Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Death of Floyd Allen -- Part Two


In Part One, I talked about Allen Family patriarch Floyd Allen. I talked about who he was and how he went on trial charged with helping prisoners escape while being transported and for assault and battery of one of the deputies who was transporting those prisoners.

We talked about how he and his family were both wealthy and politically connected, as well as the fact of how before attending court to hear his verdict that he was running around free. No, not in custody.
On March 14th, 1912, at 8:30 a.m., the jury returned to the Carroll County courtroom in Hillsville, Virginia. The jury had been sequestered in a hotel room for their safety. It's said the jury looked nervous when they entered the court.

The day was said to a cold wet foggy March day. But despite the lousy weather, more than a hundred people crowded into the courtroom to hear the verdict. This was a huge event for the county as the patriarch of the wealthiest family in those parts was on trial. Many there wanted to see if Floyd Allen would get a slap on the wrist or actually jail time for beating up a County deputy and assisting prisoners to escape.

In the court was 20 or more members of the Allen family. There as spectators was Floyd's sons Victor and Claude. The two stood on benches in the back of the courtroom with their uncle Sidna Allen. Jasper Allen’s son Friel was there. He sat in the back of the room. Some say he joined his cousins Victor and Claude as well as Sidna and Wesley Edwards who also stood on benches. And yes indeed, all of the Allens were armed.

The room was quiet, some say eerily still, when jury foreman Augustus C. Fowler stood to announce the jury's verdict. He looked at the judge and gave the verdict of guilty as charged with a recommended sentence of a year in the penitentiary and a $1,000 fine.

One of Floyd's attorneys is said to have made a motion to set aside the verdict, but it and a request for bail were immediately denied. While the legal formalities were going on, upon hearing the verdict, Floyd Allen stood us and pointed at Judge Massie, then said, "If you sentence me on that verdict, I will kill you." 

Judge Massie then instructed Sheriff Webb and Deputy Elihue Clark Gillespie to take charge of the prisoner. As both officers began to move toward Floyd, Judge Massie proceeded to sentence Floyd to one year in prison. 

Floyd Allen's defense attorney David Winton Bolen later stated, "Floyd hesitated a moment, and then he arose. He looked to me like a man who was about to say something, and had hardly made up his mind what he was going to say, but as he got straight, he moved off to my left, I would say five or six feet, and he seemed to gain his speech, and he said something like this, 'I just tell you, I ain't a'going!'"

Most agree that Floyd's son Claud fired the first shot at Judge Massie. Then followed all sorts of shooting in the courtroom. Yes, the courtroom erupted in gunfire as most of the Allens were armed with pistols and even a shotgun or two brought in under their coats.

Floyd Allen draw a revolver and shot the Judge. While some say he shot the prosecuting attorney Foster first, and then the judge. Others say he shot the judge first, then Foster, before shooting at jury foreman Fowler. But frankly, no one really knows for sure. All folks really know is that almost immediately Judge Thornton Massie and Virginia Commonwealth's Attorney William Foster were both shot dead. Jury foreman Augustus C. Fowler and Carroll County Sheriff Lewis F. Webb were also shot dead.

Deputy county clerk Dexter Goad drew his pistol and fired and hit Floyd Allen which caused him to fall to the floor. Right after Goad fired, a bullet slammed into Goad's face. Miraculously, it didn't kill him.

Nineteen-year-old witness Nancy Elizabeth Ayers who had been subpoenaed and testified against Floyd Allen was not so lucky. She was shot in the back while trying to run away in the chaos. As she was trying to get away from the insanity in the courtroom, she was actually hit while running out of the courtroom. Sadly, she died at home the next day.

In that minute and a half or more, in those long 90 plus seconds, a number of people were either dead or wounded. In fact, besides those killed on the spot, there were seven others who were shot and wounded.

After that the Allens, Floyd was wounded in the hip, thigh, and knee, and his brother Sidna took a round in the shoulder. Their wounds didn't stop them from  shooting their way out of the courthouse. Yes, shooting anyone they could as they made their way out of the building.

Floyd and sons Victor and Claude made their way to the Elliott Hotel, and spend the night there because Floyd was in too bad a shape to make his out of town. So instead, he and his sons spent the night in the hotel.

When folks there were hauling Judge Massie's corpse out of the building, they found the letters that Foster received and another similar to it in the judge's coat pocket  Frankly, the whole thing could have been prevented is Massie hadn't denied prosecutor Foster's request that spectators be checked for guns on the way into court.

It was an extremely foolish move on the part of Judge Thornton Lemmon Massie. It was a foolish move that needlessly jeopardized the lives of all there. Lives that would have been otherwise saved if security measures had been taken.

At this point, it should be noted that the gunbattle in the Carroll County Courthouse made big news across the nation. While some newspapers tried to depict the Allen family as a bunch of ignorant hillbillies, most did not the truth. The shootout that took place after the conviction of Floyd Allen, wealthy landowner and patriarch of the politically powerful Allen family, made national headlines. In fact, it's said that it only fell off the front page a month later with the sinking of the Titanic on April 15th, 1912.

