Special telegram to the Constitution.
Cedartown, (Via Rome) GA,
May 4, 1877
An enormous crowd of people gathered at Cedartown to-day to witness the expiation upon the gallows of the murder of John McCormack by Wm. Meeks.
THE STORY OF THE CRIME
No murder has been committed in years in this state that has created more feeling than this one. The murdered man was an employee of a ? iron company. His company took up the prosecution of the slayer with earnestness and spirit. The friends of the accused man resulted bitterly, and the fight between the mercy and the sternness of the law soon become fierce.
The following is the story of the crime as we are best able to deduce it from the conflicting testimony:
It appears that Mr. McCormack, who was a worker in the iron works at Cedartown, had a very pretty wife with whom he has some disagreement. The report goes that his wife proved unfaithful to her martial vows, and finally left her husband. He become impressed with the idea that her ruin had been effected by Wm. Meeks, who is quite a handsome man.
On two or three occasions he gave vent to this suspicion, and at last became furious over his real or supposed wrongs. On the 6th of September, 1875, he indulged rather freely in drink, and about noon announced his determination of cleaning up his wife, and then setting with Meeks. He started at once for the house in which his wife was living with her mother and sister. Reaching the house he rushed in, and after a noisy altercation he emerged, dragging his mother-in-law in a cruel manner with him. The women were screaming and calling for help. In the road, a short distance off, sat Meeks, the alleged lover of his wife, looking on in silence. The women directing their appeals to him, drew McCormack's attention to him. He shouted to him. "As soon as I have finished with these women, I will have a settlement with yon."
Meeks drove off towards town, whither the women soon followed him. They were to his office and asked him the best method of getting out a warrant against McCormack. Meeks instructed them, and they soon had the warrant.
It now appears that one of the objects of McCormack's raid upon the house in which his wife was living, was to recover his little baby from the custody of its mother, alleging that he desired to have it properly raised.
When the officer went to arrest him, he was found with the baby in his arms. He submitted to arrest quietly and walked off with his captor. At length he asked the bailiff to hold the child for a few moments, saving that he had to go into a little house adjoining for a few moments. As soon as the bailiff was fairly entangled with the baby, McCormack laughed, drew his knife, and, bidding the compulsory nurse good day, hurried off.
The bailiff then placed the warrant in the hands of Mr. Wilkes, the town marshal, a man described as quiet, determined and conscientious. When he received the warrant Meeks offered, or was asked, to go with him and assist in making the arrest. When they found McCormack he surrendered himself quietly and started off with them. He asked them, however, to go with him to the house of a Mr. Crane, who he hope to persuade to go on his bond.
It was at Crane's house that the tragedy occurred. The most reliable story seems to be this: As McCormack mounted the steps at the front door, he turned suddenly upon his captors and flashing a long, keen knife in the sun, confronted them coolly. He said: "I will see you in h--ll before I will move a step further."
"Put up your knife," replied Wilkes, "or I will shoot you!"
"Shoot and be d--d! I will not move!" responded McCormack.
Just at this juncture Mrs. Crane appeared in the door behind McCormack. She says that she saw both the men standing with their pistols drawn down on the prisoner. She saw nothing in his hand. He was retreating slowly into her room. Suddenly Meeks stepped forward and bringing his pistol down pushed Wilkes back saying, "Stand back, I will settle this!"
McCormack then returned into the room, the men following him, with their pistols leveled at him.
By this time Mrs. Crane was terribly agitated, and her husband telling McCormack to go into the next room, hurried his wife into the yard McCormack hurried into the next room, Wilkes and Meeks pressing close behind him and the door closing quickly after the three had entered the room. In that room the killing took place.
Mr. And Mrs. Crane heard two distinct pistol shots, a sudden, sharp scuffle, and then a heavy fall. No words that were distinguished were heard.
Almost immediately afterwards Wilkes and Meeks hurried out of the room. As they went around the outside of the house another shot was heard and a ball entered the room of death from the outside. It was fired by either Wilkes or Meeks.
These two men hailed in the yard where Crane and his wife were standing, and proposed that Crane should enter the room and see what McCormack was doing. He did so, and found the prisoner lying prostrate on the floor, and the blood pouring from two wounds in his side. Meeks and Wilkes entered behind him, and Meeks took the dying man's left arm and felt his pulse. He turned and said, "He is gone." McCormack died almost immediately without speaking a word. The two men telling Crane not to let anyone touch the body until the coroner come, and left the house.
They both attempted to flee the country Wilkes succeeded, and is now out of sight. Meeks was captured and brought back.
