Chapel Hill Murder & Mayhem: An interview with author Rick Jackson Pt. 2
Chapel Hill has seen its share of violence and murder, but it has been able to push those instances aside and keep the ambiance of a Norman Rockwell–style small town. A walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill can be inspiring, but the school has a darker side that has been well hidden. Over the years, there have been many murders that have taken place among the oak trees and in the dorms and frat houses on campus. Many of the murders are unsolved and remain mysteries to this day. The victims know the truth, though, that evil has no boundaries. Local historian Rick Jackson narrates the mysteries of one of North Carolina’s quaintest towns.
Rick Jackson is a native North Carolinian who grew up in Durham and now lives with his family in Wake Forest, just outside Raleigh. He currently teaches business and economic courses to high school students after spending many years in banking and finance in various positions. He has always had a passion for history and the stories of the people that lived it. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Campbell University and an MBA from The University of Mount Olive.
CC_Rick part 2
Speakers: Benjamin Morris & Rick Jackson
Benjamin Morris (00:00):
Rick, welcome back, we are so glad to have you with us.
Rick Jackson (00:03):
Hey, thank you, glad to be back.
Benjamin Morris (00:06):
Before we dive into these other cases in your book, I just wanted to ask you, were you surprised by how dark the history was of the Chapel Hill area when you first really started getting into it?
Rick Jackson (00:19):
Oh, yeah, absolutely. So, I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, so crime is not necessarily something that was foreign to me. Because it is an area with crime and actually even murder was not necessarily foreign to me because a friend of my parents, a lady named Nancy Williams was murdered when I was a kid. So, I was pretty close to someone being murdered.
Rick Jackson (00:42):
Again, like we said the last week is when you're in a place like Chapel Hill, those things just seem so far away. It seemed closer where I grew up, because I was a poor kid in the poor part of Durham and I guess, a place like that just seemed like those things could happen.
Rick Jackson (01:09):
But to look at a place like Chapel Hill just is so beautiful and picturesque and to see that these things are not geographically limiting, there's not just places that things happen and places things don't happen, that really knocks down a sense of security.
Rick Jackson (01:29):
So, I was very surprised ... I'm always surprised at the brutality that I find in some of these. Because some of these, as we're about to talk about now, are planned out and thought of, and you read it and you're like, "Oh my God," like this is like a horror movie that you've just watched kind of thing.
Benjamin Morris (01:51):
When I was an undergraduate there, in between the years of ... it was just the early 2000s, that was when the Michael Peterson murder case happened, and a couple friends of mine who were studying pre-law actually went to the trial to observe in that instance.
Benjamin Morris (02:08):
I'm referring of course, to the one that was popularized by the Netflix show, The Staircase. It always struck me, we were there in real time as it happened and so forth. And it did strike me that that man's wives (wives plural) had a nasty habit of falling downstairs. And sort of thinking, this stuff does happen every day with some frequency, even in the modern south, that level of brutality is just right around the corner in some cases without our realizing it.
Rick Jackson (02:39):
And in the case, again, in Michael Peterson, he lived in a beautiful house, beautiful neighborhood, very talented author. I think that there were some money problems, which for some people, their money problems might look different than my money problem, you know what I mean?
Benjamin Morris (02:58):
I wish I had their money problems.
Rick Jackson (03:00):
Exactly, but for them maybe, but I don't know that that's ever been a pressure enough to do the things that get done out there. And you look at the picture and you're like, "Hey, this guy's got it all, he's got it all, he's got everything." And then next thing you know, these guy's wives are taking a tumble down the stairs, and it's mind boggling.
Benjamin Morris (03:22):
It is. Well, one thing that we are fascinated by here on Crime Capsule is the occasional female killer. And we don't get many of them, we've had a few in the past. But when they come up, we always incline our head in that direction and say, "Hey, what's going on with this?"
Benjamin Morris (03:43):
Tell us, one of the earliest chronological cases in your book dates to the late 1870s, involves a very ... sorted is just such a polite word — a totally debauched love triangle involving a guy named Bob Boswell and a lady named Becky Lyon. Take us to the late 1870s here.
Rick Jackson (04:10):
So, 1879, Becky Lyon — and I start off in the book telling the story from ... I start off at the trial of Becky Lyon. She got tried for the murder of Nannie Blackwell and her son Milton, and also she had an unborn child. And she is very solemn through the trial, and I'm going to go through and talk about the testimony that was against her, but she's so solemn and sad-looking.
Rick Jackson (04:34):
And the newspapers at the time say that as soon as they read the verdict that she was not guilty, she looked up and this big smile came across her face. You can just imagine this level of evil. But the person that paid for these crimes, I'm about to describe the person that committed these crimes, is a guy named Bob Boswell.
Rick Jackson (04:56):
Bob Boswell was common law, married to Nannie Blackwell, and he had a son, Milton. And he had started a relationship with Becky Lyon. Becky Lyon was a neighbor. I think they lived like a half mile down, small farms out in Orange County, North Carolina. And he had started an affair with her, and she was married to a guy named Ned. Well, Ned had been married before. Ned's wife had come up dead very suddenly.
