Floyd Allen

Floyd Allen

Floyd Allen (July 5, 1858 – March 28, 1913) was an American businessman convicted of murder in 1912, although doubt has been expressed about the validity of the conviction.[1] He was accused with triggering the shooting at the Carroll County Courthouse in Hillsville, Virginia on March 14, 1912, in which five people were killed and seven wounded.

Life

Allen was born in 1858 and spent much of his life living in Cana, below Fancy Gap Mountain in Carroll County, Virginia. A fixture of the community, he was noted for his quick temper. He and his brothers were very close, and were known to fiercely defend each other when the occasion called for it. As the Allens were proud Democrats in a county which had voted for Republicans since the end of the American Civil War, they were frequently on poor terms with county authorities. Floyd had a history of run-ins with law enforcement — shooting a man in North Carolina, and later shooting his cousin. Under suspicion of bootlegging, he got into a brawl with revenue officers. In another instance, arguing over a barrel of brandy, he got into a gunfight with his own brother, Jack, that left both wounded. Floyd was once sentenced to a $100 fine and one hour in jail for wounding his cousin, but refused to go, saying that he "would never spend a minute in jail as long as the blood flowed through his veins"[2].

Despite Floyd's run-ins with the law, he was requested to serve as a deputy countless times by Carroll County officials. At the time of his trial in 1912, he had been appointed a special policeman by Judge Massie to put down labor troubles at a local dam site.

[edit] Buildup to trial

One night in December 1910 (some sources[1] say 1911), one of Allen's nephews, Wesley Edwards, kissed the girlfriend of Will Thomas at a corn shucking bee, which led to Thomas picking a fight with Edwards. The two men began an altercation during a church service the next morning. As a result of the fight, Wesley and his brother Sidna were charged with a misdemeanor. However, Prosecutor Foster changed the charges to seven felony indictments. Rather than face arrest, the two men fled to Surry County, North Carolina, where they were soon captured; they were returned to Virginia and sent to Hillsville to stand trial.

For their return, the men were bound to the back of a buggy with their feet dragging behind them. On the way to the courthouse, the buggy carrying the men passed by the store run by Floyd's brother Sidna; Floyd reportedly ordered that his nephews be released or transported like men, not animals. When the sheriff's deputy, Thomas Samuels, refused to comply, Allen pistol-whipped him. Whether he then took his nephews, or whether they were then released by the deputy, is not clear; what is known is that Floyd delivered them to the authorities himself, later that week, and that both boys served brief jail terms for their actions.

[edit] Trial and shooting

After close to a year of delays, Floyd was finally brought to trial on March 12, 1912. Fearful of his reaction and having received death threats, many officials of the court armed themselves. In the event, when Allen was convicted of rescuing prisoners and sentenced to a year in jail (there was no fine), he is reported to have stood and said, "Gentlemen, I ain’t a’going".

Accounts differ as to who actually fired the first shot. Many accounts claim that Allen initiated the confrontation by pulling a gun in court. Some hold Allen fired first; others say it was Dexter Goad, Clerk of Court who shot at Allen instead. This caused Sidna Allen to return fire along with Floyd's son, Claude. The Commonwealth's Attorney and deputy clerk responded with more gunfire, prompting a volley from two of Floyd's nephews and five deputy sheriffs stationed in the courtroom. When Floyd fell, wounded, he landed on top of his lawyer, David Winton Bolen, who is reported to have said, “Floyd, they are going to kill me shooting at you!”[1] The shooting continued out of the courtroom and down the street as the Allens tried to flee.

The judge, the county sheriff, the prosecutor, a member of the jury, and a witness were killed in the crossfire; seven were wounded, including Floyd and Sidna Allen. Floyd, wounded too badly in the hip, thigh and knee to flee, spent the night in the Elliott Hotel accompanied by his eldest son, Victor, who had not been involved in the shootout.

[edit] Who fired the first shot?

There is disagreement over who fired the first shot.[1] Most sources agree that Floyd Allen prompted the gun battle by standing and pulling a weapon. For their part, Allen and his brothers claimed that it was Goad who fired first, prompted by a long-standing vendetta he and Foster held against the family. Some hold that one Woodson Quesinberry confessed on his deathbed to starting the shooting; two men swore an affidavit to that effect in 1967. Others hold that the affidavit is worthless, and that Floyd Allen began the shooting.[1]

The most plausible theory is that Sheriff Webb's borrowed pistol, a Colt 38 Automatic about which he knew little, fired when he pulled it in response to Floyd's defiance of the court. Three jury members testified that they saw it hang in his handkerchief and fire, causing Floyd's lawyer to drop to the floor. They thought he was shot, but he was just ducking for cover.

By his own admission in court, Dexter Goad fired the second shot at Floyd, striking him in the pelvis. His stated reason was that he thought Floyd's fumbling with his sweater buttons was a prelude to drawing his pistol.

Ultimately, whether Allen was the first shooter or not, he was the one charged with murder for the shootings.

[edit] Aftermath

Virginia law held that when a sheriff died his deputies lost all legal powers, so Carroll County was left without law enforcement by the shooting. Recognizing the need for immediate action, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney S. Floyd Landreth sent a telegram to Governor William Hodges Mann which 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.[1]

Mann immediately called on the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to find those responsible for the shootings and arrest them; within a month, all parties were in custody, save for Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards. The two men fled to Des Moines, Iowa, where they would be betrayed by Edwards' girlfriend six months later.

For their roles in the shooting, Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to death by electrocution for killing Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster. Sidna Allen received a total of 35 years in prison after five trials; Wesley Edwards drew 27 years, while Sidna Edwards and Friel Allen were sentenced to 18 years each. All four men were eventually pardoned, in 1922 and 1926.[3] Victor Allen, Barnett Allen and Burden Marion, a neighbor, were acquitted (Marion was sent to federal prison later in the year for moonshining and died there in November).

Allen's death sentence was deeply unpopular with many in the county, but it was not commuted, and he was executed on March 28, 1913. His son was executed 11 minutes later. The governor, who had received death threats in the same handwriting as ones delivered to the trial judge, had cut short a trip to Pennsylvania because his Lieutenant Governor attempted to commute their sentences in his absence. Both men were buried in the Wisler Cemetery in Cana, Virginia, under a headstone that read in part, "judicially murdered by the State of Virginia over the protests of more than 100,000 of its citizens." This phrase was later removed, some maintain as a condition of Sidna Allen's pardon in 1926.

As a result of 3 wrongful death lawsuits, the property of Sidna and Floyd Allen was confiscated and sold at auction, forcing Sidna's wife and two small daughters to live in rented quarters and work at menial jobs until Sidna's pardon. Floyd's son, Victor, bought his father's house so that his mother would not have to move. In 1921, however, he moved his family to Tabernacle, New Jersey.

[edit] List of the dead and wounded

Dead

* Thornton Lemmon Massie, judge
* Lewis Franklin Webb, Carroll County sheriff
* William McDonald Foster, Commonwealth's Attorney
* Augustus Cezar Fowler, juror
* Nancy Elizabeth Ayres, witness

Wounded

* Floyd Allen, defendant
* Sidna Allen, defendant
* Dexter Goad, court clerk
* Christopher Columbus Cain, juror
* Elihue Clark Gillespie, deputy
* Andrew T. Howlett, spectator
* Stuart Worrell, spectator

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