26 April 2011

Cora Lou Jackson Tallen (Talent?) Vinson & the Principal Players

This post will show you what I have found out about Cora Lou Vinson thus far. My only research has been the online kind, and that is of course limited. I am very intrigued by her, and would love to know her ultimate fate. Did she live out the rest of her life in prison, or was she eventually able to get clemency? She doesn't strike me as a woman that would stop after just one attempt at that. I would also personally be thrilled to know her final resting place.

I do also understand that this really did not happen all that long ago. Less than 100 years, and some of Cora's and/or William's grandchildren might be living their lives without the desire to have this relatively recent past drudged up. Having said that, if there is anyone with information they are willing to share, I would greatly appreciate a comment or email.

OK! Here's what I've found:

Newspaper articles provided a bit of information. As chronicled when her nephews were testifying against her, Cora's maiden name was possibly JACKSON. She was described as a sister of "Simp" Jackson, whose sons J. S. and Roy took the stand. That same article brings out the fact that her marriage to William D. Vinson was a second one. Her first was "to a man named Tallen," by whom she had a daughter named Mary.

The article by Dudley Siddal states this: "...Married first at 14, she had only the education that falls to a mountain-born woman whose childhood was spent in the cotton mills. But she is intelligent, answers questions directly..."

I have not yet found Cora in census records before she was married to Mr. Vinson, but I did find this entry in the Georgia Marriages database at FamilySearch: Cora Jackson married M. L. Talent 24 June 1893 in Cobb County.

In 1910, having been married to William D. Vinson for seven years, they were in Atlanta on Ponders Avenue. William was a practicing physician. It is listed that Cora (aged 33 years) had four children, three living. Two of Mr. Vinson's sons from a previous marriage were listed: William B. and Tilley D. The two girls listed were from the union of William and Cora: Pauline and Ruby.

1920 finds a 38 year old Cora listed by herself with three children. Her marital status is already listed as widowed, even though it's two years before Mr. Vinson would be killed. Her likely attempt at "keeping up appearances" proved to be a bit ironic. The three children are Pauline, Ruby, and Louis J.

In 1930, Cora is exactly where you would expect to find her -- in the Georgia State Penitentiary at Baldwin County. She was a 52 year old widowed prisoner.

As you can see, Cora's birth years range from 1877 to 1882 to 1878. Newspaper articles at the time of the murder estimate her birth year to be 1878 or 1879. I have found three possible entries for Cora in the Georgia Deaths database at Ancestry and the Social Security Death Index (one might could argue there are more, but not one I viewed fits perfectly):

· Cora L. Vinson, d. 13 Feb 1953 Fulton Co, GA, aged 68;
· Cora Vinson, d. 23 Feb 1971 Baldwin Co, GA, aged 86; and
· Cora Vinson, b. 1 Jul 1889, d. Feb 1971, last residence at Milledgeville, Baldwin Co, GA.

Cora and William's daughter Pauline is found with her husband and three children still in Atlanta in 1930. Her husband, William T. Brown, is still a city fireman as stated in a newspaper article. Pauline was married about 1920 at age 15, sometime after the January census enumeration when she was still listed with her mother.

Here are two possible entries for Pauline in the Georgia Deaths database. I think the first is likely our subject:

· Pauline V. Brown, d. 6 Apr 1979 Fulton Co, aged 73; and
· Pauline V. Brown, d. 10 Jan 1985 Coweta Co, aged 77.

William "Willie" B. Vinson, son of W. D. and his first wife, is listed with his divorced father at Fulton County, Georgia in 1900. By 1930 he is married to Minnie L. and has three daughters in Dekalb County. His occupation was life insurance salesman.

Georgia Deaths, 1919-98 shows a William B. Vinson d. 25 Oct 1945 in Dekalb County at age 57. FindAGrave provides us with the burial location of East View Cemetery in Atlanta.


After Tillie D. is enumerated with his divorced father in 1900 as was brother William, we find him still in Atlanta in 1920. He is married to "Viola" Miller, and they are listed in her parents' household. Tillie was a practicing dentist. In 1930, Tillie and "Violet" are in Atlanta with their young son. Tillie is still a dentist, and we can add a veteran of World War I.

Tillie registered for the draft about 1917, while he was living with his father and step-mother on Ponders Avenue in Atlanta. His occupation was even listed then as dentist. Tillie was described as having brown eyes and dark brown hair on his draft card.

