Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: A Double Murder

Below is the tombstone of my GGGGG grandparents, Thomas R. Noe (1806-1867) and Mary Fitzgerald Noe (1804-1867), of Pine Springs, Alabama. They, along with a traveling doctor who had journeyed to their home to help care for their sick grandson, were brutally murdered in their sleep on the night of December 1, 1867.

So far, I've found only one newspaper account of their tragic death. It doesn't mention their names or the doctor's name (I later found out he was a Dr. DeGriffenreid), but it does mention the surname of the killer: a man named Briggs. Apparently, Mr. Briggs was a very disturbed soul who had recently been let out of an insane asylum. My ancestors allowed him to spend the night in one of their outbuildings. When Briggs entered the home during the night, uninvited, the grandson quickly hid underneath their bed. Then, Briggs killed Thomas, Mary and the doctor with an axe handle. The young boy was, of course, too frightened to come out from under the bed, and the bodies weren't found until the next morning by a man who worked for the Noes.

Briggs was captured, hiding in the loft of a barn, and led authorities to where he had hidden the murder weapon: an axe handle that had been drying near the fire.

According to information I've found online, and email conversations with another descendant who has actually held the murder weapon, the murder of the Noes is common knowledge among Noe decendants in Lamar County (known as Jones County at the time of the murders), Alabama, as well as among many others living in the area.

Here is a picture of the double headstone in the Pine Springs Cemetary (near Sulligent, Lamar County, Alabama) bearing the same date of death for both Thomas R. and Mary Noe:

Picture found at www.findagrave.com, submitted by Beverly Knight

Here is a copy of a newspaper article about the murders that appeared in the December 18, 1867, edition of the West Alabamian. Unfortunately, some crucial journalistic details (like NAMES) are missing from this account, but this is the sad story of my ancestors:

The copy reads:
Horrible Tragedy by a Lunatic
A man named Briggs was confined in the jail at this place on Sunday last for the killing of two men and a woman, with an axe, in Jones County, Ala. -- For years past, Briggs has been deranged, but this, we understand, is the first act of violence he has committed, or attempted to commit. At one time, he belonged to the Alabama Methodist Conference, and was regarded as an able and efficient minister until he lost his mind.


  1. How awful!
    The gravestone is beautiful. I love how the two are connected at the top into one.

  2. I'm afraid I might have to forward this one to my friend Tom who used to be a Methodist minister; I'll tell him it's a good thing he got out when he did!

    But seriously what a horrifying tale. It is nice that someone has photographed the lovely headstone for you and that it is still in such good condition and readable. So glad the smart grandson remained hidden and kept safe. It must have been very hard for him for a long time after living through something like that.

  3. Thanks Carol, Jen and Elizabeth. I really is a sad story. I can't imagine what that little boy went through. Fortunately, they were a rather large family, and I hope they all were able to comfort one another.

  4. What a sad story - such a waste of lives and a horrible way to go. Jo

  5. One of my great-grandfathers also died violently; he was shot and killed by a neighbor in 1886. His death changed not only the lives of his wife and children but had, I think, an adverse impact on the family for at least two generations. I completely understand your need to learn all you can about your ancestor and to preserve what you find.

    After reading this post, I had a quick look for your Thomas R NOE at the Alabama Archives online and found him on the voter registration list for Election District 32 made between March and September 1867, only months before he died. If you don't already have a copy of the record, an online image (poor quality) is available at www.archives.alabama.gov/voterreg/images/40_V1_PG29.pdf.

    According to the archives' description of the record, his presence on the voting list also signifies that he had signed the US government's Reconstruction Act of Mar 1867, a document you may also be able to obtain.

    Continued good luck with your search to learn all about Thomas and Mary's history.

  6. Thank you so very much, tn type! I had not found that document, and I see several of my Sandlin and Turman ancestors there, too. What a wonderful find - I really appreciate you sharing it with me.

    I'm also sorry to hear of your great grandfather's sad ending. It's hard to imagine what the immediate families of both our ancestors had to go through, and my heart goes out to them.

    Thanks again, and have a lovely day!