Friday, October 25, 2013

Murder in Jamestown

A "Brutal Murder" in a quiet Quaker town. Examination of the body, multiple weapons used. Boot imprints taken at the scene. A search of the suspect's clothes for blood. A trial. A verdict — an appeal and another trial.

The year, 1856.

One of our interns at the archives was processing a collection of old letters. She couldn't resist reading a few, and one day she exclaimed out loud how interesting they were. Corresponding sisters mentioned a horrible murder and ongoing news of the trial, then turned abruptly to family matters. Judy threw up her hands. So, then what? Did they catch the murderer?

My coworker Liz asked, "Who was the victim?"

Judy scanned the letter she held in gloved hands. "Martha Pinix."

Liz turned to the internet to see if they could find out what happened. They were delighted to find a book: The Murder of Martha Pinix, A True Tale of Old Jamestown and Deep River. Then Liz laughed. The author was Mary Browning. "I should have known!" If anything had ever happened in Jamestown (North Carolina), historian and author Mary Browning would know about it. And she happened to be our docent that day.

Liz introduced an incredulous Judy to an unassuming little white-haired lady sitting in the next room — the lady who literally wrote the book on murder. This one, at least.

Despite her long list of publications, Mary doesn't currently have a website. Her latest book is here and you can read some of her newspaper articles here.

Each one of us devoured Mary's book. At around 30 pages, it didn't take long. But the well researched story — from 19th-century news articles, court records and early 20th-century recollections — reads like a novel, including a death-row escape and a major plot twist. (That's all I can say, no spoilers!) You can get your own copy here to read the details and decide the verdict.