Sam Spicer, Alabama

samnobiespicer

Rowan Spicer (1804-1865) > Samuel Spicer (1849-1917) > Sam Spicer Jr (1883-1935?)

The Spicer family moved from Georgia to Alabama in 1861, and started farming in Covington County, 20 miles north of the Florida panhandle. The oldest son James died in the Civil War in March 1862; the next son Samuel continued the family farm after his father Rowan Sr died in 1865.

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Samuel Spicer Sr and wife Martha

By the 1900s, Samuel and his sons Carl and Sam Jr all farmed around Heath, a small town north of the county seat Andalusia. Sam Jr was first cousin to Sam Spicer of Abilene Texas.

Sam Jr married Nobie Kilpatrick in Jan 1903, when she was 16. Their first child was born in 1906 and died before the 1910 census. Daughter Jane was born in 1908, and son Zollie in 1911. The Spicers and Kilpatricks were both prominent pioneering families in Covington.

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Sam and Nobie’s House in 2010, Mt Pisgah Rd

On the evening of Feb 25 1913, Nobie was walking in the back door of their house when someone shot her from the yard. The initial newspaper report was that a black man had fired at her with a shotgun, hitting her in the hip. The shooter was chased, but fell and broke his neck in a ravine before the Sheriff arrived with his bloodhounds.

Later reports were that the shooter was Joe Green, a 16 year old worker on Sam’s farm. Instead of breaking his neck in a fall, he was shot to death by a mob.

 

Nobie lingered at home for 5 weeks, attended by nurse Janie Teasley and Dr Thomas Quincy Ray, before dying on April 2 at the age of 26.

Sam had taken out 3 life insurance policies worth $16,000 on his wife in January, and he filed claims on the policies the day after Nobie died. Rumors had been flying in town, the state began investigating, and Sam was indicted in June for the murders of both his wife and Joe Green. The case had acquired such notoriety that Governor O’Neal appointed a local judge as the special prosecutor. Sam was moved from the Andalusia jail to the Montgomery jail, because of fears that a local mob might invade the jail and lynch him.

 

During the trial, prosecution witnesses testified to the events and Sam’s wandering ways.

Dr Ray testified that Nobie had been struck in the left hip with 9 buckshot while she was walking into the house at the back door; he estimated the gun had been fired from a distance of about 12 feet.  Sam told him that he was in the front room getting his daughter ready for bed when he heard the shot: he ran into the back room, pulled Nobie into the house, and then went outside with his pistol. He heard the front gate close, and fired 5 shots towards it, but didn’t see the assailant.

In response to the gunshots, his brother Carl, father Sam Sr, brother-in-law Burl Kilpatrick and other neighbors raced to the scene. Not far from the front gate, they found Sam’s shotgun unbreeched, with a shell hung in it.

Joe and other members of the Green family worked on Sam’s farm. The day before the shooting, Sam and Joe had loaded Sam’s shotgun with buckshot to hunt turkey, and Joe took the shotgun.

The 1910s were deep in the Jim Crow era, when rural blacks lived as tenant sharecroppers with few rights, and were subjected to punishment by their white employers. Sam had flogged Joe a year earlier for some infraction, and 2 weeks before the shooting had stood on his chest while he was sleeping on the train depot platform at Heath.

Sam told Burl that he went out to get water from the well, then came back inside, and then Nobie went out to get more water, and was shot just as she was walking back inside. Sam told him “Nobie has been shot and I want Joe Green.”

Carl testified that he went after Joe Green; he found him at one of the farmhand houses on the plantation, and brought him back to the scene. He also swore that Sam did not fire the first shot at Joe Green. Others testified that Sam fired first, and Carl second; when the mob finished Joe had been shot about 300 times. Dr Ray said that the body was literally covered with bullet holes.

 

Burl testified that Nobie told him that the night before the shooting she and Sam heard noises in the yard, and Sam asked her to go out and see what it was, but she was frightened and did not.

Alex Harvey, one of the Spicer field hands, testified that he saw Joe Green coming from the direction of the Spicer house shortly after the shooting, with his right hand in his coat pocket: the imputation was that one of Sam’s pistol shots had struck Joe in the hand. Another farm hand testified that Joe came to his house after the shooting, took off his shoes with his left hand, and went to bed after saying “You negroes have been lying up here asleep and don’t know what destruction has happened in the land.” Afterwards, a mob came to the house and took Joe away.

Sam sent a letter to Burl, asking the Kilpatrick family to pray for him. Nobie’s father testified that Sam came to him before Nobie died, when rumors had begun, urging him to talk with her for assurance that Sam was not involved.

Nobie’s aunt testified that Nobie told her that she pulled herself into the house after the shooting, and was able to close the door with her foot, fearing that she would be shot a second time.

Nobie’s sister testified that Nobie told her that her daughter Janie and baby son Zollie came to her lying on the floor after the shooting, and that Zollie was covered in her blood.

Witnesses testified that Sam said he had married early against his father’s advice and regretted it, and was not satisfied with his wife. He said that he still loved his former girlfriend Ethel Brannon, that she always had a smile for him, and he was of a good mind to take her in his automobile and run away. Ethel was now a nurse in Montgomery, and strongly denied the imputation that she was intimate with Sam.

 

Sam was enamored of other women, was frequently seen giving them “joy rides” in his automobile, and was often seen away from  home at nights in company of women other than his wife.

Ellen Owen, a black woman who worked at the Spicer house, testified that Sam abused and cursed Nobie frequently, and that Nobie had begged him to sell the automobile, since she never got any benefit from it.

Herman Dreyfus, proprietor of the Southern Hotel in Montgomery, testified that a man and woman spent 2 weeks at his hotel in Feb 1912, and signed in as Mr and Mrs S C Spicer. Burl Kilpatrick testified that the woman’s signature was not Nobie’s, and that she had never been to Montgomery.

