On the night of April 11, 1919, Johnston County deputy sheriff John Alpheus “Alf” Wall of Wilders Township and at least two other officers were closing in on an illegal moonshine still. It was located in a wooded area behind the home of Iredell Wheeler in the Beulah township ten miles north of Selma and west of Micro. As many as seven men were at the site where a 125 gallon copper still had been set up just a day before.
The moonshiners had made a pact to kill anyone if necessary to protect the whereabouts of the still. As Deputy Wall, Deputy Walter Parrish and Deputy Massey made their way slowly through the woods, Wall stepped on a stick alerting the bootleggers someone was approaching. Two shots from a shotgun were fired. Wall was struck in the left side. He cried out that he had been shot. Deputy Wall was rushed to Rex Hospital where he died in the early morning hours of April 13, 1919.
The suspects all fled on foot after the shooting but were captured hours later. Four of the 7 men at the still who were linked to Deputy Wall’s murder were arrested and placed on trial. They were Spain Bailey, W.H. Hall, Clyde Rose and Charlie Morris.
For safety reasons the men were taken to the state penitentiary for safe keeping. According to news reports at the time, it wasn’t safe for the men to be kept in Johnston County “…for the sentiment there is said to be very much heated up over the killing.” Another article called the killing “…one of the most dastardly crimes committed in Johnston County in many months.”
At the request of the Board of Johnston County Commissioners, NC Governor Thomas Walter Bickett called for a special term of superior court in Johnston County in June 1919. All four men went on trial together. The trial lasted 6 days. The courthouse was overflowing with citizens wanting to see the defendants and hear the case.
The first day was filled with picking a jury. 250 Johnston County men were summoned for possible jury duty. Attorneys for the 4 defendants used 45 of their 48 challenges while seating the 12 member jury. The State used 13 of their 16 challenges.
J.P. Smith, J.M. Fry, J.H. Bailey, L.C. Wilkerson, M.A. Coats, Steven Radford, C.R. Lassiter, W.E. Parker, Addison Wiggs, Charles T. Hill, R.H. Richardson and N.B. Thornton were selected as jurors. They heard the testimony from Solicitor Siler, S.S. Holt, Mr. E.S. Abell and Mr. E.F. Ward.
The four defendants were represented by Wellons & Wellons of Smithfield, James H. Pou, Charles U. Harris of Raleigh, W.S. Robinson of Goldsboro, W.A. Finch and John E. Woodard of Wilson, and W.J. Brooks of Kenly. They were considered to be among the best lawyers in all of North Carolina.
The youngest defendant, 19 year-old Spain Bailey, took the stand and denied having any connection to the distilling plant. He claimed he was only a visitor. Bailey said that on April 10, 1919, the day before the shooting, he offered to sell his gun to Iredell Wheeler for $17.50. But, Bailey said, Wheeler offered him $10 and a half gallon of whiskey for the gun, if he would bring it over the next day.
Bailey said he went over to Wheeler’s home on April 11, 1919 but no one was at home. He was told Wheeler had gone to Micro. But he did notice smoke “down in the woods.” He said he followed the smoke to the large still and that, later, another man showed up.
During the raid, Bailey said he and Barden Pearce ran away as fast as they could. Bailey said it couldn’t have been his gun that fired the two shots because only one barrel was working. Several witnesses were called stating they were on a fishing trip with Bailey a day earlier and had shot up a box of shells and confirmed that only one barrel was working.
Another man identified as being at the still was Jesse Hales. Ten to 12 witnesses were called to testify that Jesse Hales was of good character. But during cross examination, several said they never knew Hales had previously been convicted in federal court for “illicit distilling.”
The widow of Deputy Wall, Victoria Wall, was the first witness called by the state. She said her husband was 41 years old and died Sunday, April 13, 1919 from the effects of a gunshot wound.
Dr. J.J. Young took the stand saying Deputy Wall had as many as “50 shot punctures” under his left arm, which led to his death.