Benjamin Morris (05:33):
Oh, how about that?
Rick Jackson (05:33):
To clear the way for Becky to move in now. Boswell had testified later to the fact that as their relationship was going on, Becky had told him, "Hey, I would like for us to just be married. I've got this guy, Ned, I don't want around anymore. You've got Nannie, you've got this kid, we need to just get rid of these people and be together."
Rick Jackson (05:59):
And she explains to him that that's what she did to Ned's wife. "I poisoned her and I got rid of her, " and then, she got Ned to poison ... she talked Ned into a poisoning himself. So, she kind of did to Ned, I think what she ends up doing to Boswell, but she talks Ned into doing ...
Benjamin Morris (06:19):
Let me ask you this real quick; you read in the book that they live in these sort of cabins on the farmland about half a mile apart. But what I was curious about was how did they actually meet? Did they meet because one moved to the farmstead and then the other was already living there? Or had they known each other previously from some other indentured servitude or sharecropping, or did we know how they met?
Rick Jackson (06:44):
I'm not sure how they met, but I would think, because if I'm just looking at the time period here, 1879, and these guys are almost assuredly ... for sure they were born into slavery. But they were children as slaves, and if they were a half a mile apart, their family — I'm sure that there was a community there that had at some point been slaves in this area.
Rick Jackson (07:14):
I'm sure there was some history where all of these folks involved in the story, at least through their families, knew each other. And the other thing we have to keep in mind is because again, we're talking 1879, so these communities are not mixed. So, this African American community is going to be doing things. Like if you have your family here, you're going to do stuff with the other African American families around you.
Rick Jackson (07:39):
So, you are only really socializing with a limited number of people. So, I don't know exactly the story behind that but I would expect that almost assuredly, they knew each other maybe their whole lives. I mean, probably their entire lives, they knew of each other, I would think.
Benjamin Morris (08:00):
So, they hatched this plan, and I want to get you to just read a section from your book, it starts at the bottom of page 26. You read this and when you come across it in a retrospective historical account, it's the weirdest thing, your stomach turns because of just how much evil is about to happen.
Benjamin Morris (08:25):
But then you also get curious about what on earth must have they — what did it look like in a sort of granular way as they were discussing this? I don't know and I don't like to dwell on it, but it is interesting the way that this moment that you described, presages everything that is about to follow, this was the point of no return, and they chose not to return, but take us right there, would you?
Rick Jackson (08:53):
Again, starting on page 26, "Boswell's brutal crime spree had begun as a love triangle, as many do. Boswell and his common law wife, Nannie Blackwell, lived in Eastern Orange County with their son. In the fall of 1878, he caught the attention of a young Becky Lyon."
Rick Jackson (09:10):
"Becky was sharp, shrewd, and energetic, she also got what she wanted. She had previously set her sights on Ned Lyon, who was married, but his wife died suddenly. He and Becky were married soon after. Suspicion was cast on the death of Lyon's wife, but there was no proof of any wrongdoing by Ned and he and Becky moved on from the tragedy as man and wife."
Rick Jackson (09:32):
"Soon, however, Becky was restless and she took up with Bob in an affair. In his confession, Bob claimed that Becky told him she had poisoned Ned's wife and was willing to poison Ned himself to get him out of the way if Bob would do the same so that they could be together."
Benjamin Morris (09:52):
So, stage is set, what happens?
Rick Jackson (09:56):
So, she comes up with this plan. He is at first ... and again, this is his confession, his testimony. He is at first not wanting to do this. He actually takes a job on a big farm in Raleigh just to get himself out of this situation. But when he's coming back home, he's still finding himself drawn to Becky.
Rick Jackson (10:17):
She sounds like she's someone that's — I think I use the term sirens call, she just has her hooks in this guy. And finally, he goes over and ends up spending another night with her and she talks him into carrying out this plan.
Benjamin Morris (10:49):
Well, it reminded me of course, of the case we discussed last week at the hotdog stand because you think it's going to go one way when you're about to commit this crime, but often, it's not. It absolutely does not go the way that you think it will. And as Bob is getting ready to take the axe to his own wife and child — well, you tell us because it's really something.
Rick Jackson (11:23):
Rick Jackson (11:27):
So, when he comes back from Raleigh and he takes back up with her, the reason he's able to go and actually he spends a couple nights with her in her house, is because she — and again, this is his confession here, but she told him that she had put arsenic in the milk of Ned, and Ned had passed away suddenly, right before he came home.
Rick Jackson (11:51):
"So, Ned's dead," as they say. And she's hanging out with Bob again and she's putting her hooks in him. So, she hands him an axe and sends him out to take care of his part of the agreement. Because again, now her hooks are fully in him.
Rick Jackson (12:08):
So, he heads out to the night, again, a half mile from his cabin, it's a pitchy night. He goes out, he comes up on the porch and he calls in the house for Nannie, "Nannie come out here, I want to talk to you about something." She comes out on the porch, sees her husband — well, again, her partner with this axe, again, just very horror movie.