So now, with the Carroll County Virginia courthouse in the county seat of Hillsville shot up all to Hell, a number of people dead and many others wounded, one would think the law would immediately jump into action. Well, at least in most places that's what would take place. Of course, most places aren't the state of Virginia. Or to be more precise, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As shocking as it is, Virginia law in 1912 stated that all county deputies lost all law enforcement authority when a county sheriff died in office. No kidding, that's the way it was at the time.

Since Sheriff Webb was shot dead in the courtroom, his murder left Carroll County without any legal law enforcement. It's true. While citizens were organizing posses to pursue the killers, there was no organized county law enforcement there at the time.

Knowing the insanity of the situation that was taking place, Carroll County's assistant county clerk S. Floyd Landreth didn't hesitate a second and instantly sent off an urgent telegram to Virginia Governor William Hodges Mann.

Landreth's telegram read:

"Send troops to the County of Carroll at once. Mob violence, the court. Commonwealth's Attorney, Sheriff, some jurors and others shot on the conviction of Floyd Allen for a felony. Sheriff and Commonwealth's Attorney dead, court serious. Look after this now!"

Besides the lack of law enforcement, there was a reason for his insistence for help. No one had ever seen such a Hellish scene. Attorney W.A. Daugherty of Pikeville was one of the people there who witnessed the melee. He later stated that several men standing on benches at the back of the courtroom started firing "like Custer's cavalrymen at the Little Big Horn".

All in all, it's believed that more than 20 Allen family members shot up the courtroom that day. And as stated earlier, it all took place over the span of a minute and a half. Yes, just over 90 seconds. Three times as long as the shootout near the OK Corral and many other shootouts in the West.

Those murdered including Judge Thornton Lemmon Massie, Virginia Commonwealth Attorney William McDonald Foster, Carroll County Sheriff Lewis Franklin Webb, Jury Foreman Augustus Cezar Fowler, and 19-year-old witness Nancy Elizabeth Ayres. The wounded included County Clerk of the Court Dexter Goad, Carroll County Deputy Elihue Clark Gillespie, juror Christopher Columbus Cain, and court spectators Andrew T. Howlett and Stuart Worrell. Brothers Floyd Allen and Sidna Allen were also wounded during the long gunfight.

Virginia law required the county sheriff be in charge of the criminal investigation and pursue those suspected of committing the killings. With Sheriff Webb dead, and no provision for succession in the law, after his death his deputies lost all their legal powers until the next election.

So faced with that dilemma, to his credit, Virginia Governor William Hodges Mann sent a telegram to the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency with instructions to apprehend the fugitives. He instructed the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, known as being on the same level as the Pinkertons at the time, with the mission of finding and apprehending those responsible for the shootings.

Right after that Governor Mann posted a number of rewards for the arrest of a number of Allen family members. A $1000 reward was set for Sidna Allen, as was a $1000 reward for Sidna Edwards. An $800 reward was set for Claude Allen, and a $500 reward was set for Friel Allen. A $500 reward was also posted for Wesley Edwards. All rewards payable, dead or alive.

Baldwin-Felts detectives were there within days. Immediately they took up the hunt for Floyd Allen and those in his family known to have participated in the courthouse shooting. Several posses made up of Baldwin-Felts detectives as well as armed citizens and local lawmen searched the countryside.

Friel Allen almost immediately gave himself up to detectives. His father Jasper Allen talked him into giving himself up because he was worried that his son would be killed either trying to flee or while being arrested. Floyd's son Claude Allen and nephew Sidna Edwards were arrested right after Friel turned himself in. Sidna Allen and nephew Wesley Edwards fled Virginia and went to Iowa.

It took several months, but the Baldwin-Felts detectives found Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards in Des Moines after being tipped off as to their whereabouts. Both were returned to Carroll County, Virginia, to stand trial.

As for the search for Floyd? Believe it or not, even the U.S. Revenue Service  got into the act by sending Enforcement Agent Faddis to look the bootlegging by the Allen clan. This let a posse made up of Agent Faddis and four deputized citizens to raid Floyd's property. During that raid, the Feds seized a couple of illegal stills and more than 50 gallons of moonshine. After the raid on Floyd's place, they turned their attention on the home of Sidna Edwards. Two illegal stills were confiscated when found there.

Floyd was found and arrested at the Elliott Hotel by a posse made up of Baldwin-Felts detectives, citizens, and county deputies. Believe it or not, for all of his blustering and big talk, it's said Floyd tried to slash his own throat with a pocketknife during his arrest. He was stopped and hauled off to jail.

On Trial for the Courthouse Shooting 

Floyd Allen was the first to be brought to trial on a charge of murdering Judge Massie, Sheriff Webb, and Commonwealth's Attorney Foster. Judge W.R. Staples presided over all of the trials in connection to the courthouse shooting. All of the trials were prosecuted by Virginia's Assistant Attorney General Samuel W. Williams.