Charlie Morris, who agreed to testify for the State, told the jury Milford Hales, Adolphus Hales, Clyde Rose, Barden Pearce and himself were at the still and that they had planned to protect it and resist possible arrest by arming themselves with “sufficient guns, pistols and ammunition.”
When the deputies arrived to raid the still on the night of April 11, 1919, it was in full operation. Morris testified that he heard the stick crack and that Deputy Parrish told him to put his hands in the air. Next, he said he heard two gunshots coming from the area where some beer barrels had been placed and not far from where Spain Bailey had been standing.
One witness said Deputy Wall could have been spotted by the moonshiners when he emerged from the darkness into the light of the furnace. Others disagreed, saying it was the broken twig that gave away his location.
Iredell Wheeler, a witness for the state, testified he had informed the deputies of the location of the still deep in the woods behind his home. He said he saw the defendants carry the still into the woods a day before the shooting.
His wife, Mrs. Iredell Wheeler, testified that just after sunset on April 10, 1919 she saw Jesse & Milford Hales, Paul Taylor and Barden Pearce pass her home with two copper stills on a wagon going in the direction of where the still was located.
Deputy Parrish testified he was near Deputy Wall when Wall stepped on a stick and it cracked. At that moment, the men at the still looked up and grabbed their guns. The deputies yelled “hands up” and the men began to run. Shots were fired from near the beer barrels. Next, he heard Deputy Wall cry out that he had been shot. The other officers began shooting at the moonshiners as the moonshiners returned fire and disappeared in the woods.
Several weeks after the shooting, officers returned and found parts of a Smithfield Herald with J.A. (Jesse) Hales name written on it as the recipient. T.J. Lassiter, one of the editors of the Smithfield Herald, testified it was his handwriting on the paper and that J.A. Hales was a subscriber.
Deputy Parrish said while arresting Spain Bailey the next morning Bailey had just pulled off a pair of blue overalls that were wet at the bottom and had beer spilled on them. Another deputy took the stand to corroborate Parrish’s story.
Testimony came to an end on the afternoon of the fifth day of the trial. Judge Kerr took one hour to instruct the jury before the court took a recess for the day as jurors began deliberating.
When court resumed the next morning, the jury informed Judge Kerr they had reached a verdict.
“It was a deathly stillness in the courtroom” as Charles T. Hill, the spokesman for the jury announced the verdicts one-by-one for all four defendants. “Guilty of murder in the second degree,” Hill said after their names were called.
Defense attorneys asked the verdicts be set aside but Judge Kerr denied the motions. Kerr then sentenced all four men to 20 years of hard labor at the State Prison and the trial was over.
Newspaper reports from June 1919 called it one of the hardest fought trials ever held in Johnston County. It was also the assembly of the best defense lawyers available from anywhere in North Carolina. “These men made a great fight for their clients and did all they could to secure acquittal for them. But the case against them was too strong and the alibi presented was too weak to secure a verdict of acquittal.”
One News & Observer reporter wrote in 1919, “It shows that trial by jury is not a failure and that the majesty of the law shall be upheld though the defendants be men of means. The evidence brought out a sad state of affairs in the section of the county where the homicide occurred. It shows the evils that the nefarious business of blockading in a community create. It shows that when one gets the consent of his mind to run a blockade still it is not a far step to other crimes, even to that of murder.”
Family Moves To Clayton
Deputy Wall was buried at White Oak Baptist Church Cemetery in Archer Lodge. He was the 5th of 8 known children born to CSA Veteran and farmer Jacob Ransom Wall and his wife, Grizzelle “Grizzy” Ann Boyette. He was survived by his wife of 19 years, Victoria, and their eldest son who was 17 years old. They relocated to Clayton after his death where he supported his mother and family by working for J.G. Barbour & Sons.
Victoria never remarried. She lived to the age of 95 passing away in 1973.
Johnston County Deputy Sheriff John Alpheus “Alf” Wall. Born: February 11, 1878. End of Watch: April 13, 1919 (age 41).