The only Tillie D. Vinson in the Georgia Deaths database states he died 6 August 1956 at age 61 in Dekalb County.

...Does this family connect to yours?

23 April 2011

Suffrage is Bringing Woman Down from Her Pedestal (Battered Wife or Cold-Blooded Killer Part V)

Woman Slayer Facing Gallows: Though condemned to
hang July 28 for slaying her husband, Mrs. Cora Lou
Vinson, behind bars in Atlanta prison, is hopeful public
sentiment may save her from the gallows.
- Muskegon Chronicle, Michigan, 14 June 1922

And public sentiment was divided.

While Cora sat in the women's ward of Atlanta's "grim jail called the Tower," waiting for the results of her appeal, a debate raged outside as to whether or not a woman should be given the death penalty. News articles spoke of how Cora would be the first execution of a white woman "since before antebellum days."

There was a wonderful article written by Dudley A. Siddall that ran in several newspapers in June 1922. I'd love to share with you the entire piece, but it is just too long for a post. Here are some highlights:

Leading Suffrage Workers Declare There Must Be Equality Before Courts As Well As At the Polls
Now that women vote like men, should they pay the same penalty for crime as men? Even though the penalty is hanging?

Col. William Schley Howard, former member of congress who aided in prosecuting the case, said in an interview: "Women have demanded equal rights in business and politics. In every way they have indicated their desire to be treated as men. Why then should a woman -- solely on sex grounds -- be accorded any special privilege by a jury? The time has come when they should be treated like men before the bar of justice."

...If it is true that sentiment toward women is changing from a chivalrous to man-to-man attitude, defense lawyers in future woman murder trials may have to shift their tactics. The old sympathy pleas and sympathy stage setting will be relegated to the place of outworn things in legal practice.

Miss Eleanore Raoul, Atlanta, Ga. president Atlanta League of Women Voters: "Woman has passed through the age of dependents into an age which regards her as an intelligent being. Consequently there should no longer be a question as to whether she should be treated as a human being fully responsible for her acts. I believe we women are prepared to accept our responsibilities along with our privileges."

Ruth Hale, New York, president of the Lucy Stone League, which believes women should retain their maiden names after marriage: "If I were the woman in the Georgia case, I would insist on being hanged. As a citizen any woman must bear the same responsibilities as a man. It is wrong for her to expect even Georgian chivalry."

[To the contrary] Sheriff J. I. Lowry, Atlanta, Ga, charged with executing condemned prisoners in Fulton county: "A woman should not be hanged -- well, simply because a woman is a woman."
Another interesting aspect to this case involved the property of Cora's husband. Should she get it? Especially since this property was a point of contention between the two, and possibly a reason why she killed him? This was 50+ years before Son of Sam laws prohibiting a criminal from profiting from their crime.

Well, she got it. "Condemned, She Shares in Estate of Her Victim: Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson, under sentence of death for the murder of her husband, W. D. Vinson, several months ago, was awarded a share in his estate in a decree handed down by Judge George L. Bell, in Fulton County Superior Court. Mrs. Vinson...was given the Vinson home and a share in other property..." (Dallas Morning News, Texas, 6 October 1922)

Later that month, the final ruling came (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas, 21 October 1922):
Slayer of Husband Escapes Gallows
ATLANTA, Ga. Oct 21 -- Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of her husband here last March, today escaped the gallows when she appeared in superior court, was given an immediate new trial, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1926, four years after Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson began her life term in the Georgia State Penitentiary, she requested a pardon or parole. The request was denied.

So ends the story of Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson and the murder of her husband. (Link takes you, dear reader, to the beginning of the series.) However, as we genealogists know, that does not end the story of the life of Cora Lou Jackson Tallen Vinson. In fact, it is only a portion of it.

I hope everyone has a fantastic Easter! After the weekend, I will share with you some genealogical particulars about Cora Lou. And unless a miracle comes my way in the next 48 hours, I will likely end that post with a plea for help. See you then!

22 April 2011

Twelve Southern Men Have Voted to Hang a Southern Woman (Battered Wife, or Cold-Blooded Killer Part IV)

Cora Lou Vinson to Hang July 28 for Husband's Murder

Hangman's Rope for Slayer of Dr. W. D. Vinson

Death Penalty for Mrs. Cora Vinson

"Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson was convicted by a jury in superior court here tonight of the murder of her husband, Dr. W. D. Vinson, and sentenced to be hanged July 28.