Rick Jackson (12:29):
She screams, he brings the axe down on her, hits her a really good one time and injures her severely, but she runs through the house screaming out of the back door. He's right on her heels, literally acts over his head chasing her through a field. If it was not for her just getting tangled up in the pea plants that they had planted out there and falling, she may would've made ...
Benjamin Morris (12:52):
She might have gotten away.
Rick Jackson (12:53):
Yeah, she may have made it. And that would've put him — he would've had to decided what he was going to do past that. But literally again, in his testimony, he's standing over her, she rolls over on her back severely wounded, looks up at him, eyes big, with terror, as he brings the axe down and finishes her off.
Rick Jackson (13:15):
He drags her body back up to the house, puts her into bed. And then he's wondering, he's like, "Well, man, what am I going to do about the kid? What am I going to about Milton in there? Did he hear anything?" He goes and checks on him and he's asleep.
Rick Jackson (13:28):
Well, again, you're thinking as you say, like going one way over the other, you're like, "Well, maybe, he walks away." And he does walk away after he closes the door and takes a torch and throws in the house and lets the house burn down.
Rick Jackson (13:46):
So, literally, just walks off pretty much into the moonlight as his house is burning behind him, just a gruesome scene. It didn't matter in the end, but I'll say this, luckily for the evidence that people were able to find, people caught the fire soon, and they got there and they put the house out in enough time to be able to see the shape of the bodies.
Rick Jackson (14:11):
They could see that Milton had died from smoke inhalation, they could see that she had been brutally murdered with an axe. And they also were able to do an autopsy on her and find out that she had an unborn child at that time. So it was just very, very brutal what had happened here. And they were onto Bob really soon. They pretty much went and picked him right up. And of course, they tried him and they found him guilty and he confessed.
Rick Jackson (14:38):
But what really got Becky off at her trial and kept her from getting executed is because people were looking at Bob and listen to his confession. And you have to question someone's honesty that can do stuff like that. You know what I mean? In a way you're like, "Well, he's being honest," but then in a way, you're like, "Well, if somebody would do that, they'll obviously lie."
Rick Jackson (15:05):
And this Becky, I think was very good at playing a victim and manipulating people. And also, you got to think at the time here, the appetite for almost — if you go to the Lizzie Borden case up north ... if you go north to Lizzie Borden, the appetite for executing a woman at this time was not really there. So, I wonder if the jury was almost looking for a reason to let her walk away from this.
Benjamin Morris (15:35):
I was wondering all throughout there's that aspect, that sort of cultural context at the time. But I was also trying to figure out, did Bob Boswell — he killed his own family in cold blood all for the ... I can't call it love, I can't call it lust, I don't know what I can call it because I wasn't there.
Benjamin Morris (15:58):
But all under the influence of this woman who had admitted to him, who had conspired with him, she'd already poisoned one guy, probably one more individual as well after that. And you just sort of think like, "Bob, don't you think you're in the line of fire here too? Say you go through with this and you take up with her, who's to say that you're not going to get that arsenic pudding in the morning for breakfast?"
Rick Jackson (16:22):
Absolutely. That's exactly right, and you would think just using critical thought that you would say, "Well, hey, if she is to be believed because I didn't see it, but she's telling me that she killed his wife or she had him kill his wife. She's telling me that she killed him. Poisoned his milk, what's she going to do when I don't get the trash taken out on time or something, like this is not going to be good."
Benjamin Morris (16:56):
I tell you, let me ask you this — well take us just to the — you write there's this interesting moment where his confession is the only thing that prolongs his life. I mean, he's toast, he's done for.
Rick Jackson (17:08):
They're geared up because the previous story in the book talks about the Chapel Hill burglaries, I mean, they literally had the gallows already up from hanging three guys pretty much the summer before. And this crime is so horrible and terrible that they are amped up to take care of this guy.
Rick Jackson (17:30):
But the fact that he needed to give that testimony against her, this is the only thing that really prolonged his life on this earth. And when he was executed, I mean, he was executed in a pretty brutal manner. He was hung, but hanging is not like we see, apparently, obviously I've never been there when this has taken place. But a lot of times when we see the old cowboy movies, they hang them and it's all over in just a couple seconds.
Rick Jackson (17:56):
Well, it took 30 minutes for this guy to strangle? It took them 30 minutes for them to — his neck did break at the initial drop, but not enough to kill him. And so, this guy just dangled and strangled there for 30 minutes while they all waited for him. So, he put it off as long as he could, but eventually, in the end, Bob definitely paid the price.
Benjamin Morris (18:24):
Did we know what happened to Becky?
Rick Jackson (18:25):
I never could find anything else about Becky, and that's one of those things where I really wish in more modern times, I feel like there'd probably be a lot more curiosity. But when we're going back to 1879, you're very limited to resources, and I'd like to know that same thing.
Rick Jackson (18:43):
I would think she'd have a really hard time just walking back into this community, which has had to be very small, a tight knit, you know what I mean? So, there's just really no telling where Becky ended up, and I would really give, give quite a good amount to find out what happened to her after that. But I've never found any record of her after this trial.
Benjamin Morris (19:06):
So, often in situations like this, somebody changes their name but you never know. The last question I have for you about this case, Rick, this one's from the heart. After completing this chapter, did you have to just go down and lie down in a room full of puppies, just to get yourself back on track again?