The most important facts developed in the coroner's inquest were these: Dr. E. H. Richardson declared that two balls had entered the body of the dead man, either of which would have produced almost instant death. These balls were secured and carefully weighed. It was discovered that one was three scruples heavier than the other, which proved that they had come from different pistols. This testimony, in the opinion of the jury, fixed the killing of McCormack on either or both of the two men who entered the room with him. The prosecution was seriously put to it to prove that the balls that were weighed were the same balls that were taken from the dead man's body. They had passed through several hands, and the defense argued closely that they might have been tampered with in the course of handing. The identity of the pistol balls becomes just now more important than ever, We understand that the lawyers for Meeks based their defense principally on the fact that Meeks was justified in shooting McCormack, as he was defying an officer of the law and with a knife in his hand was charging with murderous intent upon that officer. Under this defense Meeks was convicted. His case was carried to the supreme court, and there settled against him, Judge Bleckley declaring that the court below was under the evidence adduced, not only a proper verdict but a compulsory one. Within the past few days a letter has been received from the absent marshal, stating that Meeks did not do any of the shooting, but that he (Wilkes) did it all. That Meeks was merely present at his request. Upon this letter, and a promise to exhaust every effort to bring Wilkes to the witness stand, the governor respited Meeks for the term of three weeks.
It was hoped by Meeks friends that they would be able to bring Wilkes to Cedartown during the term of the respite and get him to make full personal testimony of what had been done. They did not succeed in this however, and the day of execution again rolled around.
A week or two since an attempt was made to fire the jail. It was supposed for the purpose of attempting the rescue of Meeks.
Just before and during the hanging, boys moved among the vast crowd, selling copies of the "Life and Death of Wm. Meeks:" the same being a pamphlet. A great many persons bought the pamphlet on the supposition that it would contain a confession. It is found however that a ? though it Weeks denied the crime for which he was to hang, in the most solemn manner. He declared that he never shot at McCormick or drew a pistol on him, that he was not in the house when the shooting occurred, and that Wilkes fired all three of the shots. He makes this as his dying statement. He says Wilkes "promised me that he would not leave the country. He did leave and for a death of his ? For the lack of his testimony I die to-day. But I forgive him as God has forgiven me!"
He says that he was raised by Christian parents and contracted his bad habits when he entered the army. Gambling was his great vice, and was followed by drinking. He says that he and McCormack had two or three altercations. On the day of the arrest. McCormack attacking him each time. McCormack cursed him frequently that day and swore that he would kill him before the sun went down. The whole book is permeated with a sort of religious fervor, and closes with the following substantial sentiment:
And now, I have finished, and hasten to fall into the outstretched arms of my Saviour. The gibbet is but the platform from which I will step into the glory world, to dwell throughout an unending eternity, with the good who have preceded me. My father and mother are standing on the other shore to welcome me to that happy land! Oh! Glorious thought, I will so on be at rest--rest--how sweet 'twill be--how I long to be at rest. The angels beckon, the heavenly music enchants me, my God smiles and calls me and "I must go meet Him in the promised land" Wife, children, friends, relations, and acquaintance weep not for me, I am going to heaven, and my last request is that you will meet me there. Farewell--farewell--a long, last farewell.
It is proper to say that Mr. Tom Gibson, the shrewd and discriminating editor of the Express who assisted in the preparation of his life, says "I believe from the manner of the unfortunate man in giving one of these statements that nothing but the truth is stated herein; and further said that in my judgement he did innocent of the crime charged against him--the guilty party being still at large." Mr. Gibson is very thoroughly acquainted with the case. A mystery that will never be solved, perhaps, will hang over the case of the man who dropped from the gallows a few hours ago.
Rome, Ga. May 4, at 12 o'clock, Meeks being too weak to walk was carried from the jail to the gallows. On his way he became so sick that they had to stop more than once to let him vomit. On arriving at the scaffold they gave him morphine to quiet his nervous system. To the last he protested his innocence and expressed his willingness to die. He asked that those present would look after and give good advice to his children, and to see how many friends his orphans had, he asked every one who would warn them when they saw or heard of them doing wrong to hold up their hands. The uplifted hands show that the orphans had over 2,000 friends. He then called Mr. Crane, the principal witness against him, to come on the stand and publicly forgave him for having sworn against him so fatally. He being still to feeble to stand was placed in a sitting position on the trap door and preparations was made for the execution. As the noose was being adjusted he said "In a few moments a collection will be taken up for the benefit of my wife and children. I hope you will give them something." The trigger was then sprung and although he fell seven feet his neck was not broken, and it was at least fifteen minutes before he was declared dead.
Before the body was cut down an eccentric looking citizen begged the sheriff for a piece of the rope to keep off his. Being promised it left happy, About $35 dollars was collected by subscription for his wife.
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