The verdict without a recommendation to mercy was more than even Solicitor General Boykin had asked, as he had urged the jury to convict the woman and fix her sentence at life imprisonment, saying he had never asked that a woman be hanged. Under Georgia law a murder verdict without a recommendation carries the death penalty which the presiding judge formally imposes." (Montgomery Advertiser, Alabama, 4 June 1922)

From 4 June 1922 edition Macon Telegraph, Georgia article by John W. Hammond:
Mrs. Vinson sat calmly by the defense table, chewing gum, while the jurors filed into the court room, and the verdict was being read by Assistant Solicitor E. A. Stephens. She gave no sign of emotion when the fateful word 'guilty' was sounded through the intense stillness of the big court room.

Mrs. Pauline Brown, daughter of the condemned woman, sat by her mother. She, too, appeared unmoved.

Judge Humphries asked Mrs. Vinson if she had anything to say why the sentence of death should not be pronounced on her. The woman, still chewing gum, merely shook her head.
So why was she given the harshest penalty of death when it wasn't even asked for? The article continues:
There has lately been very widespread discussion in Atlanta of the fact that "too many women have been shooting up men and getting away with it," and at the outset of this case, even though the court officials apparently did not work to that end, there was reason to believe Mrs. Vinson would get the extreme penalty if the evidence justified it.

Feeling of Unrest.
It is a fact that, ever since the case of Mrs. Williams, the young woman who shot to death an engineer on a drinking party, and drew practically no sentence at all at the State prison farm, there has been an evident feeling of unrest. That had been added to by the fact that it is reported here, and has been for some time, that Mrs. Williams is no longer at the prison farm, but is somewhere "out in the State having a good time."

In the past few years there have been no less than half a dozen cases of this kind, in each one of which the verdict has been mere nominal punishment.
So is that the finale of the saga of Cora Vinson? Not by a long shot. Her attorneys immediately filed an appeal "to the higher tribunals" for a new trial. Pending that ruling, Cora's execution was automatically stayed.

Her words on the matter: "I don't believe they will hang me for what any woman would have done under the circumstances."

Tomorrow: the feminist debate rages, and the final ruling.

21 April 2011

Nephews on the Stand Tell His Side of the Story (Battered Wife or Cold-Blooded Killer Part III)

Yesterday I gave you Cora Lou Vinson's side of the story. Today I'll tell you what he said. This will have to be in the form of testimony from his nephews, though, since Dr. William D. Vinson was dead.

Atlanta Constitution, Georgia
2 June 1922

Nephews, On Stand, Claim Mrs. Vinson Threatened Husband

Say That She Had Stated She Would Shoot Him to Prevent His Sons Getting Property

Roy Jackson Tells of Visit to His Home by Mrs. Vinson, Who Was Hunting Her Husband

Testimony by two nephews of Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson, on trial in the Fulton superior court for the murder of her husband, Dr. W. D. Vinson, to the effect that she had on numerous occasion threatened to shoot her husband, concluded the third day of the trial, which began Tuesday.

"Yes, sir," exclaimed Roy Jackson, nephew of the defendant, "my aunt came to my house Christmas night, 1919, and said she would shoot the hell out of Dr. Vinson, Willie and Tillo B. [printed as Tillie in other articles], too, before they'd ever get any of that property. Willie and Tillo B. are Dr. Vinson's sons."

J. S. Jackson, also a nephew of the accused woman, testified she had stated to him she would kill Dr. Vinson, and one time, in his presence, told Dr. Vinson she would pick up an ax and knock out his brains if he "did not get the hell out of there."

...[Roy Jackson, referring to 1919] "She had been drinking, or was on one of her high horses," he said...

..."Nearly every time I saw her she said she would kill Dr. Vinson and the two sons before she would let them have the property." When questioned as to her exact words, the language used was not printable.
I referred to the nephews as "his," and the newspaper article refers to them as "hers." Both are correct of course, but just so you know, Roy and J. S. Jackson were sons of Cora's brother Simp Jackson. Willie and Tillo (Tillie) were sons of Dr. Vinson from a previous marriage.

I found Dr. Vinson's death certificate online at Georgia's Virtual Vault. Cause of death was "multiple gunshot wounds of head (homicide)."

Just about every news article I read pointed out that Dr. Vinson had filed for divorce, citing that "she" had threatened to kill him.

Tomorrow: The Verdict.

