones and Solicitor Sawtelle was assisted in the prosecution by Hon. Paul Hodges and John T. Ashcraft.
The widow of the murdered man was prevented by feeble health from attending the trail but the son and daughter were present and testified for the state.
The prisoner took the stand in his own behalf and made a decidedly bad impression. When asked why he wanted another dollars worth of "liquor" on the day of the murder, when he already had a pint, he said he wanted enough to last him through the day.
The evidence though circumstantial, was strong against the prisoner, his own remarks between the time the crime was committed and his arrest, going farther, probably than anything else to convince the jury of his guilt.
The evidence was concluded Saturday evening and the entire day Monday was devoted to the arguments of counsel and Judge Almon's charge to the jury.
As they filed into the court room Shelton was apparently the most unconcerned one present. After his verdict had been read condemning him to the penitentiary for the balance of his life he exhibited the most absolute indifference and remarked laughingly to Sheriff Hill that he was much obliged to the jury for not making the sentence longer.
The lawyers for the defense have given notice of an appeal.
The Florence Times
Friday, September 30, 1904
According to the Finding of the Jury
A Lifetime in the Penitentiary.
The Verdict in the Famous
Hammonds Murder Case.
"We, the jury, find the defendant
guilty of murder in the first degree and fix his punishment at imprisonment in
the penitentiary for life."
These were the words that Dee Shelton heard fall from the lips of the Clerk George W. Porter Tuesday morning, as the verdict of the jury, which since last Friday morning sat on his trial and heard in detail the story of the murder of his uncle, William A. Hammonds, on Sunday the 8th day of May, last. The prisoner heard the judgment of the jury with no apparent demonstration of feeling. He listened with deep interest at the dreadful judgment, but if his feelings were deeply stirred the fact was hidden from the court and spectators.
The details of the murder of William A. Hammonds on the 8th of May last, were published in the Times at the time of the brutal crime. Hammonds, who had remained at his home near Arthur, while his family had all gone to church, was later in the day found dead, the back of his head battered and broken with some blunt instrument and a pistol wound running from the back of his head, ranging upward and through to his forehead. Suspicion almost immediately fell on Shelton, who was known to have a pronounced feeling against his uncle; and later in the week he was arrested, examined by magistrates and sent on to the grand jury.
On Friday morning the case came up for trial with the following jury: C. C. Wesson, foreman, W. O. Parker, Frank Wilkes, Jr., A. J. McMeans, P. H. Olive, L. W. Northcut, S. W. Morris, W. A. Riley, J. H. Hamilton, T. L. Hipp, W. A. Broadfoot and S. L. Sherrod.
Messrs. Simpson & Jones appeared for the prisoner and Solicitor Sawtelle was assisted by Messrs. John T. Ashcraft and Paul Hodges. Over twenty witnesses were examined about seven for the defendant and seventeen for the state. The lawyers on both sides fought the the case with rare ability and the speeches before the jury were able and forcible.
The case was given to the jury late Monday afternoon and at 9:30 Tuesday morning they were ready with their verdict. It was said that none of the jury were for acquittal and that none favored hanging. The decision has been well received by the public.
On Tuesday afternoon the attorneys for the prisoner asked a suspension of sentence in order to allow them to appeal; and, so it now appears, the case will go to the supreme court.