Rick Jackson (19:36):
I got to say it's one thing I have found with doing the writing I've done with the true crime stuff, there's definitely been times — because I'm a dad, I'm a husband, I'm a father. And especially when it's dealing with children, it gets really tough sometimes, it can be emotionally draining.
Rick Jackson (19:55):
I'll give you an example, I was looking up and this is for my previous book North Carolina Murder & Mayhem. I covered the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, the Green Beret who killed his wife and the daughters.
Rick Jackson (20:11):
And in my case study, I'm looking at crime scene photos and things, and there literally was a time when I shut my laptop and just sat at my desk and cried for a minute. Because these are little kids, it's somebody's wife, it's somebody's kids, and to just know that people can do that, it can be very emotionally draining. Absolutely, like I said, especially being a dad, it can be really rough.
Benjamin Morris (20:40):
Rick Jackson (20:41):
For sure, you got to walk away from, you got to set it down sometime and be like, "Okay that's enough. That's enough darkness for right now."
Benjamin Morris (20:51):
Well, in Crime Capsule, listeners know that I'm Team Kat, I've mentioned my dear beloved torti shell snickers on the show once or twice, so I would say room full of kittens, but whatever you need — ducklings, just whatever you need, just bring that light back.
Benjamin Morris (21:07):
Let's turn to let's go from the macabre to the slightly surreal for the second case back here in the town of Durham Chapel Hill, the triangle region. It is in proximity to the university, but it doesn't really have a whole lot to do with the university. And this is an unusual case that took place or at least kind of came onto local awareness at the Washington Duke Hotel in the mid-1940s.
Benjamin Morris (21:40):
Now, I have to say, as a young whipper snapper, an undergrad involved in campus arts activities, we used to have speakers on campus stay at the Washington Duke Hotel on a regular basis, I mean, all the time. And I used to have to go drive them, I would go and pick them up from the Washington Duke and drop them off and I'd be their courier and that kind of thing.
Benjamin Morris (22:07):
And I got to know that whole area pretty well because I was just going back and forth so frequently. Occasionally, you'd have a drink at the hotel bar that kind of thing. But it was so strange to me, Rick, personally, that reading this account of a case in which knowing the portico and the drive-up and all that stuff, the setting is important to this particular case.
Benjamin Morris (22:33):
And all I could do, as I was remembering it and running back through it mentally was think we have to file this one under 'sometimes you have to go look for the evidence and sometimes the evidence comes and finds you, what a case.
Rick Jackson (22:51):
This one, like you said, it's so odd. And like you were saying, if you were law enforcement, once you get the first call, like the things just start basically landing in your lap and it just gets odder and odder. But like you said, mid-forties ... so we're wartime.
Rick Jackson (23:11):
We're like wartime footing, everybody's just a full effort, probably just looked like a whole different world. But Washington Duke Hotel, a beautiful hotel in Durham, North Carolina, and one of the parking attendants, they have a black car out there that is just having this rancid horrible smell begins to emanate from it, they can't even get near there.
Benjamin Morris (23:36):
It's not a good start to anything. Nothing good comes out of a car that smells to high heaven. You know what I mean?
Rick Jackson (23:43):
And they look in the windows and they're seeing like — they're literally holding handkerchief to their nose and they see bloodstains on the upholstery and they're like, "Hey, we need to call the police." So, they call Durham Police Department, they come up and they see that the car is registered to Ms. Addie Jewett.
Rick Jackson (24:01):
And they go up to her room and they find ... she's 67, she's out of Missouri. So, this case strands the whole half of the United States. But she's registered up in 1201, they call some backup, they go up there, and they find her grandson in the room, his name is Mr. Martin.
Benjamin Morris (24:27):
Old Edward, he's just having a time there.
Rick Jackson (24:29):
Yeah, he's up there.
Benjamin Morris (24:30):
And he has a story for them.
Rick Jackson (24:32):
Oh yeah, for sure. He's up there, he's got a buddy of his, he's got two soldiers that were not where they were supposed to be, and they're up there just partying and they bring him down and they're like, "Hey man, we need you to come down here and open the trunk of your car."
Rick Jackson (24:48):
And when they do, they come down there, he opens it up, and just the smell of rotting flesh hits them all like a ton of bricks, they all have to step back. They look in the trunk and there's a hatchet, it's wrapped in a brown paper bag, there's literally maggots crawling over it. Martin just steps back from side, he can't even look at this stuff. He tells them one of many stories.
Rick Jackson (25:17):
He tells them that he hit a buzzard on the way from Missouri and didn't know what to do with it and threw it in the trunk. And then he tells them that he bought some chicken and left in the trunk. He brought some raw chickens on the way left in the trunk. Of course, they didn't buy that at all, they took him downtown, they start questioning him.
Rick Jackson (25:36):
They go back up to his room because now, it's a crime scene, the car's a crime scene. So, they go do their investigating, like you talked about how the evidence just starts coming after him full force. They find a bloodstain shirt, pair of pants. They found a will that had recently been signed by his grandmother leaving him a half million dollars.