20 April 2011

"It was hell. I could endure it no more," She Said. (Battered Wife, or Cold-Blooded Killer Part II)

Yesterday we discussed the newspaper reports regarding the killing of Dr. W. D. Vinson in 1922 Atlanta, Georgia. Today's post will inform you of Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson's side of the story.

Before Cora officially went on trial for the murder of her husband, she and her lawyers tried the insanity defense: "Special plea of insanity was being heard in [Atlanta] superior court today for Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson, widow and slayer of Dr. W. D. Vinson...The daughter of Mrs. Vinson testified that her mother is insane." (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Georgia, 2 May 1922.) It didn't work. Cora's trial began the first of June.

Cora Lou Vinson Makes Statement

The article the following appears in was published in the 4 June 1922 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Georgia) after the verdict was rendered, as highlighted in the title which I do not yet want to give. :-) I will tell you this: A subheading was TWELVE MEN WERE OUT BUT TWO HOURS... Not exactly a jury of her peers. On with the statement!

The statement of Mrs. Vinson, which was given late Friday afternoon, was the sole testimony offered by the defense and as a result of this move, they have the opening and closing speeches in the argument.

The bitter story of a woman scorned was told to the jury Friday afternoon by Mrs. Vinson.

Mrs. Vinson, weeping the while, said she slew her husband [because] he had been cruel to her, had threatened her life, and said he was going to divorce her because of her wrecked physical condition and marry another woman young and wealthy [printed as "young and healthy" in other articles].

Ethel Robertson & Cora Vinson
She took the stand at 3:15 and delivered a dramatic recital for more than an hour. When she came to the description of the actual shooting, feeling in the court room was intense, and her daughter, Mrs. Ethel Robertson, who had been sitting with her mother all during the trial, fainted and had to be taken from the court room.

Mrs. Vinson at the outset took up the thread of the story leading up to the fatal shooting.

"I went to my husband's office to obtain funds to buy groceries on the afternoon of March 30. He only allowed me $7 a week for household expenses, and it did not give me enough to provide for myself and children."

"He was writing a prescription when I came into his office. I begged him to come back and live with me. He told me to sit down and shut up; that he was going to marry a young and healthy woman; that he was tired of me."

"I told him I loved him. I love him still, but he was so cruel to me I could not stand it any longer. When he told me there was another woman in his heart I became enraged. His coat flapped back and I saw the butt of the revolver he carried night and day. He previously had threatened to kill me, so I thought my time had come."

Tells of Shooting.
"I decided I would not be shot down like a dog. I drew my revolver from my coat pocket. I pointed the weapon at him...I was so weak I could hardly pull the trigger. Finally I heard a crash and knew the gun had gone off. They say I fired four shots, I only remember firing once."

"I had been in servitude for nineteen years. He treated me unkindly. He frequently threatened my life. On one occasion he tried to poison me and I was between life and death for five days. It was hell. I could endure it no more. And the problem took the natural turn of the whole sorry mess."

"But I loved him when I married him. And I love him now."

Mrs. Vinson spoke nervously and rapidly with occasional lulls when she would stop, evidently trying to concentrate. She had notes in her hand to which she referred from time to time.

Charges Assault
Mrs. Vinson prefaced her story of the shooting with a sordid story of alleged mistreatment during her nineteen years as Dr. Vinson's wife, charging that on various occasions he had threatened her life and on one occasion he shot at her and barely missed her baby's head.

She charged him with malpractice, with having made a dope fiend out of her, with having given her a social disease which was transmitted to one of the children, and with infidelity as far back as the time previous to the birth of their first child.

"I deprived myself of all pleasures to help him get a start in life," she declared. "He made me do all the work around the house, refusing to hire a servant because he said he had married me to work for him."

"He tried to run me away -- said I was a fool to live with him -- that I was so bony I would rattle if he held me up. But I loved him and begged him to stay in the house and avoid the disgrace of a divorce for our children's sake."
Cora Lou's attorney, Samuel Hewlett, in closing "declared the evidence showed that Mrs. Vinson shot in self-defense, and pictured her as a woman hounded by her husband, deprived of the necessities of life, and suffering great mental anguish as well as physical pain, at the time of the shooting." (Macon Telegraph, Georgia, 4 June 1922.)

"Dread of the hangman's noose is nothing compared to the fear I lived under before I killed my husband...

I killed my husband in self-defense. Therefore I have committed no crime."

- Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson

Tomorrow: "He Said."

19 April 2011

Battered Wife, or Cold-Blooded Killer?

