Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to hear Professor Diane Wilcox, a professor of English and Humanities Coordinator at the Georgia Military College's Warner Robins Campus, give a presentation and tour of the historic Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia. The cemetery is famous as the burial ground of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley of the famous Allman Brothers Band. However, there are other notable graves in the cemetery, including the plot with the nine graves all belonging to murder victims. Who are these nine murder victims, and how were they killed? They are the Woolfolk family, and they were all murdered while they slept on the morning of August 6, 1887. The murders supposedly took place some time between 2 and 4 a.m. inside the plantation home at Woolfolk plantation, some 12 miles west of Macon in Bibb County. The home is gone now, having given way to a subdivision near what is present-day Lake Tobesofkee. The man arrested and later tried and convicted for the crime, was a Woolfolk himself, Tom Woolfolk. Allegedly that night, he took the blunt end of a short-handled axe and blugended to death his father Richard, stepmother Mattie H., his brothers Richard F. and Charlie, his sisters Pearl, Annie, Rosebud, and Mattie, and his step-aunt Temperence West, a sister of his stepmother. The victims were found mainly in their beds, while two of the children were found on the floor of their parent's bedrooms, and one of the sisters was found kneeling at a window, apparently having tried to escape without success. Tom was said to have escaped the murderers by jumping out of a window to seek help from a neighbor. However, when he returned home, he went in to all the bedrooms, checked the bodies to see if they were dead, changed clothes, threw the bloodstained clothes he was wearing down the well, and washed himself. The coroner conducted an inquest on the scene finding blood on Tom's inner thigh, spots of blood on his ears, and his footprints in blood on the floor of the house. In addition, those that were there reported that Tom seemed to act strangely. He seemed apprhensive instead of sad and distraught over the brutal slaying of his entire family. The sheriff carted him away to protect him from an angry mob that was gathering at the Woolfolk home. In addition, he was later charged with the murder and tried. He was found guilty but appealed. He won his appeal based on perceived bias and errors during the trial. A new date was set for the trial, and this time it was held in Houston County at the courthouse in Perry. He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, which he got on October 29, 1890 in the city of Perry. UGA law professor, Donald Wilkes, visited the site in 1990 and wrote three articles, one published in 1990, a second one in 1994, and an updated one in 1997. A Google search should reveal the links to those very easily. Also, UGA history professor E. Merton Coulter visited the site in 1964 and later wrote a 41-page article in the Georgia Historical Quarterly. Other publications about the murder include Carolyn Deloach's The Woolfolk Tragedy: The Murders, the Trials, the Hanging & Now Finally, the Truth and the follow up called Shadow Chasers. It was once reported that Deloach toured the nation talking about her book and showing what she thought to be the axe used in the murders.
The case seemed cut and dried, and all evidence seemed to point to Tom as the killer; however, on the day of his hanging, a day when almost 10,000 people attended to witness the spectacle, some eating possum sandwiches, Tom was expected to give a last minute confession. Nevertheless, he spoke one last time, vehemently defending his innocence and continuing to tell those who were in earshot that he was not the killer. Now, my point is, if he were the killer, why did he not set his soul free and give those who still felt a little compassion for him a small ray of hope by finally coming clean? Realizing that Tom was a Christian, or at least from a Christian family, why did he not uphold his Christian training and rid his soul of that blemish before he met his maker? Perhaps Tom was not guilty, or perhaps he did it and was so mentally unstable that he had convinced himself in his mind that he had witnessed the murders instead of committed them. Perhaps the best way to ponder the evidence is to read Ms. Deloach's book. The day of Dianne's tour, I went to half.com and had it express shipped to my home. Although it hasn't made it here yet, I am reading all that I can find on the murders to get me prepared for the conclusion that Ms. Deloach has prepared for her readers. I would also suggest a visit to Rose Hill Cemetery, the final resting place for the Woolfolks, to visit the site of their graves. It was very touching for me to be there afer hearing Dianne talk of their story. Perhaps the wrong man was hung, or perhaps there was more to Tom Woolfolk than the folks who hung him knew about.......It is just another great Georgia mystery now.