Rick Jackson (25:59):
Well, when they looked into it, she didn't have a half million dollars. I think she had like $8,000 at most, I might even be overstating that, I don't have that in front of me. But they go back down, but once they get the smell out, they start searching the car, they find a lady's watch, broken glasses, false teeth that had been broken up. And all these things literally are covered with blood and particles of flesh just dried and stuck to these things.
Rick Jackson (26:27):
Well, they also find a key chain with the address for 221 North Bridge Street in Chapel Hill. So, of course, now, they go to the next location. Get to the next location, they call the Chapel Hill PD, now they're working together. They put the key in the door and they open the door, get hit by the same smell, rotting flesh.
Rick Jackson (26:48):
And they're just here again, same place inside. They find a lady's coat, shoes, dress, they find a pillow with the words Hotel Frederick on it, which is going to be important a little bit later too. And while they're searching the place, somebody walks by and they — of course, the house is open now, smelling like this stuff. And someone's like, "Hey, there is a boat down by this Eastwood Lake that smells just like this house, like this rotting flesh."
Benjamin Morris (27:19):
Rick Jackson (27:20):
So, now they go to the boat and they're looking at the boat and they're like, "Okay, now we probably need to drag the river or drag the lake and see what's going on." And sure enough, they find out this poor old lady who has just been brutally murdered.
Rick Jackson (27:32):
Edward Martin gets arrested and he comes out. So, this guy, he's a smart kid. I'll say he's probably an intelligent kid, I don't know if smart's right word, but he's not an uneducated kid.
Benjamin Morris (27:49):
Well, it's funny, Rick, this is a good 10 years before anybody had even dreamt of or come up with the idea for a zombie movie. This is the mid-forties, zombie movies did not begin to enter the public consciousness until depending on how you calculate. I'll say late '50s, early '60s, and it's sort of like there's no good excuse in any scenario here for smelling like rotten flesh. You have not been fending off the undead horde, I'm sorry.
Rick Jackson (28:24):
Yeah, absolutely. I'm sorry. Yeah, man, you're doing great job. Thank you.
Benjamin Morris (28:44):
So, anyway no one's going to think of a zombie movie for the next 15 years, so there's just no good excuse for smelling like rotting flesh.
Rick Jackson (28:52):
Yeah, absolutely not. This guy, they're saying he hit a buzzer on the side of the road and throws ... I mean, it's an excuse. It's not a very good excuse, you know what I mean? He doesn't make any sense.
Benjamin Morris (29:07):
It's something to say.
Rick Jackson (29:08):
Yeah, it's something to say.
Rick Jackson (29:12):
But the guy does try to mount a defense of sorts, and he confess. So, he comes out with a strategy and like I say, he definitely has a strategy. He's not just a guy that's going to just go down without trying to figure something out. But he writes this big, long confession and he basically says that this was all just an accident.
Rick Jackson (29:33):
He says and this is confirmed — and I'll mention this a little bit after I talk about his confession. But he tells about how he has been his grandmother's constant companion his whole life. He says when they were driving from Missouri into North Carolina, he had a bottle of rum. She didn't like that, she didn't approve of that. She tried to take it from him in the car. He fought her for it.
Rick Jackson (29:59):
As she was losing the grip on it, she fell back, hit her head on the door, and the door came open and grandma fell out of the car. Well, he felt bad that she fell out of the car. So, he immediately stopped through the car in reverse to go get her, but ran over her by accident.
Rick Jackson (30:16):
And so, he put her in the car to try to take her somewhere, but by that time, it was too late. Like the story he's telling is just like it's even a horrible excuse of why this all happened. And then he said he got scared and did all this, like he dumped her and stuff.
Rick Jackson (30:35):
So, crazy confession. But of course, his confession is not even true. Like there's no way that's true. He's just trying to get out of it.
Rick Jackson (30:44):
But that being said, he ended up being transferred back to Missouri for the trial, but his family did come and testify and said that his grandmother, Addie Jewett, she was a very controlling and overbearing woman. And actually, Edward's mom was her daughter, and she was so involved in her marriage that her daughter ended up getting divorced because her mom would just not stay out of her marriage.
Rick Jackson (31:15):
And her mom ended up kind of taking Edward from Edward's mom and like, “Hey, I'm just going to raise this boy.”
estified and said like, hey, like he's doing like school, two or three hours of piano lessons at night.
Rick Jackson (32:13):
He's having to go like literally stay at his grandmother's side. If she goes and sits on the porch, he goes and sits on the porch. If she goes here to a lady's meeting at a church, like he goes and sits there at the lady's meeting. Like he was not allowed to play and have friends. He was just with her constantly.
Rick Jackson (32:33):
So, you can see again, probably this resentment building within him against his grandmother. And so, when he was old enough, he tried to break ties with her. He tried to go to college. He went to Duke University in Durham. But she moved out there too, like she just followed.
Rick Jackson (32:52):
Even when he tried to move away from her, she followed him and just would not let him have any kind of freedom or separation. But, in the end, I mean they, the prosecution obviously was able to convince the jury that this was no excuse for brutally murdering his grandmother.