During the trials, the prosecutor brought forth a number of witnesses. From those who had information of Allen's plot to kill Judge Massie, prosecutor Foster, amd Sheriff Webb, to a traveling salesman from Roanoke who testified that he sold Sidna Allen a lot of ammunition before the courtroom shootout, and others.

Another prosecution witnesses was Floyd Allen's other attorney, Walter S. Tipton who testified that he saw Floyd's son Claude raise a pistol and using both hands fire it at the judge. Tipton also testified that he saw Floyd raise a pistol and that he held it in both hands as he fired it.

Deputy Sheriff George W. Edwards became the Carroll County Sheriff soon after lSheriff Webb's murder. He testified against Floyd also said that he had spoken with Floyd and heard him make threats against prosecutor Foster. Another witness corroborated the testimony of Sheriff Edwards.

A number of witness testified that Claude Allen fired the first shots. Walter Petty testified that he witnessed a pistol duel take place between Sidna Allen and Deputy County Clerk Dexter Goad. Goad acknowledged that and that he shot Floyd in the pelvis. Goad said that he thought Floyd undoing his sweater buttons was when he thought that Floyd was going for a gun. Though struck by four rounds including one to the face, Goad did in fact recover from those wounds.

S. E. Gardner, who was the Hillsville undertaker who prepared Sheriff Webb for burial, testified that Sheriff Webb was struck five times. County Treasurer J. B. Marshall testified that he had been standing near Sheriff Webb when the shooting brook out, but that he didn't see a gun in the Sheriff's hand when he lay dead.

On May 18th, 1912, a jury found Floyd Allen guilty of first-degree murder of Virginia Commonwealth Attorney William McDonald Foster. It's said Floyd Allen wept aloud when he heard the verdict. Then in July of that same year, Claude Allen was found guilty of first-degree murder for the premeditated killing of Foster and guilty of second-degree murder for the killing of Judge Massie.

Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to death by in the electric chair.

Floyd Allen's refusal to serve a year in prison led to the murder of five people and the wounding of seven others. To stay out of the electric chair, Floyd used his political contacts to persuade Lieutenant Governor James Taylor Ellyson to commute the Allens' sentences while Governor Mann was out of the state.

Governor Mann had received a number of death threats by the same people who wrote threats to Massie and Foster before the shooting. When Governor Mann found out what his Lieutenant Governor was about to do in so far as commuting the Allens sentences, the Governor is said to have cut short his time in Pennsylvania to get back to stop that from happening.

According to sources, the Lieutenant Governor's actions is said to have instigated a power struggle between the two men. Governor Mann refused the Allens request to commute their death sentences to life in imprison. And while he is said to have asked to be hanged instead of being put to death in the electric chair, Floyd Allen was electrocuted on March 28, 1913. Just a few minutes later, his son Claude followed him as he too was put to death in the electric chair.

Their bodies were taken to Biyle’s Funeral Parlor where thousands of gawkers gathered. It's said Richmond newspapers reported how schoolchildren, mothers carrying babies, and all sorts of young men and women took a look at the bodies of Floyd and Claude Allen. Floyd's son Victor was not permitted to take custody of their bodies late that night just before they were shipped by rail to Mount Airy for burial.

As for Sidna Allen, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter of prosecuting attorney Foster and to second-degree murder of Judge Massie. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the two. He also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of Sheriff Webb. For that, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Wesley Edwards was given 9 years for each murder count in connection to the deaths of Judge Massie, prosecuting attorney Foster, and Sheriff Webb. So all toll, he got 27 years in prison.

Sidna Edwards pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of Sheriff Webb and received 15 years. Friel Allen confessed to shooting prosecutor Foster and received 18 years in prison. When Victor Allen and Barnett Allen finally went to trial, they were both acquitted.

When Democrat Governor Elbert Lee Trinkle took office in 1922, he immediately pardoned Friel Allen and Sidna Edwards. When Democrat Governor Harry Flood Byrd took office in 1926, he immediately pardoned Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards.

As for the Allen wealth?

After their convictions, the Carroll County prosecutor placed liens on all property owned by Floyd and Sidna Allen. The moneys from the liens went to the heirs of the victims. Besides the liens, there were wrongful death lawsuits by the victims' families. Soon, the Allen properties were confiscated and sold at auction.

As for Jasper Allen, he lost his position as Constable after the courthouse shooting, Then, on March 17, 1916, he was killed when he was shot to death near Mt. Airy, North Carolina. He stopped at a roadhouse for the night but got into an argument with a moonshiner over what took place at the Carroll County courthouse. At one point, the moonshiner pulled a gun and shot Jasper Allen twice. Yes, killing him instantly.

From what I gather, the tragedy many call the Hillsville Courthouse Massacre has taken on a life of its own in that there are those who still believe that the Allens were being railroaded. Yes, just as there are many who believe that they were killers who got what they deserved in the end.

For me, I believe in Luke 6:8 which says "whatever measure you give out is the same measure that will be giving to you." Floyd Allen found that out the hard way. 

That's just the way I see it. 

Tom Correa


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