Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE
PART SIX: The sixth surviving Fool Killer Letter. (See Part One for an explanation.)
September 11th was the publication date but the “letter” was dated August, 1877. Location: “Sitting on somebody’s gate post, I don’t know where.”
This Fool Killer Letter, one of the precious few to have survived, surfaced in 1975 and had originally been syndicated in 1877 in the Oxford, NC publication called The Torchlight. Previously Balladeer’s Blog covered how the darkly satirical adventures of Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans’ fictional Fool Killer were syndicated not just in Evans’ Milton Chronicle but in other newspapers throughout North Carolina and Virginia at least.
For the first time in the surviving letters the homicidal vigilante has no idea what location he’s writing from in his “correspondence” with Editor Charles Evans. Jesse Holmes (as the wandering murderer claimed to be his real name) was uncharacteristically downbeat in the opening lines. He confessed to being close to despair and contemplated returning to his hidden cave to hibernate again for several years, like he had from roughly 1861/2 to 1870.
The Fool Killer complained that for every fool he slew with his club/ walking stick/ cudgel or his set of Bowie knives (each blade inscribed with the words “Fool Killer”) three more fools sprang up to take their place. He said that fools were as plentiful as grains of sand on the beach.
Jesse especially reviled the idiots who thought themselves intellectually superior to the rest of the citizenry and the deceitful, hypocritical and villainous malefactors who abused their positions as politicians, clergy and teachers. The timelessness of the Fool Killer Letters always makes me wonder why they are so neglected.
Holmes’ body count in this letter started off with assorted nouveau riche snobs of the Gilded Age, whom he condemned as would-be aristocrats. The Fool Killer struck down these formerly poor people who became wealthy and then put on airs, snubbing friends and relations who were not as well off and forbidding their daughters to even be seen dancing with “mechanics” (the term used in the actual 1877 letter).
Our “hero” disparaged the beaver-fur top hats worn by at least one of his nouveau riche victims. Hey, “Fur Kills” even in 1877 I guess!
Moving on to Jesse’s other killings confessed to in this letter:
Our roaming murderer visited Yanceyville, NC to “keep order” at an art exhibit that the local ladies were holding to benefit the Baptist Church. Holmes arrived after nightfall and, observing everything to be fine at the exhibition he took a stroll around the Courthouse yard. (This would have been the original Yanceyville Courthouse, which has now been converted into offices for the Caswell County government.)
While admiring the maple trees the Fool Killer saw a man in the highest branches peeping through the windows of the Courthouse’s upper floors, taking in the art exhibit without paying the 25 cents admission which would go to the church. At first Jesse thought it was a poor black man who simply couldn’t afford the admission but upon realizing it was a white man he ordered the man down.
The foolish cheat had been in the branches so long his jacket was coated with bird crap. When the Fool Killer learned the man was just a cheapskate who didn’t want to pay the admission fee despite it being a church benefit he clobbered him with his club/ walking stick/ cudgel. After that, Holmes let the man off with his life but not before he made the cheapskate sing the old slave song that went Juba Killed A Yellow Cat And Get Over Double Trouble.
When the art exhibit’s run was over Jesse paid a social call on two of his informants/ agents in Yanceyville – a pair of real-life lawyers of the time named Robert Graves and N.P. Oliver (presumably friends of Editor Charles Evans). Graves and Oliver asked the Fool Killer to stay in town, since there were enough fools on hand to keep him busy killing for a week.
The homicidal vigilante declined the invitation, saying he needed to move along. Coming across a religious service in his wanderings he saw a man sleeping during the mass and beat him to death as he had with similar offenders in previous letters.
(This type of slaying could very well have passed into common reference as the Fool Killer’s mythic status grew beyond the Fool Killer Letters. One can easily picture parents warning recalcitrant children that if they fell asleep during Sunday Services the Fool Killer might well be on hand to punish them.)
Moving on to Holloway’s Crossroads, NC the Fool Killer preyed upon a young crook who poached goats and served as an accomplice to burglars that he admitted overnight to a store whose owner had been kind enough to let him sleep in the establishment.
Eventually coming across a log cabin near Smith & Scott’s Sawmill in Person, NC, Jesse overheard a woman crying inside. Entering, the Fool Killer met a teenage girl weeping because her mother was violently opposed to “Sam”, the beau the girl had set her heart on. The mother had grabbed a knife and fled to an old abandoned house, threatening to kill herself.
Our main character investigated and learned it was all part of the scheming mother’s plot to marry off her daughter to a wealthier man named John, even though her daughter didn’t love him. The Fool Killer punished the drunken mother (non-fatally, apparently) and intervened on behalf of True Love. The girl got to marry the man of her choice instead of submitting to the arranged marriage her mother was forcing on her.
Somewhere between Person and Milton the Fool Killer encountered a young man who had slipped out of his bedroom to go calling on his favorite girl and wanted to return to his bed before daybreak so his parents would never know he was gone. Though the violent Jesse planned to deal with him the young man managed to escape.
At an unspecified location Holmes came upon what he called “one of those animals called wife-whippers” (wife beaters). Referring to his previous murders of such abusers the Fool Killer intervened. The husband had overturned the kitchen table, smashed all the dishes, driven their terrified children into the woods and was venting his anger on his wife.
Jesse told the offender that women were not created to be whipped by men like dogs and that he who strikes his wife is a cowardly dog. The Fool Killer boasted that he slashed the man “from his chin to his shin”.
For one last time serving as “a relationship expert” in this letter, Holmes dried the tears of a young lady abandoned at the altar by her fiance. He did this by tracking down the man and killing him.
With that, the Fool Killer signed off for this letter, inviting his scattered informants/ agents to keep relaying word to him about fools who needed killing. +++
FOR PART SEVEN CLICK HERE
I WILL EXAMINE THE NEXT LETTER SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY LOOK AT JOE MAGARAC, THE STEEL MILL VERSION OF JOHN HENRY AND PAUL BUNYAN, CLICK HERE
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