Benjamin Morris (33:09):
Yeah, it doesn't justify murder.
Rick Jackson (33:11):
Yeah. And Edward really thought that she had a lot of money. So, he really thought he was going to get his freedom, a lot of money, even if he had got away with it. Like I say, she really didn't have that much money anyways, but he was found guilty.
Rick Jackson (33:27):
And one thing that I'll say, like to just tell kind of what kind of guy he was — on the day of the verdict, a reporter asked him, he said, "Would you rather go to a mental hospital or a prison?" And he said, "At the hospital, I'd be chained up with insane murderers, and if I go to prison, I have to work. I don't want to work, and I won't work."
Rick Jackson (33:47):
It was just his answer. So, this guy's basically like, "Hey, I'd rather go to the insane asylum." But he got sentenced to 20 years in prison for second degree murder, because they really couldn't prove that it wasn't something, that just an argument took place between them. But the crazy thing about him is he actually became a model prisoner, but then he escaped in 1950, he escaped prison out of Missouri.
Benjamin Morris (34:14):
Model prisoner until he escaped.
Rick Jackson (34:15):
Until he escaped. He escaped, he's out for quite a while, but then gets in a gun fight after some guys he was drinking with got in into an argument with him. And that's how they recalled him because he got in a gun fight. Like he got wounded in a gun fight, and they get him and take him back in jail. He does the rest of his sentence. But that was kind of crazy.
Benjamin Morris (34:36):
Did you ever find out what happened to him? Because I'm assuming that he would've been released sometime ... if this happened in the mid-forties and it was a 20-year sentence, then he kind of got out in the mid to late sixties, maybe, something like that. Did you ever pick up his thread?
Rick Jackson (34:50):
No, I mean, generally, if I don't find anything on anybody after that, it tells me that they kind of fell back into society and just kind of did right. So, I never found anything on him beyond that, beyond that jail break. So, whenever he did serve his time, he was able to keep himself out of the newspapers.
Rick Jackson (35:11):
And that's one thing I will say, I found that was very disturbing. There are a lot of people that have committed murder that are kind of like walking around, they are out there. Because I have later cases in this — obviously, it's a long time ago, but I've got cases in my book from the eighties and nineties and I look at the prison records and I see when they got released.
Rick Jackson (35:41):
I'm like, "Well, hey man, this guy's, he's just out there working at Wendy's or something, like there's no telling where this person's at right now."
Benjamin Morris (35:49):
Well, we are grateful that there're such things as second chances and redemption stories and-
Rick Jackson (35:54):
Paid their debt, I guess.
Benjamin Morris (35:57):
Yep. Let's take a quick look at just one more case. It's interesting because it really is kind of about the intersection of town and gown, but it's also speaks to the political context of this area for so, so long. I mean, of course, our listeners, we all know that North Carolina is a political battleground state, and it's very evenly divided. And there're sort of hotbeds and pockets of different kinds of political activity all over North Carolina.
Benjamin Morris (36:34):
So, the triangle which of course, state capital of Raleigh is very intense when it comes to debates. And even when I was there years ago, we used to call Carrboro the People's Republic of Carrboro because it always had this sort of very strong leftist organizing presence and which did a lot of good in the area for a lot of different people.
Benjamin Morris (37:01):
It's always been — the whole area, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham has always had a kind of heightened political sensibility. And one of the very last cases in your book really touches on that. It's really interesting to see how that kind of comes in. It's not just a love affair gone wrong, it's not just a rum runner who misses the shot. It's actually about a very different strand of activity here. So, tell us a little bit about Bob Sheldon.
Rick Jackson (37:35):
Yeah, and you're, you're so right what you're saying about Chapel Hill and Carrboro. I mean, in my research, I got a book, this book was published in like 1961 or something. So, when we were talking about, like way back in the day 1961, even before like the free love and hippie and like the stuff that people would consider to be like the radical stuff at the university campuses.
Rick Jackson (38:00):
But this book, literally, I opened it up and the first sentence it says — and I'm paraphrasing because I don't have it in front of me. But literally the first sentence is something like, "Chapel Hill has always been known as a hotbed of homosexual and radical communist thought." And that's 1961, so like this is-
Benjamin Morris (38:20):
Rick Jackson (38:20):
Yeah, so this Chapel Hill, Carrboro has always been known, like you said, it's like an outlier in this very much battleground kind of state. But yeah, that's like a reference from like way, way back then.
Rick Jackson (38:32):
But Bob Sheldon, when he came to Chapel Hill (he came to Chapel Hill in the seventies) I mean, he was known as Comma Bob. I mean, he was very much what you would say like an anti-government kind of agitator. Like he was what I think a lot of people would consider a radical.
Rick Jackson (38:53):
And he first had come into North Carolina from Colorado, I think is where he was born. But he had come in from Colorado to work with labor unions. So, in the seventies, the late seventies, North Carolina's big textile, big textile state.
Rick Jackson (39:10):
And people would come in and work in these textile mills and try to get them to unionize. You've probably seen the movie Norma Rae, I mean, that's exactly like what happened. And so, he was one of those guys. He came in and he found a home there in the Carrboro area around Chapel Hill, and he opened a book called the Internationalist Bookstore.