Geroni Berry of Samson (southeast of Andalusia) had formerly lived and worked at Sam’s farm, and was identified as a “bright mulatto” who was often seen riding with Sam in his car. She was frequently seen with Sam at his father’s place, with Joe Green driving her there in Sam’s car. Police Chief Tom Davis at Samson testified that he had arrested a white man named Spicer at her home in Samson, but let him go when he said he was there to take her back to his place to work off debts. The State introduced a letter from Sam to Geroni, asking her to come stay at his house during the weeks that Nobie was injured. During his testimony, the prosecutor asked Sam if Geroni had blue eyes and straight hair: Sam replied that he never noticed.

Witnesses testified that Sam had driven around Alabama and checked into hotels with an unknown woman. During his testimony, Sam explained that he was helping his younger brother Lucious, who had secretly married Annie Harper in 1911 when she was 21, and then abandoned her with their baby Jack. Sam picked her up in Florida and checked her into the Windsor Hotel in Mongomery, and drove her to meet with Lucious so that they could be publicly remarried in Mississippi. It was no use: Lucious left her again, and she soon married McDonald Jones and changed Jack’s last name to Jones. In her affidavit, Annie said “I never knew sorrow until I entered the Spicer family”, and that Sam told her that his married life was a living hell.

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Annie Harper Spicer Jones

The trial was a sensation.

montgomery advertiser jul 15, 1913
The Montgomery Advertiser Jul 15, 1913

Witnesses testified that Sam was heavily in debt when he took out the insurance policies, and in danger of losing his farm. Each insurance company did not know that policies had been taken with the other companies. Nobie told Janie Teasley that she consented to the insurance against her will.

Sam took the stand in his defense, and denied all the testimony that he did not love Nobie, or was unfaithful to her with other women. He admitted that when he took out the insurance policies, his wife was the owner of all their property and the automobile he drove.

montgomery advertiser jul 17, 1913
Montgomery Advertiser Jul 17, 1913

Sam’s defense was that Joe Green had intended to kill him out of revenge for the punishments that Sam had inflicted, but had shot Nobie by mistake in the dark. The prosecution’s charge was that Sam had enticed Joe to kill Nobie for a share of the insurance money, and then killed Joe to silence him.

The jury was out 3 1/2 hours, and returned with a verdict of guilty and a punishment of life in prison.

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The defense announced that they would appeal, and Sam was taken back to the Montgomery jail. In a jail cell interview, Sam said that “circumstantial evidence is the legal curse of the age”, and complained that Nobie’s family sided with the prosecution.

The Alabama Supreme Court overturned the conviction in June 1914, ruling that inadmissable evidence had been allowed, and that exculpatory evidence had been improperly excluded.

 

At his second trial in Andalusia in July 1915, he was convicted again by an even quicker jury, and his final appeal was rejected in Dec 1916. Sam was then sent to Speigner prison to serve his life sentence, where with other prisoners he worked in coal mines, cotton gins and road gangs.

 

In the 1920s, Alabama gave temporary Christmas paroles to prisoners, even lifers. Sam was paroled in 1925 and 1928, and returned to prison both times. He was paroled again on Dec 23 1929 at the age of 46. He didn’t return this time, and was marked as “escaped”.

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Alabama Prison Record

Jane and Zollie went to live with their uncle Carl. As guardian, Carl sued the insurance companies because they wouldn’t pay the claim to Sam’s children. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the insurance companies.

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Zollie and Jane at left, with their uncle Carl, aunt Fannie and cousin Ernest

In the mid 1930s, Sam’s sister Ludie Spicer Gunter received a letter from a woman in Mississippi. The woman wrote that her late husband told her he had relatives in Alabama, and if anything happened to him, to let his sister Ludie know. Sam’s daughter Janie was grown, and went to visit the woman. Sam had changed his name, but kept the SCS initials. Janie found that he had led a good life in Mississippi and was well-respected, so she did not tell his widow about his background. This information about Sam in Mississippi was told by Arnette Spicer, wife of Sam’s brother Emory, and was published in The Heritage of Covington County, Alabama (2003).

Jane married John Nichols in the early 1930s, and died in Alabama in 1995 at the age of 87.

Zollie had a harder life. He moved to Texas in 1930. On Aug 2 1934, Zollie (age 23) and Harold McKeel (age 20) kidnapped Cullen Stark, stole his automobile, and used it as their getaway car after robbing the box office of the Hollywood Theater in downtown Ft Worth. At their trials in 1935, both were sentenced to 25 years, and went to Huntsville Prison.

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The Hollywood Theater in the 1930s, 7th Street, Ft Worth Texas

 

As WW2 began, many states began to parole convicts with the requirement that they join the military. Zollie and Harold were both paroled and joined the Army: Zollie survived, while Harold was killed in combat in Germany on Feb 7 1945.

After the war, Zollie settled in Florida, married 3 times, and died in 1980 at the age of 69.

Was Sam innocent of his wife’s death, and joined the mob in killing Joe Green out of revenge, or did he entice Joe Green to kill an unwanted wife and then killed him to keep it secret? Two separate juries decided against him on the circumstantial evidence: 100 years later there is no conclusive proof either way.

Joe Green died a bloody death at the young age of 16 without any chance to speak for himself, and is included among the more than 4400 lynching victims at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Birmingham.

3 comments on “Sam Spicer, Alabama

  • Tina M Ruse says:

    That is some family story! Great research!

  • Benella Brown Floyd says:

    I am the great niece of Joseph “Joe” Green. #IspeakforJoeGreen. Thanks for the historical recording.
    Still looking for some record of the murder of his brother Allen who was murdered by the same mob the next day.

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