I first posted a news item about Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson and the death of her husband at the Southern Obituaries blog. A single short comment by Marian Pierre-Louis of Marian's Roots & Rambles encouraged me to learn more about the story. I found a fascinating tale of questionable sanity, battered wife syndrome (about 50 years before it was even acknowledged), infidelity, divorce, murder, capital punishment history and debate, feminism, and more. I cannot possibly retell the tale in a single post, so look for this series to continue over the next few days.

The Killing

When Cora Lou Vinson fired the shot that killed her husband, it seems it was heard "round the world" (or at least the United States). Newspapers from every part of the country ran the headlines:

· "Wife Kills Husband: Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson Fires Fatal Shot"

· "Atlanta Woman Kills Husband"

Two articles that set the stage for the "he said, she said" fight (though the "he" was dead) are below.

Daily Record, North Carolina
31 March 1922
Called Her Husband Cruel and Beat Him Frequently, at Last Ending His Life With Bullet
ATLANTA, Ga. March 31 -- Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson, who was held in the county jail here, today charged with killing her husband, Dr. W. D. Vinson, who was shot to death in his office here late yesterday, had by threats forced him to deed all his property to her before they finally separated, according to a copy of his petition for divorce.

The petition charged that she had frequently threatened to kill the physician and that once she met him in a downtown drug store talking to other men and kicked him. It cited occasions where she is alleged to have attacked him with tongs, a hatchet and an umbrella. Her counter petition to the suit claimed that she had been a faithful wife and accused him of inhumane treatment.

The divorce suit was to have been heard next Monday while a suit by which Dr. Vinson sought to recover his property, he is alleged to have deeded to Mrs. Vinson, was pending, and a warrant charging Mrs. Vinson with being insane had just been settled last Tuesday by a lunacy commission refusing to send her to the asylum...

Dr. Vinson was shot while writing prescriptions in his office in the rear of a drug store, one shot being fired before he knew his wife was in the room,...a clerk in the drug store told the police that after the doctor fell from the chair to the floor with his face towards Mrs. Vinson, she fired three more shots directly into his face and walked out of the drug store to a waiting taxicab.

Dr. Vinson, who was 65 years old, died shortly after being shot without having regained consciousness. His wife is 44 years old.
Marietta Journal, Georgia
6 April 1922
DR. VINSON SHOT BY WIFE; DIES IN ATLANTA THURSDAY

Both Dr. and Mrs. Vinson are well known in Marietta and by Cobb County People

Marietta and Cobb county people, who know both members of the Dr. Vinson family, were shocked to learn of the tragic death of the doctor in Atlanta last Thursday. The following extract is taken from Friday's Constitution:

Dr. W. D. Vinson, 65 years old, was shot four times by his wife, Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson from whom he had been separated for several years, at 4:30 o'clock Thursday afternoon while he was writing prescriptions in his office located in the rear of Pierce's drug store, 790 Marietta street, and died an hour later at the Grady hospital as the result of the bullets, all of which entered his head. Mrs. Vinson is being held at the Fulton county jail, without bond, charged with murder...

Dr. Vinson came to Atlanta nearly half a century ago from Roswell, where he was born and raised. He comes of a family of well-known physicians.

He is survived by three sons, Dr. T. D. Vinson, W. B. Vinson, and Master Louis Vinson; two daughters, Mrs. Fred Brown and Miss Ruby Vinson; a sister, Mrs. Fannie Robinson; and four brothers, Dr. George Vinson, of Marietta; Dr. Sam Vinson, of south Georgia; and Luther and John Vinson.

Funeral services will be held from St. James church at 2:30 o'clock Sunday and Atlanta Lodge F. & A. M., No. 59, will have charge of the funeral. Interment will be in West View.
Tomorrow: "She Said."

07 April 2011

Civil War Era Records Free Access Week at Ancestry

You may have already heard, but just in case you haven't: Ancestry is offering free access to all of their Civil War era records for one week, beginning today.

Some records they house that may be of interest to Georgia researchers are:

· Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865
· Georgia Confederate Pension Applications, 1879-1960
· Confederate Applications for Presidential Pardons, 1865-1867

The last database includes Samuel and Edward Felder's applications for Presidential pardon recently written about on this blog here and here, respectively.

Also included in the free access promotion is their newly launched Military Headstone Collection, described as "the most comprehensive searchable collection of Civil War era gravestones." This database includes the National Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia (1866-2010).

Good Luck in your searches!