Rick Jackson (39:31):
Well, when he first opened that bookstore, it was more just a place where people could kind of come and get the kind of the far-left ideology. Just somewhere where you could feel at home in that and like get your books and your marks and stuff and just kind of be a radical with other radicals.
Benjamin Morris (39:54):
Know the previous generation. Yeah, they would've called it counterculture at one point.
Rick Jackson (39:59):
Yeah, yeah, exactly, yeah.
Benjamin Morris (40:00):
Really, it was it was progressivism. And with North Carolina's long history of progressivism, of course, you're going to find places that are really going to kind of support that. And I think it's a fascinating history. I think it's one that has not been fully told, frankly.
Benjamin Morris (40:13):
I'm thinking of the democratic leadership of Terry Sanford in the eighties, which really brought progressivism into the mainstream in a way, in a southern state that had not experienced that in long time if ever.
Benjamin Morris (40:30):
So, there is something to be said there for folks like Bob who were part and parcel of that movement helping to shape political discourse. It's fascinating stuff. I hope someone can tell that story one day.
Rick Jackson (40:40):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, he gained a following in the Internationalist Bookstore. I mean, it had a couple iterations, it got bigger and bigger, like it was a place where people would come and have these ideals. And of course, you had the university there. So, you had young people coming through, but you also had people just flocking here for these ideals.
Rick Jackson (40:55):
Like these counterculture things like you said at this time, these ideals and just there's that rebellion aspect too of just we're going to teach this stuff that maybe you're not getting in the mainstream. But he did very well there, and he was really a part of the community. Everybody knew him. And fast forward, this is happening all through the eighties, again, he's just kind of in the community being there.
Rick Jackson (41:22):
But in 1991, we have a thing called the Gulf War. And the feeling in the nation was of course, that after Vietnam, the Vietnam War, had really been a black eye for us as a nation. And on top of that, we were getting a little bit of separation between the war and the current time. And people were looking back and seeing how the soldiers that had come back from the war had been treated also.
Rick Jackson (41:53):
So, now, you've got people that were like, okay, even if I didn't agree with the war, maybe I shouldn't have treated the troops like I did. So, you had kind of a hyper patriotism around that first Gulf War. You definitely though had — and I think looking back at history, people don't realize that we did have a push back on it too.
Rick Jackson (42:12):
Like you had people that were getting out in front of it saying like, "Hey, we shouldn't be getting involved in this. We're not doing the right thing." But for the most part, the country was like in just a real sense of like hyper patriotism.
Rick Jackson (42:23):
I think George H. W. Bush's approval ratings got up to like 90% or something crazy like that.
Benjamin Morris (42:29):
They were in the nineties. They were.
Rick Jackson (42:30):
And it was just almost unheard of. So, I mean, people were, for the most part, I think, I almost think — and I was younger when this happened, but I almost feel like we wanted to have like a redo. As a country, we kind of wanted a redo of this whole Vietnam experience.
Rick Jackson (42:45):
Well, Bob Sheldon was not having it. Like he was saying the same things. You have to give him credit for consistency. Like he's said the same things about Vietnam. He comes out like, "Hey, we're not doing right. I don't agree with this war," but I mean, he got off probably about a month before his death.
Rick Jackson (43:04):
He was on the news, and he was saying how he had fought against the Vietnam War. He dodged a draft, I think he had said, and he was saying like we're seeing the same things happen. This is bad, it's bad. And he was out in the community. He was not having the flag waving stuff.
Rick Jackson (43:24):
And on one night in February, I think February 21st, he was supposed to meet up with a friend of his named Ken, never showed up. And Ken went to the bookstore and found Bob lying there in a pool of blood on the floor. Called 911, of course, they rushed to the hospital. He held on for a day, but Bob was not in a place where he could describe anything that happened.
Rick Jackson (43:47):
Like he was going, he was moving towards death and was never able to communicate anything. He had a small cash box, so they called it a robbery. They're like, "Hey, the Internationalist Bookstore got robbed. Bob Sheldon got killed." That was the police narrative.
Rick Jackson (44:07):
But all of the people that knew Bob were like, "Hey, this guy, if he had any money in the cashbox ..." like he was not about money. Like the money was not the reasoning for the Internationalist Bookstore. They're like, "If he did have money, if someone had have robbed him, he would've gladly just handed it to them and be like, well, here take it." That's who he was.
Rick Jackson (44:27):
So, really the feeling was, and has been that this guy really, really, really made somebody angry with his very outspoken view on the war, on the Persian Gulf War. And this is another one that's very recent, but it's never been solved. There's really never been a good lead on anybody that did this crime.
Benjamin Morris (44:53):
I wondered as I read your account, whether given the intensity of the political motion at the time, I wondered whether they could have tied ballistics to like a military grade bullet, like a higher caliber bullet. And maybe it would've been like an angry veteran, or very pro-invasion at that time in '91.
Benjamin Morris (45:25):
I just I'm sure there's case files, but I just couldn't help but wonder if there was any way to increase some likelihoods there, but you never know.
Rick Jackson (45:33):
And that's another one of those things, because technically, any time there's an unsolved case, it's technically still opened. So, it's a little more difficult to get your hands on stuff. But it could be the same exact thing. The police could know exactly what happened, and we're not going to know unless something breaks and they're able to prove it.
Rick Jackson (45:51):
And this happened in the case later on of Faith Hedgepeth that you may have heard of in Chapel Hill, if people want to look that up. But that was an unsolved case for several years and out of nowhere, the police bring forth a suspect that no one had even known this guy's name. Like he wasn't even on any of anybody's list of people they thought had done this.
Rick Jackson (46:12):
So, hopefully something like that'll happen. But in my opinion, I feel like Bob definitely paid the price for having his views. And it's very sad because we live in a very binary time where it's almost like we can't respect someone that disagrees with us.
Rick Jackson (46:35):
And maybe this was a precursor for things to come back in '91. But it used to be that we had a little more tolerance for someone that was standing up and saying something that maybe we didn't agree with him on, but we weren't going to wish them harm. But I feel like Bob definitely got caught up in the fact that he just angered the wrong person and is non-supportive of this war.
Benjamin Morris (46:57):
Well, and there's another twist here too as far as the overall history of Chapel Hill goes, which is that, as you write in your book, that particular building which housed the Internationalist Bookstore, subsequently, its next life was as one of Chapel Hill's most beloved restaurants in its entire history, a place where I've dined many times called Mama Dip's.
Benjamin Morris (47:25):
We used to take those same visiting speakers who would come to the university area who I would drive in and out of the Washington Duke Hotel. We'd take them over to Mama Dip's for dinner. And it's just kind of funny how it's all connected in that area, and yet no one ever told us that a murder had taken place in that building.
Benjamin Morris (47:43):
I don't recall any signage, I don't recall any kind of marker that was just go and get you that good old soul food, which we did, and it was delicious. But there was no indication of what had happened there 30 years previous.
Rick Jackson (47:58):
Yeah. And again, when I go back to when I was talking about my brother and I writing the first book Ghosts in the Triangle, there's so much history out there, and these little stories all go into maybe in the history book of North Carolina history or Chapel Hill history that doesn't make the cut.
Rick Jackson (48:17):
But Bob Sheldon lived and he died there. And Mama Dip's Restaurant was iconic. And those things converged there in that spot. And if someone doesn't tell those stories, these things would just get lost to history. So, yeah, that's kind of like why I enjoy doing what I do, because I learned stuff like that.
Rick Jackson (48:38):
Like I didn't know that myself. My wife went up there, Mama Dip's, but I never knew that. I never knew that at all until I started doing this research for the book. And it was eye-opening to say the least that these things just happen around us. There's just so much in this world that we just kind of walk past without seeing.
Benjamin Morris (49:00):
Well, let us hope as we wind to a close here, that we do still live in a day and age in which folks can get together over a bowl of Mama Dip's cheese grits, or a play at a Bullock's BBQ and have a civil discussion with one another, and agree to disagree and let it come to no more than that. I like to live in that hope, and I imagine you do, too.
Benjamin Morris (49:26):
Rick, let me ask you just before we go, what is next for you? Now, that this book is out, congratulations again. What's next on your plate?
Rick Jackson (49:34):
Well, what I've been working on, because again, I'm from Durham, so I'd like to do this like an in-depth dive with the Murder & Mayhem in Durham, and then I've lived in Raleigh also most of my life, like my adult life. After I left Durham, I moved to Raleigh.
Rick Jackson (49:55):
So, I'd really like to kind of do a trifecta, if you will. But I'm about halfway through the Durham Eminem right now. Which that's really close to home because I'm researching things now that I remember people talking about when I was a kid, or I'm researching things that I remember that happened that are almost like part of the lore of certain areas.
Rick Jackson (50:23):
So, I'm really hoping to shed some light on those things. But yeah, that's kind of my next project. I'd really like to do one for Durham.
Benjamin Morris (50:32):
Well, tell folks right up front to steer clear of any suspicious-looking staircases, especially the ladies. Whatever you do, take the dang elevator.
Rick Jackson (50:44):
Especially, if there's an owl around, apparently there was an owl involved. I don't know about that, but that's that.
Benjamin Morris (50:49):
Good heavens. If you see any Vietnam era novelist walking your way, just run.
Rick Jackson (50:55):
Run with all you've got. Well, he's still walking around somewhere out there.
Rick Jackson (51:18):
Well, they have my books at Amazon and most Barnes & Nobles, you can find them. I have a website, rickjacksonauthor.com. Feel free to get on there. I need to update my blog pretty soon, put some more stuff out there. But I hit a blog every once in a while on there. Just things that are on my mind, things I'm working on. But you can find me there.
Benjamin Morris (51:38):
That sounds great. Well, we thank you so much for joining us and sharing these stories. And rest assured, next time I come up to the triangle, we're going to go to Bullock's, and we're going to sit down and have it out.
Rick Jackson (51:50):
Give me a call, Ben.
Rick Jackson (51:51):
So, I look forward to it.
Rick Jackson (51:52):
Rick Jackson (51:53):